Peter’s speech in Acts 10:36:43 is pretty much the same way Peter and the other disciples have explained the Gospel all along. “Peace [comes] by Jesus Christ,” “He is the Lord of all,” Jesus was “anointed with power by the Holy Spirit,” he “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,” he died on the cross and was raised up, and the disciples were “commanded to preach to the people and testify that he is the one ordained by God.”
But while this sermon is all the same words, it’s completely different because Peter is talking to Gentiles who have never converted to Judaism. Until a few hours prior to this, Peter didn’t believe that was possible. But God gave him a dream to disturb his sleep, and Peter was man enough to recognize that he got it all wrong and he recognized that the Gospel was for everyone (as Paul would describe it later, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female). As a result he is minutes away from baptizing the first Gentiles who have not first converted to Judaism into the Christian church.
Thus, the first two verses (34-35) that I didn’t include above are the critical ones. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
And this is the point of these weeks following Epiphany. Epiphany (Jan 6) is the twelfth and last day of the Christmas feast, when the Western Church celebrates the revelation of Christ to the Magi. It is preceded by Jesus’ Name Day (Jan 1) wherein it is revealed that this baby is the promised Savior (the meaning of the name Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew). This is followed in quick succession by celebrations of his baptism by John in the Jordan and his first miracle at Cana. It concludes (in the Revised Common Lectionary readings) on the Sunday before Lent with Jesus’ Transfiguration
In short, this is a period when hopefully we have the ears to hear the Gospel all over again, and this time, like Peter, actually hear it. Peter listened to Jesus for three years but he always put the message into his familiar categories and thus he thought of the Gospel as an improved Judaism and not something shatteringly new.
And this is what we do also; it’s not Peter’s failure, it’s a human failure. We come to the Gospel with a set of assumptions about how the world is, what its problems are, and how to fix them. And when we hear the Gospel we tend to hear something that improves what we already “know” is right.
This is why Christianity in East Texas sounds suspiciously like a Republican precinct meeting, while Christianity in Boston sounds suspiciously like the Democratic convention and Christianity in the Orange Mound neighborhood of Memphis sounds suspiciously like an NAACP rally. It’s why “Panos,” the YouTube character, is able to make such wicked fun of the Greeks and their weird marriage of culture and religion.
We hear what we want to hear.
Great preaching isn’t enough. We hear what we want to hear. Spiritual retreats and Bible seminars aren’t enough. We hear what we want to hear. Daily devotions aren’t enough. We hear what we want to hear. Maybe we all need to … if we dare … pray for a shattering dream that troubles our sleep. Maybe we need to “un-know” a lot of what we “know” is right. Maybe then, we can finally, like Peter, hear the Gospel.
That, my friends, would truly be an Epiphany!