If the Great Commission (Matthew 28) and Jesus’ mandate (Acts 1) were to be properly fulfilled, someone among the disciples was going to have to be prepared to talk to the Gentiles. Easier said than done. It would take a big step out of the comfort zone.
But if it didn’t happen, how would someone like Cornelius, a decent, God-fearing Roman army officer, ever come to know Jesus? None of Jesus’ original followers was likely to be in a hurry to help him.
God, however, had plans for Cornelius. It was never his plan for the good news to be restricted to one nationality. The blessing of Abraham was meant to be a blessing to all nations, just as people from all nations were to be baptised.
And God had plans for the fledgling church of the early chapters of Acts: not least Peter. They – and he – would be taken out of their comfort zone. Old restrictions would be done away with and old barriers would be broken down.
So it was that while God was sending an angel to assure Cornelius that his prayers had been heard and to tell him what to do next, he was sending a paradigm-shifting vision to Peter. A feast of creepy crawlies and other creatures that a good Old Testament Jew would never eat: and that is what Peter told the Lord (had he forgotten what Jesus had taught about food in Mark 7?). But the Lord challenged Peter: how could he call unclean something that God has made clean?
Three times it happened, leaving Peter scratching his head as to the meaning.
Until three men came to his door and the Holy Spirit told him to go along with them: without hesitation. The three men were two of Cornelius’ servants and one of his soldiers. They’d come to invite Peter to do some personal evangelism at the home of Cornelius. Everything now fell into place. God had been knocking down some walls in Peter’s mind, walls that would have restricted the scope of Peter’s witness and the building of the church.
The incident marked a very significant stage in the development of the gospel in Acts. Not only Peter’s mindset had to change: the mindset of the whole church had to change – and some of them needed some persuasion (see Acts 11); and there would be further challenges along the road – Acts 15, Galatians.
A couple of thoughts about how this might apply.
- What prejudices does the church need to get beyond to be effective in 21st century witness? Are there groups of people that we are not likely to talk to? Are some of our prejudices based (like Peter’s) on religio-cultural beliefs?
- It’s fascinating to see how God was preparing Peter for what he was about to ask him to do. It’s worth keeping our eyes open today for ways that God might be preparing us today to use us tomorrow. How might God be changing you today in preparation for an out of the comfort zone ministry opportunity that’s about to come your way?