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Acts #35 (chapter 10:1-20)
The Book of Acts
The Salvation of the Gentiles, Part 1
Acts 10:1-20
As we closed our study of chapter 9 last week, we found Peter staying with a man named Simon, who was a tanner.  That doesn't seem to be that big of a deal until you realize tanners were considered to be unclean by the Jews.  They had to touch and handle dead animals and that was forbidden by Jewish law.
But what that indicates is that the Peter is making the transition from being a practicing Jew to being a liberated Christian.  Another major step in that process takes place in chapter 10 as God introduces Peter to a man named Cornelius. 
Now what Peter doesn't realize is that it is God's plan to recreate a brand new race of people called Christians where everyone will be equal.  They will come from every walk of life.  There will be Jews and Gentiles and male and female and red and yellow, black and white. 
Peter has never known or experienced anything like that!  He's always been a Jew.  Jews didn't associate with Gentiles and lepers and tanners and foreigners.  They were God's "chosen people".  They were above everyone else. 
So God's going to have to do some preparation work to get Peter to this place of accepting and loving everyone.  And that process has already begun. He's already been down to Samaria, which was major step.
He's staying in the house of Simon, the tanner, some believe for up to two years. So these prejudices are being melted down.  He is being remade into the image of Christ.
But there's still one primary barrier left and that is the barrier between the Jew and the Gentile.  And it has to come down because the design of God in the New Covenant is to take the two and make "one new man", as Paul said to the Ephesians.  
So in chapter 10, we read about the preparation that ultimately leads up to the confrontation that results in Gentiles being accepted in the church.
And it's an intriguing study because it reveals how God is at work on both sides of the issue.  By the way, there is great encouragement here for any of us who may have some relationship issues to deal with.  We need to always remember if God is burdening our heart about a situation, there's a very high probability He is at work in the other person also to bring them and you to the place of reconciliation. 
And the reason we are so hesitant and resistant to doing what God prompts us to do is because Satan convinces us it will only make things worse. But God is at work, not only in the life of Peter, but also in the life of Cornelius. 
We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the tension between the Jews and Gentiles was two-sided.  We are quick to be critical of the Jews, but the Gentiles had just as much animosity toward the Jews as the other way around. 
So God has to do some work on both sides and that's what we see here in this chapter.  The preparation centers on two people.  He prepares the Gentiles through Cornelius and then He prepares the Jews through Peter. Before they ever meet each other, He gives each one a special vision.  Then, once the two men meet, everything launches from there and by the time you hit chapter 11, the Gospel's gone to Antioch and Gentiles are getting saved. And by the chapter 13, the focus shifts to Paul and he's going full blast to the Gentiles.
But just as you would expect, a controversy arrives about whether or not God really intends for Gentiles to be saved, and an official decision is made by the Jerusalem Council in chapter 15, that they will accept them fully as those who belong to Jesus Christ.  And I'm really glad they did because I'm a Gentile!  But it all begins here in chapter 10. 
Let's see how it unfolds. And before we look at the particulars, let me just insert a comment.  When we study narrative passages like this, scripture that tell a story, we need to look closely to discover the principles that are at work.  It is from those principles  that we discover what God wants us to apply. 
So as we see what God does with Cornelius and Peter, we see an example of what God does with believers to spread the gospel.  In the story we have a messenger and we have a receiver.  And he is at work in both.  Then, just at the right moment, he brings them together.
The chapter begins with
1.  The Vision of Cornelius
verses 1-3
So here is this Gentile centurion who is doing everything right. He is well-respected in that he has charge of 100 soldiers. And he was a "devout man and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people and prayed to God always."
It's interesting to me to consider the election of God and the free will of man.  But here we have a perfect example of that in action.  No doubt, Cornelius is chosen by God, but at the same time, he is seeking God.  He is interested in spiritual things.  It is always that way.  I've never led anyone to the Lord who wasn't interested in God and the things of God. 
I don't know how God knows, but God always responds to the willing heart. God responds to the open heart. Election never violates choice. They always go together.
So here is this devout, honest, religious man who feared God.  That doesn't mean he was saved.  In fact, it doesn't even mean he was a Jewish proselyte.  It just means he was a Gentile who was empty on the inside and he knew worshipping idols wasn't he answer.  So he had probably started worshipping at the temple or a synagogue. He was a God-fearer.
And one day, while he was praying, God sends him a message through a vision.  All of a sudden, this angel appears and calls him by name.
verse 4
Isn't that amazing?  Cornelius is searching for God, desiring to know Him and all of a sudden God shows up with a personal message!  I hear all these people that want to make God look bad talk about all those people in the dark corners of the world who've never heard about Jesus and what about them? 
Don't worry about them!  If they want to know, God will get the message to them!  By the way, if you're so concerned about them, why don't you go tell them?   God knows the heart of every person HE created and Cornelius is an example of that.
And in verse 5, the angel gives him specific instructions.
verses 5-6
See how the process works? God not only chooses and calls the receiver and not only does He respond to the searching heart of the receiver, but God gives the receiver an invitation to respond. 
Now God could've said through this angel, "Cornelius, all you have to do is these steps. Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life or whatever?" And he could've gone walked Cornelius down the Roman Road of Salvation and led him to make a commitment of his life to Christ.  But, He didn't do that.
God always ties some act of obedience to the declaration of our faith.  It's more than just saying words.  He involves us acting on that faith.
That's why the Bible says, in Romans 10:9 and 10, we don't just believe in our heart, we must confess with our mouth, the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to be saved.  God wants some kind of act of obedience tied in with that salvation.
So He gives to Cornelius the opportunity to be obedient by telling him to send some messengers to get Peter.  And when Peter comes, he will tell what he needs to do. 
Why?  Why not just go himself?  A couple of reasons come to mind.  Remember, God is doing something in Peter's life also.  And maybe, God wants Peter to live by faith also.  After all, it would be a little disconcerting for a couple of Roman soldiers to show up at your door and say, "Come with us!"  So Peter's going to have to rely on faith also. 
Or maybe, Peter's going to the house of Cornelius is a part of breaking down those barriers and the Lord wants Peter to lead Cornelius to the Lord in his own house. 
Whatever dynamics are at work, Cornelius just does what he's told. 
verses 7-8
He sends the men and waits for the arrival of Peter.  Don't you know he must have been of pins and needles in the meantime?   But God is at work preparing the receiver for the gospel.
Meanwhile, down in Joppa, God is preparing the heart of Peter also.  And his preparation comes through a vision also.
2.  The Vision of Peter
verse 9
Not only does God choose the receiver, God chooses the messenger also.  And for this particular task, he selects Peter.  So Peter goes up to pray, and while he's praying, he gets hungry.  That's kind of encouraging, isn't it? 
Do you ever get distracted while you're praying?  So did Peter!  In fact, it is the distraction that God uses to speak to him.
verses 10-12
Now keep in mind, when it came to being a faithful Jew, God laid down some absolutes when it came to food.  In particular he dealt with what was clean and unclean.  Much of that was determined by whether or not the hooves were cloven or not and whether or not the animals chewed a cud.  And it was all spelled out in great detail.  You can read it for yourself in Leviticus 11. 
So all these dietary laws were given to Israel.  Some of that may have been practical, but for the most part it was simply to separate and differentiate the Jews from all other peoples.  And much more than the dietary concerns, it had to do with not associating with the Gentiles at their parties and banquets.  The Jews were separated unto God, and as such they were to be a holy people. 
And just in case you aren't sure about my reasoning, listen to Leviticus 20:25 
But like everything else, what God put in place as a protective measure became distorted and misunderstood and as a result, no self-respecting kosher Jew would ever eat anything but clean animals.  And that was Peter.  He never touched anything but the clean because that was the tradition.  So seeing this whole bag full of all these unclean animals was a terrible thing for him to have to look at.  It was like a nightmare!  But it's about to get worse!
verse 13
That must have been hard to swallow!
verses 14-16
Just to illustrate how heard a message that was to receive, God told him three times, then the sheet and animals disappeared.
So what did this vision mean? I think there is a spiritual meaning and a practical meaning. 
First, on the practical side, I think God was telling Peter the Old Testament Jewish dietary laws have been abolished.  That would make sense in light of the gospel because, as we read a moment ago, those laws were designed to separate the Jews from the Gentiles while the Gospel is designed to bring them together.
And this social line of demarcation had to be removed for them to come together. They were going to have to learn to socialize around the tables and enjoy a ham dinner together, because they were now one.
By the way, that is a continual problem in the early church as we will see with Peter and Paul later in the book of Acts.  The 14th chapter of Romans was written to deal specifically with this issue.  So one of the things that comes out of this vision is that those Old Testament dietary laws have been abolished.
On the spiritual side, there is a message about the church and the clean and unclean animals represent Jews and Gentiles with the Jews being represented by the clean animals and the Gentiles by the unclean.
And what God is telling Peter is that everybody's going to be mixed up together in the church.  Now watch how that is illustrated:  The sheet is the church.  The church originated in heaven.  It came down to earth in Christ.  Both Jews and Gentiles are a part of it.  And when the vision was ended, the sheet was raptured back to God. 
Now here's the point God wants to make to Peter.  If this church of mixed up Jews and Gentiles who are made one in Christ are accepted by God in heaven, , then it needs to be accepted by you.  Therefore, Gentiles are to be accepted into the church.
And according to verse 17, it is at about that time that these two guys sent by Cornelius knock on the door and ask if Peter is at home.
verse 17-20
Have you ever considered the mathematical probability that those guys would leave Cornelius, travel to Joppa, knock on that door at the precise moment just after he got the vision? And at the same time, God is speaking to Peter to confirm their arrival and assure Him that He is at work.
Let me remind you, when God is at work to save a soul, he works to prepare the receiver, he works to prepare the messenger and He arranges the details even to managing the seconds on the clock. When you or I lead someone to the Lord, divine timing is involved.
That's how God operates. It's exciting to be a part of His plan, isn't it, and to know you're not running around like a chicken with his head cut off at random. You're moving along a planned path that God has that intersects with prepared receivers all through your life, if you're really available to Him. Perfect timing.
That's why, as verse 19 tells us, Peter could go, "doubting nothing".  God demanded a faith decision, not only by Cornelius, but by Peter also. And he demands the same from us. God has planned a meeting between Cornelius and Peter.  In fact, He is in the business of arranging those meetings.  May God help us to take advantage of them.   Well, and we'll look at the details of that meeting next time.
Let's pray.
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