On Saturday I attended the second Reaching the Unreached conference in Barnsley with a focus on developing mission on council estates [the UK equivalent of social housing] and in deprived areas in the UK. It was a great day and very encouraging. I was particularly struck by the thought that here were many godly people faithfully proclaiming the good news in difficult areas. These were people who had chosen fidelity over fame. Inspiring. I’m going to post my notes from the day over the next few weeks.
Two Conversations: the Unthinkable Reach of the Gospel Part One
These notes are from a talk by Steve Casey. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Steve intended. Steve pastors a church in Speke, Liverpool.
I once had the experience of going to an AA meeting with a friend. I felt tearful because as people spoke I wanted to hug them and tell that Jesus loved them. But my overwhelming experience was not knowing what to say and being unable to identify with their experience. What does the gospel mean for people who are different from me?
I wish I had the confidence in the gospel that I have now.
Acts 10 is about how the gospel speaks to people who are different to us.
1. Cornelius Converted: What the Gospel Is
‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8) Jesus says his unstoppable gospel will go to the ends of the world (which is Speke!). But in Acts 10 they have hit a brick wall. They had got to Samaria, a Jewish influenced area. But the next move was going to the Gentiles and this was a massive barrier. If you were a Jew and you met a Gentile then they would want to jump in the shower! Jesus called a Gentile woman a ‘dog’ – a typical Jewish term for Gentiles. So, although Cornelius was a good man, he was still an outsider. He would have been tackled by well-meaning deacons in suits if he came to church. But the angelic representative of God addresses him by name.
The angel says his good works do not cut it. He needs a message from outside. His good works are insufficient. But God has heard his prayers and God will provide an answer: a preacher. Being a nice bloke is not enough; you need to be a new bloke. You need God to do a work for you that you cannot do on your own
I never tire of telling this to people on my estate. They assume Christianity is about what they must do for God. But the gospel is about what God has done for you. This is paradigm-shifting. Christianity is not good advice. It is good news.
When Cornelius invites Peter to speak, Peter does a reprise of his Pentecost sermon. And it is not peace with God through good works, but peace through Jesus Christ: ‘You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.’ (Acts 10:36) It is not peace through being respected or part of the right community or being the funny man in the pub. It is God who will solve your problem. Cornelius has been trying to be good enough for God, but always feeling excluded. Cornelius hears of one who should by rights be the ultimate insider, but becomes the ultimate outsider. ‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree.’ (Acts 10:39) Forgiveness is not something which is achieved, but something which is received through the name of Jesus. ‘All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ (Acts 10:43)
As a result of receiving this good news the object and goal of their life is changed. They become people who worship God (46). Their eyes are off themselves and on Jesus.
Implication: the Missionary Heart of God
Nothing of this is new to us. But what are the implications?
1. There is one gospel for all people
Peter said: ‘“Can anyone keep these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.’ (Acts 10:47-48) What happened to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem in Acts 2 has happened to Gentiles here in Acts 10. It is the same gospel for a respectable corporate lawyer, a hard-working single mother, a teenager toying with petty crime and so on.
2. The gospel is made for outsiders
In Luke-Acts there is a disproportionate number of people who are outsiders: Gentiles, prostitutes, tax-collectors, lepers – people who sins and failures go before them. The people who would attract ‘tuts’ in many churches. Jesus takes outsiders and brings them in and says, ‘Look what I’m going to do with you.’ Jesus is not the Messiah that the world wants. He did not use his power for his own ends. He gave it away so he could help those who are weak. He saves by serving and losing his power. And I get his salvation not by being strong or pure or accomplished, but by admitting I have none of these things.
If our churches do not communicate this then we are not being revolutionary enough. If outsiders do not feel welcome then we are mis-communicating the grace of God.
3. The gospel is not too hard for anyone
Many people in our area do not want to come through the church door because they view it has self-improvement. The first time one friend came to church he would not go inside. The next week he sat in the entrance lobby. The third week he sat by the door. It took four weeks to get him to sit in a pew.
Many people in our area look at the church and say, ‘I can’t be like them.’ They have understood a message, but it is not the gospel. If they hear the message of grace then they will think, ‘I can do that!’