Summary: Christians are called to be witnesses to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all nations. No person or group of people is excluded from God’s love and God’s desire to have them participate in God’s kingdom.
We conclude our examination of the early Church and the early Christians this Sunday. Our brief study has been both exciting and empowering. We have discovered what the mission and purpose of the church is. We have learned how to maintain a transformed life so that we are capable of carrying out our mission and impacting the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the story of Peter, John and the lame beggar, we saw that we live out our mission using our gifts and talents in everyday circumstances.
Today we will see who the object of our mission and ministry is. We will clarify who is involved in “the ends of the earth.” We shall see that we have a daunting task before us in both the scope of our mission, and in being faithfully obedient in carrying it out.
THE PRODUCT OF SOCIETY
For some reason, it is more natural for us to talk about “them” and “us” than it is for us to talk about “we.” We see differences rather than likenesses, and we stress the differences rather than the likenesses. We also group ourselves by specific likenesses.
When we were growing up, our parents often set limits on the people with whom we could associate. They didn’t want us to become friends with children from different economic levels, cultural backgrounds, belief structures. Some of this was good parenting, while it might also simply be prejudice.
In school we quickly learned who was a part of the in group, and who was out. These social norms carried through college and into the work place.
Certainly Peter was brought up with the idea of “them” and “us.” He was a Jew, a child of God. All Jews knew that God loved them best. They were God’s chosen people. As God’s chosen people, they were to keep themselves separate from others. To interact with gentiles, or non-Jews, made you ritually unclean and you would need to go through a cleansing process before you could worship God.
The Jewish dietary laws exemplified the distinction that Jews saw between themselves and others. What they ate and didn’t eat identified as Jews. It enabled them to keep separate and to keep their identity. The dietary laws were a way that Jews believed they pleased God. It all changed with two dreams.
THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE
It is difficult to change—especially when what is being changed has been ingrained in you since childhood.
Cornelius was a Roman Centurion. If ever there was a super society, or at least a society who believed that they were above everyone else, it was the Romans. Even though Cornelius was a devout, godfearer, he would still find it unsettling to seek help from an unknown, common Jew. The fact that he was a leader in the Roman army—a professional soldier—only added to his sense of superiority and denial of need.
Jews hated the Romans not only because the Romans were heathens, but also because they were an occupying force in their land. Peter would not willingly have associated with a Roman. Peter’s prejudice against the Romans was probably reinforced by the fact that they were the ones who had crucified Jesus.