Monday, June 8, 2009

Embrace or Admission

Gentiles were the outcasts, and not just in a "we're better than them" way. It was more like, "you are unclean if you touch them" kind of way. It was a "it's a sin if you go into their houses and eat with them" kind of way. This was serious. It was church-mandated segregation, salvation-mandated segregation.

So, when Peter sees a vision about foods that were considered unclean being called clean, it was one thing. The realization that this wasn't just about food must have been quite another. "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right."

I love what happens next and how Peter responds. The Holy Spirit comes on these gentiles as a sort of affirmation of what Peter has been saying. So, he baptizes them and then stays with them a few days. First he ceremonially embraces them as brothers by baptizing them into the faith, then he relationally embraces them by staying with them for a few days. He lives in their homes and eats their food (non-kosher as it was). This wasn't just embracing them with words, it was embracing them in deed, too.

Imagine if Peter had said, "God is now accepting gentiles! Now, I'm going to go hang out with the Jews again. Have a good time. We love you. Bye." Would the gentiles have felt like they were truly welcome? Would they have been actual members of the family or would they have been step-brothers, second-class citizens? That's why Peter does what he does. He embraces them and makes sure they know how much they are loved and accepted. This isn't just a little thing - they are on equal ground.

Do we do the same thing? Do we truly embrace people? People who are different than us? People who came from a very sin-filled background? People who are still struggling with sin? People who are still struggling with grace and forgiveness? People who don't yet know what it means to follow Christ? Are we eating with them and drinking with them, spending days with them and welcoming them into our lives? Are we embracing them or only admitting them?

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