Following His steps… to Joppa
We landed in TelAviv at sunset on this Nov day. Our first stop was nearby Joppa, appropriately name the Ancient Gateway City to Israel on the Mediterranean Sea. As I stood at the highest point in Joppa, I looked north toward the beaches of the Sea and could see the lights of modern day high-rises and hear the noise of bustling vehicles and airplanes overhead. I tried to block out all that was new and imagine it as it might have been when Peter sat on the rooftop of Simon the tanner’s home somewhere nearby over 2000 years ago. (Acts 10)
What was Peter to say when it was revealed that a Gentile man had sent for him and was waiting to hear the Gospel message? Worst of all, he was a high ranking official in the oppressive Roman Guard. Surely God did not intend to spread the Gospel to Gentiles such as these…
I wonder if Peter remembered Jesus’ parting commission and heard His words echoing in his ears as they suddenly had meaning like never before… “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel”
Peter was slow to understand, yet he obeyed! He left Joppa with the unexpected messengers the very next morning and made the journey up the coast to Caesarea (which we will actually visit tomorrow!). God was commissioning Peter to carry the good news to a world not even looking for Him, and though this was not a part of the plan as Peter understood it, He was obedient to the Spirit’s call. As a result, Cornelius and his entire household were the first gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by their speaking in tongues, just as the Jews had on the day of Pentecost. A new movement had begun because of the obedience of one…
What a contrast this is to the story of Jonah, whose journey had brought him to this very place over 750 years earlier. Jonah had not come to Joppa to obey God’s commissioning. Instead, he had come to run. He would board a boat bound for a destination far, far away from Nineveh and the godless Gentiles God longed to use Jonah to reach.
Jonah ultimately obeyed, (even though it took three days in the bowels of a fish to convince him!) and he preached repentance to the people of Nineveh. They responded by tearing their robes and turning their hearts toward God, but the Lord’s predictable mercy in response to their repentance, angered Jonah.
These Gentile people had long been the enemies of God and Jonah failed to understand what Peter would 750 years later… God’s promises had begun with Abraham, but were never intended to stop there. His intentions had always been that the entire earth would be blessed through the seed of Abraham’s faith and all those who would follow him in it. His people were slow to understand a mercy that extended far beyond their human hearts could reach. In the process, they risked missing His way all together.
I must take a deep look inside myself as I stand in such holy places and honestly evaluate who I am. When God beckons me to a plan foreign from my own… When God reveals Himself to me and asks me to extend His unexplainable mercy to my enemies, is my response one of immediate obedience or am I quick to run in the opposite direction with excuses for my disobedience?
Do I obey even when I don’t understand or do I rationalize and declare with my choices that I’d rather God overlook me and use someone else? Will I be counted among those who discover joy in the service of the Lord, even when it takes me to places I never expected to go?
Peter’s obedience swept him into a ministry that would ultimately expand to millions around the world long after he was gone. Even I would be counted among the fruit of his obedience. As a fellow Gentile, you would too!
Jonah, on the other hand, was burdened by his sluggish obedience and on top of a traumatizing three days in the belly of a fish, he never discovered the joy Peter knew at the repentance of the lost. Tragically, he will forever be known as a joyless man who ran from God and was slow to obey.
As I stand on these shores, I have a decision to make. I need not wonder which would honor God and glorify Him as the Lord of my life. Let my legacy be written like that of Peter’s… quick to listen; immediate obedience without questions; and immeasurable joy in being used by God for a redemptive plan so much bigger than I could ever imagine. Count me in…