Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300 million to 500 million deaths during the 20th century alone, making it one of humanity’s most merciless scourges. The smallpox vaccine was the first successful vaccine to be developed. It was discovered by Edward Jenner in 1796, after he noticed that people who caught the more innocuous cowpox virus seemed to be immune to the smallpox virus. A worldwide eradication campaign in the 20th century eventually led to the destruction of the smallpox virus. To this day, it remains the only virus that afflicted humans that has been 100 percent eradicated.
There is another virus, however, that makes smallpox seem like a minor nuisance. Unlike smallpox, this virus infects and has infected every human being since the beginning of time. And like smallpox, its’ affects are devastating. In fact, everyone infected by this virus is deemed ‘terminal.’ What is this virus, you may wonder? The S-I-N virus, of course!
But thank God, in His grace and mercy, has provided us a serum to counteract the devastating and deadly results of the S-I-N virus. For the gospel found in the person of Jesus Christ is the solution to the S-I-N problem. And thank God also, that His invitation to partake of this SIN Solution is available to all people:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
But when the early church was born at Pentecost in Acts 2, the early believers were exclusively Jewish. For it was Jesus who said, “I came to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).
Yet, God’s redemptive plan for mankind, is not one of partiality! In fact, we get a hint into the inclusivity of God’s plan for man in the Old Testament revelation:
Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.“ (Isaiah 56:7)
Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117:1-2)
‘Gentiles’ comes from the Hebrew word ‘goyim,’ meaning nations. These were the non-Israelite peoples of the world. There has always been access to the God of Israel for all people’s. Additionally, the Lord promised that Messiah (Jesus) would be a ‘light to the Gentiles’:
Indeed He says,‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth’.” (Isaiah 49:6; see also Isaiah 42:6)
So when God calls Peter to proclaim the good news of Messiah Jesus to Cornelius, a gentile, it’s rather surprising that Peter initially resists the Lord, apparently forgot the memo – Old Testament promises concerning the inclusion of Gentiles in the Kingdom!
I encourage you to read the whole narrative beginning in Acts 10:1. After Peter and Cornelius compare notes regarding God’s divine appointment (Acts 10:24-33), Peter opens his mouth and says:
“In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:34-36)
Peter then goes on the share the gospel message, affirming the inclusivity of the gospel message. Still, when Cornelius and his household are saved, Peter is amazed:
“And He [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles. While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.” (Acts 10:42-45)
Following this remarkable series of events, the disciples have a meeting of the minds in Acts 11. For this fulfillment of prophecy startled the apostles and other brethren, causing them to confront Peter (Acts 11:1-3). After Peter explains, his Jewish brethren glorify God:
“If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:17-18)
As I like to say on occasion: ‘It’s not about your ‘Jewishness’ or your ‘Gentileness’ – it’s about your ‘Jesusness!’ Do you know Him?
The Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15 will further engage Jewish-Gentile issues within the church. Suffice it to say, there was a time in the early church when the potentially awkward question went something like this: ‘So, your a gentile for Jesus? How’s that work?’ Oh, how times have changed.
One of the beautiful aspects of the Church of Jesus is that He has called and is calling a people “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9, 7:9).
Additionally, God is “not willing that anyone should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
May we rejoice in God’s plan for mankind, praising Him and thanking Him for the inclusive nature of the gospel message!