God has a funny way of making a point.
New International Version (NIV)
Peter at Cornelius’s HouseThe next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 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. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[a] and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 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.
Previously we saw where God had spoken to Peter in a vision.
A sheet came down from heaven showing him all kinds of animals that would have been considered unclean. In other words, a Jewish person would not have taken them for food. As we covered in previous weeks, the Hebrew religious life centered around the idea that God has set them apart as God's holy people. This viewpoint, though, seems to have warped their idea of the mission to be a light to the world around them. As Peter would say to Cornelius' household - "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile." For the Jew, who they associated with and spent time around was very serious business. Even in their own society, the rich did not associate with poor. The religious did not associate with people they considered not pious or unrighteous. Then comes the idea of speaking with or carrying on a conversation with someone outside of their cultural setting. A "gentile" would be anyone outside of the Jewish life. Regardless of their nationality, the idea of associating with someone that did not believe in the Almighty God of the Hebrew faith was expressly forbidden.
It's time to bust up a comfort zone.
Let's take this right to the doorstep of application.
Blacks & Whites. The Haves & the Have-nots. Christians & anyone of any other faith.
Going outside of our own world of culture or social norm or economic status is an unwritten rule that causes more than a few eyebrows to be raised and more a few sweaty palms in the church pew. God intends for believers to cross lines in order to spread the message of what Christ has done. The focus of this Christian faith is not ourselves. It is Christ. The message is about what Christ has done for the world. We are the vessels that carry that message. The real issue for all of us is that of surrender. Are we surrendered so that God could take us and use wherever he wants to take us and use us? Peter has some ideas in his head that have been taught to him since he was young and he has held these ideas as central to his religious life. Then God comes and takes those ideas and break them up. It's still a hard thing to part with in our hearts even after God shines the light down the path we must go.
Peter comes all the way to Cornelius' house still hanging on to the idea that he probably shouldn't be connecting with these Roman people. But, God has shown him a vision. There is an air reluctance in Peter's words. However, there is enough surrender in Peter's heart that he cannot hang tight to those convictions he has grown up living by. He comes to Caesarea, because he believes that this what he has been directed to do by the Holy Spirit. All convictions and biases go out the window when we realize that God has spoken. "So, when I was sent for I came without raising any objection." What our passage here in Acts shows us is that the need to share the message of Christ supersedes our prejudices. Everyone needs to know about Christ. Everyone needs a chance to hear. Regardless of their religious views. Regardless of the economic standing. Regardless of what we personally think about them on a racial or social level. "For God so loved the world..." Everyone. That means you. That means the person across the street. That means the black man holding up the cardboard sign on the side of the freeway. God loves everybody.
The other major issue that is addressed here is that of how God chooses to bless people.
God wants to pour out his Holy Spirit upon us. However, in our religious and theological frameworks, we tend to think that it has to happen in a certain order, in a certain way. I recall again my time with the Nazarenes and how they seemed to have a specific stipulation about where and when salvation and then sanctification had to occur. A person wasn't saved unless that had prayed and accepted Christ at the altar, in the presence of elders of the church and the pastor. Sanctification happened when the group came and laid hands upon you while praying for you to receive the Holy Spirit. If my religious experience has shown me anything it is that God can do whatever God wants to do in whatever order God wants to do it in. That is most certainly what God is showing Peter here. The principal of the Christian faith is belief. It is not order or ritual. We do not put our faith a how we came to the place believing. We put our faith in the One who saves us.
These people in Cornelius' house have not been formally introduced to Christ. They believe in "God".
As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, "God" is a pretty broad subject until we come to hear and understand the name of Jesus Christ. They hear it. They believe what Peter has shown to them. They have not been baptized yet, or made any sign that they have repented and put their sins behind them. God instead pours out his Spirit upon them. God could be showing Peter that he has the freedom to do things out of order. He could also be showing Peter the evidence that these people actually believe his message. The two ideas go hand in hand. I know as a preacher that I would love to see the evidence that what I am saying is getting through to the hearts of the people I am speaking to. Instead of making a big deal about the exact order of things, God pours out the Spirit before these Roman folks have actually made their commitment through the sacrament of baptism. Reading through this passage gives me even more confidence in how we as United Methodists approach baptism with our emphasis upon God's grace reaching down to us making us a child of God. The important part is not our commitment, but that of God's confirmation that we belong to Him. That validation should cause us to want to make a commitment to God in Jesus Christ.
"Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." Do you know either blessing? Have you been baptized? Do you know what it means to be made a child of the Almighty God? Have you given your life to Christ and asked him to come into your heart and life? Do you know what it is to receive the Holy Spirit? Has God poured out his blessing on you? Have you asked? Have you sought with your heart? Have you knocked on the door?
Jesus comes to your door. Regardless of your race. Regardless of what society might think of you. Regardless of what you might think of others in society. Regardless of your prejudices and your hardheartedness. God comes to you. He longs to bring you near. He longs to make you his child.
What are you waiting for?