“You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
These words were spoken by the apostle Peter in the home of a God-fearing Gentile man named Cornelius. Cornelius was an officer in the Roman army who gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. God had come to him in a dream and told him to go fetch a man named Peter, and told him where Peter could be found.
Meanwhile, God had appeared to Peter by way of a vision in which He invited Peter to get up and eat what was laid out on a table before him. Peter had objected because the table was full of foods that had been banned by Jewish law and tradition. To which God had replied, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (10:15).
Peter was given the vision three times, and after the third time there was a knock on his door. It was some men from Cornelius who had come to fetch him.
“Three men have come looking for you,” God told him in the most implicit way. “Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them” (10:19-20).
God took great pains to assure each of these men knew this whole thing was planned and directed by Him. It had to be, because they were both being asked to go against laws and traditions that had divided groups of people for centuries.
This is why we call it the Gospel of Welcome. The gospel is a respecter of all people, and shows no partiality. Anyone can pray to God even though they might not know who He is. They might even call Him by another name for all we know. If they did, it would be only because they are responding to whatever they have come to know so far about God. No problem. God can straighten out the names later; what’s important is the heart. Cornelius had been praying to whatever God he knew about at the time, and the God of the universe — the one true God, the one we know through faith is Christ — heard him, and answered his prayer.
This tells us three things about the Gospel of Welcome:
Anyone can seek God.
Anyone can pray to Him and God will hear them.
No one should ever be considered impure or unclean, or outside the realm of God’s influence.
That pretty much welcomes everyone. And since our tendency is always toward legalism, especially the longer we stay inside the walls of religion, we should probably be ready for the fact that the Spirit of God may ask us to be more accepting and accommodating than we are comfortable with. That means we need to be welcoming, too.
Apply this today to the people you know. Respect everyone. Look for those who are looking for God, and don’t worry about whether or not they get the details right. Don’t correct them, or cut them off, or judge them for getting it wrong if their heart is right. We can always straighten out the details later.
Peter had taken the lesson farther than just to enter this man’s home. This was an act that opened the whole world to the gospel. The implications were historical and global. The implications are for us, now, to figure out what they mean in our context, our environment and our generation.