"Therefore let "ALL" Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for "ALL" who are far off - for "ALL" whom the Lord our God will call."
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:36-41 TNIV).
Depending on our church background, we will probably assign crucial importance to different phrases or words in the previous passage. Our eyes and brains are theologically trained to tune in to some themes more than others. Interestingly, one of Luke's key words* in this passage often gets overlooked — the word "ALL"! The promise of God is "for all who are far off ..." (emphasis added).
The word "ALL" is very important in God's dealings with mortal flesh. Look at these clear messages. God promises Abraham that "ALL" nations of the earth will be blessed through his offspring (Genesis 12:1-3). Jesus sends out His closest followers to reach people of "ALL" nations (Matthew 28:18-20). God doesn't want anyone to be lost, but wants "ALL" people to come to repentance and turn to Him (Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9).
One of the biggest battles that most churches face in Europe and the United States has to do with whether church members view church as for "us" or for "ALL." While we nearly everyone will theoretically affirm that the church is for "ALL" people, our actions and our words often betray us. One of the first questions asked by church leaders when considering some new outreach effort is often this: "But if we do this, who will leave?" A church that exists for "ALL" will also ask, "And if we don't do this, whom will we not reach?"
The apostle Paul helped us truly understand the heart of an "ALL" oriented church when he shared these passionate words about his own life and ministry:
To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become "ALL" things to "ALL" people so that by "ALL" possible means I might save some. I do "ALL" this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:22-23, emphasis added by author.).
How do we change our focus? How do we become a more "ALL" centered person that is part of an "ALL" focused fellowship?
There are no simple answers, but I do believe three spiritual commitments will help.
- We get into the story of Jesus' life told in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and see how he dealt with people and included "ALL" kinds of people in His circle of friendship. The Lord is our model, example, and mentor in reaching out to "ALL" people — insiders and outsiders, men and women, powerful and powerless, young and old, religious and non-religious, needy and influential.
- We pray daily that God will open our eyes and broaden our experience with people who are different than we are.
- We step out of our comfort zone to meet and learn about people who are different than we are.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:9-10).
Most of all, Jesus wants us to begin this process of finding unity in Him now. The first place people were identified as Christians — people like Christ, people who are Christ-followers — was in Antioch, where "ALL" races of new believers were welcomed into fellowship (Acts 11:19-25). Let's be that kind of people — folks who welcome "ALL" in the name of Jesus.
Why is it so hard to be a church that is committed to reach "ALL" people?
How can we as believers reach out to "ALL" and not just to people just like us?
I'd love to hear your response to these questions on my blog:
* Luke is the Gospel that most emphasizes Jesus' outreach to all types of people — men and women, young and old, Jews and non-Jews, religious and non-religious. He especially emphasizes Jesus' ministry to the marginalized and forgotten in society.