But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean (Acts 10:28b).
In Acts 10 we find the incredible story of how God intervened in the life of Peter and that of a devout Gentile believer, Cornelius. An angel appeared to Cornelius, telling him to invite Peter into his home. When Cornelius’ messengers were sent out, Peter himself had a vision.
An enormous sheet with “all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds” appeared from heaven and a voice said “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter was astonished and protested, saying he had never eaten anything unclean. But three times the voice said to him “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
The text tells us Peter was puzzled by this vision, but when Cornelius’ messengers arrived, God instructed him to go with them. It was against Jewish law for Peter to enter into the home of a Gentile, yet God orchestrated the unlikely meeting. And at Cornelius’ home, Peter preached the gospel and witnessed the entire household receive the Holy Spirit.
I sometimes wonder what that moment felt like for Peter, when he realized God had literally obliterated the divisions of the past. (It was Peter’s conversion to biblical equality!) It was a moment when he understood that Christ’s sacrifice through the cross not only reached up to God but also out to all of humanity, making reconciliation with our creator and with each other possible. God had made the impossible…possible.
For whatever reason, Peter lacked the courage to stand up for what he knew was true after Jesus had been arrested, and instead denied him three times. Yet we do know that something shifted radically in Peter after his vision and subsequent experience with Cornelius, something so profound that he persuasively testified to it at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). While some Christians insisted that Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved and to participate in the new covenant of believers, Peter celebrated the power and beauty of what God had done:
God did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified [the Gentiles’] hearts by faith. Now then why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? (Acts 15:9–10).
Peter had seen first-hand that God, because of the cross, shows no partiality and instead redeems and includes every heart that welcomes Christ through faith. Perhaps Peter was overwhelmed by the freedom and joy found in the breaking of old social boundaries and the bringing together of a new community. When we reflect on this story today, may we also be overwhelmed at this demonstration of greatness and goodness by our God!
As egalitarians look to the future, we know our ultimate hope is in the power of Christ’s sacrifice, which inspired Peter to testify, Paul to write the words in Galatians 3:28, and the early church to place slaves, Gentiles, and women in positions of leadership. The power of the cross made what was impossible possible, and today it allows us to trust that God is redeeming us from patriarchy, racism, and from all systems that divide us.
We pray this issue of Mutuality will be an encouragement to you, as we reflect on this idea of redemption. Please feel free to send us your comments!