This lesson is all about the Lord being no respecter of persons. In other words, He doesn’t show preferential treatment to one group of people over another group of people. Yet we know that the gospel of Christ was only given to the Jews when Christ was on the earth. What is that all about? And why the about face once Jesus was resurrected? This is what we will talk about in this lesson.
Reading Assignment: Acts 10–14; 15:1–35
Additional reading: Bible Dictionary, “Circumcision,” 646; “Cornelius,” 650.
Being part of the house of Israel, we usually think of ourselves as “something special.” Unfortunately, our history of abuse of God’s commandments often points more to our being “special needs” children rather than His top performers. When God made His covenant with Abraham, it was also with Abraham’s posterity that the covenant was made. The Lord knew the nature of Abraham’s children, and their wander lust and lack of obedience. He also knew that eventually, that posterity would be scattered throughout the whole world so the covenant made with Abraham would be taken to all the people of the earth.
So in the meantime, the Lord worked with Abraham’s stubborn, but chosen people, sending them prophets, whom they as often as not, stoned and imprisoned for trying to teach them the Lord’s will. It is true that Abraham’s descendants have a special affinity to spiritual things, but that spiritual blessing also makes them sometimes more spiritually volatile. You can see this in their ups and downs, the repentance cycles of the house of Israel. As a people, we have been very fickle in keeping the covenants we have made with the Lord.
A necessary restriction
In 2 Nephi 10:3 – 4 we are told that it was important, for the atonement to be made, that Christ be killed by His own people. If He had gone to any other people on earth they would have accepted Him as their God and would not have killed Him.
3 Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ—for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name—should come among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him—for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God.
4 For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations they would repent, and know that he be their God.
So much for feeling like a “special” people. Only His own covenant people would have done to Him what needed to be done in order for the atonement and resurrection to be accomplished. It took a special class of hard-hearted people to kill their own Savior.
This is why the gospel of Christ was restricted to the house of Israel. It was only after they had literally rejected the chief corner stone upon which their whole way of life was founded that Christ turned His attention to those outside of Israel. The time had finally come when His people had grown so wicked that their complete scattering among all the nations of the earth would lead to the accomplishment of the promises made to Abraham that through them all the nations of the earth would be blessed with the priesthood blessings.
No respecter of persons
The Lord never had any intention that the other nations of the world would have to go without the gospel. It was planned that through His covenant people the blessings of that message would be taken to all other nations, if not in this life, in the next. It is part and parcel of our faith in God that not one single person in all of the human race will be shorted or deprived of the privilege of accepting Jesus as their Savior and God as their Father.
The method the Father chose to spread His message of salvation through His son, Jesus Christ, was through the lineage of Abraham. Everything we see and read about in the scriptures shows how this plan is working to bring to pass the salvation of the whole human family, both on this side of the veil and the next.
Now that the Jews had rejected Christ and His message, it was time to take the message of the gospel to those who would accept it, the gentiles, those who were not originally of Abraham’s blood. The plan of salvation included the ability to be adopted into the family of Abraham.
Abraham’s family is not just a blood line, but a line of covenant makers. Anyone who accepts the covenants of the gospel of Christ, who is not a blood descendant of Abraham, is adopted into the line of Abraham and becomes one of his children. A great example of this process can be found in the Book of Mormon in the book of Jacob, chapter five. The whole chapter talks about the spread of the gospel during mortality. The tame or natural branches are those who are blood descendants of Abraham, while the wild branches are those who are grafted into the bloodline through covenant making.
The lesson Peter needed
Peter, as president of the Lord’s Church and kingdom on earth, had a handicap that needed to be overcome. He had been raised as a Jew during the most wicked generation of Jews to ever live. His perspectives were primarily those of his people. The Jews were separate from all other nations. They did not enter into the homes of gentiles, eat with gentiles, or share their religion with them, though converts to Judaism was not unheard of.
The Lord had to teach Peter that it was acceptable for the gospel to be shared with the gentiles, and that they were just as precious in His sight as the Jews were, a concept that was unthinkable to any living Jew. This is where the lesson begins.
Cornelius was a gentile who believed in God as the Jews did. He was devout and and devoted to Him. The Lord sent an angel to Cornelius with a message. He was to send men to Peter, whom Cornelius did not know, and seek to be taught by Peter the word of God. He faithfully sent off his servants to find Peter and ask him to come to his home as he had been instructed to do.
At the same time, Peter was up on his rooftop meditating when the Lord showed him a vision three times. He lowered down a great sheet, bound up at the four corners, filled with all kinds of animals that were considered by the Jews to be unclean, and therefore unfit for eating. Three times Peter was commanded to kill and eat of these unclean beasts. Three times Peter declined stating his devotion to the Law of Moses that these were unfit to eat and he had never defiled himself with such things. Three times the Lord told Peter that the definition of unclean was not up to Peter, but to God to declare, and that what God declares fit to eat is, in fact, fit it eat.
This thrice fold repetition reminds me of the three fold injunction given to Peter by the Savior to feed His sheep. Perhaps after denying the Christ three times in one night, being made to declare his allegiance to the Lord three times held a special meaning in their relationship. Whatever the case might have been, he was told three times that what the Lord declares clean, Peter had no business declaring it as unclean.
Just as this vision finishes the men from Cornelius arrive at his home and knock on the door seeking audience with Peter. Peter connects the two occurrences and promptly agrees to go with them the next day. When they arrive at the house of Cornelius Peter finds that Cornelius has summoned all his family and friends to hear the word of God from this servant of God.
Peter realizes at this time that God really is no respecter of persons, that He really doesn’t love the Jews over any other people. He now sees that the gospel can be preached to all people, giving a different meaning to what he thought Jesus meant when Jesus told the apostles to take the gospel to all the world. They had thought that He meant to all the Jews in the world. Now he sees that the Savior’s statement was literally a directive to take the message to everyone, not just Jews.
While Peter was preaching Jesus to the household of Cornelius, the Holy Ghost fell on the whole household, like it did at the day of Pentecost with the Jews. This is when Peter realized that not only did the Lord intend for the gentiles to receive the gospel message, but that the Lord intended for the gentiles to have equal privilege in all spiritual blessings with the Jews. He really did love all of humanity equally.
The power of revelation
If all of God’s servants knew everything, revelation would not be needed. But they don’t know everything, and they do need revelation. Peter’s experience with Cornelius is a great example of how the Lord teaches His servants, and the Church as a whole through the revelations He gives to the prophet.
When Peter was converted to this new principle that God is no respecter of persons he had to then teach and convert the members of the Church to that same principle. The Church could not grow and progress without everyone becoming converted to this new principle. Many of the members were angry with Peter for having violated the Law of Moses. They did not understand that those laws were no longer needed, as Jesus had fulfilled that law.
Once Peter had taught them what he had just learned from the Lord, they understood, and the Church began an unprecedented expansion. Saul, who was now called Paul, was called by revelation to go with Barnabas on a mission to the gentiles. They still operated under the influence of the Jewish mindset. They still preached to all the Jews first, and only when rejected by the Jews did they preach to the gentiles, but they found that the gentiles were far more receptive to their message than their own kind were.
In our own day and time, the prophet received revelation that the priesthood should be made available to every worthy male member of the Church, something that had never happened in all the history of the world. It opened a new era of expansion of the Lord’s message to His children. Again, it showed the Lord’s love for all of His children, not just some of them. And again, the Church as a whole needed to be taught and converted to this new doctrine for the Church to move forward and grow.
Revelation is a personal thing. Revelation for the whole Church and the world comes only through the prophet of God, but it becomes the responsibility of each member of the Church to become converted to the teachings of the Lord’s servant so they can sustain him in all that he does.
There are other things of importance in this lesson you will want to read about and study. But understanding the Lord’s unconditional love for all of mankind, and how He makes His will known to the prophets is important to know about and become converted to. Our prophet speaks for God and gives us His will. All of our blessings in this life and the next are connected to the level of our obedience to those words we receive from the Lord’s servants. The Lord may love us all equally, but He holds those more accountable for His words that have made covenants to uphold and sustain His servants the prophets.