Yesterday I was leading a discussion group on Acts 10. (Regularly on Sunday evenings I meet with a group of white, Afrikaans-speaking Christians and at present we are busy with discussions on the book of Acts). Acts 10 tells us how the gospel went into the heathen world.
Those not interested in the nitty-gritty may skip this next paragraph, but for those who would like to understand a bit more about the book of Acts: The key to understanding the book of Acts is Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Up to chapter 8 we read how the gospel spread in Jerusalem and Judea, in chapter 8 we read how the gospel reached Samaria and then in chapter 10 we read how Cornelius accepted Jesus as Saviour, whereby the gospel started penetrating the heathen world. As a matter of interest, this last part of the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise took place in phases, starting with the gospel in Antioch, then Asia Minor, then Europe and ending with the gospel in Rome, which for the believers in that time was virtually “the end of the world”. Each breakthrough ends with a “concluding” verse: 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20 and 28:31.
Back to last night: Lesslie Newbigin first opened by eyes to the remarkable message in Acts 10 & 11. He said that this is in fact the story of three conversions. It is clear that Cornelius and his family comes to repentance. But there is also another significant conversion which takes place when Peter says in 10:34 & 35: I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. Later we also read about the conversion taking place in the church in Jerusalem when the church members say in 11:18: So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.
The remarkable thing about this story is that Cornelius, the heathen, has the least difficulty in coming to repentance. When he hears about Jesus he and his family immediately accept the message and they are baptised as new believers. Peter struggles with the Lord. In the vision which he has in Acts 10, he repeatedly refuses to do what God wants him to do and it is only when he reaches the home of Cornelius that he repents of his wrong attitude. The same applies to the church in Jerusalem, whom we would expect to be rejoicing that even heathens have come to accept Jesus as Saviour. But on the contrary, they complain about this. Only after Peter had explained what had happened, were they also willing to repent of their wrong attitude.
After we finished last night a lady came to share something with me. She had been working in a government office in South Africa but had to stop because of her racist attitude. (She doesn’t normally attend our Bible discussion group and was there last night “by pure chance”). And she said to me: I know that I had to be here tonight, so that God could also speak to me about my attitude. I think it took a lot of courage to say this.
The reality is that many (most) of us still struggle with some kind of favouritism – be it on the grounds of race, nation, sex, culture, social status or whatever else. It is not so easy to be free of favouritism. But in the church there is no place for favouritism.
Little wonder that Lesslie Newbigin described this process of becoming free of this attitude as a conversion taking place!