Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

05/29/16 - A Cultural Conversion

“A Cultural Conversion”

Acts 10:1-23a

 

As we continue through the Book of Acts, it is important to keep in mind the full title Luke had given to the book. We often say “The Book of Acts” when the complete title is “The Acts of the Apostles.” Luke has written this book to show how the apostles took on the Great Commission Jesus had given them prior to returning to heaven. After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the apostles waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. Following the day of Pentecost, and the filling of the Holy Spirit, the apostles went out to share the message of Jesus Christ and how He was the Messiah they had all been waiting for. They began preaching the Good News in Jerusalem to their fellow Jewish family, neighbors and friends. It wasn’t long before the Gospel was spread to the “other” Jewish believers, those who were from Greek decent, the Hellenistic Jews. Then the salvation message was heard and believed by the Samaritans. Again, not exactly what a good, dedicated, law-abiding Jew would have expected, but this new look at salvation was meant to save the Jewish people, right?

Next we read how Philip followed the Holy Spirit’s direction and found himself baptizing an Ethiopian Eunich. It was the right thing to do at the time, and we began to see how Jesus’ proclamation of having to go unto all nations, was coming true. But even though this Eunich was from another country, he had converted to Judaism, was even more than circumcised, and had just come from the Jewish temple, so Philip was still, in essence sharing the gospel within the Jewish culture.

Then we read about the amazing conversion of Saul. In fact, at this point in the story, there are still many Jewish Christians who weren’t quite certain Saul could have so radically changed and were questioning whether to trust him or not.

Last week we read how Peter had been traveling around. He had healed people and even brought one saint back to life. It was true that the woman Peter had resurrected had been serving both Jews and Gentiles, but she herself was a Jewish disciple of Christ.

Today’s Scripture takes the message of hope, outside of the Jewish realm, and actually enters the home of non-Jewish man.

Sacrilegious!

In order to comprehend the immensity of the action I will offer some necessary history.

We live in a country that has been established on the Declaration of Independence, which today we are remembering those who have given their lives for what is written in its second paragraph, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all (hu)mans are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,”.

Back in the first century there was an impassable gulf between those who were Jewish and those who were not. It’s not that the Old Testament itself supported such a divide. God had blessed one family in order to bless all the families of the earth. It was proclaimed in….

Genesis 12: 1-4

“God told Abram: “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.

2-3 I’ll make you a great nation
        
and bless you.
    I’ll make you famous;
        
you’ll be a blessing.
    I’ll bless those who bless you;
        
those who curse you I’ll curse.
    All the families of the Earth
        
will be blessed through you.”

Unfortunately, over the years, the Jewish leaders twisted the doctrine of election into the doctrine of favoritism.

Racial pride became the standard and produced hatred.

This hatred allowed Jews to despise Gentiles as “dogs” as well as, traditions which kept the two apart.

The desire to remain spiritually clean meant no pious Jew would ever enter the house of a Gentile, even a God-fearing Gentile, or God-forbid, invite a Gentile into their home.

Any type of personal activity between Jews and Gentiles was forbidden. So let’s face it, if a Jew was unable to enter the home of a Gentile and vice-versa, they certainly would not be found sitting down at a table to eat together.

It was one thing to preach the Gospel to someone, but something entirely different to sit down and eat a meal with them.

This entrenched prejudice had to be overcome before Gentiles could be admitted into the Christian community and be on equal terms with the Jews.

As we have already read, God was able to mend the separation between Jewish-Samaritan. Now we will look at how God used a vision to enlighten Peter and used him to bridge the Jewish-Gentile gap.

Our Scripture begins by telling us what happened to Cornelius. At first, one may think this story is how God brings about the conversion of Cornelius.

Not so. The principle subject of this story is actually the conversion of Peter.

The idea that Cornelius would become a Christian was not that far-fetched. He was already someone who feared God and prayed continually to God. Cornelius was only inches away from Christianity. Peter, on the other hand, was rooted with a deep-seated racial intolerance that needed to be removed. Something only God was capable of doing.

For hundreds of years, Christians have interpreted Peter’s vision as God allowing Jews to kill and eat any animal.

Well, it’s not.

The vision Peter saw was sent to let Peter know that he and other Jewish-Christians were given permission to enter the homes of Gentiles and bring them the Good News of Jesus Christ.

By looking at the passage closely I believe you will agree with my interpretation.  

The chapter begins with Cornelius praying, something we are told he did on a daily basis. In his prayer, he saw a vision of an angel of God come to him and call his name. Cornelius was in terror, which happens to everyone in the Bible that is visited by an angel.

Cornelius asks the angel what He wants. The angel informs Cornelius that God has heard his prayers and actions.

I’d like to comment on that sentence. Did you notice that the angel told Cornelius that God had heard his prayers and seen his actions. Mind you, Cornelius is not a Christian, yet, and God responds to his prayers and notices his good deeds.

Back to our story, the angel then tells Cornelius to send men to Joppa and have them bring a man Simon, called Peter, who is living with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.

I find it interesting that God doesn’t tell Cornelius to go to Joppa and find Peter himself. This is the first clue that there is more to this story than the conversion of Cornelius.

Cornelius listened to the Lord and did exactly as he had requested. Now the Lord needs to work on the heart of Peter in order for Peter to agree to go back with the men sent by Cornelius. Remember, Jews don’t enter non-Jews homes, ever.

Peter has definitely done a great deal of changing in regards to his beliefs, however, up to this point, believing Jesus is the Messiah, is  still very Jewish and did not go against the Jewish standards in which they lived.

Entering a Gentile’s home, did.

This would have been a direct infraction of the Jewish law Peter had been brought up with, and had been followed by generations. A special revelation was needed to allow Peter to make such a drastic change.

In our passage, on the next day, as Cornelius’ men are traveling to Joppa, we find Peter on the roof of, by the seaside, waiting for lunch and taking a bit of a snooze. He falls into a trance and sees a vision. The heavens open up and a table cloth was coming down by its four corners to earth. On the cloth were all types of animals and reptiles and birds. A voice tells Peter to rise, kill and eat. Peter replies immediately with, “No way!” I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” The voice responded with, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times.

We then read that Peter was initially perplexed. Until, there is a knock at the door. The three men Cornelius had sent were at the gate. Peter asks them why they had come and they explain how Cornelius had sent them. Peter then invites them in.

God had used the Jewish dietary laws to show Peter His point. Peter believed that the vision he saw may have used unclean food but Peter also knew that God would not change His word or the Law in regards to those foods so, for Peter there had to be another explanation. God had to be showing him something important.

The vision was not about God not cleansing unclean animals and making them clean. Peter had been sent on a mission to share the gospel not to kill and eat animals that were upon that tablecloth. Peter knew God was testing him, and the men at the gate revealed to him, what the test was about. It had to be connected to the salvation of the Gentiles. Peter realized God was showing him that He was about to cleanse the hearts of the people whom the Jews considered unclean.

Peter had experienced a spiritual conversion when he turned to Jesus back at the Sea of Galilee when Jesus first met him and showed him how to catch a boat load of fish. It was then Jesus had told Simon he would be learning how to catch men. Here, in Joppa, Peter has a cultural conversion which allows Peter to reach out to all nations. Peter begins to see the difference between his religion and his faith.

Each of us must do the same on a regular basis. Being religious is fine, as long as you are religiously doing the right things.

It is when our religion trumps our faith that we get into trouble.

Much like Peter, it is when we pay more attention to following the rules and less attention the people around us who aren’t following our rules that we have messed things up.

God used a vision for Peter to show him that people, regardless of what his religion thinks of them, will always be more important than his religion.

When you think about it, it makes sense.

God made people, people made religion.

Let’s do our best to follow the example of Peter, And let go of our rules of faith.  When He puts people in our lives who need His grace, more than our religion.

Let’s pray.