‘“These people have received the Holy Spirit, just as we also did. Can anyone, then, stop them from being baptised with water?” So [the apostle Peter] ordered them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ’
(Acts 10:47,48a GNB).
Years ago, when I was a young pastor, I said in a Sunday sermon that the Bible verses I was speaking about were a ‘story’. Later, an older pastor took me aside to tell me I was wrong. He thought a ‘story’ meant something made up and therefore not true. I disagreed with him then and I still do now.
Stories are important. We each have a story – the story of our life. It’s a real story, told from the inside as only we can tell it. Similarly, parents and teachers use stories every day to teach children about life. Kids love stories. Adults love stories too. They are important to our growth and learning.
It’s no surprise, then, that when God speaks to us, he often does so in the form of a story. The Bible is a collection of books that tell the story of God’s love for human beings and for the world. From Adam and Eve to Noah, to Abraham and Isaac, to Moses and Joshua, to David and Solomon, through the prophets to John the Baptist and, finally, to Jesus the Christ.
The Book of Acts tells part of God’s story. It tells how the Holy Spirit worked to spread Christianity throughout the Mediterranean world. It’s a dynamic story of faith, preaching, wonders and a growing church. It also tells of danger, active opposition and strident debate as Christians learned that God accepts all people without discrimination.
Acts contains the story of Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a good man. For the Jews, he was a religious outsider, or Gentile, which was a huge barrier in those days. One day an angel of the Lord told Cornelius to invite the apostle Peter to visit. Peter was an observant Jew, but God gave him a vision of all kinds of forbidden foods mixed together, which he was told to eat. Because of the vision, Peter could accept Cornelius’s invitation with a clean conscience, despite his religious training. Peter told Cornelius his own story and the story of Jesus. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit came on the household and they all were baptised. God had shown that salvation in Jesus has no barriers, religious or otherwise. When Peter shared this story with other Christians, it changed their attitude to people of a different background.
Acts shows how faith spreads by telling the story of Jesus. The apostles used it to explain how everything that God had done among the Jews – as recorded in the Old Testament – led up to this point. They told all who would listen how Jesus, who died but whom God raised from the dead, now saves everyone who believes in him.
Christians today continue to tell the same story, so that people of every background – women and men, children and adults – may believe in Jesus and be saved. It is still our direction and motivation. It still excites us because Jesus is just as much alive among us as he was among them. God raised him from the dead, and we believe that he will also raise us. That’s worth sharing, over and over, until he returns and takes us to be with him in heaven.
The story of Jesus Christ, which is the church’s story, has also become my story, and I pray it is yours also. He is our life and our salvation, as he is for all people, everywhere, for all time.