Jesus Christ in Every Culture
Many have observed that the message of Jesus Christ becomes limited in its appeal because we attach national, religious, theological and institutional cultures to the message of Jesus. In truth, the only thing we can properly communicate across these human barriers is the simple message of Jesus.
Acts ten is the account of God dealing with Peter to free him from his cultural bias so he could go beyond his culture and communicate Christ to the Roman soldier, Cornelius. In the narrative, it becomes obvious that religious bias is very difficult to overcome and that the release of long held traditions is a gradual process. A good question for all serious disciples is, “What am I holding on to which comes from my culture and traditions which have no scriptural basis?”
In verses 9-16 Luke tells the story of Peter’s astounding vision and encounter with the Lord. As exciting as it was for him to have such a vision Peter was unwilling to leave his religious taboos until the vision had been repeated three times. Religious traditions die slowly!
We are wedded to our culture and to our traditions. We let go of them slowly because they are part of our lives. The process of God changing Peter is seen in the narrative. As Peter began to be released from them he
- Invited non-Jewish seekers into the Jewish home where he was staying
- In Caesarea Peter went a step farther and entered a non-Jewish home and carried on intimate conversation with these non-Jews
- When the Holy Spirit fell on them Peter began to understand the inclusiveness of the Savior and accepted them as equals
- He baptized them as equal members of the Body of Christ
- When returning to Jerusalem he defended them as equals in the church of Christ
All of this brought great freedom to Peter so that when the pivotal council of the first century was held in Jerusalem (Acts 15) Peter’s was the voice which convinced the leaders to accept as equals the gentiles who became disciples of Jesus through Paul’ work.
There are some other principles that emerge from this passage for those of us who desire to see the message of Jesus Christ penetrate the cultures of our nation and the even more diverse cultures of the world.
- Peter had a deep fellowship with Christ (verse 9) and companions in Christ (verse 23). Fellowship with the Lord and other companions reduced the fear and the pride which make us hold on to our culture rather than Jesus.
- The example of our love for each other also gives a message to non-believers of the unique love of Christ that no words can communicate. Perhaps that is the reason that travel in teams is the pattern in the New Testament.
- God was already at work in the household of Cornelius before Peter even knew his mission. God wants all people to come to him so we know he is touching the lives of people before we ever arrive on the scene. He is the initiator.
- Do not go unless sent by God. Peter did argue with the Lord, but when he went he was convinced that God was sending him. When God sends he also prepares us and others for all that we will need.
- Leave behind pride in my customs and knowledge and experience and go as an equal servant rather than as a “superior” expounder of truth. Jesus Christ is superior but that thought should produce humility in me. In Paul’s ministry and his letters he wrote powerfully of the unity of all believers, but it was Peter who God used for the first breakthrough across the religious line.
- Believe that God has something to give to us through all the people of the world (verse 34). When we are with people in the developing world they have to struggle with expectations. One is the expectation that we will bring them money, a position, or other opportunities. No honest communication happens until we get past that. Another expectation is that we think them to be inferior. The world tells them that they and their country are not very important. Therefore, it is imperative that we communicate that we are friends rather than benefactors and that we are friends on equal standing before Christ.
- Focus on the simple message of Jesus Christ with words that are understandable to others. There is much about “Christianity” that offends people but Jesus draws all people to himself. Another question: “Is my message one of the Scriptures or is it composed of non-biblical phrases learned in the “Christian” world?”
In this very divided world people who are as inclusive as Jesus are in great demand!