Monday, August 24, 2015

This week's lesson (August 22-28): Peter and the Gentiles

Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between you and me. For the generations to come, every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner -- those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." -- Genesis 17:9-14, NIV (emphasis supplied).
God does not change.

If God said circumcision was "an everlasting covenant," for instance, than it was obvious to early Christians that He meant just that.

To be sure, they'd shown a certain amount of flexibility in just who they baptized.
  • Yes, Palestinian Jews had reached out to Greek-speaking Jews.
  • One of those Greek-speaking Jews had reached out to Samaritans.
  • And that same Greek-speaking Jew had even baptized an Ethiopian eunuch.
But in none of these cases had circumcision been an issue -- either the people involved already been circumcised, after all, or they were not capable of it. 
No, circumcision was still thought to be an "everlasting covenant" . . . 
All of which explains why Peter was such a reluctant missionary to the Gentiles. 
  • To be sure, God gave Peter a vision -- three times!
  • He told Peter "not to call anything impure that God has made clean" -- three times.
  • And when messengers from Cornelius came looking for Peter, God told him specifically to go with them "for I have sent them."
But when Peter arrives at the house of Cornelius, the first words out of his mouth make it clear that he's not entirely happy to be there:
"You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?" -- Acts 10:28f, NIV. 
Indeed, it's only after the Holy Spirit falls on the Gentiles that Peter resolves to baptize them -- and even then, he's criticized for this by the believers back home in Jerusalem!
In short, change came slow -- painfully slow . . . when it came to circumcision.
What's more, change came only because God made it obvious -- very obvious . . . that change must come.
You see, God Himself doesn't change.
But sometimes, He thinks His people should.

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