Sunday February 24th
People are always trying out new kinds of diets. One diet I heard about recently has really proven to be quite successful. It’s called the Naked Diet. The idea is that before you start eating your meal you take off all of your clothes. It works really well because usually you can only eat a few bites of food before they throw you out of the restaurant.
In Acts chapter 10 God makes a change to Peter’s diet too.
You see, Peter knew that God had called the people of Israel to have a special relationship with Him. The Jewish people were set apart to be His chosen people. God had entrusted them with His Word so that they could tell the rest of the world about Him, and through them all of the nations of the world would be blessed. But somewhere along the way the Jewish people had forgotten their original purpose. Instead of proclaiming God to the rest of the world they had actually created barriers between themselves and the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, they had come to believe that salvation was not just “of the Jews”, but also just “for the Jews.”
The Apostle Peter, as a devout Jewish believer, had been taught not to have anything to do with Gentiles.
He had been told that if he even touched one accidentally on the street he would have to go home and wash, because contact with Gentiles made him “unclean”. It’s easy to see that this attitude would hinder the spread of the gospel. Large areas of the world would have been written off as being beyond the grace of God.
But at the end of chapter 9 Peter had been drawn by the Holy Spirit to the city of Joppa and to the house of Simon the tanner. God had begun to lead Peter away from this man-made legalist attitude. While God was drawing Peter away from this cultural prejudice, He was drawing another man, a gentile, toward Peter and ultimately toward Jesus.
Let’s read verses 1-8:
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, (2) a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (3) About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” (4) And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” (5) So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (5) Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. (6) He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” (7) And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. (8) So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
Cornelius was a military man. He was a centurion, an officer who commanded a group of about 100 soldiers.
Cornelius is portrayed as a godly man. We are told that he is “devout”. He knows that there is a god and he is seeking him. We are also told that he “fears God” – meaning that he lived his life as if he was answerable to God. And we are also told that he was a generous man, one who gave to those in need. And we also see that he is a praying man.
Here is a man that is religious and sincere, but yet he isn’t saved because he doesn’t yet know about Jesus.
That’s going to be Peter’s job.
The angel who appears to Cornelius tells him to send down to Joppa for a man named Peter who is staying in the house of Simon the tanner. God wanted to accomplish two things here at the same time:
1. Get Cornelius saved.
2. Correct Peter’s attitudes about the gentiles.
So watch what God does in verses 9-16:
“The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. (10)Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance (11) and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. (12) In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. (13) And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”(14) But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” (15) And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (16) This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.”
Peter’s vision was of a sheet lowered from heaven, containing various kinds of animals, some clean and unclean, according to the law of Moses. You might wonder why, if Peter was so horrified at the thought of killing and eating an “unclean” animal that he didn’t just pick a “clean” animal from among the ones on the sheet! Because, to Peter the mixing of the “clean” with the “unclean” animals would have made all of the animals “unclean”. Therefore Peter refuses to kill or eat any of them.
Peter’s response to God’s command to kill and eat these animals was, “Not, so Lord; for I have never eaten anything that was common or unclean” (v. 14). Peter is proud of the fact that he had never done certain things that he considered wrong. As Christians we sometimes define ourselves by the things that we don’t do. It isn’t wrong that there are things that we don’t do. But it’s wrong to define our faith based on what we refrain from doing. And the truth is that the world isn’t impressed by people who live LESS of life, who are all about what NOT to do. People are drawn to us as Christians because we are able to DO things, that is, to live a life that reflects the joy and abundance that Jesus brings.
The Lord’s response to Peter in this vision is, “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (v. 15). It will soon become obvious to Peter that these words had a far greater meaning than simply what he was and was not allowed to eat.
What God was showing Peter was to no longer regard certain people as unclean. God was revealing to him that all forgiven sinners are to be accepted into the church, including Gentiles. The four corners of the sheet correspond to the four points of the compass – north, south, east and west; indicating all of the people who make up the world.
Peter had believed up to this point that it was unlawful for him to associate with Gentiles. Actually it wasn’t Old Testament law that prohibited such association, it was only unlawful according to Jewish customs and practice.
Cornelius was ready to be saved. He was seeking God.
All God had to do was find someone to share the gospel with him. It seems like it was harder to get Peter ready to witness than it was to get Cornelius ready to listen. I wonder if that’s still true in our world today. Are there more people ready to listen than there are people ready to tell them about God?
While Peter was wondering what in the world God was trying to tell him, the three men sent by Cornelius came up to the gate to see if Peter was there. (verses 17-22)
“Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. (18) And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. (19) While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. (20) Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” (21) Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?” (22) And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” (23) Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.”
While Peter was praying and receiving his vision, the men from Cornelius were approaching his house. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him that the men were looking for him and that he must not hesitate to go with to go with them.
Now let’s see what happens in verses 24-33
“And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. (25) As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. (26) But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (27) And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. (28) Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (29) Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?” (30) So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, (31) and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. (32) Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ (33) So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”
God waited until Peter and his friends actually got to Cornelius’ house before He revealed what He was going to do there. Let’s look at verses 34-43
34Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality,
35but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.
36"The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)--
37you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed.
38"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
39"We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross.
40"God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible,
41not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
42"And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.
43"Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins."
When Peter got to Cornelius’ house he preached to these Gentiles about how Jesus had lived and died, and risen from the dead. But I don’t think that Peter and his Jewish companions had any idea what God was about to do. Peter was simply teaching these Gentiles about Jesus because he knew God had sent him there. If he was expecting some kind of a response, it was possibly that these Gentiles would decide to convert to Judaism and then they would be able to accept the Jewish Messiah, Jesus.
But before Peter even finished speaking, God moved!
44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.
45All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
46For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered,
47"Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?"
48And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius’ whole family, just as they were - Gentiles!
They were speaking in tongues and praising God – as Gentiles!
Peter and his Jewish companions were amazed.
Because God wasn’t doing things the way that they expected Him to!
But Peter finally gets it! He recognizes that God has truly touched these people and poured out His Spirit on them. God wasn’t keeping salvation for only the Jews – He wanted the Gentiles to get saved too!
Peter’s vision changed the world. But it began by changing just one man. Peter’s attitude was changed. God had put him on a new diet.
God changed how Peter thought about unbelievers, and maybe he wants to change us too.
Because the problem is that we can be just as selective about those with whom we are willing to share the gospel as Peter was. Do we see those around us as potential believers or do we view them as unreachable? Are there co-workers and neighbors, and family members that we have written off as impossible to reach for the kingdom of Christ?
Do we think of alcoholics, drug addicts, ex-cons and homeless people as “unclean”?
Do we see homosexuals and transgender people as worthy of God’s judgment but not His mercy?
Keep this in mind – If Peter couldn’t get over his preconceived ideas about Gentiles being unclean –
People to be avoided rather than embraced – then Cornelius and his whole family would have never known about Jesus!
Who is depending on you to get out of your comfort zone and reach into their world to let them know about the good news of forgiveness through faith in Jesus?
That’s what Peter had to do in order to reach Cornelius. He left his comfortable place in Joppa, AND his comfortable set of beliefs, in order to enter into another person’s world with the love of God.
And that choice changed everything!
According to a legend, when Jesus returned to heaven following resurrection, the angels gathered around Him. Finally Gabriel spoke: “Master, you suffered so terribly down there. Does the world know you now, and understand the reason for your sacrifice?” “No,” Jesus answered, “Right now only a small handful of people from Galilee know what I did for them.” “Then how will everyone else know?” Gabriel asked. “Peter, James, John, and a few others will spread the Good News. They’ll tell others, who will tell others, who will tell others, until the whole world knows.” “Master,” Gabriel asked, “What’s Plan B?” Jesus replied, “There is no Plan B!”