It's hard to appreciate what we all take for granted. When was the last time you thanked God for your Australian citizenship? So little regard that we threaten citizens with a fine if they don't vote but if you lived in a refugee camp on an endless waiting list you will treasure that citizenship when you finally get it. I was talking to a newly arrived Afghanistan man at Westmead hospital on Sunday, he was visiting his sick mother, he was so thankful for our medical system, so thankful for Australia allowing him to come here, he was an interpreter for US forces and 6 others didn’t make it.
Today God wants you to appreciate a precious truth - That God accepts people from all nations. It cuts through every temptation to racism. In this section of Acts, Peter is slammed for going to a non-Jewish house and eating with them. What's the big deal!
In Chapter 11 Peter is retracing the events that led him to have fellowship with Cornelius–a God fearing non-Jew–who he led to Christ.
It's hard for us to appreciate because for the last 2000 years the church has been in the hands of non-Jews. But at the beginning of the church, the vast majority of Christians were Jews. As yet the apostles haven't been confronted with non-Jews coming to Christ. They are trying to catch up with what God is doing. This is one of the biggest jumps the apostles will ever have to make.
Like last week we have 2 visions given to 2 people to make 1 point. God will show the church he has no favourites. Two visions from two angels which confirming that what has happened is real.
…‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ ~Acts 11:9 (NIV)
Peter is in a coastal town called Joppa, he has just raised a woman from the dead and as he is praying and waiting for lunch to be prepared he falls into a deep trance on the roof of the house. In the vision a sheet appears and is lowered, in it are the very animals that God declared as unclean in the Old Testament, they were off-limits to any Jew who wanted to take God seriously. In the vision, God surprisingly says to Peter... Kill and eat! Peter is still a good Jew and resists.
“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ ~Acts 11:8 (NIV)
Peter was committed to the Law even in his subconscious. No rasher of bacon, no lobster mornay has ever touched his lips. But it is God who sets the terms for worship and the terms have changed. With the coming of Jesus, all food is clean. It so goes against Peters grain so that he won't do it. Remember, all his life eating pork was a sin. God is moving him on to New Covenant freedom and he is reluctant to catch the freedom.
“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ ~Acts 11:9 (NIV)
There is nothing more arrogant than saying something is wrong when God says it's right. It's what religion is all about, thinking you can be more holy than God, claiming you know better than God. Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. Consider every major world religion, they are still calling clean - unclean. Muslims and Jews refuse to eat pork, Hindus and many Buddhists refuse to eat meat. Jesus was already clear on this, it’s not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean it’s what comes out of your heart.
Master chef owes its existence to Jesus declaring all food clean and don’t we enjoy our freedom, remember our International luncheons pre COVID, food from the Pacific Islands, China, SE Asia, Philippines, Africa, Middle East, Mediterranean, South American - I think Crocodile made it on the menu once (it tasted like Chicken).
We take for granted the celebration of our freedom in Christ. It is the height of arrogance to tell God how he is to be worshipped. I love to tell the story of my wife’s 30th birthday present, I gave Sandy a very big expensive red wheelbarrow, you may laugh - only because you don't know my wife. Now we live in a 2 bedroom unit and it would be a lousy gift.
God was now declaring that all food is clean for all time. You can't be wiser than God. Remember when Jesus said he must suffer and be killed and peter rebukes him Jesus? Jesus rebukes Peter, “you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” We do not tell him how he is to be worshipped, he tells us.
This vision points to something bigger than Christians being able to eat sweet and sour pork, just as there were no unclean animals so there were no unclean nations. So, God gives a vision to a man, who was once off-limits to a Jew.
“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.’ ~Acts 11:11-14 (NIV)
Cornelius was the man who had the vision and sent for Peter. He served in the Roman Army as a centurion with 100 men under his command. Cornelius was a devout God-fearer, he would have been viewed as unclean not because he was a soldier but because he was an Italian, a non-Jew. In the midst of one of his many prayers, he receives a vision. Both Peter and Cornelius are given visions, like a chess player God is moving the pieces. In a vision to Cornelius, he knows to send for Peter, and in another vision, to Peter he knows to go to Cornelius. If eating unclean food was almost impossible for Peter, eating with unclean Non-Jews was impossible.
Peter arrives at Cornelius house with 6 others, each serving as witnesses to this big next step in God's plan. This is probably the first time Peter has entered into a Gentile's home. Cornelius and his family were so excited because Peter will bring a message through which he and his household will be saved. Notice Cornelius invited everyone he knew because he wanted his loved ones to be saved, Peter found a large gathering of people. I see that each time we run Explaining Christianity, people invite their loved ones. Notice how Cornelius responds to meeting Peter
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.” ~Acts 10:25-26 (NIV)
This will happen again in Acts, humans confusing the message with the messenger and Peter will not allow it. He is there for them to worship Jesus, not him. It's so easy to miss the point, notice his first point
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. ~Acts 10:34 (NIV)
Have you ever thought as you read the gospels that if you invited Peter to your house for a meal he would say 'No'! If you were one of the 5,000 you would have been fed but kept separate from the rest. Even after Pentecost, there was no way you could visit Peter in his home. Only now does he realize that God accepts from every nation the one who fears him. We may want to say to Peter ‘What took you so long?’
God is now redefining his terms, better said that God is fulfilling his promises to Ab to bless the world. The shift from Old Covenant to New Covenant is now taking place, God does not show favouritism, His holy nation will be a holy people, now from every language and tribe. The reason this takes place is not some government policy on tolerance and inclusion where some fear of being called a racist. It's tied to who Christ is.
So, Peter brings Cornelius up to date with God's plan. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ who is Lord over all, He was anointed by the Spirit, empowered with signs and wonders, went around doing good, casting out demons, killed by men on a tree, raised to life by God, seen by God chosen witnesses who preached. God appointed Jesus as Judge of the living and dead.
The message from the Old Testament prophet and New Testament apostles is the same. "everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” God has no favourites. "God so loved the world that whoever believes..." and yes, that even includes the Italians. Since I'm 52% Southern Italian and Malta lies 100 km off the coast of Sicily that particularly warms my heart. To confirm this final step, God pours out his Spirit among these Italians.
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. .. 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?” ~Acts 11:15,17 (NIV)
What God did for Jews at Pentecost He has now done for these Romans at Caesarea. The point here is not that we ought to expect a vision before we share Christ or that every new Christian should break into tongues, the point is that the ground has been cleared, God has no favourites! The Gospel is for all nations, forgiveness is for those who repent, don’t take this for granted.
At MBM we get to have front row seats on this amazing plan of God. We started as the Maltese Bible Ministry 30 years ago and within 2 years we had more Assyrians. Then came other Mediterranean’s and Middle Easterners, then Chinese, S E. Asians, Indians and Sri Lankans, Africans and South Americans as well as Indigenous and 2nd, 3rd ,4th, 5th generation Aussies.
In hindsight, I would not have started with a single ethnic focus. At MBM we are now convinced that each new campus is multi-ethnic unless there is a need for specific language ministry such as Arabic Soul Salvation. We don't want the world to miss out on the wonder that salvation is for all who believe. Our fellowship at MBM is a reminder that God has kept his promise to Ab to bless the nations. Each gathering of MBM is a picture of the age to come where people from every nation is gathered around the throne. So, lets gather next week and each Sunday and show the world that Christ is Lord of all nations where people from warring nations are no longer at war.
Early on at MBM we had a Greek and a Turk co-leading a Bible study. They loved to say ‘The only thing we fight over is who came up with the kebab.’ That truth must be worked out on every angle, race, class, style.
I remember preaching on the book of James on how God does not show favouritism, one man came up to me and said ‘Ray I was really convicted by the sermon today’ ‘Why is that Joe?’ ‘Frank Spiteri asked me to ride with them today and I said ‘yes’ ‘I don’t understand?’ ‘Ray, a Harley rider never rides with Japanese bikes.’ Joe had rightly understood that we define ourselves in terms of Christ not cultural preferences and style. Don’t take for granted that God grants even the Gentiles repentance that leads to life.
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 11:18 (NIV)
Once the disciples heard Peter story they went from anger to praise the Lord. God shows no favouritism for those who fear him and repent.
A response is required. Can I urge you whoever you are wherever you come from and whatever you have done. Turn from your sins and turn to Jesus who is Lord of all. Jesus is Judge of all but he is only Saviour to all who trust him.
Only in him is full forgiveness found. May God show no favouritism and accept any who come to him. Let's make sure we never take this truth for granted. Let us praise the Lord Jesus for we are citizens of heaven.