So now we finally get to the big meeting between the great apostle and Cornelius. I hope you won’t think I’m being irreverent when I make this comparison, but it’s almost like God was the matchmaker between the two. The Lord told Cornelius exactly where to go to get what he needed, and the same God sent a not-so-subtle message to Peter that his prejudices had to be abandoned completely. All his life Peter had been told that Gentiles were evil, depraved idol-worshippers who all had a spot in Hell reserved for them. His willingness to stay at a tanner’s house reflected a slight loosening of his traditional Jewish upbringing, but his Savior planned to turn that early-spring thaw into a bright summer day. And just to make sure he got the message, the Lord sent the vision three times just as Cornelius’s men were knocking at the front door.
So Peter arrived at Cornelius’s house with the entourage, and the apostle made a wonderful statement: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Oh, really Pete?! Ya think?! How long did it take you to reach that conclusion? OK, I’m going to stop bringing up Peter’s and the early church’s recalcitrance in actually obeying the Great Commission. The point of this is not to bash anyone, especially an apostle. The point is to sound a word of warning: If this could happen to an apostle of the Lord Jesus, then how can we assume we’re immune from our own biases?
I’m not going to get too much into the sermon. It’s a great sermon, but none of it is really anything you haven’t heard before. However, there’s one thing I’d like to point out. Do you see a major difference between this sermon and his first one on Pentecost? Well, for one thing, there’s a lot less Old Testament Scripture being cited in this one. Peter was all over the O.T. in his first sermon: He referenced the prophet Joel, and two Psalms of David. We’ll get into this a lot more when we get to Paul’s speech in Athens, but I’d like to touch on it here. When Peter was addressing a Jewish audience who knew and cared about the Old Testament Scriptures (they would just call them the Scripture), he cited a lot from that resource. When he was addressing a Gentile audience who had some regard for it (Cornelius was obviously a God-fearer), he cited it a little. When Paul addressed a Gentile audience who didn’t know or care what Moses or David or the prophets had to say, he didn’t bring them up.
When you’re sharing the Good News of Christ with someone, it pays to know your audience and tailor it to them. This has nothing to do with compromising the truth of the Message. It does mean you approach it differently and present it in a different “package.” As I said, we’ll get into that more at a later time.
And what a result! I have a term for things like this: a “Cadillac problem.” You know, if you had a mechanical problem with your Cadillac and tried to complain about it. It’s a problem you love to have, like not having enough chairs at church or having so much money you don’t know where to spend it all. Peter’s problem was that he didn’t even get to finish his sermon! He got to the part about faith in Christ bringing forgiveness of sin, and apparently that was enough!
While he was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down and visibly manifested his power and grace and the fact that these Gentiles were just as much saved and in the Kingdom as Peter or anyone else. The Spirit decided to duplicate an aspect of Pentecost (the speaking in tongues) to make it abundantly clear that here there was no longer any division between Jew and Gentile. And the amazing thing? Peter was surprised by his success! He and his companions were shocked by all this!
So when I’m doing things God’s way, things turn out better than we ever hoped. Hmmmmmmm. Do you see a pattern here?
Lord Jesus, if there’s any pride in my heart, any lingering notion that I’m better than someone else, root it out. If there’s any idea that I deserve anything good from you any more than anyone else in the world, please root it out. In any heart where you’re the Boss, there’s no room for any of that nonsense. By your grace, we’re going to clean house.