The Apostle Peter, like all the other disciples of Jesus, was a Jew. He believed, as did all Jews, that the Hebrew nation was a special family group chosen by God to receive the blessings of His kingdom. Gentiles were considered unclean; they lived in a different world, so to speak, one that was outside the purposes of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
When Jesus appeared and made claims about “the kingdom of God,” the Jews of His day tried to process His words within their Hebrew worldview. But Jesus soon fell into disrepute, partly because he called God His “father,” and partly because he said radical things like “God so loved the world…whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but has everlasting life.” We love this verse because of it’s promise, but to the Jews of Jesus’ day this claim was nothing short of revolutionary…and blasphemous!
Back to Peter. Acts Chapters 10 and 11 tells the story of how Peter was sent to preach the word of salvation to a group of Gentiles. The Holy Spirit fell on them in the same way He fell on the Hebrew followers of Jesus on the day of Pentecost. Those of us who are Gentiles simply cannot appreciate how mind blowing this was to the Jews at that time. When Peter explained to the Jewish leaders of the church in Jerusalem how the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, it took a while for this truth to sink in:
“…if then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
(Acts 11:17-18, ESV)
The Jews fell silent because they were experiencing the most radical paradigm shift in history. They needed some time to process the implications. Paul, in several places in his epistles, calls this paradigm shift a “mystery” that was hinted at throughout the preceding millennia but was now revealed in the church. Salvation is not a result of belonging to the right people group. Instead salvation is wrapped up in the word “whosoever” regardless of one’s nationality. We who are Gentile Christians would do well to gain a better understanding of the worldview implications involved here. If we would read the Bible with this framework in mind, it would help us to interpret its truths a bit better and to appreciate the wonders of God’s redemptive plan a bit more.
Most of us who live in the United States are intensely patriotic. We believe in “American exceptionalism.” And, truly, the Judeo-Christian ethic which made this country great is something to cherish. But God is not an American. His “holy nation” extends beyond the border of the United States and Israel:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
(Revelation 7:9-10, ESV)
Our involvement in missionary outreach, whether it be in our own neighborhood or on the other side of the globe, is an effort to extend the truth of salvation to our true nation in which our eternal heritage lies. May God bless our efforts as we seek to extend the truth of His kingdom to our brothers and sisters in every corner of the globe.