“For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility … His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” Ephesians 2:14-16 (NIV2011)
Racial prejudice is ugly. It hurts. It’s painful. It creates a dividing wall of hostility between people. The subtle lie hidden in racial prejudice is that some are “superior” and others are “inferior”. God had to break the infant church free of this hateful prejudice if it would ever accomplish His purpose to reach the world for which His Son died. He began with the leadership – Peter.
Peter preached the first sermon that gave birth to the infant church in Acts 2. Three thousand Jewish worshippers gave their lives to Christ at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit was poured out in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. But the Gospel was never to remain a “Jewish” thing. God’s covenant with Abraham centuries before was to bless all the families of the earth through him. The Messianic promise was for all people groups. Only after severe persecution broke out did the infant church begin to spread out. Everywhere they went they shared the message. Philip went to Samaria where he discovered to his surprise that Samaritans could also receive the gift of the Spirit and become Christ followers. But Samaritans were half Jewish, so maybe, that’s why they were permitted in. So Peter and John went to Samaria to check it out. Soon the gospel boundaries were being stretched and the church was becoming more inclusive.
Then when we get to Acts 10, God really turns things upside down for Peter. While praying on a roof top, Peter has a vision. In order to drive the point home, God would repeat the vision three times for Peter. It was startling and upsetting at first, but God would use that vision to rattle Peter’s faith and practice. He would stretch Peter out of his comfort zone and show him that God’s love had no boundaries. It was time to take “For God so loved the world …” literally.
About the time the visions were over, there was a knock at Peter’s door. Some men from a near by city were sent to bring Peter to their master, an Italian Roman Centurion named Cornelius. Led by the Holy Spirit, Peter agreed to go with them to this Gentiles home. This would have been unthinkable before! Jews and Gentiles did not mix anymore than Jews and Samaritans did before. It’s kind of funny when you think about these prejudices in the early church. Afterall, the disciples, especially the apostles, should not have been surprised that the Gospel was for all people. They had witnessed Jesus personally reaching out to a Samaritan “woman” at that and also to a Roman “Gentile” officer as well as many other non-Jewish people with whom He ministered. Jesus had already presented the model! In John 13:15 (NIV), Jesus had told them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
I would have loved to have seen Peter’s face when he arrived at the home of this Gentile. Luke records what he said. I think The Message paraphrases it best, “Peter addressed them, ‘You know, I’m sure that this is highly irregular. Jews just don’t do this—visit and relax with people of another race. But God has just shown me that no race is better than any other. So the minute I was sent for, I came, no questions asked. …’” Acts 10:28-29 (MSG)
What broke through the racial prejudice in Peter’s heart? God! God showed him through a vision and with the manifestation of His love and Spirit working in the lives of those Peter once considered inferior or unclean that no race is better than any other. That’s the power of life change! That’s the power of love! When our hearts are in alignment with God’s heart, He changes us to see the world differently. To look beyond people’s faults and see their needs.
As Peter spoke, the Bible says, “… the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too.” Acts 10:44-45 (NLT)
That may seem strange to you and me today, but we are not much different. Too often, we become exclusive in our understanding of faith and limit the work of the Holy Spirit to our little circle. But Christ came for everyone! The Bible says, “For God so loved the world …”
No one is outside His reach or love! Have there been those that you may have excluded? You thought they wouldn’t respond to the gospel. Jesus had told His followers in Acts 1:8,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
When Peter saw the undeniable evidence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these Gentiles, he asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” (Vs. 47) With no objections, Cornelius and his entire group of relatives and close friends were all baptized to show their allegiance to Christ and their connection to His church.
This infant church was now crossing ethnic and racial boundaries! The Holy Spirit was breaking racial barriers. God’s love knows no boundaries! I love to see baptisms like that! How exciting to see the church bridging racial and ethnic prejudices with God’s love and grace! Pray that the Holy Spirit may lead you to those in whom He is at work, drawing them to faith in Christ. Let God surprise you with His grace as He did Peter!
“Christ brought us together through His death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility.” Ephesians 2:16 (MSG)
I want to invite you to join us this Friday night at 7pm online at live.wc.org for A Night of Prayer for Racial Healing. Invite your friends to join us.