Sermon based on Acts 10:34-38 for Baptism of Jesus Sunday (Epiphany 1)
Contrary to what my sister might tell you, my parents did not favor me more. In fact I would have said for much of my life growing up they favored her more than me. That almost always happens when there’s more than one kid in a family. The parents always maintain they love all their children equally. No favorites. They have to say it, regardless if it’s true or not.
Then when situations call for it, they have to demonstrate that they show no favoritism. I can’t always pick out the restaurant for getting good grades, if we both got good grades. My sister can’t always have both parents showing up at her awards night at school while coming to none of mine if we’re both getting awards. Having no favorites means fairness and equality in real life. That way each kid experiences it and can truthfully say their parents never showed favoritism.
The Apostle Peter believed God did indeed show favorites. For much of his life growing up as a Jew he knew his people were special. They were chosen by God. Out of all the nations on earth, only the Jews could say that. Later Peter realized after studying the Old Testament that non-Jews weren’t excluded from being saved. They also weren’t specially chosen. In real life God was trying to say he didn’t show favorites, but Peter’s entire existence kind of showed otherwise. In the second lesson Peter is brought all the way. There are no favorites. There isn’t two ways to peace with God, one for Jews and one for Gentiles. There’s only…
Peace through Jesus for all
God shows no favoritism
God sends good news of peace
Jesus started changing Peter’s mind about God and favoritism. The promised Savior God had long said would come, wasn’t limiting himself to saving just Jews. Jesus kept reinforcing his mission for the world. All people would benefit from his work. Went as far as to say that all the old Jewish rituals, like circumcision, set Jews apart but they wouldn’t be necessary to be saved. This would be like being convinced for years you had to memorize your pin number for a ATM card, only to find out people don’t use cash anymore and there are no ATM machines. Peter’s long held beliefs were being turned upside down. It wasn’t easy for Peter to give up thinking God favored Jews.
Peter was speaking in the home of a Roman centurion, head of a detachment of 100 soldiers. He wasn’t a Jew. It was a place Peter could never have gone normally. Jews remained separate from Gentiles. This centurion named Cornelius was a devout believer and God-fearing man. He had more to learn, and God had previously come to him in a vision telling him so. In that vision God let him know he needed to find a man named Peter in the next town over. At the same time Peter was receiving a vision from God. His included a banquet. Coming down from the sky to the banquet was a large sheet with all sorts of animals on it. Animals Peter never would have touched as a Jew. But in the vision God instructed Peter to kill and eat these formerly forbidden foods. Peter was puzzled. Why would God be calling clean and acceptable something Peter had for a long time considered unacceptable?
It didn’t click until Cornelius, the Gentile, showed up looking for him, a Jew. God brought Jew and Gentile together. Something that never would’ve happened before. It was a learning opportunity for both. “Now I really am beginning to understand that God does not show favoritism.” Peter learned from experience that Jews and Gentiles were both part of God’s plan.
We don’t immediately know God doesn’t show favoritism, because sometimes we do. Favoritism is being partial toward someone over another. Treating them differently based on looks or circumstances. There can be favoritism shown between rich and poor. Or these days the way we treat Americans and Iranians might be very different. What about how we regard Muslims and Christians? To be sure there are differences. But when we regard the rich person with their nice clothes walking into church as someone to talk to more than the apparently poor person with shabby clothes also walking into church, that’s favoritism. Treating the person of Iranian descent worse than an American in the same situation is favoritism. It’s requiring Muslims demonstrate a different level of humility or the right kind of actions before we can welcome them to hear the gospel. Or giving another Christian a free pass to heaven even if they really are a Christian who believes in working their way there, that’s favoritism. Paying regard to the circumstances over the person. Treating another person better and showing partiality. That’s favoritism.
Learn the lesson Peter learned. Understand God doesn’t show favoritism. God doesn’t turn towards you and away from another based on station in life, nationality, or material possessions. God’s favor isn’t something you can earn. “In every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” These are not your actions earning God turning towards you. To fear the Lord was not to run and hide scared. It was a respect and awe hearing about his actions. To hear of a Son born in a manger. Listening to angels proclaim glory to God for his sending this Son. And spotting a man pointing near the river saying the Lamb of God was close, was right there. The person with awe and respect for the Lord is the one who knows Christ’s work. Knows he fulfilled the laws and conditions. There’s only one way for anyone to be saved, being brought to faith in Jesus.
Believers are recognizable by their actions. You praise and bring glory to God. You have a loving concern for others that shows. You dedicate your life to doing things God’s way. Your faith expresses itself in helping those you can, in being a listening ear to those who are hurting. You’re redeemed and you want others to know that its not because of favoritism that God chose you. It’s because of his grace. God loves you and God loves all. He won’t show favorites. Christ Jesus proved it at his baptism. There he stood with all the other sinners, though he was not a sinner. He came to take your place and the place of every single person on earth. In that way you know by listening and experience that God doesn’t show favoritism, there’s peace through Jesus for all.
Cornelius was a Roman centurion. He was a man of battle, fighting because there was no peace in the world. We still don’t live at peace. Too many things happen around us that remind us of that truth. Things are not as they should be. We want life to go smoothly and steadily. It might until the very moment the doctor gives the terrible diagnosis of the dreaded disease. It could be a health condition that accelerates quickly or one that steadily grows worse. Everyone knows someone affected by cancer or diabetes or some other chronic pain or condition. Money troubles can follow a person through life. Accidents happen almost daily. Within our homes there are fights, disagreements, little annoyances all signaling the same thing. No peace. No rest. Missiles fired between countries, financial battles, soldiers in harms way. No peace.
Peter spoke in an age of fulfillment. Christ had come. The good news was going out. Jesus lived and died. He rose again. Jesus was the Savior. What started in the Jordan River at his baptism had already reached its conclusion. It was at the river Jesus came to John to show his work was for all people. Jesus went on to do things only God could do. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him.” Jesus was the Savior. God sent his son to earth. The sin brought into the world was being tossed out. Dealt with. Jesus was baptized by John to begin the final battle to win peace. That’s a peace you have now.
The good news of peace won’t mean a suspension of everything bad for you though. That’s not the peace Jesus won. Life here and now won’t always be as it should be. You will face accidents and health conditions and little annoyances. In those moments listen to the good news of God. Listen to that more than you look at your pain or the suffering of others. Peace with God through Christ means you have a way to deal with life now. The long term victory of Jesus is your victory.
Peace with God is what you have now and for eternity. “God sent his word to the people of Israel, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” The good news is that everything is as it should be between you and God. The sins that would separate you from him are forgiven in Jesus Christ. Nothing gets in the way of your coming to God. God is the loving Father in heaven bringing people home in grace. The only one way to that kind of peace, real peace where everything is as it should be, is through Jesus for all.