The Rev writes...
The times they are a changin’ may sound like a contemporary challenge. But it rang out for early Christians, Jews in Jerusalem. With the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7) - weeks after Jesus’ death and resurrection- believers were scattered out into Gentile territories. The times they were a changin’. Gentiles were responding to Jesus’ story. Acts 11 tells of Peter finding himself before a gathering of church leaders in Jerusalem to account for his behaviour in Caesarea, where he has visited Gentiles. It does not augur well with him as he is greeted with the criticism: “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
One can hear the tone of disbelief, outrage and condemnation. Paul must have felt very much on the back foot and vulnerable. A Jew associating with Gentiles. Peter himself had struggled with the rightness of the decision he is now being held accountable for. You can read about it in Acts 10. Paul has a vision in which he sees
‘heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean. ”The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”’
As Peter wonders about the meaning of this vision, a deputation of people arrive from Joppa asking Peter to meet with Cornelius a centurion in the Roman army and his relatives and close friends. Gentiles. Peter goes with them. His opening line as he meets Cornelius is:
‘“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”’
Yet Peter grows in confidence, more so as he hears Cornelius recounting a dream of his own and witnesses the gift of the Holy Spirit pouring out on those gathered. Peter is so moved that he says:
‘“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.’
It is for this behaviour that Peter is summoned back to Jerusalem to explain himself. But in his accounting he concludes:
‘“the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning… So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”’
The gathering to its credit listen to Peter, have no further objections and praise God.
The times they are a changin’. And Jesus’ story as ever speaks into changin’ times. Where might it be challenging now to let God have his way?
Blessings in Christ,