I’ve mentioned repeatedly that one of the themes of Acts is the Spirit eliminating obstacles as the Gospel spreads. Previously those obstacles have come from outside circumstances - languages barriers or persecution by the religious authorities. This time the obstacle is, in a sense, scripture itself: the Old Testament Law.
To understand the significance of this passage, we need to remember that up to this point almost every convert to Christianity was - and still considered themselves to be - Jewish. Followers of Christ didn’t regard their faith as a new religion. Instead, they thought of themselves as Jews who followed the Jewish messiah who had been foretold by Jewish prophets. As such, they still observed all the rules of the Old Testament law, which forbade them from wearing certain clothes, eating “unclean” foods like pork, and associating with or entering the house of a Gentile.
These rules were designed to keep God’s people separate from outsiders during their long centuries of learning who He was and what He expected of them. Those long centuries were intended to prepare them for the coming of Jesus, and to understand the message of the Gospel. But now, the messiah had arrived! It was time for Peter and the other followers of Christ to stop separating themselves; the Gospel was not meant to be good news to only one nation, but for all people.
All too often, Christians allow similar rules to creep back into our churches and into our lives. While most of us would be shocked if a church banned people who eat pork from attending services, plenty of churches treat visitors who don’t dress nicely or who speak crudely with aloofness or outright hostility. While few Christian go so far as to refuse to enter a nonbeliever’s house, many of us keep non-Christians at arms’ length and view close association with them as a source of potential temptation.
When we make up rules like these, we turn ourselves into obstacles preventing people from coming to know Christ. The message of Acts is clear: the Holy Spirit is ready and able to remove anything that gets in the way of the gospel. If we aren’t careful, “anything” might just include “us.”