Today we are continuing our conversation into the Book of Acts, which is the embodying of the early church living out the commissioning of Jesus:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
In the text today, we see that Jesus is not simply the Messiah, but He is the Messiah to all. This reality in the book of Acts is intentionally being stretched to a greater and greater extreme: first, the lame beggar (Leviticus 21:18, the lame are unclean and may not approach), then Simon the Sorcerer (it is the heart that matters), then the Ethiopian (a foreigner), and Saul (the attacker). And now in chapters 10 and 1,1 the boundaries are really blown apart.
Before we get there, I want to talk about the Biblical theme of not judging others and its tie to exclusivity. Jesus spoke against it in the Sermon on the Mount, directly in Luke and in illustration in Matthew:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37-38)
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
We see the picture also drawn as Jesus shares the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
At this moment they were hearing this with perspective of internal only. If they only knew the bomb of the Great Commision, they would have really been blown away!
As we are called to all people, we are to make disciples, not make judgements. We are to welcome people we thought didn’t belong. This was not just a preference shift–this was a call for a full cultural shift.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
So: make disciples; don’t make judgements. I love how Paul puts it in Romans 10:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)
How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. Not–how beautiful are the feet of those who bring judgment!
Today in Acts 10 and 11 we see the embodying of the Good News–the Good News that there is nothing that can separate me, us, and them from the love of God.
Sometimes the ‘me’ is a challenge. Sometimes the ‘us’ is a challenge. Sometimes the them’ is a challenge. As we think about judgements, as we come to our text, the impact of being judgmental is brought to the surface–the impact on the judger. So we will start there.
How does habitual judgment of others impact a person?
But does that mean we shouldn’t make any judgments in life? Aren’t determinations in life important? Aren’t they necessary? It is time to move beyond the 101 question and into the complex. There are determinations in life that are important: I don’t feel safe here. I need to move on. I need to give this more time and energy. This is (or is not) my responsibility.
Think about life with judgment, determination, evaluation turned off. It’s actually scary. But at the same time, judgment can run out of control.
Where is the line where determination, evaluation, analysis, and/or judgment moves from being a healthy thing to being an unhealthy thing?
Throughout biblical history, the concept of clean and unclean was a constant theme. But with Jesus’ death, everything changed. There is no greater picture of this change then what happened as Jesus breathed His last breaths on the cross:
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (Matthew 27:50-52)
The separation from God was eliminated. While this is so beautiful, it can be marred by thinking that it is eliminated for some and not for others. This bring us to the text today:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 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!” 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. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 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. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
About noon the following 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 the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
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. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
“Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 10:1-11:18)
Before we talk about this, feel the weight of these things. Peter’s responses to God show that even though he had been following Jesus, he wasn’t perfect. That gives me a lot of hope, that even in my lack of perfection, God is ready to partner with me and is interested in working together. While Peter was in a New Covenant relationship with God, he was living under the weight of the Old Covenant. He carried personal pride and judgment of others. He was not alone in this.
The togetherness/unity here is great–both Peter and Cornelius had to be listening to and following what God was saying; if one or the other decided they didn’t want to, it would only be halfway. God is interested in the connection between people in the body of Christ, that we would be working together.
Cornelius sought God while being a perceived outsider. He prayed, worshiped, and served others. We don’t need to emulate anyone from scripture other than Jesus, but I absolutely want to seek God in deeper ways, to pursue more relational moments with Him, to know Him more, to understand Him more, to grow through connection to Him.
Until Peter had the vision of the clean and unclean foods, he saw Cornelius as an outsider. He excluded him from the work Jesus was doing. When Peter saw and followed what God was doing, when he built connections with Cornelius and relationships with the Greek people, his judgment decreased. Through that relationship, Cornelius could belong. It’s easy to see others as outsiders when we don’t build community with them. Cornelius sought God as an outsider, but he was meant to belong.
The Jewish followers of Jesus were angry that Peter had crossed over into a relationship with the Gentiles. They knew God was working with the Gentiles to some degree, but none of them probably thought that He was bringing them into full unity with the Jews–same Spirit, same baptism, no second-rate people. All are in.
Here is a moment for empathy. Here is a large set of questions:
What challenges and changes were Peter, Cornelius, and the Jewish authorities facing?
What do you think it was like for Peter to go to a Gentile’s home? What do you think he felt? What do you think had to change in him as he went? What long-term challenges had to be surfacing in him?
What do you think it was like to be Cornelius at this moment? What do you think he felt? What do you think had to change in him as he started interacting with Peter? What long-term challenges had to be surfacing in him?
What do you think it was like for the Jewish believers in this moment? What do you think they felt? What do you think had to change in them as they heard Peter’s story? What long-term challenges had to be surfacing in them?
Paul's words that nothing can separate us from the love of God were so much more than a catchy idea:
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. (Romans 8:31-35 MSG)
The Good News: nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.
We end today with a complex question:
What obstacles surface as we process in our culture that nothing can separate us from the love of God? How does this Good News, that nothing separates us from the love of God, impact your view of others?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read Acts 10.
- Is there a food that you refused to eat as a child that you enjoy now? What changed?
- What would a modern context of this story look like?
- What do people in “the church” often see as separating them from the love of God?
- What do people outside of “the church” often see as separating them from the love of God?
- What has to change in order to see these obstacles removed?
- How does the removal of obstacles to be loved by God encourage you and make you feel uncomfortable?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Deuteronomy 19
- Deuteronomy 20
- Deuteronomy 21
- Acts 25
- Acts 26
- Acts 27