Overcoming Prejudice

Friday, November 25, 2016, 8:00 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Near the Cross.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 10 (Select vv. NIV).

Surely Not! (Summary vv. 1-33)

Cornelius and his family were devout and God-fearing, but they were Gentiles, with whom Jews did not associate. One day, God gave Cornelius a vision of an angel of God who then spoke to him. God had honored Cornelius’ prayers and his gifts to the poor, so God had him send men to Simon Peter, so that they would bring Peter back with them. So, Cornelius obeyed, and he did what the angel of God told him to do.

While the men were on their way to Peter, God gave Peter a vision, which was to prepare him for these men and for his journey to meet Cornelius and his family, friends and neighbors. In the vision the Lord presented Peter with something like a sheet, coming down from heaven, containing all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. A voice from heaven told Peter to eat, but he refused, because Jewish law did not allow for him to eat what was considered to be impure or unclean. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” responded the voice from heaven. This happened three times, and then the sheet was taken back to heaven.

While Peter pondered the meaning of the vision, the men sent from Cornelius showed up at the door to the house where Peter was staying. The Spirit of God told Peter not to hesitate going with the men, for God (Jesus, the Spirit) had sent them. So, Peter invited them into the home where he was staying, and the next day he went with the men to Cornelius.

When he arrived at Cornelius’ house, he found a large gathering of people, comprised of Cornelius’ relatives and close friends. Peter cut to the chase. He reminded the people that it was against Jewish law to associate with Gentiles. But, then he told them that God had shown him that he should not call anyone impure or unclean. Then, Peter inquired as to why he was sent for, and Cornelius responded by telling Peter about his visit from the angel from God. Then, he said, “Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

No Favoritism (vv. 34-35)

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

The law of the Jews forbade them from associating with Gentiles, but was that what God intended? I don’t believe so. The intention of the law of Moses was that the Jews, who were God’s chosen people at that time, would live lives separate (unlike, different) from the world, so that they would not take on the pattern of the world and become idolatrous. So, they were not to intermarry between faiths, nor were they to enter into unholy alliances with unbelievers. So, what about us, God’s people today, i.e. Christians? We have the same instructions given to us to not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers and to not love the world or to take on the pattern of the world (See: 2 Co. 6:14-18; Ro. 12:1-2; Jn. 15:19). And, yet we are told not to associate with those who profess Christ as Savior but who are living sinful lifestyles, and who are unwilling to repent of their sins (1 Co. 5:9-11).

We are instructed, though, that we are to go into all the world to preach the gospel, and to make disciples (of Christ) of people of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15). We are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that WHOEVER believes (present tense) in him has eternal life (Jn. 3:16). Jesus is the Savior of the world (Jn. 4:42). We are not to entirely remove ourselves from unbelievers or to cease to associate with them (1 Co. 5:9-11). And, yet this must be combined together with the teaching on not being unequally yoked together with unbelievers in close, intimate associations.

In other words, there is a balance in between not associating at all with the people of the world, and thus not having any opportunity to share Christ with them, and fully associating ourselves with unbelievers in close, intimate associations (friendships, marriage, business) to where we end up taking on the values, philosophies, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors of the world. These associations are not just in person, but via TV, the internet, movies, music, games, et al. In other words, we are not to go live in a monastery and totally disconnect ourselves from the world, for we are called to be lights in the world, but we are not to join in with the world, face-to-face, or virtually, in close association to where we take on the pattern of the world.

So, the only biblical basis for not associating with people at all is that of not associating (mixing, hanging out) with professing Christians who are living in sin, and who are unwilling to repent. And, limited associations are only on the basis of not having close, intimate (bonding) relations with unbelievers so that we don’t unite with them in their ungodly ways, and become idolaters with them. Basically, any associations which would or could have the potential to lead us to sin against God are bad for us. And, associations with people of the world should always have a goal in mind of leading them to faith in Jesus Christ, i.e. to be a light to them of the gospel of Christ.

The Good News (vv. 36-43)

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Because Peter listened to the Lord, and he overcame his (learned) prejudice, God was able to use him in the lives of those not like him. And, this is where we need to be, too. So many of us have ingrained prejudices which we learned from our parents, or which we picked up over the years from life’s experiences, some of them bad, and these have helped to shape our thinking and our outlook and our views of others who are not like us. And, this has led some of us to not associate at all with certain types or groups of people, and this is wrong! We are not to accept sin, mind you, but we should not be afraid to reach out to people who are different from us and to show them the love of Jesus, as well as to share with them his gospel of salvation from sin. Not one of us is any better than another, save for the blood of Jesus given on a cross for our sins so that we might be delivered from slavery to sin and have the hope of eternal life with God in heaven – all by God’s grace alone!

The Result (vv. 44-48)

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “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. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

The result of Peter’s obedience was that the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. This means that those who heard the gospel believed in Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of their lives. Thus, they were crucified with Christ in death to sin, and they were resurrected with Christ to newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” which is the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. When we believe in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes within us to dwell, to empower, and to counsel, lead, guide, direct, inspire, convict, urge, encourage and to teach us what Jesus taught when he walked the face of this earth.

Yet, if Peter had ignored the Spirit’s voice, and if he had held fast to his prejudices, and if he had not gone with the men to Cornelius’ house, he would not have had the blessing of seeing this family come to faith in Jesus Christ. The same is true with us. When the Spirit speaks, thus, we must heed what he says, we must go where he sends, and say what he wants us to say, and trust the Lord with the results. This means dying to our own flesh, and learning to love others with the love of Christ in the way that Jesus loves us so that he can use us to demonstrate his love to others.

Near the Cross / Fanny J. Crosby / William H. Doane

Jesus, keep me near the cross;
There a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day
With its shadow o’er me.

Near the cross I’ll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the golden strand
Just beyond the river.

In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

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