Ten years after the ascension of Christ and his command to "go and make disciples of all nations" and be "witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Mt 28:19; Acts 1:8), in other words the mission to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people – the outreach to the nations and peoples who are not-Jewish - has not yet started.
The blame has to be placed on the understanding of the division between Jew and Gentile prescribed by the interpretation of the Old Testament Law that forbade almost all contact with Gentiles.
Acts 10 is about God bringing an end to the idea of “unclean people”. Two people play out God’s message to the church, namely Peter – a preacher but a Jew and Cornelius a religious man who feared the God of Israel, but a Gentile.
Cornelius, though a Gentile, had very impressive religious credentials: he feared the only true God, gave generously, and prayed constantly. Nevertheless, there was something lacking in his faith, and being religious, was not enough: it was of the essence for him to first of all believe in Christ Jesus.
The other main human actor in this story is Peter. We know him as an impatient follower of the Lord. Yet he also was a man who became stuck in the traps often found in tradition and culture. His traditions and culture would not allow him to actively begin a mission to the Gentiles.
One day, about lunch time, Peter was standing on the roof waiting for his food to be prepared. (vs 10). Then Peter had a vision of a cloth coming out of the sky filled with all kinds of creatures – all of them ceremonially unclean according to the dietary laws of the Jews. A voice from heaven said, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat" (vs 13). Peter replied, "Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean" (vs 14). Then the most interesting and marvellous words came to Peter: "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (vs 15).
God is from beginning to end the main actor and director of the Christian mission story. It is God who breaks down the barriers often caused by human traditions. It is God who initiates the Gentile mission and brings Cornelius into the church as a full member. It was God who took steps to let also the Gentiles hear about redemption through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.
Peter parted with his traditions and culture because of the Lord's leading. It was God's Spirit which allowed Peter to make the leap from impure or unclean food to impure or unclean people. So Peter himself says, "God has shown me that I should not call any person impure or unclean" (vs 28). That Peter learned the lesson is obvious from what he says: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism" (vs 34). God has no favourites. He does not favour one culture over another or one person over another!
There are still Christians with the same fears and desires as were in Peter and the Jewish Christians. They too want to protect themselves from those they consider to be "unclean." When God's people think and act like this, God's marvellous and loving words to the nations come back to us, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
We should never act this way. We are called to be a living testimony of the unity of Christ’s people, in spite of cultural diversity or any other differences. We are called to be warm, loving, and accepting of all those who walk through the doors of our churches, our homes and our businesses. We have to believe that we, like Peter, have to know the truth about God: that he does not show favouritism but accepts every person who fear him and follow our Lord Jesus. Most of all, in Church, we cannot favour one member more than others.
This truth is important for all who are redeemed in Christ. For if God did show favouritism, then none of us would be or could be saved.
Make room for others in the church. May no one ever think that we are favoured by God above others.
Instead, let's celebrate and love the diversity of Christ's body and become part of God’s mission story.