A Church for All Nations (Acts 11:1-18)

If Jesus’ death on the cross was, as He promised it would be, the means by which He would gather all people unto Himself (John 12:32), the events recorded in chapters 10 and 11 in the Book of Acts (you can read about them starting in Acts 10, at this link) detail the way this gathering of all people to Jesus would be worked out among the different races, nations, and even faith origins of people living in the years after Jesus’ earthly ministry.

The story of the apostle (and Jewish Christian) Peter’s encounter with the Roman centurion Cornelius in Caesarea Maritima seems at first to be only a story about what foods may be considered OK to eat (clean) or not OK (unclean); it is, more importantly, all about interactions between people used to seeing one another as either “insiders” or “outsiders” who now see each other in light of the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus Christ. Before Peter ever goes to Caesarea to visit Cornelius, he is led by God to receive Cornelius’s non-Jewish servants as his guests (10:23). At the Lord’s bidding, even when he does go to Cornelius, it is with the understanding that “it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit anyone of another nation.” But though Peter had been brought up to make distinctions between people, “God” he says, “has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (10:28). Cornelius and his household ask Peter to preach the Word that he had been sent by God to proclaim. Peter does…the Holy Spirit accompanies that Word…and Peter’s hearers are baptized.

Though we probably pride ourselves on how well-disposed we are toward others generally, we all have our “comfort zones” with those whom we choose to associate with. Sometimes those comfort zones become apparent even in the way we interact with one another…sometimes they manifest themselves in the ways we identify some small select group of people among us as “the community of the righteous” and either count ourselves in (and others out) or believe deep down that we do not deserve (and will never be) insiders ourselves!

Let us not be deceived. Our God is no respecter of persons. He shows no partiality. Perhaps, like Peter, we need to learn that the church of God is a church of all nations, races, and life experiences. Perhaps, like Peter, we need to see again how the Spirit of God is both powerful enough to brings those we deem “outsiders” in and powerful enough to convince “insiders” that we are to cross the boundaries and divisions that separate us.

If the love of God we did nothing to deserve has had its way with you and me (and it has), let’s get outside our comfort zones and see where our love for one another can take us. The world might just take notice. The “outsiders” among us (and around us) might just see that they have a place at the table, too.