As we concluded yesterday’s study, we noted that in Peter’s visit to Cornelius’ household, God had prepared not only the preacher but the audience as well. But God had done something else, too. When people talk about communication theory, they often talk about a necessary intellectual preparation for understanding what is to be said. There must be an intellectual framework with which to receive the new material. Here it was not merely a case of mental preparation. This was a spiritual message, and it required spiritual perception. So the preparation God made was also in the hearts and souls of these Gentile hearers. To use the idea present in one of the Lord’s parables, God had already made them receptive ground.
That is when things really happen after all—when God prepares both the messenger and the hearts of those who are to hear the message. That is what happened in the household of Cornelius.
Notice what Peter said when he arrived: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (vv. 34-35). I wonder if we really believe that. We would all probably say, “Oh, yes, yes, that is true. After all, we are Gentiles, and God has accepted us. And, yes, there are also Jews, and God accepts them.” But I wonder if we really believe that God does not show favoritism.
I am glad Peter used that word, because it is just a bit closer to what our problem really is than “prejudice,” which is the word I used earlier. We know prejudice is wrong. So although we may have prejudices, we try to reject them. But favoritism, well, that is not quite the same. God showed favor to us, we reason. Aren’t we the kind of people to whom God might show favor? When our minds begin to work like that it is only a very short step from favor to favoritism. What we must never forget is that God has showed favor to us precisely because He does not show favoritism. That is the only way you and I ever became Christians. If God had showed favoritism, we would not have been saved. Therefore, we must never show favoritism in our presentation of the message. The Gospel is for all who will come to Jesus.
Harry Ironside tells a personal story that applies at this point. It concerns the death of his father. As his father was dying, he kept muttering something, and the family couldn’t quite understand what it was. But finally they got it. Mr. Ironside was thinking about this vision, thinking about the sheet full of animals. He was saying, “A great sheet and wild beasts and, and, and…” He couldn’t quite finish it. A friend bent over and whispered, “John, it says, ‘creeping things’ (KJV)”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “That is how I got in. Just a poor good-for-nothing creeping thing, but I got in—saved by grace.”1
Whenever you see yourself, not as the clean animal but the unclean animal, not as the attractive beast but as the creeping thing—the thing that is despised—that has no hope whatsoever as one who by the grace of God got into that sheet and is pronounced clean by the sheer grace of God in Jesus Christ, then you are ready to open your heart and arms to other people. And it does not make any difference who they are. God does not show favorites. If you got in, the Gospel must be for everybody.
1H. A. Ironside, Lectures on the Book of Acts (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1945), 250.