Last week, we heard about how the Apostle Peter brought the Gospel to the Jews that lived in Lydda and Joppa. Today we’re going to hear about the first time that Peter brought the Gospel to people that weren’t Jews at all. As we study God’s Word, we’re going to delve into some very important and timely truths about the Gospel and Race. Before we do that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The lesson picks up right where we left off last week. Peter is still in Joppa. He’s still ministering to Tabitha. He’s still sharing the message of Jesus with people who were quite interested in hearing him, since he just brought a dead woman back to life.
But eventually, Peter needs a break. Acts 10:9 says, “About noon...Peter went up on the roof to pray.”
Now, you don’t need to picture Peter trying to balance on a 45-pitch roof. (OSHA is not involved with this story). At that time, roofs were mostly flat. Since homes were commonly built in close proximity to each other to maximize space – it was used like a porch. It was relaxing and quiet, a good place for uninterrupted prayer.
And there must have been a lot of exciting things on Peter’s mind:
He’s thankful the Outreach initiatives that have taken place in Lydda and Joppa.
He’s starting to brainstorm for a new group – a Jews for Jesus – outreach group for Jews about Jesus.
He’s thinking it might be wise to plan a church outing to the local Jewish Carpenter’s Baseball game.
He’s brainstorming how to take my favorite Jewish songs and melodies – and transform them into songs about Jesus.
In short, Peter is excited.
He’s happy to see God work on the hearts of his Jewish compatriots.
And he heads to the roof for guidance from God!
While he’s up there, praying and praying and praying, he starts to get hungry.
But before he can head downstairs to the kitchen, he sees some food….
…Coming down from the sky.
Peter saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners…. like a picnic cloth… It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (10:12-13)
And Peter looks at the animals on the sheet.
And Peter’s tummy rumbled.
And Peter was hungry.
And Peter said:
“Surely not Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (v.14)
A bit of an explanation.
In the Old Testament, God revealed himself through the people of Israel. He chose to interact with them, do miracles on their behalf when they followed him, and against them when they didn’t. God did this – not because he loved the people of Israel more than other people – but because…He needed to choose some group of people to reveal Himself as the true God, lest all worship the sun, the moon, the stars, a pile of rocks, some dead scorpion, or some really bad abstract art.
It's essentially the Krispy Kreme Principle. Krispy Kreme lights up its sign to let you know when there are fresh, hot donuts available. The point of the sign is to get you to pay attention to the doughy goodness’ availability.
To get the attention of the other nations, God did miracles among the nation of Israel. (He split the Red Sea. He sent bread from heaven. He made the walls of Jericho come tumbling down).
God did miracles in the Israelite nation so that people of any nation might see that he is the true God of all nations.
When God has the attention of the other nations, what does he want to teach them? Key truth #1: God is HOLY. He is a God who hated sin. A God who loved purity.
Why is this God’s number one truth? Because if we don’t realize that truth, we’ll just remain in our sin, blissfully unaware of how far short from perfection we have fallen. When we realize that God is HOLY and he demands HOLINESS and we aren’t HOLY and have zero HOLINESS, we fall to the ground and ask God for mercy – and he granted that mercy in sending a Savior – Jesus Christ.
Knowing God is HOLY is important in understanding the need for the Gospel.
One way God taught his HOLINESS to other nations was through the Israelite diet.
Leviticus 11. It’s probably not a section of Scripture that any of you have memorized. It isn’t a part of Scripture that makes its way to Social Media posts. It doesn’t make for very good Scripture art around your home. But within Leviticus 11, God reveals strict dietary restrictions for the people of Israel. His goal? Make their diet so drastically different from that of other nations that people take notice, ask about the diet, and learn that God is HOLY.
Some of the restrictions were as follows:
Only finned sea creatures. This allowed for fish. But it meant that you couldn’t have lobster, crab or any kind of sushi.
Only domestic birds. Chicken and turkey were cool; pheasant, owl, vulture? Not so much.
Only animals that have a divided hoof and chew the cud. Again, beef and lamb are fine, but not camels and (the biggest tragedy of all) pigs. (Understand: NO BACON!)
When Peter looked at the picnic blanket from heaven, there were some animals there that would make fine cuisine: Oysters Rockefeller. Buttered crab. Stuffed Pheasant. Bacon Wrapped Bacon! He was hungry, but every animal on the blanket was one of the Old Testament forbidden animals and Peter didn’t want to disobey God’s Old Testament laws, so he replied to God: Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean!
And Peter must have felt pretty good about his answer.
He had just listened to God’s voice in the Old Testament;
He just ignored God’s voice that had just spoken to him in order to do so…but…
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (v.15)
At the end of the vision, while Peter was standing there – a bit dumbfounded– and deeply pondering the meaning: Is bacon OK now? Should I stop by the local BBQ shop? A knock came from the downstairs door. Being on the roof, Peter scooted to the ridgeline and peeked over at the visitors. From the third floor he could make out the unmistakable insignia of Roman soldiers. Gentiles. Non-Jews. Non-Jews that currently were enforcing an unwanted rule on their kingdom.
Peter’s first thought was to hide.
His second thought was “those lousy good for nothing Romans.”
His third thought was “I want nothing to do with their kind.”
Then, God spoke again:
“Simon…Get up. Go downstairs. Go with these men.” (v.19)
Remember I mentioned the Old Testament dietary law? It was one of the ways that God impressed his holiness upon Old Testament Israel. There were other ways. They wore certain clothing. They made certain altars. They sacrificed certain sacrifices. And – they worshipped with certain people.
To impress His holiness on all people – Old Testament Israelites circumcised their male children. That was different in ancient times. No other nation did it. God had Israel do it, as a symbol of cutting off the sinful nature and being made new in God’s mercy.
Since the Jews were circumcised and every other race of people wasn’t, this meant that oftentimes the Israelites did things by themselves.
In fact, over time Jewish leadership developed rules that helped to keep people obeying God. They made a rule that you could not eat with anyone who wasn’t a Jew. That you could not have someone who wasn’t a Jew enter your home; that you could not enter the house of someone who wasn’t Jewish, because you dare not spend time with people who were “impure.”
All Israel knew that.
All Israel practiced that.
Peter knew that.
Peter practiced that.
But God just said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
And God had just told him to follow these men to their home so…
Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. (v.23)
Peter started out with them the next day (v.23b)
Peter arrived at the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius and he entered the home. (v.25)
Did you hear that? Peter just broke hundreds of years of Jewish tradition to follow the voice of God.
Then, Peter gets to talking with Cornelius and it turns out Cornelius had a vision, too. God had come to Cornelius and given him specific instructions to send a group of men to Joppa to the exact house that Peter was at and to ask for a guy named Peter.
This was no coincidence.
So… Peter says this:
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.” (v.34-35)
And Peter went on to tell these non-Jews people about Jesus.
He told them about how Jesus died for them.
He told them about how Jesus rose for them.
He told them about how Jesus fulfilled God’s plan to save them.
He told them about how anyone who believes in Jesus – any Jew – and even any non-Jew – receives forgiveness of sins in His name. (v.36-43)
He told them this because Peter now understood this important (and still relevant) truth:
God does not have a favorite “race” of people.
In God’s eyes, people are people.
There’s not a racist bone in God’s body.
There’s not a racist tweet in the Bible.
There’s not an ounce of racism in His way of thinking.
God created every race of people.
God loved every race of people.
God saw that every race of people had fallen into sin.
God sent a Savior for every race of people.
God’s blood covered the sins of every person of every race of people.
In short, no matter who you are; no matter what race you are; no matter what culture you are:
Jesus loves you.
Jesus died for you.
And no matter who your neighbor is, no matter what race they are, no matter what culture they are:
Jesus loved them.
Jesus died for them.
II. What Now?
The point of all this is still relevant today. It means not feeling guilty about a BLT sandwich. Guilty about bacon-wrapped, deep fried, pork chops? Maybe – but the guilt is for other reasons!
The deeper truth isn’t about food; but people.
(1) Identify Your Own Prejudice (and Fight Against it)
Granted. You might be saying:
“But pastor! I don’t have any prejudice. I love all people. I love all cultures. I love all races of people.”
I would hope that none of you openly confess to hating a certain race of people.
If you do openly confess that certain races of people are better than others, repent! That’s sinful.
But even if you don’t openly confess it, be careful:
Our prejudices can be trickier than that.
For example, what if I had started preaching today in a turban?
Or what if I had planned for worship only Gospel songs? The ones with lots of clapping and plenty of “Amens.”
Or what if the snacks afterwards were nothing but sushi?
You might not love it.
You might complain about it.
You might say, “That’s not what we do.”
Friends, that’s prejudice.
And we shouldn’t be surprised that all of us suffer from prejudice, because that’s what sin does.
Sin selfishly, egotistically focuses inward and says, “I am the best. My culture is the best. My people are the best. God loves how we do it best.”
Repent. This is not Godly.
Thankfully God doesn’t have prejudice. (not even against people who are prejudiced – aka – all of us).
Jesus battled those sins of prejudice for us.
Jesus took them to the cross.
Jesus died for us and our subtle racism and all of our prejudices.
Thanks be to Jesus.
Now he asks us to lay them at his go out to fight against them.
And we do that by #2:
(2) Obey God’s Call
The voice from heaven was not the first time Peter learned the less that God doesn’t play favorites. Jesus had taught that, too! He spent time with Samaritans. He spoke to a woman at the well who was a Samaritan. He healed the servant of a Roman soldier. Jesus even ordered Peter directly: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Up to this point, Peter had been thinking that “Go and make disciples of all nations” meant, “Go and make disciples of the Jews living in all nations.”
He was wrong.
And to his credit, when he realizes this, he obeys God right away. He takes the men into his home. He follows them to their home. He enters and shares the Gospel with them.
Do the same thing.
God didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all the white people in Raleigh.”
He didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all the Midwestern transplants in Raleigh.”
He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Here’s the thing – when we do that – that kind of love reaches out past racial lines and unites people.
Honestly, it’s just like those Old Testament dietary restrictions. Only instead of watching what we eat, we watch how we act towards those who are different.
Because the truth is that America is divided by race. Racist pride is touted as desirable trait that leads to more and more divisiveness.
The Cross of Jesus is different.
The Cross of Jesus unites.
The blood of Jesus covers us all.
The church (our church) is to be a place where God has brought people of all languages, cultures and backgrounds – together. That’s different. If done correctly, it will stick out like an Old Testament Jew ordering the lamb at a Pork BBQ place.
It’ll stick out in a good way.
How do we do this?
We love one another.
We reach out to those that are different from us.
We are willing to say, “My desires and my culture are different than yours. And that’s ok. In fact, my desires and culture will take a back seat for the sake of you, my friend, and your culture.”
When you do this…
When we go to work on the sharing of God’s Gospel with all nations…
God blesses it.
Look what happened with Peter. In the middle of his speech, The Holy Spirit came upon all who heard his message. (v.44) It was God’s way of saying: “Yes! I approved. I don’t show favoritism. I love all people. And I am bringing this people into my kingdom at the same level as – and at the same equality as – you Jews who are also a part of my kingdom.”
God is behind the sharing of his Gospel message.
God is behind the sharing of his Gospel message to all people.
Let’s go to work.
Let’s share the Gospel with all people.