2017-1-15 Giving Up Our Prejudices

ACTS 10:1-35                                                                                      JANUARY 15, 2017


Significant life-changing events are often difficult to comprehend and accept when a profound change has taken place. These life changing events can be personal as well as affect large groups of people and even affecting the entire world. These incidents often take the time to process and even a longer time to understand the ramifications of such change. The 1883 eruption of the volcano Krakatoa killed approximately 40,000 people in the area of Indonesia. The sun did not shine in the region for three days. This volcanic eruption affected the world by reducing the light emitted from the material blown into the atmosphere blocked the sun. This later led to significant cooling for a couple of years.

We can often overlook the significant changes that were brought about by the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Son of God. Luke provides us a history of the early church. Up to this point the church had grown mainly among the scattered Jewish communities, as well as among the Samaritans. Luke recorded the evangelization of the Ethiopian court official and of the call to Saul, who was told he was going to be sent to the Gentiles.

The vision Cornelius had is recorded four times by Luke, and Peter’s vision is recited twice and is again referred to in the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. I could spend weeks on chapters 10 & 11 but I will give summarize and explain what this should mean to us today.

The city of Caesarea was built by Herod the Great to be a major seaport and a model city built according to a Greek style. Caesarea was mainly a Roman city where the region was administered by the Roman government. There was a small Jewish community, of about 20,000 residents and 50,000 plus Romans and citizens of the empire.

Acts 10:1-2 (NIV) 1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” Cornelius was a Roman officer of 100 soldiers. The Italian regiment was comprised of Roman citizens who had moved into the region of Palestine. Since he was a centurion he could support a family and a household of servants. Cornelius is described as a God-fearer, as one who participated in the life of a synagogue who was known for his gifts to the poor and for his devotion to praying to the LORD. He was a spiritual man.

Acts 10:3-8 (NIV) 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” 4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.”

Cornelius was praying at one of the set times in the day for a devoted Jew to pray. Cornelius was visited by an angel who said God was aware of Cornelius and was pleased with him. Cornelius is commanded to send a delegation to find Peter, who was located in Joppa, which is about 30 miles away (two-day journey).

The next day Peter is praying on the rooftop. Houses in Palestine had flat roofs where one could catch the breezes. He too has a vision. Acts 10:10-13 (NIV) 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” In Judaism, a devoted Jew is careful to follow the dietary restrictions (Leviticus 11). Notice that Peter is given a command that he knows is from God.

Acts 10:14-16 (NIV) 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.” God shows how important this message is by repeating it three times. The Lord was removing the barriers that separated faithful followers from the rest of the world. Peter had continued to keep the dietary laws, as a disciple of Jesus. He did not see any contradictions up to this time.

Recall the words of Jesus about what makes a person unclean. Matthew 15:11, 17-19 (NIV) 11 What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.'” 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

At that time the messengers from Cornelius arrived. There are no coincidences in the arrival of the visitors. Peter gets directions from the Spirit. Acts 10:17, 19-20 (NIV) 17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” The word wondering in verse 17 has the meaning of intense thought and reflection. We see that Peter realizes that things are changing and that this meeting has been ordained by God because of what he did next. Acts 10:23 (NIV) 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”  A Jew did not invite non-Jews (Gentiles) into their homes, yet Peter did so.

It is about a two-day journey for Peter and his companions to travel to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius and his family. Jews would sometimes invite Gentiles into their homes but they would never enter the home of a Gentile, as they would become ceremonially unclean. Cornelius understood what it meant for a Jew to enter his home and he was waiting for Peter to deliver a message from God.

Acts 10:25-29 (NIV) 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” 27 Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”

Peter had spent two days walking to Caesarea and during that time he began to grasp that God had made a radical change in the new covenant that Jesus established. It is no coincidence that God gave this vision to Peter. Remember the words of Jesus to Peter. Matthew 16:18-19 (NIV) 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  The church is turning in a new direction in accordance with the plan of God.

Acts 10:34-35 (NIV) 34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Peter then gladly proclaimed the gospel to Cornelius and to all who were present.

We have 2,000 years separating us from this event and it may not seem like a big deal. Yet this incident involves a total change in mindset. God has opened the message to all people, regardless of the social barriers that often separate our world. Galatians 3:26-28 (NIV) 26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Coming to faith in Christ means the forgiveness of our sins. However, this change in our being forgiven is to only be the first in a long list of changes that God intends in making us more like his Son Jesus. The Spirit continues to prod us to remove any prejudices we may have held over from our raising. We are called to show love and respect to all people. Without Christ, we are all in the same boat: lost and needing a good soul cleansing.
Let us pray.