In the world of the first century, the gospel encountered many kinds of people.
Many of the cities that the Gospel encountered were actually quite cosmopolitan, with different races, and different classes, of people interacting in their daily routine. There were Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, slave and free, masters and merchants, rulers and the ruled – all sorts. Even with all this intermingling there were still strict rules – slaves could not sit at table with their masters, for example. The rich would not patronize the same shops as the poor. The nobility jealously guarded their bloodlines and heritage. It was a society that had many divisions and inequalities. In order to belong, one had to have certain prerequisites.
The Gospel of Jesus was radical because it was inclusive. There were no prerequisites. As Paul puts it, in Christ there is no Jew and Gentile, slave or free. The salvation of Christ was available to all, and not just a special few. The rich and the poor alike could hear the gospel, turn to Christ and believe.
But the inclusive nature of the gospel did not end there. The gospel of Jesus was the great leveler. Rich and poor alike sat at the same table for the fellowship meal. Slave and free alike sang together and prayed together. The same water that baptised the nobility baptised the common folk as well. All ended up in the same church with no divisions, only Christ. Jew and Gentile alike were co-inheritors of the heavenly inheritance.
That is not the end of the story, however. The Gospel of Jesus was not just available to all and level all differences, it also created a new people – a Christian people. As Peter put it, once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God – a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. As Peter preached on the first day of Pentecost, the list of countries mentioned there reads like a who’s who of the nations in that time. Yet out of all those different backgrounds, 3000 people were baptised that day and the church was born – a church with one people – a people belonging to God.
Great beginnings, indeed. Sadly, of course, since then we have come a long way in putting back those pre-requisites, raising those divisions, and segregating the one people into many different kinds of people. We have to wonder sometimes whether we are committed to Christ alone without demanding pre-requisites, insisting on divisions or even raising ourselves one over the other. How could we? For we are all in the same boat, equally sinful, equally needing Christ alone.