Peter, in Acts 10:34-43, preached at Caesarea, where Cornelius and the first Gentiles believed and were baptized. His compelling argument was that he and others, “were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (v. 41).
Despite Peter’s opening remarks, the Jewish Christians who traveled with him were thunderstruck. While Peter was still preaching this sermon of Love, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles. You have to read a few verses past our text to find these results. Why the surprise? After all, they believed in one God, Creator and Ruler of all. Most of the Old Testament, however is based on the idea that God plays favorites: Abraham over others, Jacob over Esau, Israel over the nations. God may rule over all, but God has favorites. Of course there were always voices like the author of Jonah and prophet Ezekiel, who suggested other nations have a place in God’s plan. Israel’s special status could be understood as a calling to be a light to the world. Nevertheless, the conviction remained, God favored Israel.
When the Spirit of God drove the good news through Jesus to a Gentile audience, cherished assumptions exploded in a blast that can still be felt to this day. God shows no partiality. The door was opened to Gentiles, and most of us would not be Christians if that door did not stand open.
But does God favor Christians? This story changes things. Henceforth anyone can come to Jesus Christ, and they can come, in the words of the hymn “Just as I am.” But have we merely exchanged one form of favorites for another? If God does not discriminate on the basis of race, does God judge on the basis of religion? This question demands an answer in a culture as religiously diverse as ours. The Bible reveals that the Jewish race was God’s chosen people and they still have that relationship today. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to offer salvation to everyone, if they were willing to surrender all to the Lord.
Peter’s opening remark seems to work against any kind of favoritism: “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Peter goes on, however to tell the story of Jesus, mentioning that he is Lord of all and declaring him judge of the living and the dead. At the end we learn, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Is he saying that anyone who wants to be acceptable to God has business to do with Jesus Christ?
Of all the ways to look at this problem, I’ll focus on the one I find most helpful. In a world as diverse as ours, apostolic Christianity pointed to Jesus as the one way because of his close relationship to the God he called “Father.” Our text today speaks of God anointing Jesus with the Spirit and power, raising him from the dead, and ordaining him judge of all. To say, then, that God shows no partiality is to say that Jesus does not. People of every nation who love God and do right are acceptable to him; that is to Jesus. To try to made the text say that religion does not matter is to force our categories on the text. Acts has excited and challenged us. Now we go forth as witnesses to all that God has done in Jesus Christ; that will determine our faith! Are ready to look at your faith?