For years I thought a “cold war” was one that was fought in the winter. I was born in 1961 and in addition to being a “baby-boomer,” I am a child of the cold war era. A more accurate term might be “contempt war” because the bitterness and resentment that developed between nations was divisive beyond words. Fewer bullets were exchanged after Viet Nam but the propaganda war continued. I actually remember having hatred for those “communists.” I didn’t even know what communism was and I sure didn’t know one. My contempt wasn’t my parent’s fault and I will not blame the church! It was our American culture of the day. In school and on TV, it was very clear that America was good and right and true and Communists, wherever they were, were evil and wrong and false. This bifurcation of humanity based on government ideologies is no different than racism or any other form of prejudice. Travelling to a communist country while studying Acts 10 was like a “field trip” for me. I learned a lot more from them than they did from me. I met some people who have lived under Communism/Socialism their whole lives. They didn’t hate me! They were as gracious as any people I have ever met. They were hospitable, generous and kind. They put up with my lack of Spanish, they proudly showed us their beautiful country and most importantly talked freely of their love for God. What drew us together was greater than what divides us. I became very aware that there is something far worse than poverty and Communism—that is, life without God. It was wonderfully evident that in Christ there can be real unity in spite of political and economic diversity. I experienced a little of what Peter and Cornelius experienced as they looked beyond their nationalities and backgrounds and celebrated their mutual baptism in the Holy Spirit.
All together there are 70 verses describing Peter’s trip to Caesarea to visit the Roman soldier Cornelius. One must ask, “In light of all the problems in the world, why does this story get so much press?” The answer is simple and complex. First, the simple part. The charter members of Christianity were all Jews. Charter members in general have a hard time with inclusion and if as a general rule they had been taught that Gentiles were “dogs.” That made it even more difficult to embrace those outside the Jewish nation. In spite of the teachings of the OT and the reminders of Jesus to be rid of contempt, even the apostles needed some help to embrace a new paradigm. Understanding this reality answers a lot of other questions about tongues, the baptism of the Spirit and the timing of these events. Peter and the other Jews needed to see for themselves that the wall had come down for Gentiles too, see Ephesians 2. Second, the more complex part of the answer. The Biblical narratives are more than just “another story.” This story in Acts 10 is a standalone story for sure but there are many layers of doctrinal content included as well. The Holy Spirit is an award winning author and the Bible is still the all-time best seller. The themes in this story are powerful reminders of God’s love, human struggles, gospel content, leadership influence and sound theology. We’ll explore some of those themes Sunday morning and Sunday evening…and we’ll end our study the way the chapter ends…with the baptism of believers confessing their faith in Jesus Christ.