The Gospel Goes Global
This story is a turning point for the church. Until now, the Apostles understood Jesus’ teaching as being for the Jews. There had been the odd example of outsiders being welcomed into the Church - e.g. the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8: 25 - 40 (who may have been a Falasha - Ethiopians who claim descent from the lost tribe of Dan, and were therefore more or less Jews anyway). But now God does something radical. Not only does He call Peter to go to a Gentile household, He actually sends an angel to the Gentile first.
When Peter makes his statement in verse 28, after his vision of the unclean creatures (vs 9 - 16), it is easy to gloss over just how radical a statement he is making. For a Jew, to enter a Gentile home made one unclean - requiring daylong purification rituals before going back into normal Jewish society. Furthermore, this was not any old Gentile; it was a serving, senior officer in the hated army of Roman occupation. This story is often shown from the perspective of Cornelius’ conversion, but the reality is that Peter underwent as radical a conversion as Cornelius. For he at last grasped the great truth Jesus had been trying to teach him - the Gospel was for all peoples, regardless of culture, social status or background. And he had to get over his prejudices towards the Romans, and Roman soldiers in particular pretty quickly (after all, it was Roman soldiers that crucified Jesus, it was they who had killed and persecuted the Jewish people for decades - they were the enemy). Imagine a Hamas militant and an Israeli settler in the present day sitting down together an accepting one another in the same way. That’s how radical a conversion Peter had to undergo.
Jesus had clearly demonstrated several times during His ministry that the Gospel was for everyone (think of the Syro-Phoenician Woman in Matthew 15: 21 - 28, or the Samaritan Woman in John 4). Most notable was the Roman Centurion in Matthew 8: 5 - 13; Jesus pointed out on seeing this man’s faith how many of those who thought they belonged to the Kingdom would be left behind, while many that seemed to be well outside the Kingdom would be found right at its heart. This must have been very offensive to the Jews around Jesus.
But are we any different? Do we think our own brand of Christianity or our own cultural expression is God’s chosen one? Are we in danger of missing out because we are complacently thinking ‘well, I’m in a good Church in a Christian country, so I’m sure I’m on the right road’? And do we look on other types of Christians with contempt because they’ve got ‘dodgy theology’ or rather old fashioned ways of dressing or worship songs that belong to the early part of the last century? Do we let our cultural (and, dare I say it, racial) prejudices blind us to where God is working and keep us from hearing what Christians from other parts of the world have to say to us? Paul had to deal with this a lot during his ministry, and even had to have a go at Peter (who by now should have known better!) for having double standards in dealing with Christians of another culture (Galatians 2: 11 - 14).
The big shock about worshipping with Christians from other corners of the globe can be to find how different Christians can be culturally and still worship the same God, and how much of what we take as Gospel is in fact cultural. We need Christians of every culture and colour, because the picture of the Kingdom in Isaiah and Revelation shows us that the final ingathering will be from all corners of the Earth - and there will be no uniformity in heaven - praise God!
If you have not already done so, and if it is at all possible, get involved with a local church rather than staying with the Western expatriate church. Find out how others worship, learn from their ways of following Jesus, however alien they may seem at first. You may have more to learn and receive than to give, but don’t be afraid to share what God has given you as well - we are all richer for learning from one another.
Galatians 3: 26 - 29
Isaiah 2: 1 - 4; 66: 20 - 22
Revelation 7: 9 - 10