By Rev. Harold Henson
Cedar Grove Wesleyan Church 

A change of heart


October 7, 2016

I have never seen moods and minds change as they did when a rural Indiana town discovered there was going to be a landfill in their area. Everyone in this community wanted a landfill, but not in their back yards. Their attitude was contingent upon the context. Everyone desired a place to dump their garbage as long as it was someplace else. The context surrounding the landfill was what really mattered to the people.

Peter encountered a similar situation in Acts chapters 10-11. Jesus told Peter and the other apostles to “be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The remotest parts of the earth clearly included the Gentile (non-Jewish) nations. Peter evidently understood this because he preached about it on Pentecost (see Acts 2:39; 3:25). Unfortunately, Peter’s heart still harbored prejudice towards the Gentiles. His mind gave assent that his heart was not yet ready to give.

The Jewish apostles needed a change of heart before they would take the gospel to the Gentiles. To generate this transformation, the Holy Spirit gave Peter a vision where he saw a sheet lowered by its corners containing animals considered unclean by Jews. The Spirit commanded Peter to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13), but Peter refused to eat the unclean animals. To which the Spirit responded, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (10:15). At the time of this vision, Peter was unaware that a Gentile, named Cornelius, had been visited by an angel who instructed him to send his servants to fetch Peter. When the men arrived, Peter was still confused, so God instructed Peter to follow them (20).

Through this Peter saw his prejudice, and had a change of heart. We see this clearly in verse 34 when Peter said, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality” (emphasis mine). Peter now understood in his heart that God loved the Gentiles and wanted them to hear the gospel.

We see that this prejudice towards the Gentiles was pervasive among the Jewish Christians when a group of these Christians said to Peter; “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3). Peter explained how the Gentiles had believed and received the Holy Spirit, so he asked, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” (11:47). Peter’s argument is impeccable; if God has given the Gentiles His Holy Spirit, how can we not welcome them into our fellowship?

It has been my experience that the church in America is much like the Jewish Christians in Acts. We give assent to the idea that God does not “show partiality,” but our hearts still harbor prejudice and God needs to change the context in order to expose that prejudice.

In the last few months I have had the privilege of interacting with many people working in the oil field as we have attempted to reach out to them with the love of Christ. Many of them have expressed their shock at our gestures of kindness because most of them have primarily received hatred and rejection from our community. This is made apparent by the numerous one-finger waves they receive from some. It is quite disappointing that the animosity within this community is so strong and so evident that they sense it. Most of them are honest, hardworking people who are assets to our community. They are here to do a job that brings much needed revenue and new life to this area, which benefits everyone. Furthermore, they are created in the image of God and are worthy of the same grace that we have received.

Could it be that God has changed the context to show us the prejudice that is in our hearts? Could it be that we need a change of hearts so that we can see these people through the eyes of Christ and reach out to them with the same love that Christ has showered on us?


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