About the Journey 10 - from Kerry

About the Journey  - Acts 10:1-48 - from Kerry Flemington

In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o'clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.
Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel.
And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.”
As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.
The next day as Cornelius's messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”
“No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”
But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.
Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon's house. Standing outside the gate, they asked if a man named Simon Peter was staying there.
Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don't worry, for I have sent them.”
So Peter went down and said, “I'm the man you are looking for. Why have you come?”
They said, “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.” So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.
They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I'm a human being just like you!” So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.
Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”
Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o'clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. He told me, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.' So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”
Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”
Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.
Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

Here we are again with our friend Peter.  Peter reminds me over and over again that God never gives up on us.  And as he transforms us, he brings us deeper and farther into his purposes for our lives, building on the past experiences that he has brought us through.  God wastes nothing.
Peter promises to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth, three times.  Peter denies knowing Jesus, three times.  Jesus, on that beach, calls and reassures Peter that he has a purpose for Peter in spite Peter's denial, three times.  After setting a firm foundation for Peter using all of his abilities and blunders, God sends Peter out to do his work.  Peter, emboldened by both the grace he's received and the truth that he finally understands, fully embraces spreading the word unrelentlessly amongst the Jewish people.  
And then this odd encounter.  A hungry Peter falls into a trance and has a strange dream about all the things Jews aren't allowed to eat. God uses this to illuminate one more thing about what Christ's death means: having completed one final sacrifice of Christ on the cross, not only is humankind reconciled to their Maker but there is no longer a divide between what is clean and unclean.  All of it is God's domain.  And Peter dreams it not once, not twice, but…three times.`
As a side note, I love God's sense of humour and attention to detail.  Peter had been living out his faithfulness already and most likely, one time would have been enough for Peter to recognize what was going on and who was behind it.  But God has a new thing for him to do and so with a wink and a smile, knowing old habits die hard, he gives Peter the vision three times.  Essentially, he meets Peter where he's at, fully acknowledging the human condition and our propensity to mess things up even when we're working from a place of best intentions.  It's as if he's saying to Peter, “It's me, Peter.  And just so you know for sure it's me, I'll do it three times for old times sake”.
What happens next shows the profound depth of Peter's faith and is a picture for us on what to do next even when things don't make sense.  I imagine when those guys showed up looking for him, Peter didn't draw a direct correlation between his thrice strange dream and going with these men.  But, he did know God was up to something and that he was utterly trustworthy.  So he goes with them. And there, standing there on the threshold of the Roman officer's doorstep, it struck him - nothing and no one is unclean.  Christ's death was not just for the Jew but for all of humanity.  As such, just as the curtain had been torn allowing us full entry into God's presence, so had the divide between Jew and Gentile.  All people are created in the image of God and therefore God wants to be reconciled with all people.
This encounter with God, then illuminated on that threshold, is why you and I, as non-Jews know the story of God's love for us.  And think of who God used to make this known: a stubborn, brash Jew with a history of making some big mistakes and a God-fearing Roman who was part of an awful political system that oppressed Jews.  This knowledge fills me with hope that nothing is wasted, nothing is lost, nothing is impossible with God.  He is at work, constantly and consistently, using us and shaping us to be used by him in his unrelenting desire to reconcile all people back to him.

~ you can connect directly with Kerry at kerry@arnuthill.com

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