“Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
I almost did not include this passage about the first Gentile conversion in this series of articles. The situation of Cornelius, though it speaks to race relations in New Testament times, is very different from the situation that exists today in one important way. It’s this: Gentiles had indeed been excluded from the chosen nation of God. Until a laborious process of cleansing occurred, they were yet unclean in the eyes of God and His circumcised people, Israel. This situation had persisted up until just a few years prior to the events of Acts ten. The disparity in Peter’s mind in Acts ten, when he was called to go and teach a Gentile the gospel was real and founded in the Old Testament will of God. Thus Peter had to have a direct relation from God in Acts ten in order to free his conscience to go and tell the gospel to Cornelius.
While God distinguishes between people based on beliefs and actions, racial problems in the history of the United States have never been a result of the will of God in exalting any particular race. In fact, the cultural and legal supremacy of white people that existed in the United States was antithetical to the teachings of the New Testament. People who were truly following the New covenant never would esteem themselves better than the other. In fact they would seek to regard the well-being of others above their own (I Corinthians 10:24; Matthew 7:12) Those, in the kingdom who used their voices many years ago to denigrate those of another race should have been ashamed to violate the code of Christ in such self-exaltation. We showed this earlier in this series. It was blatantly sinful. If someone in the body does so today, it is still blatantly sinful.
But there is yet a point to be made with the example of Peter in Acts 10. At this time, Peter lived under the New Covenant just as we do. His unwillingness to associate with and teach Cornelius was no longer pleasing to God. Thus, God showed Him a new way.
We live under the same covenant as did Peter. Because of passages like Acts ten and many others, we know that none of us can bring anything to the table of communion with God that is of any relative value. We are all lost, without hope, desperately dangling over an eternal fire without the precious blood of Jesus and His invitation to commune. But my question is this: Can we recognize that the same gospel that made Jew and Gentile one in Acts ten still work on hearts today? Can we admit that, in the past fifty years, brethren have made great strides to put aside prejudices and esteem one another better than self? Although, there was never an acceptable basis for any exaltation of white people, and although it was always sinful, can we not exalt and be thankful for the gospel that has so influenced the body of Christ in the past fifty years for unity? It is the same gospel that transformed Peter and the early church in Acts ten and eleven! I am thankful that I am privileged to be a part of a congregation of His people, even in the deep South, where Christians are truly striving to serve together in the spirit of our God who shows no respect of persons (Acts 10:34).
It’s amazing how quickly human resolve against sin can erode when we find ourselves in sticky situations with the enemies of Christianity. Sometimes I see people who have formerly stood with the Word and against immorality of some form or another until their children become involved in that particular sin. Then the resolve may tend to soften. Issues that once seemed black and white suddenly seem a bit grey. Another quick erosion force is the company of scoffers. When I find myself in the middle of a heathen crowd—a crowd that’s making fun of Scripture-based morality—it’s easy for me to first become quiet, then tolerant, then accepting and finally, a participator in sin.
Think about Peter. He was the one who said “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). He said, “Even if I must die with thee, yet will I not deny thee” (Matthew 26:35, Mark 14:31). Yet, when the hour around the fire with the enemies of Christ came, he denied Jesus three times.
I’m so glad, though, that we serve a God of second chances. Peter got a second and third and fourth chance to prove His willingness to die for the Lord. Before he did finally give his life in loyalty to the Lord, he was given some amazing opportunities, in front of some staunch enemies of Christianity, to loudly proclaim his dedication to the Christ. He did so at great risk.
I love studying Acts 2-5 in a character study of Peter. Look at the following forms of persecution that he faced and the bold statements he made in response. I believe Peter decided when the cock crew on that night of the Passover during the interrogation of Christ, that he was done with denial. He was arguably the boldest apostle from that point in your New Testament. Let’s grow from the following responses of Peter as the New Testament church emerged in infancy.
- Peter was mocked and ridiculed for his involvement in the plan of God (Acts 2:13). Have you ever experienced that? Peter responded in verses 14-24. This is how he responded to ridicule: First, Peter proudly upheld the Word. He explained that what he was involved in was not of His own doing; rather it was the Will of God. He quoted the Good Book in this explanation. Secondly, he did not turn a blind eye to the sin of his accusers. He was willing to boldly tell them that they were guilty of the blood of the Lord.
- In Acts 4, Peter and John were imprisoned for teaching and preaching Christ after the healing of the lame man. Upon interrogation the following day, Peter answered their question about how the lame man was made whole. Hear his boldness in responding: “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” There was no mincing of words in Peter’s declaration of the divine authority of Jesus or the guilt of those who had power over the life of Peter.
- Then they were threatened (4:17). Peter and John were told in no uncertain terms not to preach any more in the name of Jesus. Again, the answer was decisive: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (verses 19,20).The threats intensified and the response was a corporate prayer to God for boldness: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness…” (verse 29).
- In Acts 5:18, Peter was among those imprisoned once more for effectively working for the cause of Christ. Once again, in defiance of the enemies of the cross,when they were miraculously released, they entered the temple and began to teach (verse 21). This brought on another interrogation which ended with this statement by Peter and the other apostles: “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (vs.29-32).
I want to be more like Peter…the Peter after the resurrection. There are three key ways I can be like Peter when I find myself in arenas where my resolve to stand for right is being attacked. First, I need to answer with the Word of God. Second, I need to be unashamed to stand against the sin of those who are in defiance of my God. Finally, I need to pray for boldness as I defend His cause.