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Near and Far

Look out for God-fearing people. They are near. Pray for God-loathing people. They may still be far. God-fearing people are everywhere if we care to look. Too often, ethnocentricity and organised religious dogmas not only keep us from realising who they are but also put these people off from knowing Jesus. A classic biblical example is Peter, the Apostle in Jesus’ innermost circle – a thoroughbred Jew, proud of his heritage and determined to remain as God's most favoured nation. Along with his compatriots, he could only see one way for people to enter the Kingdom of God. They must first adopt his Jewish ways and preferences, but not everyone can do that. Certain groups of people are excluded or regarded as less favoured. These are the Gentiles. But Jesus belongs to all people. So, to change Peter's deep-seated prejudices – in a special dream, God lowered down three times a sheet from heaven carrying all the taboos of unclean food that Peter couldn't and wouldn't eat. In convincing him that they were clean to eat, God revealed to Peter His embracing love for all peoples. Following that, Cornelius, a Roman centurion was also directed by a dream to invite Peter to his home. In breaking all Jewish taboos he visited this Roman to tell him God had heard his prayers and that Jesus was the answer for him and his people. So far so good. But when Peter met up with his Jewish compatriots in Jerusalem they severely rebuked him for breaking ranks from their ethnocentric view of God and Jesus. Do we think we are no longer like Peter and the early circumcised believers who were bigots? Are we really more enlightened? Think again. What's keeping you and me from accepting someone who would believe in Jesus but prefers not to attend our church? Or whom God accepts but would not follow our ways of worshiping God? What's making it so difficult for us to accept that people can believe in Jesus and not adopt our religious practices? So what if they prefer to keep their own traditions knowing that they are truly and spiritually worshiping God? (Read what Jesus says about this in the Gospel according to John, Chapter 4.) Here's a sound judgment from the man who learned it first-hand how his ethnocentric view could have prevented him from sharing Jesus with others. Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35 NIV) There are two things that stood out in Cornelius that mark him to be a person who is near to God. Peter identifies them as "one who fears him and does what is right". How did Cornelius show these? Doctor Luke, who recorded these events in the Book of Acts, gave the answer in Acts 10:1-6 (NIV). At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” (Acts 10:1-3 NIV) Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” (Acts 10:4-6 NIV with bold emphasis added) Jesus came not only to save the lost sheep of Israel, but all peoples. According to Jesus, God blesses all people regardless of their moral standing with him; just as the sunshine and rainfall does not discriminate between the righteous who fear Him and the wicked who loathe Him, so does the love of God. (See Matthew 5:43-48)

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