Did you know you have a blind spot?
I don’t mean the area of your car you can’t see in your mirrors. I mean a literal blind spot right in front of your face. Apparently, everyone has one in each eye. It’s the spot where the retina and the optical nerve are joined together. Normally, you don’t notice because your other eye fills in the information to your brain so you think you’re seeing everything, but literally there is a blind spot right in front of your face. They have this simple experiment online so that you can see this for yourself. There are two dots on the screen, a red dot and a green dot. If you cover your right eye and focus on the green dot and move your face toward the screen, there’s a certain distance where the red dot simply vanishes! Move just a centimeter closer or farther away and it reappears. Go to that one particular spot and the dot disappears. Because your mind can’t “fill in” the information for you, it appears white like the color surrounding it. Even though you KNOW it’s red, it fills it in with white. Your mind makes the best guess possible given the information it has. Even when reality is staring us in the face, there are times when we can’t see reality for what it is but instead what we perceive it to be.
We all have blind spots. And not just in front of our eyes, but in our hearts and minds as well.
If we can have literal blind spots, is it so hard to believe we can have intellectual and emotional blind spots as well? Most of us have had a friend or family member who was dating someone they shouldn’t have. We could see it. Everyone around them could see it. But no matter what was said or done, they were blind to it. When we develop a belief about how we perceive reality, it’s tough to let that go, even if the evidence is staring you in the face. We will defend our way of life even beyond reason anut d faith is one of those hardcore beliefs it’s hard for us to shake. At some level, we realize how daunting it is to convince people to abandon their faith in favor of another. With Hinduism and Buddhism, both began long before the birth of Christ and their vision of faith is radically different than our own. People of Islamic faith are a little bit closer. We at least share some of the same fundamental roots of our faith, but still there are some foundational differences where we can see why it would be hard for someone to suddenly believe Jesus was Lord and Savior. But Judaism? What happened there?
Why didn’t the Jews believe in Christ?
Of all the religions we’ve studied over the past month, Christianity and Judaism have the most in common. In fact, we believe in the same God, we have the same ancestors, and up through the Old Testament, we even have the same Scripture. So why did the people of Israel not believe Jesus was the Son of God? First, we have to dispel that notion because obviously many of them did. There would be no Christianity if the Hebrew people didn’t believe in him. In fact, Hamilton estimates that 1/3rd of all Jewish people during that time came to faith in Christ. 33%! When you think how big of a blind spot we develop when it comes to our faith, it’s a miracle in itself so many people believed Christ was the promised savior.
Put yourself in the shoes of an average, everyday Jewish person at the time of Christ.
You are not a free people. You have been conquered by the Roman Empire. And if it wasn’t the Romans, it would have been somebody else. Over the course of the history of your people, you have been conquered time and time again. Your kings have often failed you. But the one hope you cling to is God’s promise that one day…ONE DAY…your people would lead a Golden Age of the world. The prophets speak about a savior who would come and raise the banner of Israel high! He would lead them to become the powerhouse of the world! One day the people of Israel would defeat every enemy and all the people of the world would recognize that only Israel followed the one true God. In your head, you’ve grown up with the image of a savior who was this charismatic, brilliant, military leader, so when this young carpenter comes to your temple in Nazareth, reads the words of the great prophet Isaiah, and proclaims that the Scriptures are fulfilled in him, you’re probably thinking, you’ve got to be kidding? Isn’t this Mary and Joseph’s son? Who does he think he is? He doesn’t seem to be some brilliant, charismatic military leader. He’s just a carpenter’s son. Even if you had kept up with the goings on of Jesus, even if you had heard about some of the miracles, you probably would have dismissed them as being made up or fictitious unless you were there. Even the feeding of the 5,000. It’s not as if people saw this mountain of bread and fish fall from the skies. If you were in the crowd, you probably would have just seen these baskets being passed around and with twelve full baskets left over assumed they just had more than you thought. Only a very few saw the water turn into wine. Only those present saw Lazarus was actually dead and rose again. Sure, Jesus was a great teacher, but the savior? He couldn’t even save himself! We often talk about the radical nature of Jesus’ ministry, but this is how radical it was. It defied nearly everything they believed in. Their understanding of good works, their understanding of the law, their understanding of God, and most importantly their understanding of their savior. Nearly everything Jesus taught was different from what they believed.
As if that wasn’t enough, his disciples began accepting Gentiles into the faith.
If Israel was God’s chosen people, then what does it mean when you let in a group of people who don’t follow the law, who aren’t circumcised, and who don’t study the Torah? The passage we’re about to read takes place after the Roman centurion Cornelius sends for Peter to come visit him. Cornelius is a man who despite being a Gentile was a devout follower of God. He obeyed God’s commandments and lived a life that honored God. So God sent an angel to Cornelius’ house to share with him how his actions have proven his faith and he tells Cornelius to send for Peter the Apostle. So he does. He sends two servants to ask Peter to come to his house. Before Cornelius’ messengers arrive at the place Peter is staying, Peter receives a vision from God making it clear that only God has the right to judge what is pure and impure. So when the messengers arrive, Peter who normally would refuse to be in the company of Gentiles agrees to go with them. When he gets there, it’s obvious why God sent him and he begins to tell Cornelius about the truth of Jesus. This is where we pick up in our reading.
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.” Please be seated.
For us, when we hear this message, it seems obvious that God is reaching out to the Gentiles.
But this was a huge revelation for Peter and the other disciples. This was groundbreaking. It meant that Jesus had come not just for the Israelites, but for the entire world. That God’s message of salvation was meant for everyone. Even among the Jews who were followers of Christ, this was astonishing because it went against everything they had believed for so long. So not only did Jesus not herald a Golden Age for Israel the way they imagined it. Not only did Jesus not raise the banner of Israel as they expected. But now God was telling them that this message of salvation was meant for everyone? As Hamilton pointed out, this likely alienated most of the Jewish community. If there was a chance of some of them being brought to Christ, this would have shoved them the other way. So when we wonder why it is that the early Jewish people didn’t all believe Jesus was the Savior, these are some of the reasons. Jesus upended their entire concept of salvation. Jesus came for a spiritual conquest not a military one. Jesus defeated his enemies not with a sword but with his love. And Jesus promised salvation in Heaven, not on Earth.
We all have blind spots.
They just take different forms. Even today there are some bizarre ones that stand out. At last count there were still 420 people who belonged to the Flat Earth Society, including the famous rock musician Thomas Dolby. As late as 1994, there were about 6% of Americans who believed that the Apollo moon landings never happened. That would be approximately 19.7 million people today. 19.7 million people who believe we never landed on the moon. And there are actually people who believe that the Holocaust never happened. You and I live in a world where these things are a reality. We can prove the Earth is round. We can prove we landed on the moon. And we even have first-hand accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust. How people can live in such a state of denial is unfathomable. So to think there are people who didn’t and still don’t accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior isn’t a stretch of the imagination. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to share God’s love with them. The only way for us to show the reality of Christ in the world is to be Christ-like ourselves. We have covered a wide variety of different religious beliefs over the past month together and they are all very different. All roads do not lead to the same God. Some roads don’t lead to God at all. But most people are trying to find answers to life’s deepest questions – Why is there suffering? What’s the meaning of existence? Who am I and do I matter? We must be prepared to answer these questions for ourselves. I want to challenge you to go deeper into your own faith and find these answers for yourself. Come to one of our Bible studies. Pick up one of the books we offer. Pray daily and ask for answers. But actively engage in your faith. We become the best witnesses for Christ when we know what and why we believe. As Peter writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15).”