The Day The Church's Borders Fell
By Eli Stutzman
November 1, 2008
One of the most fascinating stories I cherish begins in Acts 10. The apostle Peter was in Joppa visiting and ministering in the churches. Joppa is today a part of Tel Aviv, the capitol of Israel. Jerusalem lies southeast about forty miles and Caesarea is about thirty-five miles north from Joppa. Travel was mostly on foot and people often traveled in small groups for safety.
Israel was under Roman occupation at the time. This means foreign troops were in charge of the country and did all governing and police type of work. Chapter 10 opens with the story of Cornelius who was a Roman centurion. A centurion would have charge of a hundred Roman soldiers. Cornelius was a deeply religious man and was a man of prayer. But he was an outsider to the Jewish and Christian world of that time. He dressed differently and was not circumcised. He was a Gentile, the name used for anyone who was not like us.
It was about noon and Peter was looking forward to having lunch with Simon, the tanner. While waiting for lunch to be prepared, he went up on the roof to pray. While praying, he went into a trance and had a vision of a great sheet with all types of animals, birds and creeping things. The voice told Peter to get up, have your choice of animal for meat and eat. The problem was all the animals were not permitted under Jewish law as meat type animals. This repeated three times and Peter each time said "No thanks, I don't eat unclean meat". And the reply each time was "What God has cleaned, don't call unclean". When I was young, I used to think this was about eating meat. But it is about what happened next. See Acts 10:28.
And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (Acts 10:28)
While Peter was still thinking about what had happened, three men were at the gate looking for him. Verse 19 tells us that the Holy Spirit told him to go with them. The meaning of the vision was becoming apparent. God was calling Gentiles into His church! Up to now, the church was made up of entirely Jewish believers. This would not go over well with those who had never crossed a Jewish law. The man whom Peter was called to meet with was from Rome, 1,000 miles west of there. He wore different clothes, shaved his beard, spoke Italian (maybe also Aramaic) and was not circumcised. Besides all this, he was an occupying policeman! How could those believers accept a man of such different background? Would the other believers call him a brother on Sunday morning at church? Nevertheless, Peter went and preached one of the shortest sermons ever recorded. I guess sometimes we need long sermons and sometimes a short sermon will do it.
Peter got there and heard the story from Cornelius's side. Cornelius said he had been praying when an angel appeared and said to send for Peter. See Acts 10:32.
Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. (Acts 10:32)
Now Peter began his famous sermon in verses 34 to 43. Ten verses and then Heaven came down! The Holy Spirit fell just as it did during Pentecost! It became very noisy immediately. The Jewish believers were astonished that God was touching people they had considered unclean.
Marvelous as this story is, yet I often wondered why the angel didn't simply tell Cornelius what Peter preached later. It seems apparent that the job of spreading the good news of the gospel is given to us people and not to angels. What an awesome privilege and responsibility! Who do you consider unclean that God has called clean?
May God send someone across your path and mine to challenge our thinking.
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