Delighted to Be Invited—Acts 10, Part II

Scot McKnight pointed out in his essay “Church in the Present Tense” that every sermon recorded in Acts, no matter how different the setting and audience, still includes the same invitation. In each instance, we hear God’s invitation to either become a part of God’s great story or to take the next step with God in that story. In every case, that involved joining the story of Jesus’ life, cross, resurrection, and exaltation. In each case, this meant seeing God’s Jesus Story as the next great step in God’s Master Story of human history and of the history of Israel.  And finally, in each case, this meant becoming a part of the community of believers that flows from God’s new step enacted through the life of Jesus.

In part 1 of this blog series, I explored what this looked like on Pentecost with a “church going” audience. Here, in part 2, let’s see what it looked like as an invitation to a person we might today describe as a “very spiritual person” or a “genuine seeker,” or even a “good person who is not Christian” or a “very genuine person of another religion.”  Then, in part 3, we will explore what it looked like as an invitation to a hardened and non-devout pagan enemy. In spite of the great differences in approach and audience, each sermon claims that we humans can find a new kind of peace/shalom by becoming a part of God’s Great Master Story.

Acts 10:

1In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa….

34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly am understanding that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus the Messiah—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.    They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who trusts in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Let’s take a look at some key elements of this passage.

  • A very devout Roman pagan is invited to join the story—to be the story—even though Peter, a major church leader, would never have wished to include him!
  • Luke emphasizes the fact that God is already answering the prayers of this very devout pagan, so the invitation to join the Jesus story is a next step in the God-seeking life of this good man. Christians who make silly claims such as “God does not answer the prayers of non-Christians” really do need to read their Bibles that they claim to love so much.
  • This account stresses that the pagan Cornelius is far more at peace with God’s invitation to move forward in Jesus’ story than the church leader Peter is. Peter is presented as far from peaceful with God’s challenge to “mix” with a pagan. “I will not eat…” Peter responds in direct contradiction to what seems to be, but he thinks cannot be, the voice of God in his vision.
  • CORNELIUS—a devout Roman pagan—is delighted to be invited into God’s next step in God’s great story of humanity and of Israel, as this story is now moved forward through the life, execution, resurrection, and exaltation of JESUS. God’s great story of humanity once became focused in God’s unique story of Israel. Now, as promised from the beginning, God’s great story of Israel is becoming God’s great story of humanity once again.
  • PETER—the church leader—is initially horrified to be told that he should extend such an invitation! But, with a great deal of cajoling on God’s part, ultimately Peter too moves forward another step in God’s Great Story of making Israel a blessing to all nations through Jesus. Peter learns to be delighted to be invited into a story that is far bigger than he ever expected, and he “stays” and accepts hospitality for several days in a home he would not even have entered a day earlier. In 10:36, Peter acknowledges that the Jesus story began as another step in God’s Israel story, but as he says in 10:34-35, 43, and 47, it is beginning to become clear to him that it is also becoming a major step in God’s great story for all of humanity.
  • The God given peace through Jesus the Messiah gives Cornelius a deeper peace with God. Equally important in the biblical view of “salvation,” this peace must include a community dimension as well. Both Cornelius and Peter both are invited deeper into GOD’S GREAT STORY as they are given a new peace with one another. PEACE between culture and ethnicity and social/religious customs, and national animosities is at least as important in the biblical understanding of salvation as is individual and inner peace. In 10:36, Peter sums up Jesus entire body of teachings as “peace.”
  • Joining more fully into God’s great story is never a light thing.  For Cornelius saying that God has chosen to make Jesus “Lord of all” (v. 36) will certainly not delight the Roman emperor who loves to be proclaimed “Lord of all.” And, as Acts 11 indicates, Peter risks being disavowed as one who has gone off the rails by his fellow leaders in the Jerusalem church. As nice as this story sounds, a closer reading indicates that it is fraught with not just an invitation to peace, but also an invitation to risk.
  • Again, baptism is a public sign that Cornelius is joining in God’s Story of humanity, Israel, and Jesus. It is also a sign of Peter’s acceptance of how God is writing a surprising new chapter in this great story.

CHALLENGES from Acts 10: 

Challenge to church goers: Are we who are church goers ready to step further into God’s great story, even when it means facing the fact that God may be crossing boundaries that we are not very keen to see God cross? We may sometimes find it rather excruciating, but God is relentless in his pursuit of those whose heart is seeking God!

Challenge to the Spiritual and Seeking: And, if you are a person who is very spiritual and very much a God-seeker, are you willing to consider that God may still be inviting you to take a risky step forward in God’s great story? Would you risk asking God to speak to you about Jesus’ place in God’s great story for humanity and for your life personally? Would you consider forgiving the mess that we “church people” (like Peter) often make of God’s invitation, and be willing to hear it as another step in God’s history-long purpose of making humans into the image of God and human community into the place where God reigns among  us? You just might find that you are in fact delighted to be invited.

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