Overcoming Natural Prejudice!
Last week in our blog we were with Peter in Joppa when he had a vision concerning a sheet with lots of unclean food on it. Peter refused to eat when the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart and said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” (Acts10:15). Three times this vision repeated itself to validate its importance and significance in Peter’s life. We see Peter inviting these men into the home that he was staying at as we read, “Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guest. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up”, he said, “I am only a man myself”. Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “you are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” (Acts10:23-27 NIV). These men had expressed to Peter the vision that Cornelius had received. At this time the Gentiles didn’t like the Jewish people, and the Jews especially hated the Gentiles. Cornelius himself was a centurion of the Roman army who were occupying the land of Israel, another reason for their great hatred and prejudice. But imagine Peter’s surprised when he discovered the nature of his visitor's mission. Not only had Cornelius received a divine invitation from God in heaven, but He had also directed Cornelius to send for Peter.
It’s important to note here that Peter had the wisdom to bring along some of the brethren from Joppa on this rather unusual journey. Peter is in the process of crossing many barriers. The first was to sit down and eat with these men and then to in fact invite them to spend the night at Simon’s house. All of these things would have been against the religious standards and traditions of the great value for Jewish men. Peter said, “it was against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or to visit him”. Yet it wasn’t against the Old Testament law, but it was against the traditions that the Jewish people had added to their already burdensome Old Testament laws. You will not find in the Old Testament any law forbidding the Jews from entering the home of a Gentile. They just had internalized their prejudices into their traditions and standards. I guess you could say they were systematic racists against Gentiles. But God had a very different plan. Remember when Peter invited them to stay for lunch, he had never eaten with Gentiles, and they had probably never eaten with Jews. Maybe it was a little awkward situation, but for believers, the single most important thing that we can allow God to do in our lives is to allow the Holy Spirit to break through our natural prejudice and resentments. This is something every one of us needs to be open to as God speaks in the hearts and lives.
These individuals, perhaps up to 10 men, walked 30 miles in a day and a half from Joppa to Caesarea. It was probably doing this journey that Peter found out how many things they had in common with each other. Walking together for a long time will give you an opportunity to do that. Upon his arrival Peter found a very large audience waiting for him when he entered Cornelius’ house. Because Cornelius was coming out of paganism, he naturally reverenced or worshiped Peter, but Peter quickly refused such homage on the ground that he himself was merely a man. Peter truly was a servant of Christ and not a celebrity. It is important to recognize that it was the Holy Spirit who was convicting Peter about his prejudice against Gentiles. Notice his statement in verse 28, “But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean”. Peter really grasped the significance of the revelation he had as it concerned his relationship to Gentiles and the plan of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the redemption of his world. Cornelius himself had been a person of piety and morality, but that wasn’t good enough to get him into heaven. So, God called Peter to be the light that would lead to Cornelius into eternal salvation and likely everyone who was in the room that day. God is truly magnified and glorified when we allow Him to smash through barriers in our lives. Because God is for all people and loves all people we have also been called to love without distinction of race, nationality, or religious background. We are not to be instruments of hate and prejudice in a world that so desperately needs the light of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the world would know us by our love for one another. How are we doing in this regard and how can we improve our obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in loving one another in the midst of these dark and divisive times?
For God’s glory,
Pastor Rich Sivo