Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. – Acts 10:34-36

   

     So, as you read through the book of Acts, you learn how to live through personal loss so that others gain? You remember all that the Apostles endured by staying in Jerusalem against all human logic. And, you even recognize the cool reversal on the ancient language mix up from the tower of Babel being reversed on that fateful day when the Holy Spirit came into play!

     There is unity in Christ! There is excitement! There is a positive change happening. At this point in scripture there was even a really cool moment when a guy in a chariot from Ethiopia came to believe in Christ after studying the words in Isaiah and talking to another Apostle Philip on the road. Tales of who Christ is and what He had done was transforming those who came near and rested in Him. Remember, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32) It has been a remarkable time for the church, everyone is sharing, caring, and if they are not being cared for they were now, the church had at this point fixed the initial problem (See Acts 6)… But, wait…everyone was not welcome.

     Yes, I said it. Everyone was not welcome in the church of Christ. There was some internal turmoil. But, the church was growing at an epic level. People were coming to know Christ as Lord in spite of the tremendous odds stacked against them! People were being generous to levels unexpected and in ways that have rarely if ever been replicated since. Jesus had transformed a city, a nation, a people!

     Yet, this was not enough, it wasn’t even close! Because innumerable  amount of people were not welcome in the church.

     God had bigger plans than what He had already done in Israel in the city of Jerusalem. This is where this part of the early church narrative really starts to take root. If you didn’t get this before, know this. Up until this point the only believers in Jesus that were in the church were Jews. The believers were people who were welcome in the Temple of God.

     The Jewish Temple did not allow foreigners in it, unless they had been fully converted. Men you may know what this entails, if not ask around. Fathers of young boys are often traumatized by this moment for their sons, at least I was. Otherwise you were considered a Gentile, a pagan, someone who could not know God.

     Yet, an angel, or a messenger of God, came to a man who in Acts is described as a man who feared God, but didn’t know of Jesus…yet.

     This man was an outsider. This man who feared God was an outsider to the church and its people. He was not like them, he was different, he would not fit in at a normal gathering, and if he had come to the church he probably would have been shunned out the door. He would have been forcefully removed from the Temple entrance by the leaders of the people, and the church would have probably applauded.

     Cornelius was such an outsider that even when Peter finally met him his first real statement was this: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” – Acts 10:28-29

     This is not a small topic or a joke, Peter was forbidden by his city, country, and people to meet with this guy and his family. It was not a biblical command, but one that had been interpreted into the culture.[1] Peter had to have a crazy dream about killing and eating animals that his city, people, and country also forbid, three times, to finally get the picture and understand that it was okay to go to this guy’s house.

     In a typical Peter moment, I love Peter because he gets rebuked and corrected by God all the time, God had to call him out and say, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:15b) Peter had some preconceived notions about things, situation, and even people that needed to be addressed.

     As we dive into the idea about being the living Gospel we must ask, what preconceived notions do we have about people, places, and situations? What prohibitions do we have, whether self or culturally built, that keep us from sharing Jesus with them?

You know that God is the God of all people, so treat others as if they are God’s.

     Peter went and trusted the Lord. He went where God called him to go. And so, Peter presented them the Gospel. He presented them with what Jesus had done for them on the cross.

     Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. - Acts 10:34-36

     It was nowhere near simple for Peter and those who went with him, to go to Cornelius’s house. It was nowhere near idealist for Peter to go into a pagan’s home. It seems possible that anyone else in the church would have done this it would have been the end of them. And, although Peter had shown himself to be a leader of God’s people, don’t think for one second that he did not have eyes watching him. Peter even had men with him, six to be precise, that were watching and doubtful (Acts 10:45). When Peter returned to Jerusalem he had to answer his critics.

     Peter had to defend the salvation of those whom God had established to those who were already a part of the Body of Christ. Question, when you bring someone to Christ do you ever think to yourself, now I have to defend their ability or viability in Christ to others? Peter, made a huge step. It was a massive step. It was a dangerous step.

     It went against everything the people of God had come to believe. Their savior was for their nation, their people’s savior. The messiah was to save them like Samson did from the Philistines, like Gideon did, like, David did, and like Hezekiah stood up to the empires of old, Assyria, and was able to preserve and restore the lands independence.

     The Israelites were the ones who were in need of saving. The Israelites were the ones who were longing and waiting for their anointed king, their messiah. The Romans were the ones they needed to be saved from, not the ones that needed to be saved.

     But, the long waited and longed for Israelite savior was found to be Jesus of Nazareth who hung on a Roman cross and died to give them eternity in the kingdom of God. These believers understood that what God had offered through Himself, Jesus, is much greater than any poultry nation. They had come to accept that believing in Jesus was not a militant hope. They had even accepted that they would not even be militant against their own peoples wickedness.

     But, accepting those outside of the nation of Israel, accepting people who were not part of the people of God. This might be a step to far. Now they had the opportunity to be like Jonah who only wanted God to be good to his people, no matter their wickedness, or to show steadfast love to all of God’s image bearers. 

God determines who someone is according to who He is, and we are therefore determined to make who God is known to them.

     This is important it. This is invaluable. This is the heart and premise of this part of God’s Word. The book of Acts is about opening doors for people to come to know God. And, every wall that gets in the way of people coming to know God seems to get torn down. …don’t be a wall, be the open door.

     Since this is obviously a happy story meant to challenge you and me, I think you know that Peter shared the Gospel and the people believed. But! It was more than that. When this seemingly unworthy/underserving outsider and his family believed in Jesus something amazing happened.

     While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. – Acts 10:44

     But, this isn’t the most amazing part! The people that came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit came to these people… They never expected “these people” to receive the gift that they were freely given. AND, THERE’S MORE!

     It was not simply that they received the Holy Spirit like so many since that first day. These undeserving different people received the Spirit in the same amazing way that those who first received it did. The Spirit came on them like it did that time where they spoke in others language and how the Spirit visibly went into them!

     Any person there that doubted God wanting them as His own, that God welcomed them, and that God loved them was proven wrong.

     Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” – Acts 10:47

     But, see that wasn’t the end of Peter’s discussion on who can know Jesus. When Peter went back to the church and to the other believers there was a group there angry that Peter had even went to these people.

     So, Peter responded to these accusations by saying, “The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. (Acts 11:12a) And Peter continued saying:

So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” – Acts 11:17-18

     Here’s the thing, we as a church are not always welcoming. We say we are, we really want to be, we aim to be, but often we fail to not only go out to others we fail to welcome different people in. I fail to welcome those I do not immediately connect with in. We must strive to not only go out to others, but also welcome those who want to come in, in. We must not push people away from Christ because we don’t want them with us.

     Worse than even this, the discussion later turned into a debate as to whether or not these people who believed in Jesus had to become like the people who taught them about Jesus. This is not simply talking about living for Jesus as He commands us in loving Him, God, and loving others.

     No! The people speaking to Peter wanted the people different than them to value what they valued. They wanted them to not simply imitate Christ, the church discussed whether others should think and be just like them.

     How often do we expect people to come to Christ and then to be like us the person who brought them to Christ? Coming to believe in Jesus does make a profound change in your life. It should transform your priorities, your language, your purpose, and the way you live a lot of your life. God literally says in His Word, the Bible, you must die to self.

     But, believing in Jesus does not mean that you change everything. To be like those in the church. These early Christians had to have these discussions, the church was coming from a legal system founded in Law, a law that gave order and also gave promises both of punishment and reward. More than that even, the early church grew up using the Psalms as their hymnals. Psalms that praised God’s judgement, death, and destruction of their enemies, from infants and women to kings and generals. There was no room for judgements leniency of what we call civilians.

     Although the distinctions of Acts may seem absurd they were very real and rooted in their culture, upbringing, and God’s Word. But, don’t lose sight of the fact that there was a time not so far back and even today that people who came to church were not welcome for simpler things than this.

     In recent church history mechanics who showed up to church after work and were asked to leave the church because they didn’t dress in their “best.” I met a 38 year old guy named Tony last Summer out by Boston. He was fighting back tears talking about his first church experience in decades.

     See Tony had been terrified to go to church because of the way a church had treated his dad, a mechanic. When he first went back to church as a 35-year-old knowing he needed something, knowing he needed Jesus, a 15 year old welcomed him to the church. Welcomed him with a hug. And, it broke him.

     A simple act of welcoming a grown man to church broke his resolve on life, his view of God, and his view of the church. He was welcomed to know God no matter what he was and no matter what he had done. (https://nlc.tv/my-story/tony-and-lizs-story/)

     We hesitate to talk to people we wouldn’t normally interact with, often not because we don’t want them to know Jesus, but because we don’t know how to relate with them to tell them about Jesus. I am telling you there were no two people further apart in the commonality columns than a Jewish former fisherman, Peter, and a military commander who had worked his way up the ranks in military service to Rome, Cornelius.

So, who do you share Jesus?

     The more relevant question to this contexts is, who do you not share Jesus with?

     And, as Peter says it, “Who are we to stand in the way of God?”

     If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” – Acts 11:17

Who do you not share Jesus with and where do you not share Jesus?

     By this I do not mean the far off regions of the world, but you should ask yourself the very tragic and emotional question if you would share the forgiveness of Jesus with a terrorist. On a smaller and lighter scale, would you share Jesus with the person who harmed your family. Would you want to give grace to a person who degraded your wife, your child, your mom or dad?

     This is a real question. Peter went to a commander in an army that was an oppressive and occupying force in the land that God had promised them. Peter went and shared and or showed grace to someone who was in opposition to his nation and his people. Yes, Cornelius was a God fearing man who did a lot of good, but what he represented was not. He represented a nation of ungodly, debased, and abhorred people who would eventually tear down his nations greatest landmark The Temple.

     Which leads to the second part of the question, is there a place around here that you will not talk about Jesus. Whether you do not talk about Jesus because you do not think they will accept it or because you do not want them to is beside the point. Every place, every person should hear about your great God, always!

     The God you and I believe in is great enough to change the hearts, minds, lives, and actions of any person. He is great enough to change and transform us. It does not matter how ornery or difficult a person is, God is greater, His grace is more, and His Spirit can overwhelm and transform the greatest of sinners or the most intractable of us all.

     Who knows by saving one, you may save many. Cornelius was one man, who feared God, but what He had done was call his whole family and his close friends to hear about Jesus (Acts 10:24). And, because someone came to speak with one saw all (Acts 10:44) of this large gathering of people (Acts 10:27) come to know the savior! By sharing Jesus with one person, you may change the eternal fate of many.

     So, how are you going to impact someone’s life for Christ this week?

 

[1] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2103.