Thursday, August 03, 2006

Prejudice & The Great Commission

Any doubts the disciples had during Jesus’ ministry of His concern for all people, should have been erased at His ascension when He gave the apostles and the Church their mission statement: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). But in very much the same way that prejudice separates people today, discrimination ran so deep in the early Church that conversion to the traditions of Judaism was almost a prerequisite for coming to Christ. So basically, up to this point in our study, the Church was an offshoot of Judaism.

The story of Cornelius changed that. But only through God’s direct intervention! The walls between Jews and Gentiles were just too rigid and formidable. Cornelius, a Gentile, is identified as a Centurion in the Italian Regiment and we’re told that he is devout and God-fearing. So it makes sense that God was working in his life and preparing him: It began on a certain day about three o’clock in the afternoon, which was a time of prayer for Cornelius. But on this particular day, he had a vision. An angel came to him and said, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God" (Acts 10:4). The angel was speaking in the language of sacrifice used in Jewish circles and the message was that God was pleased with Cornelius, and was ready to reveal Salvation to him. In preparation for this, Cornelius was instructed to send for Peter. And so he did.

Now while Cornelius was eagerly anticipating this meeting, Peter was a most reluctant evangelist. It took a direct edict from Heaven to lead Peter to change his view on Gentiles. Remember: Peter is a man with deep and abiding convictions, whether in the will of God or floundering against it. (This is the guy who jumped out of the boat after Jesus … then denied him three times!) …And so it was indeed in a dream that God prepared Peter: A dream about – of all things! – clean and unclean animals inside a large sheet held up by its four corners and being let down to the ground. And so after arriving at Cornelius’ home, Peter acknowledged that his coming was only at the Lord’s leading for God’s purpose: “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28). After Cornelius shared with Peter the events of his angelic visit, Peter knew God sent him there for one purpose, to extend the gospel to Cornelius and all the other Gentiles present.
As we study this account today more than 2,000 years later, I hope we learn a valuable lesson from it. The story of Cornelius and Peter leaves no doubt of the Lord’s intent for the Church: The Gospel is for EVERYONE! The clash of Jews and Gentiles is not unlike the clashes of prejudice today. We must seize our opportunities to clearly convey the message of Jesus with whomever – whenever – and wherever we are given the opportunity. We cannot allow prejudice to obstruct the clear purpose of The Great Commission!

- Pastor Mark