For around ten years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first Christians were active in telling others about Jesus, but only to Jews. On the Day of Pentecost Peter had stated quite plainly that the good news of Jesus was “for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (Acts 2:39 NET). It was for the Jews (you and your children) and for the Gentiles (all who are far away). (In the Jewish way of thinking, they were near to God and everyone else, who were Gentiles, were far away from God.)
Although Samaritans had also been taught and had accepted the message of Jesus (see Acts 8), they were still partly of a Jewish background. Those who had no Jewish connection had yet to hear about forgiveness through Jesus.
For the Jew, spending time with a Gentile was forbidden. “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile…” (Acts 10:28). So how could this almost insurmountable barrier be broken down? God used three supernatural events to convince the Jewish Christians that Gentiles were acceptable to him, as well.
God began to put everything in motion with a devout, God-fearing Roman, who was wanting to follow the true God. To get his attention, he sent an angel to speak with him in a vision.
“About three o’clock one afternoon he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, ‘Cornelius.’ Staring at him and becoming greatly afraid, Cornelius replied, ‘What is it, Lord?’ The angel said to him, ‘Your prayers and your acts of charity have gone up as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa and summon a man named Simon, who is called Peter’” (Acts 10:3-5).
Next, God needed to prepare Peter to be willing to speak to a Gentile. It was to be Peter because Jesus had given him the “keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19), in essence to be the first to proclaim the good news of Jesus to the Jews (Acts 2) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). God sent him a vision, as well.
“He saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down to earth by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and wild birds. Then a voice said to him, ‘Get up, Peter; slaughter and eat!’ But Peter said, ‘Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled and ritually unclean!’ The voice spoke to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!’ This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven” (Acts 10:11-16).
Although Peter didn’t immediately understand the vision, the Spirit told him to go with the men Cornelius sent without hesitation. By the time he arrived in Caesarea, Peter had worked out what God was trying to show him: “God has shown me that I should call no person defiled or ritually unclean” (Acts 10:28). And he proceeded to tell Cornelius and those with him about Jesus.
Finally, God sent the gift of the Holy Spirit on those who heard the message, causing Peter to conclude: “‘No one can withhold the water for these people to be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’ So he gave orders to have them baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:47-48).
All people need to hear the good news of Jesus. It matters not who they are or where they are from, their economic status or their background. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).
Readings for next week:
30 April – Acts 10
1 May – Acts 11
2 May – Acts 12
3 May – Acts 13:1-25
4 May – Acts 13:26-52