...Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.(Acts 10:9-15)
We have been looking at the second three conversion stories in the center of the Book of Acts, that of Cornelius, the centurion. An interesting aspect of this story is that though this man’s personal habits of piety would rival many professing christians, He wasn’t saved .
God sent an Angel to Cornelius, but not to tell him how to be saved, rather to arrange a meeting with the Lord’s apostle Peter, that he might tell him how to be saved. Evidently Angels aren’t preaching the gospel yet, they are arranging meetings for us that we might preach it!
We now look at the story from Peter’s side. It is significant to note that this story is set almost ten years after the resurrection of Jesus, and the giving of the great commission to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creatures…” and yet it hadn’t occurred to Peter and the others that they should be preaching to gentiles.
Peter and the early church had a blind spot when it came to evangelism. What a caution this is to you and I! When Peter and the others stood on the mountain of Jesus’ ascension, and heard the words,” Go into all of the world and preach the gospel to all creatures,”They must have passed it through a mental filter which translated it, “Go into all the (Jewish) world and preach the gospel to all(Jewish) creatures”.
The early church didn’t consider themselves to be ‘christians’ for they were Jews, and their religion was Jewish, so their Bible, prayers, place of worship(the temple), all within the Jewish context. And their is a lot of truth to the fact that Christianity itself is Jewish. But with the coming of Jesus a new day was dawning, the inclusion of the Gentiles into the ‘body of the Messiah”.
What did it take to get Peter to be open to this? A trance, a thrice repeated vision, the voice of the Holy Spirit, a knock on the door from complete strangers,a house full of hungry gentiles, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that could not be denied!
The gifts of the Spirit are real, and not for trifling reasons does God give people visions, revelations , dreams and prophecies, they are to accomplish specific things in the purpose of God. truly,”By the mouth of two or three witnesses let everything be established…”.
Peter’s dream was of a sheet lowered with unclean animals, and the invitation to “kill and eat”. But Peter remonstrated with the Lord as Ezekiel the priest prophet had done centuries earlier, when he had been instructed to cook his food over a fire of human dnng…
And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight….Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth.Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow’s dung for man’s dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.(Ezekiel 4:14-15)
God made concession for Ezekiel, but not for Peter, “Don’t call common or unclean what I have cleansed”. Peter was to never, ever consider anyone unfit for the Gospel of eternal life, any man could be a candidate to hear the saving story of Jesus, there would be no more “holy” and “Profane” distinctions among people, for anyone can be saved.This was a radical change for Peter and the apostles.
Upon arriving at Cornelius’s house, Peter confessed this blind spot and the dealings of God when he said
And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me? (Acts 10:28-29)
Ten years after the resurrection and great commission ,this is what it took to get the apostles to preach the gospel to gentiles. It was a big taboo to them to even go into a gentiles house, let alone to consider them for evangelism.
Jesus was once willing to go into a centurions home, and marveled at his faith when he insisted that the Word of Jesus was enough for his servant to be healed. But such is the power of the heart to blind itself, the apostles didn’t get it until this point.
Makes me wonder , as an evangelical christian, who am I blind to? Who do I pass by without giving the slightest thought to witnessing to? Worse of all, I ask myself in light of this story, whom have I written off? Lord, forgive and revive us!