ACTS 11:19-21: “Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.” NLT
OBSERVATION: Have you ever considered how ludicrous it is to assume that you can put God in a box? Yet, that is exactly what we all do. We establish a concept of God through the way He has worked in our life. Then, we take this experience and imagine that this is the way God works in everyone’s life.
In essence – we try to put God in a box.
Peter and the disciples did the same thing. After the day of Pentecost, the church exploded. Yet, their outreach and ministry were limited to Jewish believers. God had sent Jesus to the lost sheep of Israel. It was 120 Jews who were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. And, it was over 3000 Jews that were baptized after Peter’s great sermon. God had revealed Jesus to His chosen people.
It was natural to assume that this was the extent of God’s plan. This new church settled into their routine, going to the Temple daily, and meeting from house to house. They quickly forgot Jesus’ instructions that He gave to them before He ascended into heaven.
- “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts of the Apostles 1:8 NLT
Jerusalem was comfortable. It was easy to settle in and forget about Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. God working in His people, in the City of David, at the Temple of the living God – this was a convenient and attractive box. It took persecution to move this young church out of their comfort zone and into the purposes of God.
Yet, initially, they did what we all do. They took their box with them. Even Peter required divine intervention to break out of his paradigm. It took a vision from God, the call of a Gentile soldier, and the wonderful intervention of the Holy Spirit to expand Peter’s thinking and concept of God’s purposes and call!
- “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” Acts of the Apostles 11:15-18 NLT
Wow! Talk about a box implosion!
Peter had preached – “…Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38). It took a move of God to bring Peter to a Gentile’s home, and a Roman soldier at that. Then, Cornelius and his household didn’t even follow the pattern that Peter had proclaimed. They had the audacity to be baptized in the Holy Spirit while Peter was speaking! No altar call, no water baptism…what in the world was going on?
We are just like Peter. We take our experiences with the Lord and we store them up in a box. When someone comes to us for help we reach into our box and draw from our experience. This is natural, and it is not wrong within itself. It only becomes a hindrance to the moving of the Holy Spirit when we begin to believe that our box is the totality of all that God has revealed and all that He will do. Like Peter, if we live this way, we will either stagnate in our walk with the Lord or we will be in for a big surprise!
I have met so many believers who are stuck in their Christian experience of the past. They reject new expressions of worship and faith simply because it was not how they did things in the past. This can infect a church and keep them from fulfilling God’s purpose and will in their life. Boxes are good to store things in but we should never live in them! We serve a God of the new. We are filled with the Holy Spirit of promise. We are called to always go forward – even to the ends of the earth!
In Acts 11:19-21, we see the stark contrast between the two groups. One lived in their box (reaching out to only the Jews), and the other allowed God to do a new thing in their life (going to Antioch and preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles). Barnabas was a box crusher. He traveled to Antioch to strengthen the Gentile believers and he even reached out to Saul (Paul) to join him in this ministry. Barnabas and Saul (Paul) continued in Antioch for over a year – crushing boxes and reaching people.
It was this willingness to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and cross both racial and sociological lines that demonstrated the awesome love of Jesus Christ and the real power of the Gospel. Is it any wonder why,
- “…(It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)”. Acts of the Apostles 11:25-26 NLT
I wonder what would happen in our churches today if we had a “Box Sunday?” What would happen if each one of us took our box and laid it down at the cross? What would happen if each one of us recommitted our lives to fulfill the call of – “…Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world.”? What would happen if we reached across racial, gender, and generational lines with the love of Jesus Christ?
Perhaps we might experience something new! Perhaps we would be visited with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for our generation!
Lord, this morning, I lay down my box at the foot of Your cross. Do a new work in me I pray.
In Jesus Name!