Can anyone guess what these three things all have in common? Some ladies’ lipstick, a child’s tricycle and a Manchester United shirt?
Let me put you out of your misery – the answer is that none of them are aimed at me! I’m not the target market for any one of those three products! As a middle-aged man who supports Crystal Palace I have no need for lipstick, a child’s trike or Manchester United merchandise. They are all products with a limited number of potential customers and are certainly of no interest to me!
Does the same principle apply to Christianity, I wonder? Is Christianity a product with a narrow target audience and only limited appeal?
Certainly lots of people today seem to think so. If I stood in the centre of Chester and asked passers-by if Christianity was for everyone, I expect some would say that:
• Christianity is only for wimps or weirdos, not for normal people.
• Others might say that Christianity is just for the elderly or old-fashioned, not the whole population.
• And others might claim that Christianity is only aimed at people who are ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’, not people who prefer sports or socialising.
But is that really true? Is the Christian Gospel just for a small subsection of the population, or something that everyone needs to hear? Is Christianity limited in appeal, like a Manchester Utd shirt, or essential for everyone, like food and water?
As we look at our passage from Acts this morning, the apostle Peter shares with us his discovery that the Christian Gospel is good news for all. Whether people are young or old, rich or poor, male or female, the Christian faith is intended for everyone.
Peter is addressing a group of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who had heard concerning reports that he had begun socialising with non-Jewish people. More specifically they had heard a rumour that Peter had gone “into the house of uncircumcised men” and eaten “with them”.
In response Peter shares his story, and explains why he had come to the conclusion that the Gospel is for Gentiles as well as Jews. He lays out three pieces of God-given evidence which convinced him that the Christian faith is for all, regardless of class or colour, age or stage of life. This evidence includes a vision from heaven, an angelic appointment and an anointing by the Spirit. Let’s look at each in turn.
Peter begins his defence by describing a vision from heaven he had received. In verse 5 Peter says he “saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’
We need to understand that this vision wasn’t just about Peter’s dietary choices. It wasn’t simply teaching him that no foods were off-limits. The purpose of this vision wasn’t just to give Peter permission to eat pork or consume shellfish – two things which had previously been forbidden for Jews.
No – a more important principle was being taught by God by this vision – namely that Peter should no longer regard certain groups of people as clean or unclean. Through this heavenly vision, Peter was being given permission by God to socialise with Gentiles as well as Jews. From now on, he was not to regard non-Jews as unclean. Peter was being taught to share fellowship and share the Gospel with people from every race, tribe and tongue.
Peter’s new found knowledge was immediately put to the test when three men knocked on his door and asked him to accompany him to their master’s house. Their master was a Roman Officer called Cornelius – a Gentile not a Jew.
Prompted by the Spirit, Peter says he had no hesitation in going with them to Cornelius’ house. Once there he discovers that an angel had appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter, since “He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”
By angelic appointment, God had brought Peter to Cornelius’ doorstep. He brought Peter to Cornelius’ door so that he could hear the good news about Jesus. Who is God bringing into your path, I wonder? Which non-Christians is God bringing you into contact with, so that you can share your faith with them? Let’s seize God-given opportunities to share our faith, just as Peter did.
After all, Peter’s courage in speaking to Cornelius was dramatically vindicated, wasn’t it? In verse 15 Peter tells us that as he began to speak, “the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.” A powerful sign, speaking in tongues, proved to Peter that the Holy Spirit had come upon Cornelius.
This anointing of the Spirit, like the anointing of the Jewish disciples at Pentecost, was an unequivocal sign of God’s blessing on Cornelius and his household. The arrival of the Spirit was the clinching piece of evidence that Cornelius and his companions had become Christians in the sight of God. They had heard and believed Peter’s preaching about Christ, and that was sufficient for them to be saved. Their ethnic identity was no barrier to the saving work of God’s Spirit.
This is surely an inspiration for us to pray for people we know to come to Christ. Whatever background our non-Christian friends or neighbours come from, God’s Spirit can still be at work in their hearts. We can pray with complete confidence that even the most unlikely people can have their hearts touched by the Holy Spirit and their ears opened to the message of the Gospel.
So as I finish, the lesson we’ve learnt from Peter today is that unlike lipstick and football strips, the Christian Gospel is for everyone. So let’s be bold and brave, and seek to share our faith with people we’ve never done so with before. People who may come from a different background, gender, class or culture to ourselves. As Peter discovered, ethnic identity and social class are no barrier to faith in Christ.
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