When I was in high school, the adults who worked with our youth group (church staff and volunteers) shared their faith freely, and made a big impact on us younger disciples. Two of these wonderful people in my life encouraged my friends and me to read from the Acts of the Apostles regularly and continually. “Read a chapter of Acts each and every day”, I remember them saying. If you do the math or follow the suggestion, you will find out that you are repeating Acts as a part of your devotional reading roughly every month. As I followed their advice, for a while, I went from just getting the stories straight to starting to see things differently. So it went with chapter 10, and maybe even with Peter’s faith.
A first reading of chapter 10 has you wrestle with names of people and places: Simon called Peter, Cornelius, Caesarea, Simon the Tanner, Joppa, and the like. Then you start to appreciate some of the distinctions between Jews (the background of most of the earliest followers of Jesus) and Gentiles. You find yourself considering Jewish dietary practices that grew out of biblical laws and beliefs. And then, at least in my own journey in faith, there came a revelation about the vast expanse of God’s love and call.
You have to read the story, and understand the cultural and religious context to get the message.
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.
The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”
Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Acts 10:1-34
Good ole Peter, had started out arguing with God about how he would never break God’s laws and eat unclean things. (Peter was a strict student, a rule learner, and a rule follower.) And before the story was over, Peter had to admit that by focusing so much on the letter of the law and maybe not the spirit of the law, he had not only considered some of God’s creatures (what I call food) unclean, he had also lived his religious life treating many of God’s children as unclean too.
As I have read and re-read this and other parts of God’s Word in the Bible over the years since my high school days, I find that God continues to invite me to sometimes see myself and others in another way. I guess you can say that God is still speaking to those who take the time to read and listen.
God of my salvation, remind me of how You wish to speak to me so that my life will be filled with and directed by Your Word. Draw me into the story of how much You love and care for those whom You have made. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.