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God Entertains Strangers

God Entertains Strangers

The word lodging in Acts 10 captures the concept of hospitality and prepares the apostles for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church. The word lodging means “to entertain or lodge strangers.” It appears four times (Acts 10:6, 18, 23, and 32). It is connected to the concepts of philoxenia or love of strangers (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2). Luke builds the entire narrative in Acts 10 around hospitality to demonstrate how God includes strangers in the economy of grace. It is central to God’s redemptive activity and synonymous with grace. Peter’s interaction with Cornelius is a microcosm of how God receives sinners into His home. In the development of this term in Acts 10, God challenges our prejudices, our cultural practices, as well as our hearts and motivations. There are four principles that this passage highlights in how God entertains strangers. 

God entertains strangers by preparing hearts. When God goes to work in one person, He often works in others around them. He goes to work in the heart of a stranger, a man named Cornelius. He was a man who was culturally different from the Jews: a Roman centurion; an occupier of Jewish territory; the enemy. He was religiously different from the Jews, having worshipped the pantheon of Roman and Greek gods, and yet now has come to worship the one true God of Israel. He was a proselyte—on the fringes of Jewish worship, but still part of it. He receives a vision from an angel that God has heard his prayers and would answer them in a profound way. This is part of God’s hospitality. He hears the cries of the soul estranged from Him. God prepares Cornelius’s heart to receive the gospel long before Peter ever reaches him. 

That’s true today as well. God prepares hearts before we ever reach them. He brings people onto our paths of life. He brings them into our churches and into our homes and neighborhoods. If hospitality is part of how God draws estranged sinners into His family, are we on the lookout for those who are seeking Christ, those who have questions, those who are different from us? If they enter the door of the church once, what will ensure they will come again? There may be good preaching, but is there also good preaching lived out in community in our churches, our homes and families? Are our churches and homes stained by sins and idols that prevent us from reaching those who are lost? When God works, He not only works in preparing hearts outside the church to hear the gospel of Christ, but God also works in removing barriers from our minds and hearts within the church. 

God entertains strangers by removing barriers. That’s what we see in the life of the Apostle Peter. He is lodged in the house of Simon the Tanner, a man whose occupation it was to handle dead carcasses. These accommodations are non-kosher for a Jewish man like Peter. The irony is that at lunch time, God comes to Peter in a vision. Just when Peter is hungry, this sheet descends from heaven with all sorts of clean and unclean animals. In that vision, God is teaching Peter that the barriers have been removed between Jew and Gentile. Strangers from outside Israel are going to be included in the economy of grace. God commands Peter to “Arise, kill and eat.” But Peter protests, “Not so Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (v. 14). Peter hangs on to his prejudices, but God gives the vision three times and says, “What God hath cleansed, call not thou common” (v. 15). 

The Lord challenges Peter’s conception of how grace works. As Cornelius’s men come to Simon’s home, the barriers continue to fall in Peter’s mind, heart, and practice. He entertains these men as strangers, lodges them, and goes with them to Cornelius’s home (v. 23). As Peter meets Cornelius, Cornelius falls down and worships Peter. This would have been a prime opportunity for Peter to exercise some Jewish superiority, but he says, “Stand up; I myself also am a man” (v. 26). Isn’t that what God’s entertainment of us as strangers by His grace renders us? Equal with others as image-bearers of God, broken by sin and needing His grace? Peter recounts to Cornelius, “God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (v. 28). As these two men interact, they both stand in the presence of God, with the chains of sinful human prejudice broken. Cornelius shares his vision: “Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (v. 33). 

God seeks to remove the barriers of cultural and religious prejudice so we simply stand with others on the same level in the presence of God to hear the Word of God. Are you ready to be challenged? Hospitality or being a lover of strangers is one of the characteristics of an elder in the church, as well as of all believers in Christ (cf. Acts 16:13–40). And the Word is instructive—God shows no partiality. He saves contrary to human expectations. 

That is the third principle, God entertains strangers by showing impartiality. Peter learns the invaluable lesson that we all need to learn time and time again in verse 34, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted of him.” He learns to see from God’s perspective—no color, no nationality, no ethnicity, no cultural norms, no religious background is a hindrance to the power of the gospel. 

Peter learns that God is “no receiver of face.” God looks on the heart, not the outside. He judges what no man can see—the inner recesses of the heart. This frees us up to exercise God’s gracious entertainment of strangers. We look at people and see unlikely converts, but God sees the objects of His eternal love. We see different people, but God sees those whom He will conform to His image. Are you learning to see as God sees? 

There are candidates for God’s mercy in every nation, on every street, in every city, in every neighborhood, in every church, and in every family. This is echoed in heaven in the song of the Lamb (Rev. 5:9). God receives into His family by grace. God does not show any partiality. God’s vision for His kingdom is breathtaking in its scope. Is our narrow vision of the kingdom being supplanted by God’s vision? Let us learn to show hospitality without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). 

But how can God show this impartiality? Because of the gospel. Because of Christ. This is the climax of the narrative, isn’t it? The display of Christ and His all-sufficiency for every kind of stranger. And so the fourth principle is that God entertains strangers by displaying Christ. God ultimately entertains strangers through the public display of His Son, binding sinners to Himself and to one another. This display of Christ is through preaching and practice of the gospel. 

He displays Christ in His Word to ignorant strangers (vv. 36–37). It is the word published to the Jews which now comes to the Gentiles. It is the word of peace which breaks down the hostility between God and strangers, and unites strangers at the foot of the cross. It is the Word that illuminates the hearts of strangers to the grace and power of Christ. 

He displays Christ in His ministry to needy strangers (v. 38). Christ in his earthly ministry came to minister to the needy and the sick. Christ is a compassionate Savior looking upon the needy. Christ is a powerful Savior, exercising His power over the powers of darkness and sin. He continues to exercise His power in taking strangers and bringing them into fellowship with Him, breaking the bands of sin and darkness. 

He displays Christ in His crucifixion for sinful strangers (v. 39). This is how strangers are brought near through the cross of Christ, “Whom they slew and hanged on a 

tree.” Indeed, this is what Paul argues: “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). 

He displays Christ in His resurrection for lifeless strangers (vv. 40–41). God shows forth His Son in the preaching of Peter as the one whom God raised from the dead on the third day and the resurrection is validated by eyewitnesses who ate and drank with Him after His resurrection. It is this Christ who makes alive both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:5). 

He displays Christ in His judgment over all strangers (v. 42). The apostles were commanded to preach Christ as Judge over both Jew and Gentile. All those estranged from God’s grace would be judged by Christ, the Lord of all. He is ordained of God to be the judge of the living and the dead. If you are a stranger received by God through Christ, are you looking forward to His coming? If you are still estranged from the grace of God, how can you meet this Judge? 

He displays Christ in His forgiveness of believing strangers (v. 43). All those who are estranged from God are so because of sin, but it is this great divide that Christ has come to destroy. All the prophets have witnessed of Christ coming to destroy the great divide, that “through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” No more barriers vertically with God or horizontally with man. 

He displays Christ in His anointing of diverse strangers (vv. 44–47). As Peter is preaching, Christ is displayed in His Spirit’s anointing of the Gentiles evidenced through the speaking of tongues and magnifying God. This was a source of amazement for the Jewish believers, evidencing that the barriers had been removed and God now entertained both Jewish and Gentile strangers who had been transformed by His grace. 

He displays Christ in His union with distant strangers (v. 48). The final scene leaves us with Peter baptizing these Gentile believers, evidencing their union with Christ. Those who once were far off, were now made nigh through Christ. They are united to Him as securely as the Jewish believers are. All this is evidence that God entertains strangers. 

Peter had to learn to entertain strangers and to love strangers as God loves strangers. This is our task too. God prepares hearts, so let’s be ready. God breaks down barriers, so let’s be teachable. God shows no partiality, so let’s be humbled. God displays Christ, so let’s be encouraged and empowered. 

Dr. Maarten Kuivenhoven is a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

Used with permission • The Banner of Sovereign Grace TruthJuly/August 2019