Are there any “walls” you’ve allowed to keep you from fulfilling the mission of Jesus?
This week as we have been studying Acts 9:32-11:18, we’ve seen how God appears to Peter in a dream, telling him to go to a non-Jew named Cornelius. In Acts 10:17-23, God’s dream to Peter comes true, as men from Cornelius show up at Peter’s house, and the Spirit directs Peter to go with them. Then in Acts 10:24-33, Peter travels to Cornelius, who welcomes Peter. Next in Acts 10:34-48, after Peter tells Cornelius the story of the good news about Jesus, the Spirit comes on the people there, and Peter baptizes them. In their conversation, Peter makes an important observation in verses 27-29 and 34-35, showing that he has interpreted the dream of the unclean animals as God intended, that God does not show favoritism, but instead loves all and wants to be in relationship with all. God wanted the Christians to break down the wall between Jews and non-Jews. Peter’s visit to Cornelius was one of the first steps in demolishing that wall.
I especially love verse 45 when we read that the circumcised believers there, who were Jewish Christians, were astonished at what was happening. They had no category in their worldview that God might love anyone else as much as he loved his chosen people the Jews. When the Spirit comes on Cornelius and the others who were not Jews, it was a huge moment for them. Just as the disciples had spoken in other languages in Acts 2, now the non-Jews, filled by the Spirit are doing the same. A very real wall existed in their minds, and it was starting to crumble. God had, from as far back as his covenant with Abraham said that through Abraham, all people in the world would be blessed. That blessing was starting to happen before their very eyes.
The story concludes in Acts 11:1-18, as Peter returns to Jerusalem to explain what happened. Look at verse 2. Peter takes some heat for entering the house of a non-Jew! It didn’t matter that Peter was the leader of the church. The kosher perspective, the Jewish chosen nation perspective, the idea that non-Jews were unclean, was so deeply entrenched in those Jewish Christians’ minds, that they felt they had to confront Peter about his actions. They think Peter has sinned, that he has gone off the rails. To them, maintaining a strong wall was vital.
So Peter has say, “Hold on. This was God’s idea.” And he explains the sequence of events for them, how God gave him the dream, and how the Spirit came upon the non-Jews. The conclusion in verse 18 shows that the rest of the Christians in Jerusalem responded by praising God. Now they too support the idea of the destruction of the wall!
As the wall crumbles, the mission to the Gentiles was fully opened. The Kingdom of God is for all. It was never just for Jews. Paul would write that in Christ there is neither Jew, nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but all are one in Christ. This was the symbolic message God had giving to Peter in the dream. The old dividing wall of clean and unclean is gone.
We, too, need to ask: Is there anything holding us back? Is there any tradition that we adhere to that is a barrier to the advancement of the Kingdom of God? Have we put up any walls that need to come down?
Also, like Peter had forgotten or ignored Jesus’ teaching about this in Mark 7, are there truths that God has told us that we need to be reminded of? Truths about who we are in him? When you are stuck in your house, and maybe having some extra fears and anxieties, maybe feeling extra restless, or purposeless, do you remember who he said you are?
You are his beloved. You have a purpose. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, you might not be able to go about life as you are used to right now. Some of you are not able to go to work, and you miss the fulfillment and purpose you found in that. Some of you are not able to be the grandparents you normally are, and you miss your grandkids so deeply. Those things are not wrong to find purpose in. Through work, through grand-parenting, through volunteering, we can use our gifts for the mission of God’s Kingdom.
But as those things have shifted or paused during the quarantine, be reminded of the truth that you are a child of God. You are beloved. Spend time with your father. Write truths around your home. Memorize them in these moments of feeling frustrated. Peter needed to remember and refocus on some truths Jesus had shown him previously. What do we need to refocus on?