There are two players on this stage: the Celebrator and the Distractor. The Celebrator is the one we see in the beginning making creation and celebrating His work. He is the One dancing in Heaven every time a lost soul repents and comes home. He is the One leading Peter to Cornelius, sending angelic messengers to Cornelius, and sending the Holy Spirit as His seal of approval on all that is going on. The Distractor is the one who is constantly looking to disrupt and destroy all that the Celebrator is doing. He shrouds his work in distraction. Rarely does he make an appearance in all his glory. Most of his work is done in the shadows: lies, manipulation, temptation…distraction.
Distraction in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad. It is simply exchanging a great thing for a good thing. It is handing in long term for the immediate. The Distractor knows if he can get you to make this exchange, from great to good, then he can keep you in a place of shadows. Peter was in that place. He had experienced the Holy Spirit. He knew grace and rescue firsthand. He was willing all day long to share this incredible news with those like him. He was NOT INTERESTED in sharing this news, this Gospel, with anyone not like him. This story exposes Peter’s prejudice. That prejudicial divide was a distraction of great proportions. Peter was willing to keep the Gospel of Jesus that was meant to set the world free contained in one small corner with one small group of people. The only way the Gospel will ever escape the confines of our hearts is if we push distraction and The Distractor aside and step out in faithful pursuit of The Celebrator.
Religion is not the pursuit of everything good. It is the relinquishment of the good in exchange for the great. It is the understanding that God is our only great, the only great there ever was and ever will be and the conscious choice to worship only Him. It is consistently taking one more step of obedience towards God and not surrendering to the immediate desire of what is screaming for our attention in the moment. Peter learned this firsthand. He saw a shadow in his heart and had to decide what he was going to do about it. Would he continue with the good or would he go for the great? Peter discovered prejudice in his heart. He also discovered pride.
We are no different than atheists if we think Christianity is primarily about us doing our best to find God and please Him. That is distraction at its best. That is us allowing our desires and ideas to keep us from the best we were created for: knowing God and enjoying Him forever. Atheists make life all about us and our highest achievements. Christians confess that we never have been worth celebrating, that God is the only one worthy of celebration, and that we will devote our lives to that task. That is our highest goal, to submit our wills to the will of the Great Celebrator, the Holy Spirit. Do you realize how prideful it is of us to dumb down our worship to our best attempts at good things? This is where Peter was. He was so wrapped up in himself he couldn’t admit God would want to reach out to a group of people he found disgusting. He was not willing to embrace something outside of his previous experiences. God exposed pride in Peter’s heart and he had to deal with it.
Peter faced both pride and prejudice and won. But he did not do it alone. The same Spirit who spoke through Peter on the day of Pentecost put together a narrative of grace that was just as redeeming for him as it was for the people in Cornelius’ house. This battle began turning the moment Peter went to the door and agreed to go with the men God had put there. What will the voice of Jesus reveal in your heart this Christmas?
I find it is often just one thing that is keeping someone from following Christ fully. We feel like our problems are too many to handle and that is the role of the Distractor. He loads us up with reasons not to obey, not to be faithful, not to submit to Christ and then keeps us distracted by those reasons until we feel that following Jesus is not primary anymore. Listen, we have one Savior, one Boss, and one Spirit who can liberate us. There is no other name in Heaven or under the earth whereby we can be saved. Guilt is no longer a factor, but we allow it to be. Shame is no longer a factor, but we celebrate it. Our past is no longer a factor, but we fear it. Our abilities or inabilities are no longer factors, but we allow them to limit us. The only determining factor in our lives is Jesus and the work He has already accomplished for us. The question that remains is what are you going to do with the Celebrator now that the deeds of the Distractor have been exposed? I have no doubt the Holy Spirit is speaking to you right now, revealing areas in your heart where you’ve harbored resentment, hatred, prejudice or pride. As you read the story of Cornelius, I am confident God is speaking to you about some hidden pieces in your life. Peter jumped at the chance to obey fully. Will you surrender that piece of rebellion that is keeping you from experiencing God’s greatness or will you choose to move forward will less than the best?