Don't You See It?
by Kirsten Schoeff
There is something so refreshing about the honesty of the Bible. In the book of Acts, I appreciate the fact that we see the early church through an utterly human lens. These are real people who sometimes need attitude adjustments just like me—and maybe like you, too! One thing we can learn from today’s reading is to not let our traditions, or how we’ve seen God work in the past, blind us from seeing new things He is doing.
Chapters 10 and 11 of the Book of Acts tell the story of the first Gentile (or non-Jewish) believers being added to the body of believers in Jesus Christ. Cornelius, a Roman army officer in the town of Caesarea, was a devout man who feared God, gave alms generously, and prayed regularly to God. Not exactly what you would expect from a Roman centurion. God received the worship and offerings that Cornelius gave and sent an angel with a message to set in motion the salvation of Cornelius and his family.
God prepared the apostle Peter to be used to minister to this Gentile family by sending him a strange vision whose ultimate message was, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Peter, who had been taught throughout his life that Gentiles were unclean and that a Jew shouldn’t set foot in the home of a Gentile, was led by the Holy Spirit and freely went to Cornelius’s home and shared the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
When Cornelius and his family and friends received Peter’s words, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them just as on the day of Pentecost on the first believers: they all began to speak in tongues and praise God. This was evidence to Peter and his companions that God really did accept these Gentiles who came to Him in faith and they were baptized into the church then and there.
So when word got back to the “apostles and brothers throughout Judea” about the Gentiles receiving the word of God, they should have been thrilled—right? Knowing the scriptures, they would know this was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about “foreigners” being added to the Lord’s people (e.g. Isaiah 56:6-7)…”for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (NIV) They would remember that Jesus Himself called them to “Therefore go and make disciples of ALL nations…” (Matthew 28:19) Right????
Instead, Acts 11:2 tells us that when Peter came to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers (converted Jews) criticized him for going “into the house of uncircumcised men” and eating with them! Really? Did their traditions and religious teachings from their years as Jews keep them from seeing that God was doing a new thing? Isaiah 43:18-19 tells us, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
Fortunately, as Peter shared the whole story and told of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and asked the question: “Who was I to think that I could oppose God?” the church leaders dropped their objections and praised God. They recognized that God was doing something new—inviting all people to repent and receive eternal life.
Lord, forgive us when we are stuck in our old ways and miss the new things you’re doing. Help us not to hold religious traditions so closely that they keep us from saying, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes!”