Acts 10 – By the Spirit We Are Diverse
What did you learn about the Holy Spirit?
- The Holy Spirit can speak through visions, even if, as in this case, the meaning is not immediately clear (10:17, 28-29).
- Acts 1:8 is fulfilled as now the Holy Spirit comes upon those Gentiles who represent “the end of the earth” (10:44-48).
What did you learn about the Spirit-filled community?
- The Spirit can use diverse people, giving each pieces of a vision or message that only make sense when the community comes together (10:29-33).
- The Spirit-filled community extends to those of every race and nation (10:34-35).
Notes from Pastor Mark
When you serve on the board of a university as I have for 20 years, there are certain words that are pounded into your consciousness. One of them is “diversity.” We have diversity committees, a Vice President of diversity, diversity training, diversity events. After a while, you are numb to it… and can even feel bullied by it.
Which is a shame because when we look at the early Church we discover a truly, richly diverse community of believers in Jesus. That diversity started with Jesus himself. It was He who constantly reached out to the marginalized, the loathed, the forgotten of society. He touched lepers with His hands when the society put them in ghettos to rot away out of the sight of healthy, “normal.” It was Jesus who spoke to Samaritans and made them the heroes of His parables.
It was Jesus who welcomed into His inner circle of disciples both a Zealot and a tax collector. Today’s term for “Zealot” would be “terrorist”. They were devoted to harassing Rome through violence, intimidation and even assassination. And then there was Matthew, the converted tax collector, despised by ALL in Jewish society (and especially by the Zealots) as the ultimate Roman collaborator. You don’t get much more diverse than that.
Even more shocking, perhaps, was this: Jesus welcomed WOMEN as his disciples at a time when women were non-persons and shunned from all serious religious discourse. One of the greatest proofs of the veracity of scripture is that the gospels unanimously affirm that the risen Christ appeared first of all to women…who did not even have standing as a witness in a court of law.
The followers of Jesus were a motley collection of race, religion, political persuasion and gender. Remarkably, Jesus rarely said anything specifically ABOUT diversity. He just DID diversity, presumably because all people are God’s children. It wouldn’t have crossed His mind that His horde of followers should look like anything but the patchwork that is human existence.
Even with that example set by Jesus, one of the great struggles evident in Acts was against the long-held prejudices that existed between Jews and non-Jews, called Gentiles. Jews considered Gentiles to be sub-human. They called them “dogs.” So, when we discover the Holy Spirit calling Gentiles to follow Jesus (like the Samaritans and the eunuch in chapter 8), we know that we are experiencing a real sea change.
Chapter 10 is the shore upon which that sea change crashes. In a masterpiece of writing, Luke flashes back and forth between the two chief players in this drama. Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, a Roman officer no less, receives a vision from God about a man named Peter who has a message for him. Then the camera cuts to Joppa where Peter has an unsettling vision about eating bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches and other decidedly non-kosher foods. In typically Petrine fashion, he resists the Lord’s vision… three times. (Is there ANY important lesson that Peter learns in less than three lessons?)
But the details in the story reveal that Peter is already beginning to get the message that God’s message is for Jew and non-Jew alike. Notice where he is living in Joppa? With Simon the Tanner. Good Jews avoided tanners; they were ritually unclean!
Anyhow, against his wishes, Peter is brought to Caesarea to meet Cornelius, they receive the gospel of Jesus and they are filled with… you guessed it, the Holy Spirit.
Do you hear the echo of the Ethiopian eunuch when Peter asks in 47, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” We cannot understand how revolutionary this revelation was to the Jewish apostles… unless, perhaps, we put it this way: how would we reply if ISIS terrorists heard the message of Jesus, repented and asked to be baptized. Incredible? Impossible? Not for the Holy Spirit! The question is, are we ready to be instruments, even reluctant ones, like Peter, to reach out to those who might seem most unlikely and perhaps, from our perspective, even unwelcome candidates for God’s grace? THAT is diversity, Holy Spirit style. May we be that kind of church!