Summary: God told Peter in Acts 10 - "What God has made clean you must not call common." What would that have meant to the Ephesians, and what can it mean to us?
In Acts 10, we’re told the story of the first Gentiles who became Christians. God sent Peter to do preach to them and baptize them… but because Peter wouldn’t have done that on his own. God gave Him this instruction: “What God has made clean, do not call common." Acts 10:15
About 100 years ago, Mahatma Ghandi was a student in India and became interested in the Bible. After reading the gospels he was deeply touched and seriously considered becoming a Christian. Now, in India, the society was divided up into a caste system where those in LOWER castes were generally segregated and looked down on by higher castes Ghandi had experienced that kind of bigotry and felt Christianity offered a solution to that.
So, one Sunday he went to a church wanting to learn how to become a Christian and to learn what the Bible taught. But when he got there, the ushers refused to seat him and they suggested that he go and worship with his OWN PEOPLE. He left and never went back. He said: “If Christians have caste differences also, I might as well remain a Hindu.”
I recently had a FB conversation with a woman who had been born in India. She was telling me some of her friends (here in States) who experienced rejection in church because they were from India and it hurt my friend because that had been HER church and she had thought very highly of it.
In my reply, I explained to her that - in this congregation that I serve now - we don’t allow racism to exist. But then I explained: “bigotry can show up in any church (because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), but those who really love Jesus won’t do that… or (hopefully) they will grow out of it. You have to understand that Racism is not a solely “American” thing. It happens anywhere there are diverse populations. India, for example, suffers from it, and so does Africa. And Europe was rife with prejudice against Jews for centuries. Down through the ages, lots of people have suffered from this evil behavior because they were different! Blacks, Jews, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, South Americans … you could go on and on. If people are different from others in ANY SOCIETY, they can be (and often are) mistreated and placed on a lower scale. That doesn’t make it right… but it helps to put it in perspective. America is perhaps one of the most diverse nations on earth. The US accepts (percentage wise) the highest number of immigrants in world. This makes it a great place for ideas to be exchanged and for economic growth to flourish… but it also makes it a place where bigots can thrive. Our nation’s advantage is that NOW we have laws on the books that make such behavior illegal. But bigotry can exist anywhere people are different.
But bigotry must never be allowed in the church. Why? Because in the Church, God can make all people clean no matter what they background or nationality or skin color. To adapt God’s injunction to Peter - “What God can make clean, we must NEVER abuse or misuse."
Now, that bring us to our text today. Paul tells us there is a mystery going on! And that mystery had to do with how God dealt with a certain form of bigotry that existed in the early church. He wrote: “THE MYSTERY of Christ… was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. THIS MYSTERY IS that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Ephesians 3:4-6
(PAUSE) For the first 3 ½ years of its existence, the early church was made up ENTIRELY of Jews. There were no Gentiles were in that early church, and the mark of being a Jew was … circumcision.
It helps to understand God had segregated the Israelites from Gentiles for centuries. The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and the Gentiles… WEREN’T. Because of that segregation, the Israelites who took their faith seriously had nothing to do with the Gentiles.
Now God did that (separated the Jews from the Gentiles) - NOT because the Jews were better than the Gentiles (because all sinners). No, God did that, because He wanted ONE NATION to serve as a container who would receive, and hold, and protect His Laws and the Promises of the coming Messiah (Jesus).
And… that’s how things used to be! But once the church was founded - God had plans for the Gentiles. In the book of Acts chaps. 10 thru 15 we’re told how God set those PLANS in motion (we’re not going to go over that right now – you can read it for yourself). It was in that section of Acts that God told Peter – “What God has made clean, do not call common." (Acts 10:15) And then Peter went to preach to - and baptized into Christ – the first Gentile believers.