Monday, November 24, 2014

Two Ways Out of Joppa

A good woman had died. She is described in Scripture as “full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9:36). Her fellow believers were of such faith, that after her body had been prepared for burial, they called for the apostle Peter to come from a nearby town to where they were – in Joppa, a town on the Mediterranean. Peter “arose and went with” the messengers who came to summon him. God uses the apostle to bring the woman back to life. As a result, “many believed on the Lord” (9:42). I’m struck by the contrast between Peter’s journey to Joppa and an earlier trip to this seaport in Scripture.

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3).

(Almost as an aside, notice: for God, wickedness is the magnet for mission. Their exceeding wickedness is what God uses to bring the missionary, the command to “repent,” and salvation of that generation to Nineveh. Yes, the “nice” neighborhoods are filled with lost people who need Jesus, but God repeatedly speaks of the throne room of heaven echoing with the sounds of wickedness from notorious locales – Genesis 18:20; Ezra 9:6; James 5:4; Revelation 18:5. Sometimes He responds in His beautiful grace by sending a command to repent.)

Whereas Jonah, a “celebrity” preacher in his day (2 Kings 14:25), goes to Joppa to “flee...from the presence of the LORD,” the apostle Peter answers the call to Joppa for a cause seemingly even more hopeless than Nineveh’s spiritual deadness (Tabitha’s physical deadness). The result is an extension of earthly life for Tabitha and faith in Jesus Christ among many in Joppa. But that’s just a prelude to the real story: the fullness of God’s plan to save a people for Himself from out of all the peoples of the world, a plan going back to Genesis 9:26,26; 12:3.

“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, ‘What is it, lord?’ So he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.’ And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa” (Acts 10:1-8).

Peter then sees a vision while praying on the roof. The point of the vision? “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (10:15). How does God “cleanse”? He cleanses “hearts by faith” (15:9), regardless of the ethnicity, nationality, or sinfulness of those hearts. How does God bring that faith into lives so that their hearts can be cleansed? The sending of the preacher to proclaim “glad tidings of good things” contained solely in “the Word of God” (Romans 10:9-17).

After getting to Joppa, Jonah took a ship to go to (what was for him) the end of the world to escape God’s plan of salvation. Peter prayed to draw closer to God, and the doors to the fullness of the Age of the Gospel opened: “Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.’ Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, ‘Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?’ And they said, ‘Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.’ Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him” (Acts 10:17-23).

For Jonah, it was Joppa to “the belly of Sheol...the moorings of the mountains...the pit” (Jonah 2:2,6). For the apostle Peter, it was the joy of being instrument and eyewitness to God’s grand work to redeem “to God by [Christ’s] blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9), in short, to bless “the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3; Paul calls this the Gospel in Galatians 3:8).

God got Jonah to Nineveh, and the result was the repentance of a generation (Nineveh would be destroyed by God’s judgment against their sin in the following generation). Peter, who himself had a history of running from God (Matthew 26:69-75//Mark 14:66-72//Luke 22:54-62), by simply going when God said “go,” got to see God “save the world” (John 12:47).

The Lord still says, “go.” Which way out of Joppa will you take, Church?

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