Let's be honest - we all have prejudices and 'unconscious biases'. We see certain 'other' people and think negatively about them. With any ingrained prejudice there comes a time when the Holy Spirit moves to simply blow it out of the water. Acts 10 is the story of Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is not of a Jewish background, so he is 'unclean'. A Jewish person would not visit his house, for fear of becoming unclean, as if they might 'catch something'.
Yet this Roman was God-fearing, giving generously to the poor and praying. This man had an angelic vision, affirming him, and giving him coordinates of Peter so that he could send for him. Meanwhile Peter is at a friends house. He goes up to pray, because Peter has learnt to be spiritually hungry. Yet he is also physically hungry. The two seem to combine with Peter in a trance, with God showing sheets lowered with all kinds of 'unclean' animals - all the stuff he knows he is not supposed to eat. In the vision he protests, but God says "do not call anything impure that God has made clean". He has this vision 3 times - we should always take note when it is 3 times!
Peter comes round in a daze. At the exact same time the officer-dispatched messengers arrived at the gate. The Spirit whispers to Peter 'Go with them!', and so Peter goes ... to the house of Cornelius where there is now a whole crowd waiting!
See how blunt Peter is: "I am Jewish, you are Gentile, I shouldn't be here"! But thankfully he continues: "But God has told me 'no prejudices', so here I am". After some pleasantries Peter tells them all simply and straight-forwardly about Jesus, and the promise of forgiveness found only in Jesus. It's a great sermon, but the Holy Spirit short-circuits the process. Cornelius and those gathered are moved by the Spirit, start speaking in tongues, and it is utter pandemonium! Peter goes with the flow ... he sees God is at work and suggests they are baptised.
So what can we see from this amazing story? First we should recognise that the Holy Spirit can already be at work in people before we have even started our witness to them. Cornelius was already 'God-fearing', the Spirit had given him a vision in advance of Peter going. We should not always assume we are the first link in the chain!
Here's a tip: Keep your antennae up, looking out for who is open, who is asking the searching question, who is showing an interest in faith matters. When you put out some witness (e.g. you say a line at work), listen carefully to see who bites ... and then tilt your focus to them - for in them the Holy Spirit may already be at work.
Second let us wake up to the fact that God has no favourites, no prejudices. Peter had a deep seated prejudice from childhood, intertwined and justified by his Jewish faith understanding: from boyhood he had been taught: 'Jewish = good, Others = bad & unclean'. God blows this apart, which Peter now declares (see v28 and v34). So what about us? What prejudices are deep in us? I once had a conversation with another believer about Muslims, and they said "but they are the enemy". I have to say that I simply don't see it that way - a Muslim is a person that Jesus has died for. In a group of Muslims might be someone who fears God and is calling on Him, something in whom the Spirit might already be at work, someone Jesus is drawing to Himself.
Another contemporary example would be a person whose convictions about their sexuality clashes with what most churches have asserted over many years. Are they simply 'unclean', beyond the reach of God?
Thirdly see how Peter tells of Jesus so simply and efficiently. Look at his speech in v34 to 43. In a nutshell he tells:
- This was Jesus - he went about healing etc.
- This is what happened to him - he was killed, but raised from the dead (and we are witnesses)
- Therefore all who believe receive forgiveness, and you can believe too.
That's it - beautifully simple! Let's not make it complicated!
Fourthly let us distinguish between the Spirit moving wonderfully on someone and the Spirit's ongoing work in the person which will address their behaviours, attitudes etc. (which will be a lifetimes work). The Spirit moved on Cornelius and friends - that doesn't mean they are all instantly perfect. We can safely bet they had 'stuff' the Spirit needed to work on in their lives .... just as Peter had 'stuff' to work on ... just as we have 'stuff' the Spirit needs to work on.
So back to our sexuality example: the Spirit may move in a person's life (fantastic!), but that doesn't mean everything about their life is all 'okay'. The Spirit may have stuff to deal with ... just as we cannot possibly claim we are 'all sorted'.
So our new key question and challenge:
Key Question: [IN] What false views of other people does God need to change in us?
Challenge: Pray for the most 'unlikely' person you know
Remember that the person you instinctively think 'no way' or 'no chance' ... that is a person that Jesus has died for. It is not up to you to eternally categorise them!
The challenge is a prayer exercise: think of the most unlikely person and pray for them. Yet not a 'clobber prayer' (Jesus, deal with their bad behaviour), but a 'blessing prayer' (Jesus, bring blessing on them today). That is hard work - it is the equivalent of me challenging you to do press-ups each day - it will build up your prayer muscle!
Let us give out our witness liberally, and keep up our antennae for who responds, for the person the Spirit has put in our path. We might be in for some mind-blowing surprises.