“And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” Acts 11:21
Some things just jump out at me sometimes. Like the other day, when I was showing my son-in-law what a “bunnykins” cup was. I turned the inside of the cup toward the skype camera to show him the picture I was thinking was inside on the bottom. Only, when I saw what I was showing him on the computer screen, it wasn’t a picture. It looked to me like a cockroach in the cup! I tilted the cup more to see in the picture better, which wasn’t a good idea, because it dumped the “cockroach” on my lap! I didn’t know whether it was alive or dead and I proceeded to do a frantic dance to get it off. Oh, did I say, that as my daughter was handing the cup to me, she had said, “I don’t know why, but there’s an almond in the cup.” Hmm. I was talking to Stephen so I hadn’t heard that tidbit. So, I wound up being comedic relief for my family. My almond sprung legs and jumped on my lap (where yes, I had basically poured it). Well, some things just jump out at you.
And I haven’t gotten far from yesterday’s reading, yet these words are jumping out. “And a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” Why didn’t Luke just stop at saying “and a great number believed”? Do some believe but not turn to the Lord? Do some believe but not make a real commitment into that belief? And I wonder if part of that is because Luke was a Greek thinker like most of us. See, Luke was a Hellenist. He was a Jew that had been greatly influenced by Greek culture and Greek thought. So maybe in some ways, he thought like most Greeks thought instead of thinking like most Jews thought. So what a Jew who was focussing rightly would have understood, Luke had to express just a little differently. And that difference helps me, because I’ve been raised in a culture that is closely related to Greek thinking too. And I need to make sure that I’m understanding God’s idea behind the words He uses, and not just what I’ve come to think they mean.
Now, after Philip’s martyrdom, great persecution came upon the believers. The Lord used this to disperse them to areas outside of Jerusalem. So as the believers left Jerusalem, they filtered into the Roman cities and ministered to the Jews in the synagogues there. These Jews had been brought up in the Greek culture, language, and with an understanding of Greek ideas and thinking. This is God’s stepping stone to reaching non-Jewish cultures. And understanding the culture and the language matters here.
I want to jump ahead to another verse that Peter shared earlier in Acts. “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Now, I’m going to look at some of these words. Because it matters to what we are reading today. A right understanding behind these words can bring us into a right relationship with You, Lord. And a wrong understanding behind these words can leave us not understanding that relationship at all.
Is Peter just asking people to acknowledge Jesus as Christ? Is that what believing (pisteuo) is? Or do the words here mean something more, something deeper? And is that what Luke is trying to express too?
What was meant when Peter talked about our “sins being wiped away”? The Greek word is “exaleipho” meaning to smear something off. It makes me think of the verses in Scripture that talk about being blotted out, whether our sins are blotted out or our name is blotted from the Lamb’s Book of Life. So let me look at the Greek idea, or modern idea of blotting. I looked up how an ink blotter works. It’s this absorbant paper. As you write with your ink pen, sometimes too much ink comes out so it won’t dry quickly. So you take this blotting paper and set one side down next to the area to be blotted. Then you gently lay the rest of the paper down from left to right. The paper soaks up the excess. When you pick up the paper there are no smears and you can close your book without any problem of smearing. But the ink isn’t obliterated. Just the excesss is taken up. Is that what blotting meant to the Hebrew thinker?
The Hebrew word and idea for blot is actually to wipe out, obliterate. So for God to wipe something out, to blot it out, actually carries the picture of complete obliteration. If You, Lord, were to blot something out, like that ink, then there would be no ink left. It would be as though there had never been ink on the paper. This is where the Hebrew idea of atonement comes from. Sin, the thing that defiles and keeps us from relationship with God, is totally wiped away and removed. That’s the only way we can have fellowship with You, Lord, again.
Well, what about repenting and returning? In Greek thought repenting is about changing your mind. It’s the Greek word “metanoeo.” “Metanoeo” is all about your thinking, about adjusting and altering it, about a change in mind. The Hebrew word “shuv” means to turn back or “about face.” It affects the whole person, not just their thinking. And what are we turning back to?
Repent and be converted. Repent and return. This being converted (a Greek idea) or return is “epistrepho” in Greek. It means “to twist, to bend, to change.” But in Hebrew it’s represented by the same verb as repent- “shuv.” It’s a warning to turn back to God. Isn’t that what repenting is? Isn’t it turning back to You, God? Isn’t it all about restoring our fellowship with You that we lost because of sin? And were there Jews and Greeks when fellowship was first broken? No, in the garden there were no Jews or Greeks. And we were all created for fellowship in and with You. You are calling us back to that fellowship. I return to You, Lord, so that my sins can be obliterated in You. I return to You, so that I can walk in Your presence again.
One of my favorite verses comes to mind here. God is speaking through Joel. “And I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. And you shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that has dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.” This is such powerful, WONDERFUL truth! Do I believe in every promise that You have made, Lord, to live as though I trust You no matter what? Will I believe and demonstrate the depth of my belief by absolutely turning back to You no matter what? Your promise to me is that if I believe and turn back to You with all I am and all I have, You will restore that which was destroyed by sin. And this is like a Job restoration. When I have learned to be dependent on You again, when You become my everything, then You can remove those things You needed to place in my life to draw me back to You. But what seemed to be lost, well, when You restore, the Hebrew idea isn’t just that You restore plenty. It’s that You restore plenty more than the plenty You give back! In Hebrew You restore “akal” “akal”. You restore in excess and then in excess again.
So, the question is, will I believe and turn to You? Will I be willing to receive the locusts, and cankerworms, the caterpillars, and palmerworms that You send into my life and realize that every tough thing is there to draw me closer to You? Will I understand how wonderfully You are dealing with me and reaching out to me? Will I be able to see the depth of Your love for me through the price that Jesus paid on the cross for me? What shame He accepted on my behalf! Yet, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in Christ. He is glory upon glory. So, have I believed and turned unto You? Come hell, or high water, or whatever tragedy, am I so turned to You that there is no turning back for me because nothing else is as attractive as You?