Acts 10:34-43 (ESV)
34 Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really am beginning to understand that God does not show favoritism, 35 but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 He sent his word to the people of Israel, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
37 “You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached. 38 God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, because God was with him.
39 “Indeed, we are witnesses of all the things he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem, yet they killed him by hanging him on a cross. 40 But God raised him on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by the witnesses God had already chosen—by us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify solemnly that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that, through his name, everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.”
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we can see how you don’t favour us over others, but how you equally favour all people who have faith in your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
As humans, we like to play favourites. We have our favourite cars and holiday spots. We have our favourite football teams and TV shows. We have our favourite friends. We even differentiate between family members as we show favouritism toward some more than others.
Of course, if we play favourites, we also naturally do the opposite. If we like something or someone, then it normally means that we don’t like other things or other people as much. For example, if someone likes Holdens, they normally don’t like Fords. Or, if they follow a football team such as Collingwood or Richmond, then all the other teams aren’t as good. It also naturally follows that if we favour some people at church, then there are others we may not want to get along with.
This is quite natural. As humans we normally like or love some things and dislike or hate other things. We often show our partiality, our bias, or our prejudice in many ways, and all too often we have to deal with the favouritism, partiality or prejudice of others against us.
But how do we handle something which has no partiality or favouritism?
For example, droughts, floods, earthquakes, or tsunamis show no partiality.
These types of events don’t differentiate between people. It doesn’t matter if we’re good or bad, young or old, beautiful or ugly, Asian or European, male or female, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Atheist. If we ever get caught up in one of these events, it can challenge our ideas of favouritism!
For instance, we may think that because we’re Christian, God will save us from drought, flood or other disasters. But when widespread tragedies occur, this type of thinking can be challenged because wind and water and wave and virus often show no favouritism or partiality. The young, the old, the good, the bad, and the indifferent are all affected. Sure, sooner or later we might hear of some miraculous escapes that some Christians put down to God’s divine intervention, but we’ll also hear stories of Buddhists, Muslims or atheists among the survival stories as well.
Even a personal crisis such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, long periods of sickness, or death is sometimes hard to deal with. Sure, some of these things can be a result of life choices or genetic dispositions, but often there’s no logical place or person to blame. Some forms of sickness and disease show no clear favouritism. Even death itself shows no prejudice. Quite simply all will die. No-one escapes this world alive.
We struggle when there’s no rhyme or reason. We struggle when we can’t blame someone for their favouritism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice (which is becoming more and more popular to do these days). We always figure someone’s to blame and they’re going to pay for all the pain and grief we’re experiencing as we feel picked on or maligned or judged by those around us!
This means when we figure no-one is to blame, we might turn on God and blame him. We might want to question him and challenge his power, his love or his partiality. Some people rage at God or his followers and expend their fury and grief toward God or his church. It’s not always a personal attack, but a deep expression of heartache and anger at the injustice of whatever they’re going through that had to focus its bitter energy somewhere.
When we, or the people around us, ask ‘Why God?’, we might be tempted to answer, but unless we truly know the mind of God, it would be better to remain silent. When people experience tragedy or death, it can be helpful to let them rage. Let them question. Let them grieve.
Although we desire to explain everything so that it makes some kind of sense to us, some things will remain a mystery. We know the only clear and certain way God speaks to us is through Scripture, but he doesn’t reveal the reasons for every tragedy in his Word. God sometimes remains silent to allow us time and space to express our sorrow and anguish. God is big enough to defend himself and he doesn’t need any of our pitiful speculations or arguments in his defence.
However, it’s when we struggle with the impartial tragedies of our life that we should turn to something or someone who also shows no favouritism or partiality. In our case, no matter how some will blame and rage at God, where else can we turn for comfort and peace and hope except God? In our case, we return to the impartial loving and compassionate nature of God in Christ Jesus, which includes the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the impartial waters of our baptism.
You see, while we might differentiate between each other, God doesn’t differentiate between us. He doesn’t favour some of us over others. He wants to give us all hope and life and peace.
God will eagerly receive the young, the old, the beautiful, the ugly, and both males and females as his dearly loved and precious children. He’ll also receive any former Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists and wants them to also turn to him in faith. Like an earthquake or a tsunami, God shows no favouritism, but instead of bringing death and destruction, he sends his waves of love, peace and forgiveness over the whole earth from the epicentre of Jerusalem.
It was there at Jerusalem death was overcome through the powerful resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where death always seems like the final outcome, now death is no longer the end. Through faith, death becomes nothing more than a doorway into life with Jesus himself and the whole company of heaven. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and all those joined to Christ through faith have already crossed that chasm of death and will live in his eternal kingdom.
This means, unlike the reminders of our fragility and mortality such as flood, earthquakes, tsunamis or disease which bring so much death, chaos and destruction, God’s impartial love through Jesus brings life, hope, and purpose through discipleship and vocation.
So, where conflict and tragedy breaks up families and communities, God’s love and forgiveness brings restoration and true equality between previously warring and prejudiced people.
Where devastation brings despair, lost-ness and feelings of helplessness, God brings hope, patience and comfort.
We know that there are many events in our lives where we will feel the effects of suffering or tragedy.
Sickness, troubles, and death will constantly work away at us and sometimes threaten to overtake us. But by God’s grace, the good news of forgiveness, healing, peace, and life will also keep working away at us, giving us hope in even the darkest times. Even when the waves of death threaten to overwhelm us, we know that through faith in Jesus Christ, we’ll live in peace with Jesus forever. God’s promises are stronger than even the most powerful and destructive forces of nature or of humans!
The reality is that we live under the constant threat of chaos, despair, destruction and death, but we also live with the reality of God’s continual grace and mercy. To ignore one is to lessen the other. When death and chaos seem to win, that’s the time to return to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and the eternal and ultimately victorious promises given to us in our baptism.
We know if we were to only look at tsunamis, earthquakes, fire, floods, famines, and other national or personal catastrophes, then all we will know about God is that he is angry, incomprehensible, and impartial. But we know that’s not true.
This is why the church continues to proclaim God’s message of the gospel – the good news that through Jesus’ death we’re promised forgiveness, and that through his resurrection we’re promised life eternal.
Without this good news we wouldn’t know of God’s impartial love.
Without God’s Word, how would we know whether God is for us or against us? Without baptism, how might we be joined to Jesus? Without the Lord’s Supper, how might we enjoy peaceful fellowship with our Triune God on this side of the grave? Without parents telling their children about Jesus or without Christians sharing their faith in their crucified and risen Lord, how will they know of God’s merciful and gracious love?
Therefore, the church continues to bear witness to the grace and mercy of God to all people so they might believe in Jesus. We proclaim the good news that God’s forgiveness, grace, and life, is impartial. While we might say God doesn’t have any favourites except his own dearly beloved Son, it’s through faith that all those who live in Christ receive the same favour that God’s only Son deserves.
This means, since we’ve been touched by God’s impartiality, we’re also challenged to show the same impartiality to each other. Just as God has shown us that he doesn’t favour one of us over anyone else, we’re to do the same.
Therefore, we’re not to show favourites. All of us are equally brothers and sisters in Christ. We all receive the same favour from God.
When someone has felt the partiality or prejudice of people or nature, we’re to remind them of God’s unconditional and impartial nature. We proclaim the resurrection of our Lord which reminds us death doesn’t win. We proclaim and demonstrate to each other, and to everyone we come into contact with, that all those who believe in Jesus Christ will receive forgiveness of sins and life eternal in his name.
As we face any tragedies of past, present or future, and whether those tragedies are across a community or are deeply personal, we’re reminded that through faith in Jesus Christ we live in the impartial waters of grace and mercy given to us in our baptism. We live in the comforting knowledge of the forgiveness of our sins. We live in Christ who has been raised from death to live eternally, which means we will too. Therefore we live in hope. We live in peace. We live forever as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
We live in…
…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.