Wednesday, February 20

Clean

10:1There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God. About three in the afternoon he distinctly saw in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, “Cornelius.”

Staring at him in awe, he said, “What is it, Lord?”

The angel told him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have ascended as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

When the angel who spoke to him had gone, he called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, who was one of those who attended him. After explaining everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

The next day, as they were traveling and nearing the city, Peter went up to pray on the roof about noon. 10 He became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. 12 In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. 13 A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”

14 “No, Lord!” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything impure and ritually unclean.”

15 Again, a second time, the voice said to him, “What God has made clean, do not call impure.” 16 This happened three times, and suddenly the object was taken up into heaven.

17 While Peter was deeply perplexed about what the vision he had seen might mean, right away the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions to Simon’s house, stood at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon, who was also named Peter, was lodging there.

19 While Peter was thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him, “Three men are here looking for you. 20 Get up, go downstairs, and go with them with no doubts at all, because I have sent them.”

21 Then Peter went down to the men and said, “Here I am, the one you’re looking for. What is the reason you’re here?”

22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who has a good reputation with the whole Jewish nation, was divinely directed by a holy angel to call you to his house and to hear a message from you.” 23 Peter then invited them in and gave them lodging.

The next day he got up and set out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went with him. 24 The following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him.

26 But Peter lifted him up and said, “Stand up. I myself am also a man.”27 While talking with him, he went in and found a large gathering of people. 28 Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner, but God has shown me that I must not call any person impure or unclean. 29 That’s why I came without any objection when I was sent for. So may I ask why you sent for me?”

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, at three in the afternoon, I was praying in my house. Just then a man in dazzling clothing stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your acts of charity have been remembered in God’s sight. 32 Therefore send someone to Joppa and invite Simon here, who is also named Peter. He is lodging in Simon the tanner’s house by the sea.’ 33 So I immediately sent for you, and it was good of you to come. So now we are all in the presence of God to hear everything you have been commanded by the Lord.”

34 Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 You know the events that took place throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil, because God was with him. 39 We ourselves are witnesses of everything he did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, and yet they killed him by hanging him on a tree.40 God raised up this man on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us whom God appointed as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.”

10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues and declaring the greatness of God.

Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days.


11:1 The apostles and the brothers and sisters who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him,saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Peter began to explain to them step by step: “I was in the town of Joppa praying, and I saw, in a trance, an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it came to me. When I looked closely and considered it, I saw the four-footed animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. I also heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’

“‘No, Lord!’ I said. ‘For nothing impure or ritually unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a voice answered from heaven a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call impure.’

10 “Now this happened three times, and everything was drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to accompany them with no doubts at all. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we went into the man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 14 He will speak a message to you by which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning. 16 I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’17 If, then, God gave them the same gift that he also gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?”

18 When they heard this they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.”

Act 10:1 - 11:18 (CSB)

That reading was long. And repetitive. Here’s a handy hint for Bible reading, though: if the Bible repeats itself, it’s probably important.

The first thing Luke keeps repeating is that Peter is in Joppa. Who cares?! I don’t even know where Joppa is. Regardless of its location on a map, Joppa is relevant to the story because there is another well-known preacher from Joppa, a prophet to whom God appeared and whom God commissioned to preach repentance and salvation to Gentiles. His name was Jonah. We may not know Joppa, but we know Jonah, though we often stop short of the end of his story. After his great rescue, he fulfills his mission and the people repent…and Jonah pouts alone on a hillside, furious that God had shown mercy to Gentiles. Peter doesn’t repeat his predecessor’s mistakes. Not only does he go when called, he rejoices at the Gentile’s repentance, baptizes them, and stays with them.

Except, Peter shouldn’t have been there. Jews did not eat with Gentiles. Jews were to be a holy people, set apart from the nations around them, and the table was a place where that separation was quite marked: Jews only ate certain foods, and they only ate with each other. If you’ve ever made it through Leviticus, you know there are entire chapters devoted to what Jews could and could not eat, and it was a lot more than just pork. Peter’s vision of God telling him to kill and eat rocked his entire world. I’m a farmgirl who married a cattle rancher; my love for baking and steak is far more than habit or preference—it’s part my legacy and livelihood and identity. If someone told me I had to give up flour and red meat, I would literally feel like I was giving up part of myself.  Jewish food laws were even deeper than this. For Peter to eat unclean animals would have felt like abandoning the covenant relationship with his God.

God repeats the vision three times—the number of perfection in the Bible. Peter understands the dietary shift, but before he can grapple with the broader significance God sends him out to put it into practice by going to a Gentile’s house. Not just a Gentile—a Roman army officer. The occupying force. The enemy.

It would be easy to assume that the story of Peter and Cornelius is about the mission to the Gentiles and even ‘enemies,’ which is true, but the primary lesson is less about the mission and more about God. Peter’s first words to Cornelius were Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism. That’s a tough lesson for a Jew. They were God’s favorites. Peter also learns, though, that “although God does not discriminate by ethnic group or nationality, God does indeed single out.”

Abraham and his descendants were never God’s favorites, but they were chosen. Now, instead of DNA, God was choosing His people based on their faith in Jesus. Even with that theological lesson learned, Peter probably did not expect what happened next. As he began to speak the Spirit came upon the group of Gentiles, and it came with the unmistakable power of tongues. Speaking in tongues/languages is not a litmus test for whether or not someone is filled with the Spirit, but when God decides to do something drastically new, He makes sure it is unmistakably Him.

These Gentiles hadn’t even been baptized yet (which Peter is quick to do). More than that they hadn’t been circumcised. Peter is quickly piecing together that food laws are obsolete, ethnic divisions are obsolete, and now circumcision is…obsolete?!

Upon returning to Jerusalem, Peter faces pushback from a group that will keep popping up and causing problems throughout the New Testament: the circumcision party. They voice their objection to Peter eating with Gentiles, but the underlying problem is clear: they’re not circumcised, and Peter didn’t require that they be circumcised. Since Abraham, circumcision had been thee sign of the covenant between the Jewish people and their God. All males were circumcised at a week old, and anyone who wished to convert and join the covenant community had to be circumcised.

Peter walks them through what happened, though, step-by-step: his location at Joppa, his triple-vision, Cornelius’ vision, and finally the pièce de résistance, the Holy Spirit. Peter’s point is clear: if God saw fit to give His Holy Spirit to uncircumcised Gentiles, who was Peter or any human being to call them unclean or start imposing requirements? God’s presence cannot abide with the impure. That was the whole point of the Temple system. If God starts showing up in person and in power, it’s best not to think we know better.



Reflection

Have you ever declared unclean or impure what God has declared clean? Have you ever set standards or prerequisites for being a Christian (for others or yourself) that are not what God requires? What does God require?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you that there is nothing I need to do or can do to earn, qualify for, or deserve your salvation. It is a gift received by faith, and through that faith in Jesus’ sacrifice you declare me pure. Clean. Worthy. Help me accept that truth, and to never impose qualifications on others that you did not place on me. Thank You for Your grace to me, and may I be an agent of that grace to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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  • Listen and Worship.

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  • Retell the Gospel to Yourself.

  • Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.

  • Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.

  • Memorize a Verse.

  • List Five Things You're Thankful For.

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Megan NessonComment