By Dr. Mark Scott
Years ago we participated in an ordination service for a good ministry friend. The service was held at Broadway Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. The preacher was Dr. Marshall Leggett. His text for the Sunday morning message was Acts 10:1–11:18. The opening line of the message was, “That door just keeps getting wider.” Reading the Book of Acts is like dropping a pebble in a pool of water and watching the ripple effect—first to Jerusalem, then to all Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Perhaps the greatest word in John 3:16 is “whoever.”
Acts 8-11 contains several paradigm shifts. In Acts 8 the gospel shifted from Jerusalem to Samaria and Ethiopia. In Acts 9 a persecutor shifted to being a preacher. In Acts 10, 11 the church shifted from being exclusively for Jews to including Gentiles. And in the latter part of Acts 11 the seat of influence of the mother church in Jerusalem shifted to the missionary enterprising church in Antioch of Syria, where some brave souls spoke the word also to the Greeks (Acts 11:20).
The Old Paradigm of Exclusivity
Acts has given more than hints that the old exclusivity is crumbling. On the Day of Pentecost the crowd contained proselytes (2:11). When the church was exploding in growth the Hellenistic Jews received benevolent help (6:1-7). Stephen’s sermon showed God’s original intention to unshackle it from being exclusively Jewish (7:1-53). Samaritans and eunuchs found their way into the kingdom (8:1-40). Kosher Peter stayed in the house of Simon the tanner (9:43). Everything is set for the exploding of the old paradigm of exclusivity.
Luke shifted from the early days of Saul’s new life in Christ to Peter’s ministry in Caesarea. Two miraculous events preceded our text. A centurion named Cornelius experienced a vision with an angel instructing him to send to Joppa for Peter. In the meantime Peter experienced a vision of a sheet let down from Heaven containing clean and unclean animals. God used angels and his Spirit to prepare the church for the Gentile Pentecost.
Peter was using all his cognitive powers to discern what his vision meant when Cornelius’ two servants and one soldier showed up at the tanner’s house. The Holy Spirit instructed Peter to go with these men. The reason was simple: God sent them. Peter inquired why the men had come. They explained to Peter the nobility of Cornelius’ character and the message of the angel. Typical of Near Eastern hospitality, Peter invited the men in for the night—even though it was not his house. Peter had no idea how his perspective would change in the next two days. He would need more than a sanity check about the old paradigm of exclusivity.
The New Paradigm of Inclusivity
The next day Peter started his journey from Joppa to Caesarea Maritima with Cornelius’ men and a few believers from Joppa. The initial meeting of Cornelius with Peter paved the way for this new paradigm. An outstanding soldier of Rome bowed in the presence of a humble fisherman from Galilee. Peter was not beyond pride (Matthew 26:33), but he knew better than to receive the centurion’s reverence.
Peter found an ideal audience. It was primarily Gentile, but it was postured for undivided attention to what Peter had to say (10:33). The light bulb above Peter’s head was beginning to shine brighter. His vision about animals was beginning to make sense.
Peter’s life had been defined by Torah, circumcision, and the Levitical dietary code. God was calling him and the church to be wider in their embrace. He admitted that the law forbade a Jew from associating with a Gentile, but that paradigm had to crumble. When he said, “I came without raising any objection,” Luke must have laughed. A vision with the sheet to the third power? Peter preached about a God who plays no favorites, the Holy Spirit descended, and Cornelius’ household was baptized. That door was getting wider.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2013, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.