|Create Date||October 11, 2018|
|Last Updated||October 11, 2018|
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Who are your Gentiles?
The story of Peter and Cornelius
Redhill. 7 October 2018. Presented by Gordon Green
In Acts10 we meet a man by the name of Cornelius. He was a Roman officer - a centurion - which meant that he was in charge of 100 soldiers. He was an important man of authority in the Roman army. “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to god regularly” V2. Although he was not yet a believer in Christ he was a godly man. He sincerely and fervently sought God and God's ways. “Devout” in the Greek means holy awe or reverence that shows itself in activity. His faith, therefore, was not just confined to the heart but was demonstrated in active deeds.
One day he had a vision. An angel came to him and called his name and said, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.” So Cornelius sent his servants to Joppa. In v9 Peter enters the story. Peter, although a Christian, still practiced the Jewish traditions. He had accepted Jesus as the Christ, but after years of being raised in the Jewish tradition, much of his perspective was still Jewish. It’s possible that Peter saw the Christian religion as reserved for the Jews. It’s extremely difficult to change your thinking after you have either been brought up to believe certain things or even over a period of a few years.
At the same time Cornelius’ men were on their journey to meet Peter, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened, and something like a large sheet descending from heaven. It contained all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." Peter responded in shock and disbelief. He shouted "Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Typical Peter! Peter was more zelous for the law and tradition than the voice of God. This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the shocking vision the men arrived at his house. The Spirit said to him, "Simon, three men are looking for you. He didn’t explain the vision but left him wondering. “So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them."
Who sent them? Cornelius thought he sent them. God said He sent them. Do you see how God works with humans to do things? Cornelius didn’t realise he did it with God. A new era was about to be ushered in for the Christian faith. Peter went down and said to the men, "I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?" They told him about Cornelius. Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. He showed them hospitality. He still didn’t know what the vision meant but started by obeying the voice of God. This was a total departure from custom. Gentiles in his house? Eating together? This was a revolution! The next day they set out to meet up with Cornelius.
The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. This was unheard of but God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. Sounds like he finally got the vision. This is one of the most important scriptures in Acts and the whole Bible. Have you noticed that we often put labels on people - and then we go our separate ways? Putting labels on others or categorizing others creates distance and gives us a convenient exit strategy for avoiding involvement. Labels relieve us of responsibility. Jesus took an entirely different approach. He was all about including people, not excluding them. Jesus touched lepers and loved foreigners and spent so much time with party goers that people called him names (Mt 11:19). Racism couldn’t keep Jesus from the Samaritan woman, demons couldn’t keep him from the demon possessed, leprosy couldn’t keep him from the lepers. Instead of seeing people as problems, Christ saw them as opportunities.
What is the message for us today? God calls us to change the way we look at people. Not to see them as Gentiles or Jews, insiders or outsiders, liberals or conservatives. He doesn’t want us to label. We don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look (2Cor 5:16). Let’s evaluate people differently; let’s view them as we do ourselves. Flawed, blemished, perhaps. Unfinished, for certain. Yet once rescued and restored we may shed light. We need to understand how big this was. There was this gigantic gulf between Jews and Gentiles in the days of the early church. A Jew couldn’t drink milk drawn by Gentiles or eat their food. Jews could not aid a Gentile mother in need. Jewish physicians could not attend to non-Jewish patients. No Jew would have anything to do with a Gentile. They were unclean. Unless that Jew, of course was Jesus. He was more concerned about bringing everyone in than shutting certain people out. This was the tension Peter felt. His culture said, “Keep your distance from Gentiles.” His Christ said “build bridges to Gentiles.” And Peter had to make a choice. This encounter with Cornelius forced his decision. Remember too that Cornelius was an officer in the Roman army. So he was both Gentile and bad guy in the eyes of the Jews. But look again at Cornelius. He helped needy people and sympathised with Jewish ethics. He was kind and devout. V28"You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. As we have been learning; Jews were not to associate with Gentiles, much less visit with them. And then light went on for Peter and he remembers the vision. "How can I call anything that God creates unclean . . . Why that is not just about dietary rules . . . It is about people." The supposed "unclean animals" represented the Gentiles, and suddenly God is no longer just the God of the Jew. It must have been so difficult for Peter - and so humbling, and yet how tremendous it was that the disciple was open to this truth. This was the time for Peter to share the gospel with his newfound friend and equal. And he does. He forgets the religious barrier, and begins to tell Cornelius about Jesus, his baptism, his healing ministry, his crucifixion, and his resurrection – about who he is and what has happened to him because of who God is. And as the gospel was being presented, the Holy Spirit pours out onto the gentiles, and they began praising God, and speaking in unknown languages. Peter now realized what his vision had been about. Even the Gentiles could be baptized Christians.
Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (Acts 10:34-35). Peter fairly exploded with his good news: "It's God's own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favourites! It makes no difference who you are or where you're from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. He then spoke about and proclaimed the finished work of Christ.
What a revolutionary story – a gigantic shift in thinking. This was the beginning of the witnessing about Christ to everyone, and not exclusively to the Jews. This was a new era in Christianity. Later, Saul, the persecutor, a Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians, would become Paul the apostle who took the gospel to the entire gentile nations. What a story!
Although these words were written 2000 years ago they are for us today. There are no excuses for the way we treat people who are different from us. But we all have Gentiles. We may not be crazy enough to hurt them, but don't we all select our group and consider ourselves the chosen, from time to time? It seems that in any country anyone who is different is in danger of confronting animosity. Why can't we learn what Peter learned in his vision --that God is no respecter of persons, that God's love is extended to all. Who are your gentiles? Is there anyone you view with suspicion because they are somehow different from you? While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
A happy ending to such an inspiring story! Everything was turning out so positive, people’s lives were being changed, doors were being swung open, people were happy. Was everyone happy? No! People were hearing that Peter had baptised Gentiles. Never! So what happened? We will find out as we continue this momentous and revolutionary journey with the people of the early church.
Prayer: Father you use all types of people for your purposes; prostitutes, murderers, persecutors, liars, thieves, swindlers, the illiterate, the ignorant, the blind, the lame. Please give me the grace to treat everyone I meet as someone for whom Jesus died and rose again. Let there be no sinful distinctions in my eyes and no unworthy favouritism in my actions. Instead make me a vessel through whom Jesus shines.