January 2024 | Conversion: Persecutor Turns Promoter

A Pathway to Heaven on Earth
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A Pathway to Heaven on Earth

Dr. Valson Abraham

According to archeologists, the population of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time was somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000, with smaller numbers probably more accurate.  For a small city, Jerusalem has exerted an influence far out of proportion to its size.

I mention this because Acts 1-5 relates how 3,000 people came to Christ on one day, 5,000 on another day—in Jerusalem.  Many others were being saved every day.  That’s a lot of people in a short time for a relatively small city.  A revolution was taking place, with miracles on every hand.  Even many priests were also following Christ.

The religious establishment of Jerusalem at the top was shaken to the core.  But they had become fossilized in their beliefs.  Their wineskins had become old, brittle and about to break.  They were not prepared for the new things of God.  They expected God to do things forever in the way they always had known.  They did not expect change, and when He didn’t meet their expectations, they became incensed they could not control it.

In spite of the overwhelming evidence of Jesus’ power and authority, they refused to submit to Him.

 With multitudes coming to Jesus on every hand, with God doing a “new thing,” it became an unpredictable situation.  A crisis developed.

In a short time, there came a clash between different groups.  Hellenistic Jews, with strong influences from Greek culture, did not think or act like native Jews, and they felt overlooked.  This could easily have become a source of deep division and disunity.  Wisely, Peter, a native Jew, saw the problem and sought a wise solution to preserve unity, peace and love.

 Some say that Peter’s solution was to start the first board of deacons in the early church.  Whether that is true or not, what he did and how he did it serves as a model of what to do when it comes to problem solving, in balancing teaching and prophetic ministry with administration of important and legitimate needs of people.

Peter selected seven men who possessed good reputations, filled with the Holy Spirit, and filled with wisdom.

 All tasks involving the body of Christ require men and women known for their good works and godly character, who hear God’s voice, and who understand the ways and needs of their brothers and sisters.  They don’t play favorites but seek the good of all.

 The seven men chosen for the task fulfilled these criteria.  We read of Stephen and Philip later, but the five others, whose stories are not recorded by Luke, must also have served as good examples and won the confidence of people inside and outside the church.

The crisis recorded in Acts 6 could have brought about the first split in the church, along cultural lines.  What happens in the Jerusalem church in regard to this issue shows that the church was living out the principle later stated by Paul in Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

They had learned to make their identity in Christ alone as children of God, made in His image, chosen in Him as kings and priests to renew their minds so they could, in the power and authority of Christ, transform their families, communities, workplaces, and ultimately, the whole world for Christ and destroy the works of the devil, bringing heaven on earth.

The failure of many churches throughout history to put cultural and ethnic differences aside for this greater identity in Christ reflects a failure in their vertical relationship with God Himself.  Not only does this weaken the church, it also prevents us from becoming a powerful witness to those around us—in our families, communities, workplaces and around the world.

Clearly, the seven men chosen by Peter understood this.  Because they did, the problem that could have split the church was quickly solved to the satisfaction of all parties involved.

This has special relevance for us who make up the body of Christ in India, filled with so many cultural and ethnic groups.  We must be renewed daily with the Spirit of God, with a firm foundation in our relationship with Christ.  It is the only solution to unity.  It is the only solution to keeping from splitting off into warring factions.

This has special relevance for churches that have experienced generations-long turmoil over cultural and ethnic differences.  The only solution is to recognize our common identity in Christ and to become daily filled with the Holy Spirit.

How ready are we for the sudden and new things of God?  Do we expect God to do new things in the old way?  Are we ready for the unexpected?  Are we ready to receive people who are not like us, who have different histories and needs?  

Do we have new wineskins able to handle new wine?  Are we prepared to move beyond the Christian social club model that has become so common and seek fellowship among Spirit-filled believers from completely different backgrounds in the way Jesus did?  Our willingness to do so reflects the strength of our own relationship with the God who opens His doors to any and all who believe, including those who come from totally different backgrounds.

Are we ready for miracles and changed lives among people we regard as unlikely candidates for God’s saving work?  Are we ready in our own churches to see beyond cultural and ethnic differences to our common identity in Christ?

Do we seek out leaders of good reputation, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom?  Or do we only select those have the most political or economic clout in our church, or those with certain family or business connections?  

These are questions we must all answer with honesty as we pray for God to do a new thing in our midst.  How well we do these things in real life will determine whether we help or hinder others in finding true relationship with God in Christ.

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Father God, fill us with your Holy Spirit that we might think and act in your wisdom.  Make us like new wineskins, able to receive the new thing you are doing.  May we all unite under you, regardless of our backgrounds, in your great mission to bring all peoples to you, to destroy the works of the devil, and to bring your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

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