Summary: The Apostle Peter learns that God plays no favorites, that everyone matters to God! The Easter message is good news, that all our sins can be forgiven, that we can have hope of a new tomorrow. (Can be modified for other than Easter.)
The Greatest Gift
When my wife and I started a family, we formed our own family traditions, including for Easter. When the kids awoke on Easter Sunday morning, each child would find a colorful basket just for him or her, a basket full of Easter candy, small toys, and that wonderful synthetic grass that tracks all over the house!
Easter, like Christmas, is all about gifts and excitement. Today’s passage points us to some very special gifts from that first Easter, gifts even better than chocolate eggs! The first gift we see is “acceptance,” that God accepts all who come to him. People sometimes think of Christianity as exclusive, a gathering of do-gooders who shun outsiders. But Christianity is really about an inclusive invitation to all. 2 Peter 3:9 says God doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to come to him. In John 3:16 Jesus says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” The Easter message is for everyone on the globe.
In today’s passage the Jewish follower of Jesus, the Apostle Peter, is preaching to the Roman Army officer Cornelius and a roomful of Romans and Greeks. Jews never socialized with non-Jews. It would be like Donald Trump joining the Clintons for Easter Sunday dinner. Yet it happened because God set it up. God divinely orchestrated this meeting. He spoke to both Peter and Cornelius in separate dreams and prayers to draw them together. When you consider that Cornelius worked for the same occupation force that carried out Jesus’ execution, you know it’s a God-thing that he and Peter are together!
When you look at Cornelius, you see a guy who fears God, who respects God, but who doesn’t yet have a personal relationship with God. Please note: It is not enough to believe. The Bible notes that even the demons believe. Cornelius believed in God but God wanted more; God wanted a personal relationship with him. And God wants that with each one of us as well.
So Peter begins his talk with this observation: “I see that God doesn’t play favorites.” You see, up to that point, everyone in the church, everyone who followed Jesus was a Jew, or at least a half-Jew. So everyone assumed that, to become a Christian, you first had to convert to Judaism. But in today’s story Peter sees God at work in people who are not Jews, people very different from him. And Peter says, “I get it, God. You don’t play favorites. Everyone matters to you!”
You know about this long-running debate about which of the military services is most important. Well, some Army guys were arguing, “We’re the biggest! We got more people and we’re the only one that can hold land.” Some Navy guys said, “Our carriers are tools of diplomacy!” The Air Force guys said, “We get you to the fight and bomb the heck out of them before you get there!” So they all said, “Let’s let God settle it,” and they wrote God a letter to ask which service was most important. Well, God wrote back. He spoke of how he is the God of all the Armed Forces, land, sea, and sky, and how he is impartial, caring for all in uniform. He assured them in his memo that each service member is important. And at the bottom he added a very simple signature block. It simply read, “God,” and then right beneath, the words, “Semper Fi!”
Did you hear in the news about the two guys who died in a car crash on the way to church? Yeah, a white guy and a black guy were arguing about whether Jesus is white or whether he’s black. And the argument got so heated the driver hit a concrete barrier and they both died in the crash. They got up to heaven, and Jesus came out to welcome them with a big hug and a greeting, “Buenos Dias, Senores!”
Yes, God doesn’t play favorites! Easter is for everyone. There is no skin color beyond his care. There is no level of socio-economic class insignificant to him. There is no military service unimportant. There is no gender not precious to him. There is no sin too great for his love. Everyone counts! That’s the first Easter gift in today’s story, the gift of “acceptance,” that God accepts us just as we are.
Verses 34 and 35 talk about God’s acceptance, and then in verse 36 Peter talks about “good news.” The Greek word for “good news” is the word “gospel.” You might have thought “gospel” was a type of music, but it’s much more than that. Peter summarizes here what the good news is, what is really important to know about Jesus: God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power; Jesus went around doing good works and healing sick people; they killed him by hanging him on a cross; God raised him from the dead and allowed a bunch of eyewitnesses to see him before he went back to heaven; God calls his followers to share this story with others; and finally, everyone who believes in Jesus will receive forgiveness of sins through him.