Easter 5 • Acts 11:1–18 • May 2, 2010
by Robert Hoehner
Challenge and Joy
The story that unfolds in Acts 10 and 11 is an “aha” moment for Peter and the first century church. As the message is proclaimed today, this can be an “aha” moment for the preacher and the twenty-first century congregation. The significance of this is seen in the fact that Luke tells the story of Cornelius three times in these chapters. This story tells of God’s revelation to Peter that his love in Jesus Christ is for every human being. This is the message that opened the eyes of Christians and the doors of congregations to people of every color, culture, and background.
In the early years of our Synod, the Lord brought Lutherans to our shores from Europe, and as our church grew it reflected its European heritage. In recent years, he has brought people to our country from lands where the Lutheran faith (and in many cases, the Gospel itself) is unknown, with the result that our church is looking more like heaven (people from every nation under heaven) all the time. While our Synod has missionaries serving in sixty–nine countries worldwide, here in North America in the past decade new missions have begun reaching out to a variety of cultures: African immigrant, Korean, Latino, Chinese, Japanese, Hmong, Asian Indian, and Muslim. Renewed efforts have been made to reach out to Native American cultures and the sight- and hearing-impaired (of which a significant percentage live outside the family of faith).
This text should lead the preacher to connect with Synod or District mission personnel or Synod and District web-sites and gather information about the important work our church is doing in cross-cultural mission work. This is also an opportunity to learn about the cross-cultural ministries taking place at our Concordia Universities and Seminaries. (There is an “aha” moment waiting for you at the spring graduation program at any one of our Concordia Universities!) The continued expansion of ethnic theological education (Center for Hispanic Studies, Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology, Specific Ministry Pastor Program) at our seminaries is also significant.
Cross-cultural mission work can be personally challenging and also quite thrilling. Both the struggle and the excitement are seen in this text. We see how the Lord leads Peter out of his comfort zone and how Peter’s witness to the love of Christ sets him up for criticism from his fellow Christians. In the end, we see Peter and the church receptive to God’s Word, amazed at his love for all people, and praising God for the response of the Gentiles to the Gospel.
Concerning the challenge, consider the reaction of Peter to the Lord’s command to eat the animals in the vision (v. 8). The Greek could not be stronger: “By no means! Absolutely not! Never!” The very thought of eating such a meal was enough to make Peter sick. Peter was definitely being pushed out of his comfort zone.
The challenge is also seen in the fact that cross-cultural mission work takes time. A twenty minute sermon or an hour visit would not be enough to bring Cornelius and his family into the household of the Lord. Peter was led to go to Cornelius, enter his house (according to Jewish law this, too, was forbidden), and stay with him. He actually stayed in the home of a Gentile.
The unchurched, regardless of culture, are operating with a completely different value system. They have a totally different mindset. To reach them we need to leave our comfort zone and go to where they are. In order to reach them, we need to give our time to them and address their concerns. Out of love, we need to remove any unnecessary obstacles blocking their way to Jesus, even if those obstacles are things we cherish and love. We need to go into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory like Peter did. All this isn’t easy. In fact, at times, it is downright challenging. But all this is part of mission work.
Verse 2 tells us that Peter was criticized when he returned to Jerusalem. Notice that the criticism fails to mention the fact that Gentiles were saved. Still this criticism had to bother Peter. This, too, makes mission work difficult.
So is it worth it? By all means! Mission work is about rescuing people, saving people for all eternity.
Our Triune God allows us to be part of his rescue team: the Father who sacrificed his only Son for us; his Son willingly, not reluctantly, suffered and died as payment for our sins; the Holy Spirit who now is working tirelessly to bring people to faith. God allows us the challenge and the joy of bringing people to Jesus.
Something else that brings joy is influencing others to help in bringing people to Jesus. After Peter explained the situation, the people responded by praising God. I am sure Peter felt good about this.
The more people who are on the team working together, the better it is. When we are alone, the challenge is increased and our joy is diminished. But when we are working together, the joy greatly increases.