We come to the conclusion of Peter and Cornelius’ story today. This is not the last we will hear about this event but it is the 100% proof of the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan. We started this encounter with both Cornelius and Peter receiving messages from Heaven. Both acted on the messages and followed their instructions to the letter. Because of their obedience both learned some amazing things. Cornelius learned more about the God he worshiped and Peter learned more about God’s love.
Peter was wrapping up his message about Jesus’ ministry and purpose on earth. He made sure to share Jesus’ resurrection and His message of forgiveness. His audience already knew some of the history and had been praying faithfully to the God of Israel. Did they think of Him as “Israel’s God” or did they think of Him as their God too?
All of a sudden the Holy Spirit made His presence known in the room. He poured Himself into the hearts of Cornelius, his family and his friends. They began speaking in tongues. Peter recognized this immediately as he had also undergone this same experience on the day of Pentecost. Those who had accompanied Peter to Caesarea were familiar with the Holy Spirit’s physical evidence too. They were amazed by what they were seeing and hearing. It was unmistakable proof of God’s acceptance of these people; Gentile men and women.
Peter moved to immediately remove any and all barriers to another of the rites that the new believers all partook in; baptism in water in the name of Jesus Christ. This was usually the first command the new believer followed after asking Jesus for their forgiveness. But God put it in a different order this time. He did so in order to assure Peter and his companions that His plan included the Gentiles too.
Because God welcomed these Gentiles “as they were”, Peter couldn’t put conditions on their entering God’s Kingdom family. God did NOT require them to change their diet to mirror the Jewish laws. He didn’t insist on their keeping the Sabbath. He didn’t command them to be circumcised. He accepted them EXACTLY as they were. They performed NO works to receive their salvation. The only act they did was to believe the words of Peter concerning Jesus. THAT is what opened the way for them to receive salvation.
I promised you a couple of days ago that I would talk about how Peter’s vision highlighted the truth about our salvation being by grace and not works. I want to go there a bit right now. I PRAY I speak only God’s words and none of my own biases. I want to share freedom, not judgement.
When God showed Peter the sheet in his vision he was told to “rise, kill and eat.” Peter refused to because doing so would have violated Jewish laws he had grown up obeying. There were procedures, processes and specific animal requirements for Jewish people to adhere to in order to be acceptable unto God. If you didn’t follow ALL the rules you were separated from God. God Himself gave these rules to Moses as the Israelites were wandering in the desert. The religious leaders had added their own rules on top of God’s. Peter was not willing to break these laws, even in a vision. He couldn’t fathom God telling him to step outside of the rules. Even Jesus followed the rules while He was with them.
What Peter was missing in this equation was God’s statement about making the unclean clean. God didn’t say there was never any such thing as unclean but that He had now made it clean. God cleaned it all with Jesus’ blood.
Now this is where works v grace comes into play. God gave the law to allow His people to identify sin. He also told them how to behave in the face of that sin; recognize that it was an obstacle between Him and them. He told them how to modify their behavior to lessen the impact of that sin. The law covered the sin but never removed it. It’s a little like painting over mildew. It may hide it but the mildew will continue to seep through until it is dealt with at the source.
Man couldn’t deal with the source of our sin. It was the fact that our spirit was dead that caused our sin condition. The law was never designed to correct this condition, only keep us from getting even further away from God.
In a nutshell, the Law cannot save us or give us life.
Enter Jesus and His sacrifice for us. He was the only man to be born, after Adam, with a live Spirit. His Spirit was not dead because He was also God’s Son. As a result He had the ability to fulfil the law in its entirety. He got to the root of the problem and cleaned out the “mildew” completely. His sins didn’t need covered because He never sinned and was not born into sin in the first place.
Since He was sinless He deserved NO punishment. But He willingly took our punishment for our sins. He substituted His record for ours. He made us clean when we had been unclean. EACH and EVERY person; Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, or female. He did this as a FREE gift for each of us. He gave us grace: “free and unmerited favor of God.”
Jesus is the ONLY one who could do this job and the ONLY one God asked to do it. HIS death gave us life. He did it ALL. There was nothing left undone in His sacrifice.
If we say we are saved only by following the law too, we deny Jesus’ ability to complete what He set out to do. He doesn’t need our help. We need His. BUT on the other side of grace is works proving our love for Him. We are not called to follow the dietary laws and religious customs so they can make us worthy of Jesus’ grace. We are told instead to love our brothers and sisters and to treat them as we would treat Jesus Himself as proof of His grace working in us. Those are the works Jesus longs to see in us.
Father God, please have the computer eat ANYTHING here that You don’t want shared. I pray the words I’ve heard and shared will set others free, not give license for sin or put others in bondage. Forgive me if I have overstepped.
Lord Jesus, thank You for doing for me what I could never do for myself. Thank You for removing the stain of sin on my life. Thank You that You have also dealt with every sin I will ever commit. I’m SO glad You don’t have to die every time I sin again to wash the new ones away. Your blood is a cleansing stream that NEVER ends. Help me live my life reflecting my gratitude for that blood. Help me show Your love to everyone I interact with. Thank You that my salvation isn’t dependent on my following a set of rules. I would NEVER make it! Thank You for Peter’s vision and for the Spirit’s witness that day in the home of Cornelius. Your acceptance of us Gentiles as Your family too was unmistakable! I know those are the kinds of signs I need. Thanks for sharing such a definite one with Peter on my behalf.