The In-Between Years - Part 51

Series: The In-Between Years

October 17, 2021
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years — Part 51

As we move into to Acts chapter 10, Dr. Luke sets us up for the biggest and final phase of Jesus’ gospel plan as given in way back in Acts 1:8…

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  Acts 1:8 (ESV)

If you remember this is what I call the divine outline of Acts. It’s also what I call Jesus’ witness projection plan.  I’ve went over this over and over because it’s so important.

Phase I was chapters 1-7 as we saw the gospel spread all throughout Jerusalem, phase 2 began in chapter 8 as we saw the scattered disciples and particularly Philip the deacon carry the gospel into Judea and Samaria. The conversion of Saul in chapter 9 and the events of chapter 10 prepare us for the final and biggest phase which launches in chapter 13, a phase which will take up the remaining 18 chapters, that’s 64%! This is doubly significant because phase 3 involves non-Jews, Gentiles, Greeks. All these are reasons why Luke devotes so much to it.

For a minute let’s back up to the last verse in chapter 9. It seems insignificant, but it’s actually a transitional statement setting the stage for this big shift to phase 3…

43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.  Acts 9:43 (ESV)

Peter, stays in Joppa after the Tabitha miracle for some days. We would expect that since things got hopping on the coast. But it’s also a strategic move on God’s part. He positioned Peter not far from where phase 3 ground zero will happen. You see, Peter has to put his stamp of approval on the gospel movements at every stage.

He preached the inaugural message in phase one (Acts 2). He came down to lay hands on those who received the gospel preached by Phillip in Samaria  with phase two (Acts 8.14). And of course as we see phase three dawning, Peter has to be involved. It’s because Jesus chose him to lead the early church.

Peter stays in Joppa with Simon the tanner. Note how Luke almost casually mentions this, and yet it’s vitally important. Peter stays with a Jew of the same name, Simon, who lives on the coast outside the city (as we’ll see in a minute), and he is a tanner. Tanners worked with leather. They took the skins of animals and fashioned them into garments and other things.

When I think of Simon the Tanner I cannot help but think of a show which came out on September 22, 1987. A show I loved.

Everywhere you look, Everywhere you go

(There's a heart), There’s a heart

A hand to hold onto

You guessed it: Full House.

Alright, back to the text. Peter stays with Simon the Tanner, the leather worker. We don’t think anything of this as modern, Western, Christians. But everyone in the first century would know why Luke mentions it, and especially first century Jews would have taken note, well, better to say would have been appalled.

First century leather making practices weren’t pretty. One scholar describes them…

To make the raw hide supple it was spread out in the street for passers-by to walk on. It was then beaten and treated with dog’s dung, washed and thoroughly dried before being cut.… A tanner was not accepted in society because of the stench of the materials that he had to handle and the carcasses that he was forced to touch. The tanner had to collect the dung with his own hands—which would, according to the Jewish Law, give his wife grounds for divorce. The Law also required that a tannery be built well away from the town, on the east, the side away from the prevailing wind.[1]

Jewish tanners were a tolerated necessity as long as they steered clear of others and lived on the outskirts of town downwind, but they were at the same time abhorred by the pious for being unclean. Cleanliness in regards to the Laws of Moses was a big deal to the Jews. There were strict rules regarding what made one unclean before a holy, righteous God, and what you ate or touched could make you dirty spiritually.

One particular Law declared…

39 “And if any animal which you may eat dies, whoever touches its carcass shall be unclean until the evening,  Leviticus 11:39 (ESV)

Tanners touched dead animals for a living (not to mention the dog poo). They would be “unclean” at all times. And Peter stays with Simon the Tanner for a good while, sleeping in his house, even eating at his table. We will come back to this later. Meanwhile…

1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. Acts 10:1–2 (ESV)

Caesarea was a city on the Mediterranean coast about 30 miles north of Joppa. A centurion named Cornelius lived there. Centurions were the backbone of the Roman army in ancient times. They captained 80 to 100 men. They typically enjoyed some means, receiving a much higher pay (and spoils from war) than the common soldier.[2]

Cornelius was also a “devout man who feared God.” This is specific language referring to a Gentile — a non-Jew — who worshipped the God of Israel. One scholar explains…

It is… important to observe that Cornelius, though a Gentile, was a worshiper of the God of Israel. Such Gentiles are commonly called “God-fearers”; while this is not a technical term, it is a convenient one to use.7 Many Gentiles of those days, while not prepared to become full converts to Judaism8 (the requirement of circumcision being a special stumbling block for men), were attracted by the simple monotheism of Jewish synagogue worship and by the ethical standards of the Jewish way of life. Some of them attended synagogue and became tolerably conversant with the prayers and scripture lessons, which they heard read in the Greek version.… Cornelius’s attachment to the Jewish religion appeared particularly in his regular prayer to the God of Israel and acts of charity to the people of Israel.[3]

It’s interesting that Centurions are always cast in a positive light in the NT…

3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.  Acts 10:3–8 (ESV)

Now you see things lining up for phase 3 of God’s gospel spreading plan. It had spread among the Jews in Jerusalem. It had then spread throughout Judea and Samaria. And it was time to spread to the ends of the earth, to the Gentiles. But you might not see why Peter staying with Simon the Tanner was important or how it ties into the story of Cornelius.

Let’s talk about why Peter’s choice of lodging in Joppa is surprising. Peter is a Jew born and raised. He grew up living according to the cleanliness prohibitions of the Mosaic Law. Yet, here he is fellowshipping in the home of another believer who would have not been allowed anywhere near pious Jews. Luke begs us to ask the question, why is that? 

The answer is easy. It’s because he had spent time with Jesus. The one who…

Touched lepers even though the Law declared them unclean. 

1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”  Matthew 8:1–4 (ESV)

Peter had spent time with Jesus who…

Went out of his way to reach a Samaritan woman even though they were considered unclean.

4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)  John 4:48 (ESV)

He went on to reveal himself to her as the long awaited Messiah of the Jews and she followed him!

Peter had spent time with Jesus who…

Blessed a Gentile woman with a miracle even though Gentiles were considered unclean, even referred to as dogs in some circles.

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.  Mark 7:24–30 (ESV)

Peter had spent time with Jesus who…

Angered the Pharisees about hand washing rituals.

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”  Matthew 15:1–2 (ESV)

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”  Matthew 15:10–12 (ESV)

17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”  Matthew 15:17–20 (ESV)

Before we ago any further, it’s important to note that it wasn’t that Jesus went soft on God’s laws or that he didn’t take them seriously — for goodness sake he was the only man ever to keep them (fulfill not abolish). No, it’s that the Mosaic covenant and its Laws given to a special called-out people was part one of a two part plan to redeem a lost world. The Law was never intended to be an end in itself. It kept things in check until the hand-off time came for a new covenant made in the blood of Christ. 

Peter had no problem staying with Simon the Tanner because he had been with Jesus. It’s no surprise he relaxed a bit when it came to the cleanliness laws. He realized that Simon the Tanner, a fellow Jew and Christ-follower was not unclean under the new covenant in Christ. 

Conclusion: Luke is telling us the gospel is hard at work changing Peter, which is what the gospel does! It is so much more than just a ticket to heaven.Luke is telling us God is preparing Peter to revolutionize his thinking even more, way more, when it comes to things that are clean and unclean, when it comes to holiness and purity as one of God’s saints.

You see Peter was ready to commune with an “unclean” Jewish Christian because Jesus made him ready, but he wasn’t quite prepared to extend such grace to a group of “unclean” non-Jewish Gentiles, to people like that Syrophoenician woman, to people like the Centurion and his family who will be the firstfruits of the final phase of God’s plans to bring all people to him through Jesus.

God will have to show Peter that whatever he declares clean is clean, even if it goes against his upbringing. And we will look at how God does that next time.

But for before we go, let me ask you a question. What have you done with God’s promise?

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)

Have you taken him up on his offer?

Are you influencing others to do the same?

[1] Negev, A. (1990). In The Archaeological encyclopedia of the Holy Land (3rd ed.). New York: Prentice Hall Press.

[3] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 203). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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