I have a strong tendency often to travel the same paths in life, to perceive and plod the same patterns, day after day, year after year. Correspondingly, I think we often tend to squeeze God into our mold of sticking to the routine, to well-defined, comfortable paths and patterns. We look to God to act in expected ways – in ways that fit our expectations of him.
There is enough truth in this in that God is truly faithful in character and action. We can genuinely and fully trust and depend on God. For such we should deeply grateful.
At the same time, we cannot squeeze God into our limited and often limiting perspectives and expectations. Indeed, we must resist the temptation to attempt it. In at least two significant ways, today’s passage from Acts pries open our small views and comfortable dispositions about who God is and what God does in people’s lives and in the world.
First, we see the expansion of the good news of Jesus not only through the enthusiasm of those early followers of Jesus, we see it also through persecution. This is not to argue that God instigated persecution to spread the good news. It is to recognize that God uses all manner of conditions – even dreadfully adverse circumstances – to increase faith and extend the kingdom. We cannot assume and we cannot await only good conditions, or what seem to us favorable circumstances, to experience God’s presence, to discern his will and purposes, and to act faithfully in obedience. Sometimes the storms, in God’s cross-borne providence, scatter and seed the kingdom beyond our familiar fields.
Second, we see the expansion of the good news to all “sorts and conditions” of people. God’s good news in Jesus begins in Israel but never stays there. As they were scattered, some Jesus-followers spoke the good news to fellow Jews, and that was good. Others, however, rode the storm of persecution to an unexpected place – to those outside the community of Israel. They told Greeks about Jesus! On some profound level they understood God’s favor for those deemed unfavorable by “insider” perspectives, and they acted accordingly to proclaim and live that divine favor beyond their comfortably-held views and dispositions. Thus the good news began to spread to the whole world and all people, through the unexpected grace and goodness of God!
What a great thing to be known as Christ-ones! As people borne up by God through peace and adversity to new places of faithfulness, where we never thought we could go. May the stories of the early church encourage and strengthen us to live more truly and joyfully as Christ’s people wherever God takes us.