Acts chapters 8 – 11 chronicle the important movement in the early church to include the Gentiles into the fellowship of believers.
The shift in the church begins with the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The result of Stephen’s tragic death was a scattering of believers from Jerusalem in order to avoid persecution. What follows is the powerful story of the conversion of Saul, the greatest persecutor of the early church, into Paul, who would become the greatest missionary the early church had seen.
Acts chapter 10 is the account of Peter’s change of mind towards the Gentiles through a vision from God and a conversation that occurs in the home of Cornelius. The culmination of the inclusion of the Gentiles came after Peter’s persuasive recounting of what he experienced in chapter 10 in response to the circumcised believers in Jerusalem. The response of the Jerusalem leaders to Peter is recorded in Acts 11:18, “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to the Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life’.” The events of these chapters settled the question; the church was not only for Jews but Gentiles were also included.
The passage before us, Acts 10:34-43, is Peter’s account after a “holy angel” instructed Cornelius to invite Peter to his house.
Peter begins by stating a new realization; God does not show favoritism. (προσωπολήμπτης)
It seems that throughout the passage Peter wrestles with implications of this new realization. We see him provide various historical examples of God calling people out for his specific purposes. Those examples beg the question of favoritism; if a person is called, does that not reflect some sense of favoritism on the part of God? The people of Israel were given the message of God to announce the good news of peace through Jesus Christ (v. 36). Were the people of Israel God’s favorites? God chose witnesses who ate and drank with Jesus after he rose from the dead (v. 41). Were they his favorites? God has commanded us to preach to the people and to testify about him (v. 42). Are not we, the clergy, God’s favorites?
Peter’s new realization was that none of this is a result of God’s partiality or favoritism. Jews are not favored over Gentiles, witnesses of the resurrected Christ are not favored over those who did not see, and clergy called to preach the message are not favored over laity. Instead, in every nation, grace is extended to those who believe in God through the life and ministry of Jesus. Peter learned that God’s call, in any form, does not equal his partiality toward us over those who do not have similar calls. Instead God’s calling out comes with a responsibility to be a conduit to announce God’s impartial grace to all those around us.
As Peter wrestles with his new revelation he inserts a series of faith statements which form what sounds like a compressed creed (vrs. 36-40). Peter reminds us of the truly important characteristics of our story: God’s saving acts through Jesus Christ. Instead of a god who calls a few out of favoritism and partiality, these verses reveal a God who extends his saving grace to all who are willing to receive. This forms the content of the message the clergy is called to proclaim. Praise God that his grace is offered to all without favoritism, even to the Gentiles.
Questions for Preaching and Further Consideration
Are there evidences in our lives and ministries that indicate that we are operating out of an understanding of God’s favoritism? —as a nation? as witnesses to the Gospel? as ordained clergy?
Where is repentance and forgiveness necessary in this area?
What is God’s call in your life? What is God’s call in the lives of the people in your congregation?
Who are those who may seem to be God’s favorites and those who may seem to be outside of God’s partiality?
How can God’s impartial grace be announced and realized in all?
About the Contributor
Field Strategy Coordinator – Central Europe Field, COTN
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