Joel Elliott Mooneyhan
"In Every Nation, Anyone."
Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
As with every passage of Scripture, this one benefits from the perspective gained by reading the passage before it. At the beginning of chapter 10, a Roman centurion named Cornelius receives a vision that instructs him to find the apostle Peter. Not long after, Peter receives a vision in which he is instructed to eat animals that his Jewish sensibilities call "unclean." He resists until the Lord tells him that nothing is unclean if the Lord has called it clean. The subtext: Peter needs to share this new gospel with the Gentiles. The Lectionary drops us in right after this, as Peter proclaims the story of Christ--not to his own people, but to a Roman soldier and his household.
Peter is a brash and impulsive figure in the New Testament. He is also famous for having drawn a sword and cut off the ear of one of the men who arrested Jesus. He constantly argues with Jesus in person, and even with God in his vision. You could say he is stubborn; he probably struggles with the idea of loving his enemies.
And here he is, finally understanding that "in every nation anyone who fears the Lord and does what is right is acceptable to Him." It is a significant change, going from a sword-wielding nationalist to preaching the gospel in the house of a Roman soldier, the very face of Israel's oppression. He is Peter's enemy.
Peter is wrong. Cornelius is in fact a good man, hungry for the truth and in need of ministry, even though to all outward appearances he was powerful and privileged. Eastertide begins with the story of the gospel changing the heart of one man in order to make the gospel known to his enemy.
Do you see any of Peter's behavior in yourself? Has Christ ever convicted you of your prejudices in order to reach out to someone who you didn't think deserved it? Who in your life might need to hear the gospel, even if they appear to be your enemy?
(This is the first part in an 8-week series called Can I Get A Witness? Come back each week as we walk through texts from the Book of Acts and listen online to the accompanying podcast, found here or on Spotify, iTunes, and SoundCloud.)