Based on: Acts 10:34-38
Do you know what it means to be ethnocentric? It simply means to believe that your ethnicity is at the center. It means that you believe that your culture and your way of doing things is better than anyone else’s. Of course all of us grew up doing things a certain way, eating certain foods, saying certain expressions, and so forth. There is nothing wrong with those differences. The problem comes when we start to think that we are better than someone who is different from us. This kind of ethnocentric thinking leads to bigotry, racism and discrimination.
The apostle Peter came to talk to a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman soldier. Not only did the Jews hate the Romans because the Romans were ruling over their country, but according to the Jewish law, Jews were not allowed to even enter into the house of someone who was not a Jew. In fact God had given the Israelites many laws that were intended to keep the nation of Israel separate from the rest of the world – to keep them distinct as a religious group who worshiped the one true God. God wanted to do this so that these descendants of Abraham would not be scattered throughout the world and so that there would be a place on earth where believers in the true God were waiting for God’s son, the Messiah. From this group God would take the first disciples and began the Christian church.
Now that Christ had come, these rules and regulations that kept the Jews as a distinct group of people were no longer necessary. They had done their job and now it was time to let go of those rules and regulations. Yet, those rules and regulations had been part of the Jewish culture for many hundreds of years. Just think how much of a cultural stumbling block it would have been for Peter to talk to this man, Cornelius. Even though Peter would have known what Moses said in Deuteronomy, "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes." Even though Peter knew that the Lord was God over all the earth, God had to reveal to him that yes, those outside of his culture are part of God’s plan of salvation.
God not only led Peter to understand this with his mind, but also to believe in his heart and show with his actions. Peter said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” For Peter to reach out to Cornelius and those who were with Cornelius, Peter had to change his way of thinking; Peter had to give up some of those customs that were highly valued by his culture.
The same is true for us. In order to reach out to others, sometimes we need to change our way of thinking or give up some things we are used to. That is one of the principles that we can draw from this incident with Peter and Cornelius in our second lesson. Sometimes there are barriers to overcome so that we have the opportunity to share the gospel. Each of us needs to ask, “What are the barriers in my own way of thinking that get in the way of sharing the gospel? What could I give up for the sake of evangelism?”
This does not mean that the gospel message itself needs to change. We must continue to preach and teach exactly what God’s word says. When it comes to Sunday morning worship I believe that what we do is one of the best ways to communicate clearly the whole will of God. Using an order of service every Sunday communicates the basics of salvation that we need to hear over and over again and our regular schedule of Bible readings gives us an opportunity to hear from many different portions of God’s Word.
Why is this important? What is the big deal about sharing our faith with others? Well, Jesus Christ is "Lord of all." Jesus Christ is everyone’s Savior. Just listen to what Peter said, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power." When Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit came down from heaven in the form of a dove and landed on Jesus and God the Father said, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." This is the anointing that Peter is referring to. This is when God identified Jesus Christ as the Messiah whom he had promised to Abraham and through whom he had said that all nations would be blessed. This is the Messiah that God promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the one who would crush the serpent’s head.
This is what Peter is referring to when he says Jesus was appointed. In Old Testament times it was the custom that men serving in three offices were anointed – kings, prophets, and priests. But Christ is special, Christ is all three. Jesus, as king, rules over believers and rules over the whole world for the good of believers. Jesus as prophet continues to reveal God’s love for us through Scripture and through pastors, teachers and others who share God’s word with us. Jesus as priest sacrificed himself to make atonement for our sins and continues to intercede with God on our behalf. Christ was appointed to carry out all of this work when he was anointed.
After Jesus was anointed and through his baptism, God identified Him as the Messiah. We see what He did as Messiah, and we have another reason for telling as many people as possible the good news about this Jesus Christ. Peter says, "He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." He healed all those who were under the power of the devil – that was us. Each and every one of us was under the power of the devil.
Living in a “free country” and being generally free to do what we want to, it is very difficult to believe that we were once under someone else’s control, but it is true. Before faith in Jesus Christ we were under the power of the devil. We couldn’t help but serve his purposes and therefore we were working against God. Then Jesus came, fulfilling the prophecy concerning the promised Messiah, and crushed the devil’s head, and we were free from his power. We are forgiven.
It was at our baptism when God freed us from Satan’s power. It was at our baptism when we received the benefit of all that Christ was anointed to do at His baptism.
This Jesus who was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power at his baptism is the same Jesus we want to tell others about just as Peter told Cornelius.
In love Jesus Christ gave up the comforts of heaven in order to become a human being and live in our culture so that he could save us. The Apostle Peter saw that he had to change and overcome cultural barriers so that he could share this with message of Jesus Christ with others. May God lead us to realize how we can change so that we can share that same message of Jesus Christ, who was anointed to rescue us.