Pastor Edward Brouwer Acts 10:1-48 Dawning Understanding
There is the story of a man walking along a deserted road when he happens upon a magic lamp. He picks it up and out comes a genie. The genie is grateful that he has been released from the lamp. So he tells the man that he can have one wish. The only stipulation is that he can’t ask for more wishes. So the man thinks for a moment. Then he says to the genie, “My wife has always wanted for us to go to Hawaii. However, I am afraid of flying. So I would like you to build a bridge from the West Coast of the United States to Hawaii so that we can go on a nice vacation”. The genie responded to this request by saying, “This is a very difficult task. There is a lot of complex engineering involved in such an endeavor, let alone the amount of materials needed. All of the issues surrounding plate tectonics make it an extreme challenge. You need to choose something else.” The man thinks for a moment and then says, “My wife mentioned the other day about her desire for me to understand her better. Okay, that’s it. I wish that you can help me understand my wife better.” The genie pauses and says, “About that bridge, do you want that to be 2 lanes or 4?” Today we are reading about and looking at a situation that arose in the early church that involved a gap that looked unbridgeable. And from the human perspective it was impossible. But with God it was possible.
Read Acts 10:1-48 Peter’s Dawning Understanding of God’s truth and his struggle to not just believe on it but to act on it. Understand and Embrace are the two points I want to make.
Understanding the struggle: What is Peter’s hang-up? Peter had been raised a good Jewish boy and had kept kosher all his life. So bacon and lobster are not on the menu! But why had God instituted a system of laws like this? Laws defining clean and unclean. Rules about undefiled and defiled? God wanted to make his holy people different and separate from all the surrounding nations. One way to do that was to make them distinct. The food you eat, the clothes you wear, your hairstyles, the people you are allowed to hang out with all make you distinct—it creates a culture. God knew the hearts of his people, their tendency to assimilate and ultimately abandon him. Examples of this include his people marrying into the families of pagans, with the tendency to assimilate and accept their foreign ways, their religion and faith. Going back to the Patriarchs: Esau married a Canaanite woman (Genesis 36:2)….and so were born the Edomites—who were enemies of Israel. At the time of the Judges: Samson marries a local girl, a Philistine named Delilah (Judges 16). During the age of the Kings: Solomon married “foreign wives” as political alliances and was drawn away from God (I Kings 11:4). During the Exile many Jews had married foreigners and this was drawing them away from the one True God (Ezra 10:3). It’s always a little risky to interact with unbelievers—but the challenge is (as Jesus said) to “be in the world but not be of the world” (John 17:16)
Yes God had a special relationship with Israel because one day the Messiah would be born into a Jewish family in a small Jewish village, BUT God always had in mind a concern for every human being. He made every human in His image and from the beginning He planned to include not just Jews but the nations in His redemption. During the time of The Patriarchs: Abraham would be a blessing to the nations. The Judges: Rahab and Ruth—women of faith– would be in the line of the Messiah. The Kings: David sings over and over about the nations coming to worship the One True God (Psalm 86:9). The Pre-exilic period Jonah was to preach to the city of Nineveh repentance and mercy.
By the time of Jesus, the Jews had a well-defined sense of separation from the Gentiles. The “traditions of the fathers” was so well entrenched that they had forgotten that they were to be a light to the nations. No good Jew would have “table fellowship” with a non-Jew. Eating with Gentiles would “defile” you and was wrong and unacceptable.
But Jesus broke with those man-made traditions and returned the message of salvation to the original intent of the Law. Holiness (he said) was not determined by what you put in your mouth or with whom you associated—but rather by faith and trust in HIM—by a heart that was radically transformed by the love of Christ.
Look how Christ broke with the man-made traditions: here are 5 examples of Jesus loving people despite what the religious leaders of the day said broke laws related to ritual purity:
1) Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4)
2) Jesus and the woman who had an issue of blood (Mark 5:25 ff)
3) Jesus and the Syrophoenecian woman (Mark 7)
4) Jesus and the woman who anointed his feet with precious oil (Luke 7:36 ff)
5) Jesus and Zacchaeus (Luke 19)
Embracing the struggle to change—this vision from heaven is meant to convince Peter that God was beginning a new work amongst the Gentiles and fulfilling the command of Jesus to go to the nations. It came from heaven, it happened 3 times and the message was clear: Don’t declare unclean what I have declared clean: go with these Gentiles without hesitation and share the Gospel with them. God had to break the biases and ingrained training of Peter. When he went he shared that he now realized that God showed no favoritism amongst people. And then as further evidence of God’s universal love for all mankind God poured out His Holy Spirit on Cornelius and all his household. This was God’s divine approval and the outcome of john 3:16.
Two lessons I want to draw out. God is calling us (just like Peter) to share the gospel with everyone around us. But how will we know what to say and indeed be heard unless we are in close contact with the lost? God is calling you and me to consistent loving engagement with the lost. Find ways to do this. At school with your classmates. At work. In ministry at places like Open Door. In your families around the table as you speak of the hope that you have found in Jesus Christ.
But before you can share the goodnews with others, the gospel must penetrate your own heart! Goodnews starts at home. In some ways that was a lifelong struggle for Peter. During the time Jesus lived and taught he often missed the mark. (Impetuous, lacking in faith, denying, missing the obvious). And we find ourselves in the same boat (and out of the same boat right with Peter!) Are you living a gospel-centered life? Do you find that there are issues in your life, besetting sins that come up over and over again? Like for Peter it was the challenge of the all-inclusive nature of the gospel. So in Galatians 2:11 Paul describes a situation with Peter being inconsistent in his association with Jews and Gentiles.
Let’s bring this home to us and bridge the gap between Peter’s issues of clean/unclean and our own issues: Here’s a gospel centering question, a litmus test if you will—so now neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything, what matters is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6) Paul is saying that any outward “sign” is not proof that you are in or that you are out with God! Only faith in Jesus Christ manifesting itself in real love and the acts that flow from real love.
Take this verse and replace it with your dearly cherished ideas:
On being a Presbyterian: So now the true litmus test of life in Christ is not whether your theology is 5 point Calvinist or something less: what matters is your faith in Christ expressing itself in love. So you don’t need to be right, you can appreciate and love the differences of other faith traditions without judging them.
On having the right politics: The true litmus test of your Christianity is not whether you are a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent: what matters is faith expressing itself through love—in all our political conversations that Christ is Lord of all.
On going along to get along: Do you struggle with fear and the approval of others? Use Galatians 5:6 and say “it does not matter whether people approve of me or disapprove of me, what matter’s is faith in Christ, expressing itself through love.
Isn’t this freeing? No longer living for your idols—idols of religion, of being right, of people liking you: but rather living for Jesus. May the Lord grant you a vision of his grace like He did Peter, that will sustain you and enable you to always keep your eyes on Jesus who is the Author and Finisher of your faith.