For the next few weeks I have the privilege of writing 10 Minutes with God, the daily devotions put out by my church. We are going through a series on the book of Acts right now, and I am finding myself bowled over by the drama of everything that happened as the church was being born.
Below you’ll find the first devotions from this series on Acts 13. If you’re interested, you can catch up on more of the devotions here.
I’ve also recorded these devotions on audio, which you can access here. (As a special bonus on the audio version, listen for the musical intro and outro, composed and mixed by the one and only Daniel Rische!)
For decades after the first airplane was invented, aviators and scientists believed it was impossible to break the sound barrier. They were convinced that any aircraft that flew faster than the speed of sound would be instantly torn apart.
And so, for about forty years, the speed of sound was an accepted boundary in aviation. Pilots didn’t question it. They didn’t flirt with it. They didn’t cross it. It was a firm line, deeply entrenched in flying culture.
This idea of a deep-seated, uncrossable barrier is perhaps not so different from the religious culture in the book of Acts. For centuries, ever since God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:5, the Jews had been God’s chosen people. He had revealed himself specifically to this nation and had promised that the Messiah would come through their Jewish line. But when Christ came, he redefined what it means to be chosen by God. Now, in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
The book of Acts recounts the birth of the church, and with that beginning came some birth pains. God’s plan for the church was—and is—to create a unified community out of diverse individuals. This includes men and women, old and young, Jews and non-Jews, people from all races, cultures, languages, and countries.
This revelation was difficult for the Jewish believers to take in. After all, it was a barrier that had been in place for generations. Was God really opening his family to include people who weren’t part of the Jewish line? It was an idea as revolutionary and impossible as crossing the sound barrier.
Yet this passage in Acts shows how the early church began to demonstrate unity in their diversity. They accepted God’s vision for including people of all backgrounds, and they immediately put that vision into action.
Let’s take a closer look at the list of leaders in the church in Antioch in Acts 13:1. Barnabas was a Levite, a descendant of the Jewish line of priests. Bible scholars believe that Simeon’s nickname, Niger, indicates he was of African descent. Lucius was from Cyrene, meaning he was likely Greek. Then they had in their mix someone of dubious political background, who had close ties with the emperor partially responsible for Jesus’ death. And finally there was Saul, a former devout Jew who had spent most of his career before his conversion persecuting Christians. If ever there was a recipe for church conflict, this was it.
And yet even with all these racial, cultural, and political differences, the church remained unified. How was that possible? Quite simply, what unified them was more powerful than what divided them. And what united them was Jesus Christ.
In the years just after World War II, some people started to question the commonly held belief that the sound barrier was impassible. And after some trial and error, Bell Aircraft Company created a rocket plane, which was modeled after a 50-caliber bullet, in an attempt to achieve supersonic flight. In October 1947, Air Force captain Chuck Yeager flew the aircraft, dubbed Glamorous Glennis. He took the rocket plane higher and faster until, at 662 miles per hour, history was made: the sound barrier was broken.
From that moment, the entire landscape of aviation changed.
And so it is with God’s chosen ones. History is forever divided by this barrier that was broken in the book of Acts. This has significant implications for us as part of the church today. If these followers of Jesus could remain unified amid their radical differences, then we, too, must strive for Christian unity. With Christ as our common ground, all other differences will fade away.