And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” … Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” … And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” Acts 10:15, 20, 22 ESV
Jesus had given the Great Commission to the apostles and His disciples multiple times and in multiple places during the days between the resurrection and His ascension back to heaven from the Mt. of Olives. This last command was to make disciples of all peoples – Jews and Gentiles. Yet, though the scope of the Commission was very clear, the acceptance of it by the leadership was seemingly slow to be acted upon.
Here’s an approximate timeline for the progression of the gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews) in the book of Acts.
Pentecost Acts 1 30 AD.
Samaritans Acts 8 31 AD.
Cornelius Acts 10 37 AD.
Jerusalem Council Acts 15 48 AD.
The Lord sent Phillip to preach the good news to the Samaritans in Acts 8 after the stoning of Stephen. Peter and John, having heard that the Samaritans believed, went to confirm this news (Acts 8:14ff). After meeting these new believers and praying for them, they came to realize that the discriminated against Samaritans were given access to the Kingdom.
Several years (six years?) later Peter received a thrice-repeated vision that nothing was unclean that God created and was sent for by Cornelius to come and explain the gospel to him and his household. Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, a Roman centurion soldier, had been instructed by God to get Peter and listen carefully to his message. Peter obeyed God’s direction to go to Cornelius’s house – an ‘unclean’ Gentile house – and shared Christ. Upon receiving the truth, Cornelius and his entire household believed.
Peter was called back to Jerusalem to explain why he was fraternizing with Gentiles. After hearing about the providential circumstances that led to Cornelius and his family’s response to the gospel, the apostles and other leaders began to accept the new reality. When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:18 NIV
Further clarity was brought to the issue about Gentiles and the gospel lifestyle at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 after the conclusion of Paul’s first missionary tour. Leaders affirmed the inclusion of Gentiles in the family of God and encouraged Paul and friends to continue their God-defined mission to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. This meeting was now approximately 18+ years after Jesus gave the disciples the Commission to make disciples of all peoples of the world.
Are you sensing that the forward movement of your leadership mission is slow to progress? Are you feeling like it’s two steps forward and one back? Are you facing fierce headwinds and crosscurrents that threaten to take you off course or sink your ‘ship?’ Time to refocus! Fix your thoughts and fix your eyes upon Jesus!
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT