Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 18

“Bridge Building – Part 2”

“Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Acts 10:48

In my previous devotion (#85), I discussed the relational bridge built between two different sets of people. The first set involved a Roman solider named Cornelius and a Christ follower named Simon Peter. The second set involved an African American named Calvin and a police officer named Justin.  Only the first half of the encounter between Cornelius and Peter was included, so today, I will include the second part – from Acts 10:24-11:18. So also, I want to introduce a new set of characters, that built a bond of friendship during difficult days.

God used the encounter between Cornelius and Peter to break barriers. Jews were never to associate with gentiles. As the Good News about Jesus began to spread, the target audience of the early believers were fellow Jews. Jewish believers would never have considered sharing the Gospel with the gentiles because the Law directed them to never cross that line. But God, in His divine plan, had other ideas. God sent an angel to Cornelius, who we are told was a devout and God-fearing man. We are also told that he gave generously to those in need and prayed regularly. God revealed himself to this man of character and told him to send for Simon Peter who was staying in Joppa. The following day, around noon, servants arrived in search of Simon Peter. God has already prepared Peter for this encounter. God gave Peter a vision opening his eyes to the truth that nothing is impure which God has made clean. God showed him a sheet with countless animals in it and told Peter to, “Kill and eat.” Peter initially refused because the animals were considered, “unclean.” But after the third time, Peter began to understand the message. God was breaking down the barriers to Jewish dietary restrictions. Then God was about to lead Peter on a path to break an even greater barrier. Suddenly, three servants invite Peter to Caesarea, to the home of Cornelius, a Roman solder, but more than that – a Gentile!

Upon entering the house of Cornelius, Peter said to him, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objections.” (Acts 10:28-29)

Cornelius then told Peter the story about the visit from the angel and the directions to send for him. Peter then responded, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)

As Peter shared the Good News about Jesus with Cornelius and the gathered crowd, suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the message. The Jewish believers who accompanied Peter were absolutely astounded that the Spirit had been poured out – even on Gentiles! Peter then said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:47)

God had just broken a barrier that had stood for centuries. As amazing a move of God as this is – it is even more amazing that Simon Peter could move with God, embrace his plan and welcome these new Gentile believers. When the word of what happened in Caesarea got back to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, Peter was initially criticized for associating with Gentiles. But when Peter shared how the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon both Jews and Gentiles alike, they also celebrated God’s ground breaking action and declared, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”         (Acts 11:18)

There would be future battles between Gentile Christians and circumcised believers, but this moment between Cornelius and Peter would be a type of D-Day event. This would be a marker moment bringing down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. And the message that would be pounded out and carried forth is found in Galatians 3:26-28. The Apostle Paul states, “You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Today, I would also like to share another example of a significant and ground breaking, bridge-building relationship. This relationship was formed in 1930, in New York City. An unexpected bond was formed between a German born, European theologian and an African American theologian born in Alabama. Their names were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Albert Franklin “Frank” Fisher.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is considered one of the foremost Lutheran theologians and arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century. His books entitled, “The Cost of Discipleship” and “Life Together” have left a lasting impression upon future generations. Bonhoeffer was an anti-Nazi dissident and a founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany. He joined the Resistance during WWII and was a participant in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Eventually, he was tragically killed only a few weeks before the end of the war at the young age of 39.

Long before the war, Bonhoeffer left Germany to study in America. While at Union Theological Seminary, in New York City, he met another seminary student, Frank Fisher. He was disappointed and disheartened by what he found within the American seminary. He stated, “In New York, they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.” The one notable exception was that of the “negro churches.” It would be in the socially downtrodden African American community where Bonhoeffer would finally hear the gospel preached and see its power manifested. It changed his life. Eric Metaxas, in the book, “Bonhoeffer”, explains that Dietrich Bonhoeffer found, what he would call, a “theological feast” at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. brought the fire of a revivalist preacher with great intellect and social vision. Metaxas stated that Powell was active in combating racism and minced no words about the saving power of Jesus Christ. He goes on to say, “For the first time, Bonhoeffer saw the gospel preached and lived out in obedience to God’s commands – he was entirely captivated for the rest of the time in New York.”

During this time, Bonhoeffer traveled with Frank Fisher and was given a front row seat to African American life, culture and suffering. These experiences would leave a lasting impression upon him and influence his response, in the coming years, to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer did not learn much academically during his time in the United States, but he received more than his share of invaluable experience in what it meant to “be church” from the African American community. He learned what it meant to live in a Christ-centered community. For the first time, he experienced the power of music through “negro spiritual” songs. He also came to realize that the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering.   

After returning to Germany, Bonhoeffer’s experiences within the African American community would be instrumental in formulating and articulating his views regarding discipleship and Christian community.

All this rich discovery came about from a friendship formed between two unlikely individuals. Two men who built a bridge of friendship in which barriers were brought low, and love grew deep. God knew what he was doing when Dietrich and Frank were introduced to each other. Just as he knew what he was doing when Simon Peter was introduced to Cornelius.

Perhaps there are people in our future, whom God knows, who will help us build bridges, bring barriers low and grow deep in Christian love. Holy Spirit, show us the way.

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

Cornelius Calls for Peter (continued) – Acts 10:23-11:18

 23 So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

24 They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” 27 So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.

28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

The Gentiles Hear the Good News

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,[a] 40 but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, 41 not to the general public,[b] but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

The Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit

44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers[c] who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues[d] and praising God.

Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

Peter Explains His Actions

11 Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers[e] in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers[f] criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles[g] and even ate with them!” they said.

Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. “I was in the town of Joppa,” he said, “and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me.

When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of tame and wild animals, reptiles, and birds. And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’

“‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean.[h]

“But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ 10 This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven.

11 “Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. 13 He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 14 He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!’

15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with[i] water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”

18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”