Can you imagine what it would have been like to grow up learning about God but being prohibited from sharing this knowledge with people who weren’t like you? Or being forbidden to associate with people who weren’t like you?
This was a very real scenario for Jewish people (Acts 10:28) and because of that, early Christ followers apparently carried this mindset forward into their new walk with God.
The truth is – God sent his Son, Jesus, to die for everyone.
Probably the most famous verse in the bible is John 3:16. For God so loved — the world — not just good people, not just the respectable people, not just the somewhat religious people. God loved (and loves) the world. He sent his Son to die for those who did not know Him, for those who were far from Him. He sent his Son to die so that all might have a way to the Father.
In Acts 10, we are introduced to Cornelius, a Gentile – a foreigner and non-Jew. Cornelius prayed to God continually. In a vision, God told him to send for Peter who was staying in a house by the sea.
On the first read through this story, it’s easy to believe that it’s all about Cornelius and his experience of the Holy Spirit. However, I believe that the person most impacted by this whole encounter was in fact, Peter.
If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.
Peter had had his mind blown. First God used the vision of the animals in the sheet to break down some barriers that Peter struggled with. Then God poured out His Spirit in same manner that Peter had seen before – but this time on the Gentiles – people whom respectable Jews did not usually associate with.
Up until this moment, non-Jews (Gentiles) were basically overlooked by the disciples. Excluded from the good news and freedom found in Christ because early Christ followers did not fully understand how vast and inclusive God’s love really was.
God plays no favorites.
God had used this event to show Peter (and all of us) that He is not one to show partiality (Acts 10:34). It doesn’t matter about outward appearance, income level, family background, lineage, past sins and mistakes, ethnic makeup or the like. He does not favor one person over another.
Every single person is deeply valued by God – and Jesus’ sacrifice was enough that it is possible for everyone to know God. No one is excluded or forgot about by God. There is no sin that cannot be cleansed or chains that cannot be broken through knowing Him.
Then there’s us humans.
When Peter got back from Joppa he traveled up to Jerusalem and came under attack from fellow believers for reaching out to the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). Peter managed to talk them round and we see they ended glorifying God, and after that we had more disciples starting to preach to non-Jews (v19-21).
Still, it will hardly surprise anyone to hear that there was still a lot of opposition to this. Opposition was so strong, that even Peter pulled back for a time (Galatians 2:11-12).
In fact a lot of us are in that position right now. We overlook whole sections of our community that desperately need Jesus. We have many reasons why –
- We’re afraid of the mess, the brokenness, the baggage.
- We’re afraid of getting involved because of what people might think or say.
- We want to keep things nice and simple because we’ve got a good thing going.
This is not how it’s supposed to be. God’s love, grace and mercy is not exclusive. It’s inclusive beyond our comprehension. Everyone is welcome at God’s table.
So the challenge coming out of this is to look at ourselves and who we associate with and reach out to, and who we invite to church. Are we being exclusive or inclusive?