The above statement in Acts 10:34 was spoken by Peter when it dawned on him what God was teaching him through a Roman soldier. It was shocking to Peter to discover that this non-Jew and despised Gentile enemy of the Jews was in fact “a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people,” verse 22.
It told Peter in no uncertain terms that he, Peter, was a systemic racist – a hard pill to swallow when you’re an apostle and supposedly filled with the Holy Spirit. But Peter was still a prejudiced, bigoted snob. Blame it on his background, yes, because from a burbling baby he’d grown up being told the Jews were God’s chosen people, but, unfortunately, the word “chosen” had translated in their Jewish minds as “superior.” Gentiles were sub human.
And this same poison had infected Peter’s mind too. So how on earth could Peter be a visible witness to Jesus’ love for all peoples in all nations, or act as evidence that the promise God made to Abraham to bless all nations was now at full throttle through the church?
The answer to that was a vision (verse 10), in which Peter was told to eat “reptiles” and various other animals that to Jews were “impure” (verse 14). And when Peter resisted eating them he was thoroughly told off for calling something “impure that God has made clean,” verse 15.
What turmoil that must have created in Peter’s mind, but after meeting Cornelius the soldier in person and how eager the man was “to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (verse 33), Peter realized the purpose of the vision, that “God accepts people from every nation who fear (deeply respect) God and do what is right,” verse 35.
This was shocking news to Peter because he’d been taught that God only accepted Jews who obeyed all the laws given to Israel in the Old Testament. In other words, God did have favourites. But no longer, because anyone wanting to “do right” with God in mind was fully accepted by him.
And the proof of it was Cornelius, who was doing right with God in mind, which God had taken note of (verses 2-6), and then through an angel got the point across to Peter that he was establishing a different definition of “good and acceptable,” which didn’t involve anything religious at all, other than a deep respect for God.
Well, that made me think, because there are probably thousands of people where I live who fit that definition, who may not be labelled as “Christians” or do what identifies Christians, like meeting in a church building or obeying church rituals. But they’re good people. They want to do what’s right, whether it’s supporting their family, being a hard working, honest employee, fighting for justice, helping the poor, trying not to pollute the planet, or restoring the soil etc., and all because they believe these things are right and good in God’s eyes.
And shock upon shock for many Christians, perhaps, that’s good enough for God. And he sent Jesus to prove it, which is what Peter also realized in verse 38 when he tells Cornelius, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around DOING GOOD….”
And that’s what defined Jesus. It’s why he was given the Holy Spirit and power. It wasn’t going to church or sounding religious. It was his desire to do good. And how encouraging is that when you realize anyone doing good is actively and effectively continuing Jesus’ ministry on this planet and being a visible witness to Jesus and his heart and mind.
And the Holy Spirit landed that on Peter by putting him in contact with Cornelius. Peter would never have known this about Cornelius, that in God’s eyes he was such a good man, despite not being a religious Jew. And by ignoring this “sub human” Gentile Peter would never have known that such good people were now wonderfully accepted in God’s eyes too.
It took a while for this to sink into Peter’s racist mind, so the Holy Spirit jumped in half way through Peter’s speech to Cornelius in verse 44, inspired all those in the house with Cornelius with a clear understanding of who Jesus was and what he’d come for, which caused Peter to blurt out,”Wow, these people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” In other words, these supposedly “sub human” Gentiles were just as “Christian,” just as godly, just as acceptable and just as loved by God as they were. And all because they “went around doing good.”
And since I don’t know who those people are in my neighbourhood, I can’t play favourites either, because any one of them may be another Cornelius. They may not look or sound good enough in my eyes, but in their desire to do what’s good and right in God’s eyes, that’s good enough for him.