Today we visit another of my favorite stories from the book of Acts. I love this one because it positively established that I too am a child of God. It blew off the doors of the “exclusive club” to transform it into what it was meant to be; absolutely inclusive. Another amazing thing this story does is lay the foundations for salvation by grace and not by works.
We join our story already in progress. We saw the beginning of it in our last time together. It started with the visit of the angel of God to a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius lived in Caesarea, about a distance of 40 miles from where Peter was staying in Joppa. Per the angel’s instructions, Cornelius dispatched three men to fetch Peter from Joppa and bring him back to Cornelius’ home.
It is the next day as the men are getting close to their destination that we rejoin our story. Peter has retreated to the housetop for some private time. It was about lunch time, the sixth hour, and Peter was hungry. Lunch is being prepared but it’s not time to eat yet. Peter decides to use the wait time as prayer time instead. I think God was pretty clever using what was on Peter’s mind to speak to his spirit.
God gave Peter a vision that would set a new direction for the church. This vision was complex and confusing for Peter. The vision included ALL KINDS of animals, from snakes to birds, for Peter to choose from to fill his hungry stomach. Peter was offered anything on this menu to choose from. All he had to do was kill it and eat it. But Peter refused to take God up on this offer because none of the choices conformed to the requirements of Jewish law. None of the choices were “acceptable.” They were “common or unclean.” Peter was having no part of it! But God told him three times that He had made them clean and for Peter to stop looking at them through the lenses of the Law. “What God made clean, do not call common” (verse 15).
Before Peter got the point of the vision it ended. As Peter was thinking about this vision the men sent from Caesarea got to the house. While they are asking about Peter’s where a bouts the Spirit tells him to go down and meet them. He was told to go with them “without hesitation” because they were sent by God.
Peter goes down to see what they want. He already knows from the Spirit that they want him to come with them but he wants to hear them say it.
The men tell Peter of Cornelius’ encounter with the angel. I think it is a little funny how they relate what they want from Peter. “Cornelius ‘was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say’” (verse 22). Peter’s probably thinking, “You are the ones seeking me. Why are you asking me what I have to say?” Was Peter’s mind running in the direction of preaching the gospel at that time or was he playing it by ear?
Peter, those sent to fetch him and some of the believers from Joppa set out the next day. I’m curious why they didn’t set out right away. The Spirit said to go with them without hesitation. Was he meaning “without fear” or “right now?” It must have been the first because the second didn’t happen. They stayed the night and got a fresh start in the morning. This was a LONG day’s journey and I guess Peter wanted to be well rested to make it.
During Peter and his companion’s journey Cornelius was busy too. He knew about how long it should take for the men to return with Peter. He had NO doubt that Peter would accompany them back to his home. So he rounded up his family and friends to wait for their return. He had no idea who Peter was or what he would say, but whatever it was it was he was certain it came from God.
I’m sure Peter was still pondering his vision and this journey all through the long walk. Did he discuss his vision with his companions or keep it to himself? If it wasn’t for the Spirit’s instructions would he even have considered going with these men? They were Gentiles and considered unclean by Jewish standards. Did Peter make that connection to his vision yet?
Cornelius was so in awe of Peter that he bowed down and worshiped him as soon as they arrived. Cornelius must have thought he was some holy man if the angel of the Lord had sent for him personally. But Peter will have none of it. “Stand up; I too am a man” (verse 26).
By now the correlation between Peter’s vision and his present circumstances has become clear. These people are not unclean because God Himself has made them clean. “I ask then why you sent for me” (verse 29).
Cornelius himself shares the story of the angel and the instructions he received. Peter heard a condensed version of this story when the men asked him to accompany them. This time though Peter is told exactly what Cornelius, and God, is looking for from him. “Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (verse 33).
Peter finally recognizes the amazing truth of his vision. God not only wants him to stand in the presence of these people but to offer them the truth of the gospel, just like he has been doing for the Jews. We will get into Peter’s words to them in our next meeting. We will also get into the foundation of Peter’s vision in regards to salvation through grace instead of through works, but that part will wait another day or so. We want to give each part our full attention.
Father God, thank You for making me clean. Thank You for opening a way for me to receive forgiveness and eternal life too. Thank You for including me in Your plan. This was Your plan all along. You just needed to take Your men along one step at a time. They would have balked at the very idea if You had gone there right out of the gate. You knew what it took to get them where You wanted them.
You do that same gradual shift with me. You let me walk at my own pace and direction for a while but You always bring me around to where You were intending for us to go from the beginning. Sometimes You have to bring me full circle before I’m ready to step onto the path You designed for me. Thanks for not giving up on me, even when I don’t understand what You are trying to tell me for a while.
While reading Your story I kept thinking about how both groups were waiting to see what the other wanted. Those sent by Cornelius: “Cornelius ‘was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’” Peter: “I ask then why you sent for me.” Cornelius: “Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” It reminded me of a phone call where you pick up the line and someone is already on the other end. Both of you are wondering what the other wants. “I didn’t call you, you called me. What do you want?” But with these two men it wasn’t they who held the answer to their seeking but You. YOU knew why You had brought them together. I LOVE how You do that! Bring people together who don’t even know they hold what the other needs until they recognize where their pieces fit. A little like “I have a roller skate but can’t use it because it’s too bit” and “I found this skate key. I wonder what I should do with it?” Neither is complete without the other and what the other brings to the table.
The same is true for the church. Neither half, Jew or Gentile, is complete without the other. BOTH bring something special to the table and both are best when they are together. Thank You for that new understanding too. Just like You to bring me full circle and use something that was in the back of my mind all along. Like Peter’s belly got him thinking, my laughter got me thinking. Thanks God. I appreciate the irony.