June 9, 2024. Sermon Title: God Shows No Favoritism

First Mennonite Church

June 9, 2024

God Shows No Favoritism

Acts 10 Cornelius and Peter

Our study will focus on verses 23-43 of chapter 10, but to get the full picture of this section, we need to read the whole chapter.

Acts 10: 1-48 (23-43)

An angel of the Lord appears to Cornelius and commands him to bring Peter to his house. Cornelius is a pious and God-fearing man. And God has been pleased with Cornelius’ generosity and prayers, but there is still one thing missing. And Peter will bring to Cornelius that missing piece of the Divine grace.

When Peter arrives at Cornelius’ house, Cornelius has all his relatives and close friends gathered. The encounter is, initially, an awkward one. Cornelius throws himself at Peter’s feet as soon as he enters the house. “Don’t do it,” Peter says, “I am just a man like you.” Cornelius’ view of Peter as someone more than human was erroneous. Cornelius treats Peter as if he were a god. But not only does Cornelius have an erroneous view about humans; Peter does too. Fortunately, through the vision he had been prepared for this encounter. Before coming to Caesarea, Peter’s view about other people was corrected. It is worthy to take notice that even when Peter had been a follower of Jesus for as long as he had been, he still considered non-Jewish people to be profane and unclean, therefore contact with them should be avoided. But as he declared, the moment he opened his mouth: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.

The Mishnah, which is the original written version of the oral law for the Jewish religion, states: “The dwelling places of Gentiles are unclean.[1]” Thus, Peter’s initial objection to visiting a Gentile home.

Therefore, both Cornelius and Peter had to be corrected about their views of others. Cornelius learned that no person should not be given divine status, while Peter had to learn that no person is beneath the dignity God gives to all human beings. These truths remain valid even today. People are people and all bear the image and likeness of God. And only God is God.

Then Peter asks for the reason he had been asked to come. Thus, Cornelius relays what the angel told him to do. Cornelius knows something about the God of Israel, but he is still not practicing the Jewish religion. The brief resume Luke gives about him as a “devout and God-fearing man who gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly,” is different from how Luke describes Nicolas, in Acts 6, five. Nicolas is called “a convert to Judaism or a proselyte.” In Acts, 11, verse three, Cornelius is called an “uncircumcised,” which, again, he wouldn’t be had he been a Jewish convert. Cornelius is a God-seeker, someone who is interested in the beliefs and practices of Judaism yet has not gone through the initiation rituals.

Once again, Peter takes the word and openly confesses to his Gentile hosts a new aspect of his own understanding of God’s operation in Jesus and that is: that “God does not show favoritism” based on ethnicity, nationality, social status, or any other social marker. Although Peter knew that Israel was God’s chosen people, in God’s new salvific plan through Jesus, God’s grace is extended to all human beings. Yet, although God shows no favoritism, he does single out those in every nation—ethnia, those who fear him and do what is right.” And Cornelius is one perfect example of that. He feared God; was generous to the needy, and sought God in prayer and God’s eyes were on him.

Peter then moves to show, how and where God’s new redemptive reach to the entire world began. He preaches the good news of God through Jesus Christ, his Son. Peter, not only tells his audience about Jesus’ good deeds and works of power, but also about his death and resurrection. God has appointed him as judge of the living and the dead. And that there is forgiveness of sin and salvation in his name to all who believe.

It is clear that Peter did not leave his audience with a vague understanding of God, nor of the salvation there is now in Christ. He wanted them to know Jesus and to receive God’s grace of salvation. The effectiveness of Peter’s compelling message was confirmed by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon all those gathered that they began to glorify God and to speak in tongues. Most likely, Peter was stunned at what he was witnessing and he suggested these people should be baptized in the name of the Lord.

So, what lessons can we learn from this passage? There certainly can be many, but let me emphasize three.

  1. Cornelius was a God-fearing man, generous and devout, yet his understanding of God was incomplete. It was missing the element of faith to receive God’s grace of salvation. Jesus is the one who reveals God to us, his love, justice, mercy, and everything God’s character is. Cornelius’ initiative of being a God-seeker is met by God in sending Peter to clarify to Cornelius God’s offer of forgiveness of sin and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

This is very encouraging to all of us, regardless of how long we have been serving the Lord or are considering doing so. Nobody knows everything there is about God. We are all seekers. The words of Isaiah we read this morning are very clear on that:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

So, I want to tell you, that we are not saved by how morally good we are, nor by how much we care for the needy, nor for simply coming to church. We receive God’s salvation by receiving and believing Jesus Christ. He alone cleanses us from sin. He alone is Savior, for“salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

  • Peter’s Jewish upbringing taught him that Jews and Gentiles do not mix. Although he had been a follower of Jesus, his prejudice against Gentiles was still in him. However, upon seeing the vision, he understood God’s heart for all humanity through Jesus Christ. In the eyes of the Lord, all people are welcome into his family. This inclusive nature of God can be difficult for us to fully grasp and even more difficult, for us to emulate. We are parochial beings, thus we find it difficult to welcome those who are not like us, who don’t have the same beliefs as we do, who don’t practice faith the way we do, etc. We are tempted to set boundaries, thus leaving some or many outside. In today’s language, we pin labels on people, thus we speak of “us” and “them,” of “liberals ” or “conservatives.” Peter said that God has made Jesus judge of the living and the death. No one has the prerogative to judge others.

But there is one more element to this part, evangelism. We can only evangelize after we have established friendships with others. The gospel we preach will only be effective when we see others as equals to us.

  • Today we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper—Communion. In Acts 9 and 10, we see acts of hospitality. Peter was a guest at Simon the tanner’s house. But when the men sent by Cornelius came, Peter, while being a guest, he hosted the three men, only to become the guest at Cornelius’ home again.      

My dear brothers and sisters, nothing trains us in the divine hospitality more than Christian worship and the celebration of the Lord’s Table. Communion is the sacred practice of hospitality because, at the Lord’s Table, Jesus is the host who gathers us to feed us. Worship itself is the hospitality of God because at worship God welcomes us into the divine life, nurtures us, forgives us, and blesses us. And when we participate in the Lord’s Table, we retell the story of God’s hospitality feeding us with the Living Bread and giving us the Living water. You and I are guests today and the Lord is our Host. So, I want to invite everyone to participate in Communion this morning. Welcome to Table of the Lord and welcome to the family of God. Amen!

Pastor Romero

[1] Clinton E. Arnold, “Acts.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol.2. Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.311.