Sunday, March 17, 2019
Unstoppable: The Revolutionary Gospel
Part 10: Good News for Everyone
Most of us like to assume that we're enlightened, tolerant, and unprejudiced people. Unfortunately, a new study reveals many of us have a hidden bias against anyone with a foreign accent. According to a summary of the study in The Wall Street Journal, "The further from native-sounding an accent is, the harder we have to work, and the less trustworthy we perceive the information to be."
It gets worse: "Researchers found that the heavier the accent, the more skeptical participants became." In other words, if it sounds like you're not from around here, my suspicion radar is on high alert. My bias about you isn't based on your character; it's based on the fact that you talk "different."
The researchers want to reassure us that we're not really racist or prejudiced (thank goodness). Apparently, we're just lazy. Well, again they don't want to pass judgment: we're not actually lazy; our brains are lazy. In the researcher's words, "Our brains prefer the path of least resistance."
That seems like a nice way to say that, despite our best intentions, we all have pockets of prejudice and bias. In biblical terms, we show favoritism toward people who resemble us. Perhaps this study shows why we need Jesus' help to uproot our partiality and love people who don't resemble us, especially people from different racial, ethnic or national groups.
The gospel is for everyone; foreigners, bad neighbors, lazy relatives, ex-cons, prostitutes…and even you.
What kinds of people are you happy to avoid? I didn’t ask you if there were such people; I know the answer to that question. What I am curious about is the kind of person you avoid.
Like it or not, we aren’t impartial. There are people we avoid; some that we are proud of not associating with. It has to do with the bias we have about them.
Our biases can be racial, ethnic, societal, criminal, behavioral or religious. In every case, the feelings are powerful. Sometimes we exert prejudice against others, while at other times we feel prejudice from a person or group of people.
We must remember that as children of God, we are equals. The ground, it is said, is level at the foot of the cross. That brings us to the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10.
I. Background (10:1-23a)
Peter, as you know, was one of the twelve apostles. He was a devout Jew who came to know Jesus and accept his offer of salvation. He continued, however, to live according to Jewish law, something common among early believers.
The first Christians were, after all, Jews; the gospel came first to God’s chosen people. It is important to understand that Jewish believers did not see Christianity as a new religion. They accepted Christ as their Messiah but remained entrenched in Judaism.
Because of this, they continued to worship as their ancestors did and lived according to the laws of Moses; what devout Jews expected of each other.
One such law forbade Jews from having fellowship with Gentiles, considered unclean according to Jewish law. This does not mean they were physically dirty; rather, they were ritually unclean because they were not Jews. The law prohibited the Jews from contact with Gentiles (eating with them or even being in their homes).
Peter’s evangelistic efforts, however huge, were exclusively to the Jewish people, until God brought him to the home of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. Cornelius was devout and “God-fearing” (10:2); this meant he was not a full Jewish convert, but he believed in one God and respected the moral and ethical teachings of the Jews.
Both Cornelius and Peter experienced visions from God, and despite Peter’s hesitancy, the two came together so that Cornelius could hear what Peter had to say.
This is important: Cornelius believes in God, prays, lives righteously and gives to the poor; yet, apart from the gospel Peter shares, he cannot have fellowship God. He is not saved. If he remains in this state he would be eternally separated from God regardless of his right living.
II. Peter Comes to Cornelius’s House (10:23b-33)
Cornelius assembles his family and friends to hear Peter’s message. When Peter arrives, Cornelius meets him, falling at his feet in reverence? this is the messenger sent by God! Peter tells him to rise, lest he worship a man rather than God.
He enters the house, where Cornelius tells him of his vision. He tells him that they have all gathered to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us (33).
III. Witnessing God’s Grace (10:34-48).
“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.”
This is significant. Imagine how it affects Peter. All his life he held Gentiles in low regard. They were, simply put, beneath him. This sounds harsh, I know, but think about it–his people could not even enter the home of a Gentile nor share a meal with them.
What he understood of the gospel he believed was restricted to the Jews. Suddenly he sees that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. This is more than new understanding; it is a foundation-rocking, mind-bending change in theology.
God accepts men from all nations. No longer does one’s heritage or ethnicity determine his accessibility to God. Until now, Peter was convinced otherwise; only his people had access.
God accepts those who fear him and do right. Those, like Cornelius, with a desire for holiness, a heart for benevolence and a love for God can receive everlasting life because of Christ.
Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Everyone. Without exception. This is the message of the cross; that everyone receives the offer of forgiveness; it is only for them to accept it.
[The gospel is for everyone; grumpy old men, the gossip next door, junkies, and even me.]
Sometimes, like Peter, we get to thinking we have a relationship with Christ that is a bit too exclusive; exclusive to those who think like me, act like me and share the same ideals.
This leads to stifled outreach. We only reach out to those with whom we are comfortable; those who are “like us”. We reach out to those that will best benefit us. Thus WIIFM = What’s in It for Me? mentality sets in. The rest of the community is on their own.
Sometimes we feel this way toward others in the church. We begin to analyze others based on our criteria.
This leads to cliques in the church, which serve no purpose but to glorify Satan and weaken evangelistic efforts. This is what happens when I separate myself from others because of prejudice. When I find fault with others, I promote prejudice in the body, and Satan delights in another dead fellowship.
IV. Application: How to Show No Partiality in Sharing the Gospel
1. Understand your own position in Christ.
Once you accept that your own salvation was a gift; one you did not qualify for; it is impossible to hold others to a different standard.
2. Consider God’s plan for those who are not like you.
He’s put that person into your path for a reason; what might it be? Can you have a positive influence on that person? Can he or she have one on you? You are both here to serve God; anything standing between the two of you stands between you and the goals God has set for you to accomplish.
3. Remember the impartiality of the gospel.
Peter learned, much to his amazement, that the gospel is offered equally to everyone. That means those like you, and those not like you. In this light, we can extend God’s love to everyone, just as he extended it to us.
[The gospel is for everyone; drunkards, thieves, no-accounts, losers… and even us.]
We must remember the words peter spoke to Cornelius, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”