The gospel drew the early disciples outside of their own culture to speak and do life with people who were very different from themselves. Everyone at Pentecost was Jewish, but that Judaism had been moved into the varied languages and communities of the Roman Empire. The first thing that the gospel did was to bring people together under the lordship of Christ.
If the gospel draws us into a shared space to hear the mighty works of God, why aren’t we together anymore? And what would it mean for the watching world to see a Christianity that is actually together, spiritually and practically?
Black Christians can deal with people who have no reason support us. We can deal with secular racists. What is heartbreaking and exhausting is to find ourselves fighting for our right to exist and then find that the enemy is our brother. As the Psalms say, “It is not enemies who taunt me—I could bear that; but it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God” (Ps. 55:12–14, NRSV).
Here again, the story of Pentecost provides insight. As the nations are being drawn together, there are two responses: One group says in so many words, “They are just drunk” (Acts 2:13). The other asks, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12). One group refuses to acknowledge what is going on and draws upon their known experience to dismiss the work of God. The other asks a deeper question: What is God up to in their midst?
Peter addresses the first group with a sentence or two but takes more time to address the question of meaning. He tells the crowd that they are experiencing the Spirit promised in Joel 2:28–32. The prophet Joel claims that when God redeems his people, he will redeem men and women, young and old, rich and poor. Peter wants to remind the early church that the universal gift of the Spirit is a testimony to the universal saving power of the gospel.
Today, some people look at the black demands for justice and can only reach for a political explanation. These critics respond by saying, “They are just Democrats trying to ruin the church,” or “They are really theological liberals beholden to Marxism.” But maybe those are ways to avoid looking at the thing itself. What are black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters really saying when they call for justice? What does it mean? And what is God up to? He is drawing diverse people together and then moving us into new gospel spaces by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am convinced that the hope for this country is found not in any election or political party. Votes matter, but neither the Democratic party nor the Republican party will save us. What we need is a Spirit-filled Christianity big enough to draw different people together.
This unity involves two things. First, we have to recognize that the problem is not just “out there.” It’s in our hearts. The problem isn’t just that racists exist in the world. The problem is that we all in various ways live in rebellion against God and his will for us. The gospel demands a decision from each of us about our own sins. One of Jesus’s oft-repeated messages was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).
He calls us to repent personally for our sins. Why? Because—and here’s the second point—the kingdom of God is coming. This kingdom is depicted in Jesus’ first sermon, in which he proclaimed good news to the poor and liberty to the captives (Luke 4:16–21). Jesus came to save sinners, but those saved sinners now bear witness in their lives to God’s kingdom vision. We know that this kingdom is coming because Christ is risen. Peter says it this way: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).
We the American church have a message for a country and a world on fire: There is a God who loves you and died that you might know him. This love is sufficient to gather the divided peoples of the world, even when all the politicians and philosophers fail. There is a God of justice who sees and acts on behalf of the beleaguered peoples of the world, people like George Floyd. There is a king and kingdom. And he has given us his Spirit to make him known to the ends of the earth.