“I’m gonna be a history-maker” were the lyrics to a Christian worship hit by Delirious in 1997, alongside many songs by others of a similar theme. I turned 20 that year and I suspect there are many of my generation who may have since thought – I haven’t been a history-maker, have I failed God?
The song was released in the heights of the charismatic renewal, and our collective failure, I would suggest, was thinking that WE were ever meant to be the history-makers! – the big names on history’s pages, the ones getting the adventure and the glory, leaving a legacy of wonder!
No. God is the history-maker; we are the support act – here to humbly serve behind the scenes.
In our reading today, God gets centre-stage and ousts Peter from it – God makes yet another history-making, world-changing move. On top of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus; and on top of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Jews at Pentecost, and then on the Samaritans; God now opens wide the door (or rather, takes the door off its hinges for good!) to welcome the Gentiles in on the gift of salvation. Peter gets stitched up and has no choice but to follow where God leads him.
In yesterday’s reading, Peter was astounded to be told by God to change his beliefs about people. His previous categories were clean (Jews) and unclean (non-Jews). Non-Jews could only become clean through conversion, circumcision and obedience to the Jewish laws.
However, Peter learned from a 3-times-repeated, crazy vision from God, that he should call no person unclean. Immediately after that crazy vision, it just so happened that some Gentiles arrived at his house and Peter let them in. Unheard of for a Jew. Next he accompanied them on a 3 day journey from Joppa by the sea to Caesarea 40 miles up the coastline, and ended up walking into a Gentile house – again, unheard of for a Jew.
Peter, still reeling probably from the shock and radical rearrangement of his theology, and perhaps looking around, curious to know what a Gentile house looked like – preaches the gospel to the gathered crowd…
Jesus of Nazareth, who did great miracles and was crucified, is actually the LIVING Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead (and, by the way, Peter adds, we were eye-witnesses – we ate and drank with him – i.e. he was no ghost!) This Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead and he offers you forgiveness of sins…
and then BOOM!
Peter’s sermon was short-lived. God interrupted him and stole the show. He clearly needed to make it unquestionable for Peter (and later for the apostles to whom he had to justify himself) that these Gentiles were welcome to be in his church. So God suddenly poured out the Holy Spirit upon the gathering. They began to speak in tongues and praise God, just like Peter and the disciples had found themselves doing on the day of Pentecost! So convinced was Peter that this was the real deal, he baptised them all there and then.
At last, God’s long-awaited dream and promise to Abraham, to be a blessing to all nations, finally began to come true – from then on, Gentiles were slowly but surely welcomed into the church – and apostles like Paul began to take the gospel to all the corners of the known world – including pagan Britain! This was a history-making, world-changing move of God.
The gospel is not confined to those we deem acceptable; it has been released to the world, to be received by ANYONE who wants God’s mercy.
Heavenly Father, we praise you for your impartiality and generous grace, that make the forgiveness of sins and resurrection to eternal life possible for ALL people who call on the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, to be saved. We repent of times when we have excluded others from the gospel because of our own self-righteous attitudes or because we were afraid to proclaim it; we repent of times when we have excluded ourselves from your love because we couldn’t believe it to be true for us. Please give us your spirit of wisdom and revelation to see who you really are and to respond in trust and obedience, wherever and to whomever that may lead us,