Yesterday, we learned about a story where Peter, one of the early Christian leaders, breaks his nation’s religious rules by associating with a non-Jew named Cornelius, even entering his home.
In a nation with strict rules about keeping a distance from other, unclean people, this was a big deal. I asked you yesterday to think about how we know it’s God’s will, not Peter’s own idea or hallucination.
There are a few clues. First, there are dual dreams that match. But most importantly, there is consistency with what Jesus had taught.
Here’s what Peter said when he met Cornelius:
When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.  But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”  And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered.  And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.
Then he asks Cornelius why he sent for him, and they realize they both had visions from God bringing them together, unlikely as this was. Two men who’d never otherwise have met came together because God brought them together.
Peter stays with Cornelius, tangible proof of his openness to gentiles now.
He was from a culture and religion that said Gentiles were godless, rejected by God, given to uncleanness, and this would rub off on anyone who associated with them. And yet he goes and associates with one.
So what did all this mean for Peter? It meant he’d just crossed a line, breaking cultural and religious rules in order to share the good news of Jesus Christ. He explains what he now believes, after the Holy Spirit completely surprised him.
 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,  but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),
(Acts 10:34-36 ESV)
This is hard for us to understand. The vast majority of Christians today were not Jews first like Peter, or even studying Judaism like Cornelius, we simply learn about Jesus and decide to follow him. We never even consider whether we are allowed to eat ham.
But we have to remember, when this story happened every single Christian we know of had been a Jew except the Ethiopian Eunuch we studied a few weeks ago. The idea that this was actually God’s plan, and not just an anomaly, was news. For millennia, the Jews had believed acceptance with God had rested with their nation’s special relationship with God, but now, it’s about the heart of the people. Jesus died on the cross, tearing down the barrier of sin between us and God. Now there are no barriers except those we put up ourselves through something called sin. God’s grace is freely offered, and we need only accept it and be transformed by it. We don’t want to let anything human stand in the way of people learning that amazing news and receiving that gift of grace.
Question: What kinds of cultural and religious rules do you think can prevent Christians from connecting with others?
Meeting with a Group? Your discussion questions are in this week’s Group Study Guide[permalink append=”#comments”]Discuss the Challenge[/permalink]