Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Good News For All

Acts 10:34-43

 After his resurrection, Jesus commanded his followers to tell others about him all the way to the ends of the earth.  But up until the events recorded in Acts chapter 10, they understood their mission only in terms of the Jewish people.  Because of their unique relationship with God established in the Old Testament, the Hebrew people understood themselves to be a distinct nation, separate from the rest, and the only object of God’s affection.  

 But God’s Spirit was on the move.  A big change was coming to how they saw themselves and how they understood their mission.  

 It started with Cornelius.  Cornelius was a Roman centurion, a foreigner, a Gentile.  What’s more, he was part of the Empire that had oppressed the Jews for a century!  But Cornelius was also a devout and God-fearing man.  He had learned something of God from his time in Judea, and he found God to be good and worthy of his devotion.  He was generous toward the poor and a man of prayer.  All of this tells us that he had a heart that was responsive to God.  An angel appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter.  

Peter was about 20 miles away, in a town called Joppa.  He was up on the roof of the house where he was staying, praying, while lunch was being prepared.  There he experienced a vision.  A great “sheet” was let down out of the heavens by the four corners.  The sheet was full of many different kinds of animals, many of which were “unclean,” not suitable to be eaten according to Jewish purity laws.  

A voice told Peter, “Rise, kill and eat.”  Peter refused to do so, three or four times, depending on how the story is understood.  Each time Peter refused, the voice told him, “If it is acceptable to God, then don’t call it unacceptable.”  The vision ended, and Peter was at a loss as to its meaning.  Just then, Cornelius’ servants arrived at the home, and the Holy Spirit told Peter to go with them.  

Cornelius’ men stood outside the home, at the gate.  A good, law-abiding Jew would never go into the home of a Gentile, nor would they welcome Gentiles into their home.  After all, they were “unclean.”  But Peter welcomes them in.  The physical and psychological barriers are being broken down.  

Then Peter goes with them to Cornelius’ home.  Again, he is met at the gate by Cornelius.  But Peter goes into the home.  He listens to Cornelius’ story.

And then he says, “I see now that God does not show partiality.  From every nation, he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.”  Centuries of pride and prejudice are swept away in that simple statement.  The words of Isaiah 57:19 are fulfilled:  “May they have peace, both near and far, for I will heal them all.”  Peace and healing are available from God, both for those who are near and far.  Ephesians chapter two tells us that it was the Jews who were near, because they had been the people of the Old Covenant and they had the Scriptures, and it was the Gentiles who had been far, on the outside.  But now peace and healing from God are available to both.  

Up till now, Peter, a good Jew, had seen his own people as near and the Gentiles as far.  In other words, he’d seen the Jews as “clean” and the Gentiles as “unclean.”  But now he would not call unclean, unacceptable those whom God had accepted.  He would not withhold the message of God’s love and grace from them.

I think we all do the same thing.  We imagine certain types or groups of people as close to God, clean, acceptable to him.  But others are unclean, unacceptable, far from God.  It might be those who are in jail or who spent time there.  It might be the sexually promiscuous.  It might be gays and lesbians.  Perhaps it is drug addicts or alcoholics.  Maybe it’s the “bar flies” or the biker-gang types, who look too rough for our tastes.  Maybe it’s those whose social or political beliefs are far from ours:  Liberals, socialists, conservatives, and so on.  Maybe it’s Muslims.  

We might not do it consciously even.  Consciously, we might say, “Yes, God loves those people.  God wants relationship with them.”  But do our actions show it?  Would we “go into their homes?”  Would we talk with them about our faith in Jesus?  Would we invite them to know Jesus, too?  Or would we assume that they are too “far” from God to want anything to do with him?  

In God’s eyes, the issue is not race or language or class or status or age or politics or even lifestyle.  In God’s eyes, the issue is this:  Are they receptive to God?  Do they want to know God?  Do they want God in their lives?  Do they want to honor God with their lives?  Do they want a relationship with God and peace with him?  If the answer is yes, then they are acceptable to God.  

The issue is how do we respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ?  Peter shares the gospel with his audience in Cornelius’ home.  This is the message:

There is peace with God that we can have through Jesus Christ.  Jesus was announced by John the Baptist.  He was anointed by God’s Holy Spirit and filled with power.  He did miraculous works; healing and casting out evil spirits.  He was put to death on a cross.  On the third day after his death, he rose again to life.  He was seen.  There were witnesses to his resurrection, hundreds of them, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that we looked at in our sunrise service.  And after he rose, he told his disciples to share this message everywhere.  And now they finally understand what “everywhere” meant.

That is the message of Jesus Christ, the gospel.  But it’s a message that requires a personal response.  Unless you yourself put your faith in Jesus Christ, he can’t do anything for you.  The good news is that the message is available to all.  Even if others have thought you were “unclean,” too far away from God ever to come to him, the message is for you.  Even if you have thought of yourself as unclean, unacceptable to God, the message is for you.  

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