The In-Between Years - Part 52

Series: The In-Between Years

October 24, 2021
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years — Part 52

If you recall, we are on the verge of seeing the final and most far-reaching phase of God’s witness projection plan begin. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said that his disciples would be his witnesses in Jerusalem (phase 1), Judea and Samaria (phase 2), and even to the ends of the earth (phase 3). Up until now the gospel’s spread has been exclusively among the Jews, but the final stage involves non-Jews, Gentiles. And the efforts to reach them will occupy the rest of Acts. 

As phase three peeks over the horizon, last week we saw God divinely ordering events and positioning people. He had Peter, the head of the church, staying with Simon the Tanner in Joppa. Thirty miles away in Caesarea, a god-fearing gentile centurion named Cornelius was praying…

43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner. 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. 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 9:43–10:8 (ESV)

We talked about the significance of Peter lodging with Simon the Tanner, a Jew who would have been considered perpetually unclean according to Jewish purity laws and how Peter having been raised a good Jew would never have spent the night much less shared a meal with someone who touched dead animals for a living.

We saw how Peter had no problem staying with Simon the Tanner because he had been with Jesus, the holiest Jewish man ever to live who upended the traditional understanding of the cleanliness laws. Jesus touched unclean lepers, conversed with an unclean Samaritan woman, blessed an unclean Gentile woman, and bucked tradition by eating his meals with unwashed hands, an atrocity to the Jewish elite. Peter realized that Simon the Tanner, a fellow Jew and Christ-follower was not unclean under the new covenant in Christ.

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. 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 “unclean” non-Jewish Gentiles like the centurion Cornelius and his household, as you’ll see in a minute.

God must show Peter that whatever he declares clean is clean, even if it goes against his upbringing…

9 The next day, as they [Cornelius’ party] were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Acts 10:9–16 (ESV)

While Peter waits for lunch he falls into a trance and in that trance God gives him a vision. All kinds of animals are let down in a sheet. God says “Help yourself to a snack.” And Peter, being the good Jew he is, says “No way! I’ve never broken your laws about eating clean and unclean animals.”

Peter’s response to God’s command has to do with the same part of Leviticus we looked at with Simon the Tanner. In chapter 11 where God declares anyone who touches a dead body unclean, he also declares certain animals unclean, unfit for God’s set-apart people’s consumption. If we had time to go there you’d see the list of unclean animals is pretty involved, but one big taboo everyone knows about when it comes to the Jews is pork. Fun fact: one of the ways archeologists tell if an ancient settlement was Gentile or Jewish is the presence or absence of pig bones.

Peter had spent his life avoiding unclean foods and all of a sudden it was as if God said “Have a pulled pork sandwich.”

God often uses visions or dreams in the Bible to influence people, and Middle eastern people to this day take visions and dreams very seriously. A vision repeated three times meant it was settled and sure. Peter knew God was trying to tell him something, but he wasn’t clear on what…

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests. Acts 10:17–23a (ESV)

Remember how Luke almost casually mentioning Peter’s lodging with one Simon the Tanner was significant? How it meant his time with Jesus was changing him? The first part of verse 23 here is just like that. “So he invited them in to be his guests.”

This seemingly insignificant detail means that the rooftop vision was having an effect. He was putting the pieces of the puzzle together. He wasn’t quite there yet, but he was on his way as we see him inviting Gentiles in to be his guests. How do I know this? All Jews saw Gentiles as — you guessed it — unclean. They ate unclean animals and did unclean things. To invite them into your home would make you unclean. 

Listen to what good Jews were taught in Peter’s day (not from the Bible but a collection of highly revered teachings):

16* And you also, my son, Jacob, remember my words, and keep the commandments of Abraham, your father.

Separate yourself from the gentiles,

and do not eat with them,d

and do not perform deeds like theirs.

And do not become associates of theirs.

Because their deeds are defiled,

and all of their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable.

17* They slaughter their sacrifices to the dead,

and to the demons they bow down.

And they eat in tombs.e

And all their deeds are worthless and vain.

18 And they have no heart to perceive,

and they have no eyes to see what their deeds are, and where they wander astray,

saying to the tree ‘you are my god,’

and to a stone ‘you are my lord, and you are my savior’;

and they have no heart.f [1]

“So he invited them in to be his guests.” Gentiles. They shared a meal together. They lodged overnight together. Peter the Jew and the Gentiles sent by Cornelius. First Simon the Tanner and now this. What in the world was going on? I’ll tell you. The gospel was working in Peter’s life!

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. Acts 10:23b–27 (ESV)

“God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” There it is. Now we know that Peter is no longer perplexed about God’s vision. He put more of the pieces together. The time he had spent with Jesus. The vision on the rooftop.The power of the gospel at work in his heart. All came together to the point of undoing what had been put into him his whole life as a faithful Jew. He had to give up things he thought were fundamental to his very upbringing, his faith even. He had to surrender to the truth that there was no room for prejudice against the Gentiles under the new covenant in Jesus.

Folks, that’s what the gospel does. It changes us. It tears down walls. It forces us to surrender things we  may have held onto our whole lives. Things that we might even considered part of our faith.

Even as a young pastor it changed me like that. It forced me to let go of things that had been put into me since the day I was born. I’ll never forget having a conversation with a deacon in my first church on interracial marriage. He bested me with the statement, “I’d rather Dillon marry a black Christian girl than a lost white one.” I went to the Scripture and discovered I had been wrong. I, in fact, had harbored prejudice against non-white people thinking it was biblical.

It’s said that CS Lewis, when he was very young, maybe seven or so, went to his father and announced “Daddy, I have a prejudice against the French."

“Why?” asked his father.

“If I knew that,” he replied, “it wouldn’t be a prejudice.”

“God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” God never intended for his cleanliness laws to be weaponized against the Gentiles, in fact, I’ll show you next time how it was his plan from the beginning to bring them — us — in. It wasn’t an afterthought!

Conclusion: I touched on this last week, but it’s good to be reminded today as we close. It is easy to think that God’s Law was unfair or cruel or that it was intended to create prejudice against all non-Jews. And that’s why Jesus came. To save us from the nasty old Law. That can’t be because Jesus said every jot and tittle of the Law would be fulfilled, and that he came to fulfill it not abolish it.

The Law was given by God to his special, covenant people. The Law with all its odd and sometimes crushing prohibitions was meant to set Israel apart from every other nation as a precursor to bringing all those nations back in one day. And that day, that new work, began under the new covenant in Jesus. 

The Law was “God’s word for a particular period and for a particular purpose”[2] as one scholar puts it. He says it’s like…

…a mother seeing her child at the other side of the street, about to cross a busy road. ‘Stand still!’ she shouts urgently. Then, a minute later, seeing that the traffic has come to a stop at the light, she shouts again, ‘Walk across!’ She hasn’t contradicted herself. The initial command was the right one for the time. Indeed, it is because she wanted the child to walk across in the end that she told him to stand still for the moment. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have made it across at all.[3]

The Law and the covenant through Moses says stand still until Jesus shows up and he says walk across. One makes the way for the other. Moses led the Israelites out Egypt’s bondage so Jesus could one day lead us out of sin and death’s bondage. This is why all the promises of God are yes in Jesus.

The greatest promise God gives is the one he gives in Rom 10.13…

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

The change the gospel brings in us begins right here. 

Christian, is the gospel at work in your life? Are there some walls that need to come down? Some prejudices that need to be surrendered?

[2] Wright, T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 163). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

[3] Ibid.

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