Friday, January 12, 2018

Acts 10: Peter and Cornelius


This is a story passage.  Not a lot of direct doctrinal teaching, but a very powerful and important message. 

BIG IDEA:  GOD is teaching them that the Jesus faith is not the Jewish faith.  He’s taking it slowly because God knows how entrenched in our bodies, our cultures, our families, and our experiences we are.

Context: Everything in the book of Acts up to now.

Acts 2:  Gospel preached in several different languages, not Hebrew.
Acts 5:  Ananias and Saphira judged—we are not the synagogue and won’t be doing things that way
Acts 6:  We have a responsibility to all members of the church regardless of status.  And the leaders are not all from Jerusalem; Jerusalem is not going to run the show.  (Hellenistic Jews vs. Hebrew Jews, one of them from Antioch)
Acts 7-8 – There will be lots of persecution.  You won’t be able to hide behind your ethnicity.  The Jewish leaders and the Romans are going after you.
Acts 8 – the Ethiopian eunuch (eunuch were not accepted in the temple, and he is a black man)
Acts 9 – God may even save the person who was trying to destroy his work—and he must be accepted, too. 

However, all the converts up to this time had either been born Jewish or became Jewish at some point in their lives before becoming Christians.  That is going to change. This should not surprise them, since Jesus said to go to all the world with the gospel (not just to the Jews in all the world) and ministered to Gentiles himself (centurion’s daughter healed, Matthew 8:5)

Acts 10.  As we read this long passage, think about this:  Let’s say you have never ever had interaction with an Asian person.  You had on top of that been told all your life by everyone you knew and trusted that the only way an Asian person could become a Christian would be to have plastic surgery so they had different eyes and didn’t look Asian anymore.  They could become a Christian but couldn’t have anything to do with their Asian heritage or culture or past. 
And then God say, “All you’ve been taught about Asians is wrong.  It was a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian, and you have to stop believing and practicing that because it’s wrong and we’re not going to do it that way anymore.  I won’t stand for it.  Asians are just like you before me. And you don’t get special treatment anymore because of who your ancestors were.”  And to make it worse, God tells you to tell everyone else this. 

This is exactly what happens to Peter, in essence.  (Read text.)

God is in the business of exploding our mindsets when they are wrong, when they harm the body of Christ, when the go against his gospel, and when they keep people from coming to grace.  The book of Acts is basically about this.  It’s not just about a quantitative change in the church (more people) but qualitative at the deepest, DNA cellular level.  For Jews to accept Gentiles who had formerly been idolators, and also had enslaved their own people, and done worse must have been very difficult, and many probably balked at it.  It might have even been a stumbling block to faith for some Jews who couldn’t get past their prejudices. 

The story of Cornelius and Peter means for us that we must embrace people of cultural differences when asked to, which has already happened.  I’m not talking about pop cultural trends or even all their cultural practices (some of that would be impossible) but to embrace the people. 

Granted, this expectation is hard.  How do we connect with persons of other cultures?  It is time consuming and we (I) will (do) fail, and many of us will decide it’s not worth it, or just not our thing.  When I started teaching ESL class, I assumed I would be working with Latinos.  That was fine—I teach at a college with 27% Hispanic population and I speak Spanish.  Well, I am dealing with Arabic speakers, for the most part.  Fascinating, but uncomfortable.  I don’t know a word of their language! They are Muslims!  Their world views are not Western!  But there they are, in my class, trying to learn English.  They are refugees, and I am learning about U.S. policies toward refugees and immigrants (a complex subject). Ironically, the Latinos might have been undocumented, but I am used to that. 

Challenge:  Who in the church is different and you must get out of your comfort zone to connect with them?  Our church has ministries to Hispanics, Russians, Arabic speakers, and Cambodians as well as black and white people.  We are like the church in the book of Acts, and I am proud of that every time I walk in the doors. 

Big Question:  When was a time you had to get out of your comfort zone?  Peter was way out of his comfort zone when he went to Cornelius.  What about us?

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