I have been reading through a chapter of Acts each evening. Acts is focused on the beginning of the early church and the spreading of the gospel. In the early chapters, the Holy Spirit falls upon the apostles. They are able to speak in languages that are being understood by different people from other regions. The Apostles are facing widespread opposition from the elders, Jewish leaders and other authorities. As the early church grew, believers of different backgrounds and lifestyles were coming together. Stigma arises towards the Gentile believers because they were not circumcised or followers of the other laws that the Jews lived by. There is a lot to delve into, regarding this issue. I want to focus this blog on, how God is a God who breaks down barriers. There is no barrier that we can possibly think to confide God to or we should confide ourselves to.
Acts 10 begins with a centurion called Cornelius, who was (v2) ‘a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continuously to God.’. He would have been a Gentile but his faithfulness is acknowledged. An Angel appears him, tells Cornelius how his prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Cornelius is to send men to Joppa, to bring Simon Peter back with them. The verses do not say why they should bring back Peter but Cornelius is faithful to what he is requested to do and send men to Peter.
Peter was from a Jewish background, he followed the laws and practises that he was commanded to. It is through this experience that God teaches Peter a valuable lesson. As the men are on their way to meet with Peter, Peter has a vision of a sheet descending from heaven. ‘ In it were all kinds of reptiles and birds of the air‘. Peter is commanded to rise, kill and eat. However, his religious beliefs become a barrier from following this command as he states that he has never ate anything impure or unclean. This statement is rebuked as these words follow, v15 ‘What God has called clean, do not call common.’ Peter was left perplexed by this vision, at this time the men sent by Cornelius have arrived to ask for Peter. Peter is urged by the Holy Spirit to go and accompany the men. It is through being obedient to this command that many lives are transformed.
Once Peter arrives at Cornelius’ household, Cornelius falls at Peter’s feet. Peter replies ‘Stand up; for I too am a man.’ Despite their religious differences, there was nothing within Peter that needed to be worshipped for he was a man saved by grace just like Cornelius was. Peter does address the religious barriers that would normally discourage him from being found within their presence. Peter comes to realise that the vision that he saw was in relation to the situation that he now found himself in. (v28) ‘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.“. Cornelius tells Peter the vision he had that led to Peter being with them.
Peter has another revelation as he declares, v34-35 ‘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’. God is an all inclusive God, the cross put an end to any person being barred from the love and presence of God. As believers we need to meditate upon these revelations that Peter is having. In his wisdom and understanding being established, it allows faith to grow as it is not a faith that is restricted to a certain group of people or place. Peter is further amazed as the Holy Spirit falls upon the gentiles as he shares the gospel with them. Not only Peter but the other circumcised believers that had come along with Peter. v45 ‘The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles“. The gentiles lives were transformed, they had become a part of God’s all inclusive kingdom. Through using Peter, God enabled religious barriers to be broken down and enabled Peter to watch the marvellous ways that God’s love and power works.
The last bit I want to mention is from chapter 11 when Peter is being criticised when he reports back to the church what happened with these Gentiles, the people he was addressing was a group of circumcised men. Peter states, v17 ‘If God gave them 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‘. This revelation from Peter is one of humility, that regardless of the authority and their religious priorities, they cannot stand in the way of the will of God. For God’s will is more powerful than the will of man.
My prayer, reflecting on these chapters is that God is God and I am just human. Who am I to try and limit the power and authority God has, with my ideals on how I believe faith should work. I pray that I would allow God to help me break down the barriers that I have constructed or been told to construct, through false ideals. Not only in my walk of faith but also in breaking down the barriers that the society has told me to construct. I want to be open and more free to be faithful to what God has called me to rather than putting all these limits on what I should and could be doing. The barriers that I put up do not only impact me but can also impacts upon the people around me. I certainly would not like people to have a misconstrued idea of who God is and the freedom that he gives each and every one of us. May we all take time to think upon the barriers that we have put up in our lives, ask God to allow us to break free of those that limit us from coming full into his presence and walking faithfully with us. We serve a God that wants all of us, we should never feel that there is any bit of us that we should be ashamed to bring in front of God. God loves us, wants us and wants us to know a life of freedom and joy found within his presence.