E100 – May 14, 2017

“Good News For All” – Acts 10:1 – 11:18

Easter 5 – May 14, 2017


  1. Upside Down

Have you ever discovered that something you grew up believing to be true is actually not true at all? That something you considered undisputed reality was actually upside down, and that the opposite was, in fact, reality?

This is such a radical idea that I even had trouble thinking of examples of common knowledge things being turned upside down.

It would be like… after being told all our lives that milk is good for you, that the calcium in it is essential for bone health, you learn that milk is a deadly poison. That’s actually the title of a book by Robert Cohen.

It would be like… becoming convinced, after living all your life in a democratic country, that dictatorship – not democracy – is actually the best form of government. (This is not a commentary on our recent provincial election results!)

I can tell you of some real life examples, but they are from childhood. There was a day when you realized that Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were fictional. You were intentionally being told an untruth by your parents, so it was no fault of your own little 4 or 5 year old mind.

There are a couple of significant examples in history, discoveries of explorers. Everyone KNEW the earth was flat… until 1492 when Christopher Columbus sailed over the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean without falling over the edge, and returned to Spain eight months later with people and birds and plants from the new land he had discovered. That the earth was round turned the prevailing flat-earth belief upside down. Then just 50 years later, in 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus dismantled the earth-centered solar system belief, proclaiming that the sun was actually at the center of the solar system and that all the planets revolved around it. I mean, you wake up one day and your flat earth has become round. How unsettling! You wake up one day, and your geo-centric belief needs to become helio-centric, otherwise you are said to have your head in the sand.


  1. A Turning Point Bible Story

Today we come to a major turning point in our journey through the Big Story of the Bible. Now to give some context, we actually didn’t start at the beginning. We’re going to do that next month, turning back to the first book of the Bible – Genesis – and wending our way through the long story of God’s interaction with and relationship to the people He created. We’re going to see how He chose Abraham to be the patriarch of His chosen people Israel, and how their story is intricately woven into the story of God’s love and grace and salvation. But even in the last few months as we have dealt with the story of Jesus, and more recently with the story of the beginning of the church after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we have heard that it is a pretty exclusive story. When Jesus sent His disciples out for ministry He specifically said, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When He was approached by a Canaanite woman asking Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter, Jesus reiterated, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The message of the Kingdom of God seemed to be exclusively for those descendants of ancient Abraham. When Jesus was about to ascend back up into heaven, He told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem. A few days later, when people from many nations gathered in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost, and when they responded to Peter’s message and were baptized, the beginning of that story identifies them as God-fearing Jews. Despite their current country of origin, they were all of Israelite descent, a pretty select and narrow audience. In fact, the first third of the Book of Acts – the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Disciples – takes place right in and around Jerusalem. But in Acts 10, we discover that the message of salvation is not Jew-o-centric. Here’s what happened:


  1. No Longer What You Think

a.Cornelius’ Request

Caesarea was the military headquarters for the Roman occupation forces. It was situated on the Mediterranean coast, and technically part of Samaria – that territory that was avoided by good Jews because it was populated by people who had Gentile (i.e. non-Jewish) background. Actually, I stayed right at Caesarea and swam in the Mediterranean when I was on an archaeological dig 12 years ago. In that town lived a man named Cornelius who was a centurion – the commander of 100 soldiers. He had obviously rubbed shoulders with Jews often enough, for he was a God-fearing, God-praying man. One day – in the middle of the day – he had a vision in which an angel of God advised him to send men to Joppa and have a man called Simon Peter brought back to Caesarea to share a message from God. Joppa – known in our time as Tel Aviv – was 50 km. south along the Mediterranean coast.


b.Peter’s Vision

Around noon the next day, as the envoys were on their way, nearing Joppa, Peter the disciple was praying on the roof of his host’s house. In a hunger-induced stupor that was nonetheless inspired by God he also saw a vision. The vision was of a large sheet being let down from heaven to earth. On the sheet were all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. Then Peter heard a voice that told him to get up from his prayers, and kill and satisfy his hunger.

Now, here we need to offer an explanation. The entire chapter of Leviticus 11 is devoted to rules about clean and unclean animals, that is, animals that Jews can and can’t eat. There are some general principles like cloven-hoofed, cud-chewing… that’s OK. Fish with fins and scales… that’s OK. Things that swarm on the ground – like moles and rats and lizards – not OK. Then there were just some specific animals or birds that were unclean: camels, badgers, rabbits and pigs, vultures, falcons, ravens, hawks and owls. This is a distinction that Peter grew up with and something that he didn’t even have to think about as he considered the menu at a restaurant. His mind was hard-wired with an eat / don’t eat filter built right in.

So, when the voice told him to eat reptiles and birds, his response was swift: “No, no, no, no… I’ve never eaten unclean foods, and I’m not going to start now.” But the same vision, the same sheet of animals was repeated a couple more times, with a concluding comment: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” A three-fold repetition would have removed all doubt that this vision came from the Lord. (There was something about Peter and the number 3 – he wanted to put up 3 shelters at Jesus’ Transfiguration, he denied knowing Jesus 3 times, he was asked 3 times if he loved Jesus, and now 3 similar visions.)

So, while Peter was still trying to process what had happened and what it meant, the men from Cornelius – 3 of them – arrived, looking for a guy named Simon Peter. Peter was instructed by the Holy Spirit to go with them without hesitation or reservation. The next day they left for Caesarea.


c.Peter’s Conclusion

A day later they arrived at Cornelius’ house, where he had gathered some friends and relatives. Peter began with an odd self-introduction: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”

Oh, do you get that? Peter made the practical application of the three-fold vision to real life. It wasn’t just about foods that the Jews considered unclean, it was about people that Jews considered unclean. We’ll come back to that as we apply this to our lives, our situation.

Peter continued asking why they sent for him. Cornelius told the story of his own angelic vision, and then said, “Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” WOW!! A captive and spiritually hungry audience, ready to hang on every word Peter had to say. And here’s what he said.

He started with this realization and conclusion: “I now realize… that God… accepts men from every nation who fear Him…” That was his learning from the animals on the sheet vision.

But he went on to tell them about Jesus – oh, kind of like last Sunday when Philip told the Ethiopian man about Jesus. That was the essence of what those early believers had to say. The highlights of Peter’s message were: Jesus was baptized; He went about doing good and healing; the Jews killed him; God raised him from the dead; we saw Him alive. On the last day He will judge the living and the dead, and – here’s the punch line – “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” Short and sweet… oh, so sweet!! “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins!”

At the end of Acts 10, Cornelius and his household did believe, received the Holy Spirit, praised God and were baptized. Peter stayed for a few more days of teaching and rejoicing. As the story wraps up in Acts 11, Peter was called on to give an explanation of his actions to the believers in Jerusalem, who at first criticized him for speaking with and eating with Gentiles. The entire story concludes with this sentence, “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So, then God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’”

Peter’s conclusion became the conclusion of the entire community of believers… Something they had understood their whole lives long – the Jews were God’s chosen people and the only intended recipients of His salvation – had been turned upside down and was just not true anymore. The earth is round. The sun is at the center of the solar system. And the Son of God is at the center of salvation for both Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles are going to heaven, too, because they believe in Jesus!


  1. Heaven’s Doors… Barred or Open

Although the theory of Peter’s conclusion seems obvious to us today, the church has struggled with the practice of it, and still does. We must admit that, like the Jews had rules about clean and unclean food, sometimes we have put rules and regulations on who is clean and who is unclean, who is acceptable, who can be a part of the church, and by extension who can go to heaven. We may put socio-economic bars on the doors to heaven – you’ve got to be at least middle class, you’ve got to be able to give a certain amount of money, you’ve got to be dressed a certain way and not dressed another way before we’ll really let you in to our group. We may put racial bars on the doors to heaven – people who claim the name of Jesus have looked down their noses at people of colour, people who have an accent (unless it’s a German one, and then you’re OK), people they don’t know, people who have come from other countries and who eat different foods from us – not necessarily unclean foods, but different foods. We like to stick with our rules and regulations, even if they are not God’s rules and regulations. And we bar heaven’s doors, even though that’s not our responsibility… it belongs to God alone. The church is not an exclusive club meant for only one kind of people, for a select group of insiders. If and when we consider someone impure whom God has loved and forgiven in Christ and made pure, then we need to repent of that attitude and any corresponding prejudicial actions, and come to the realization, as Peter did, that God accepts people from every nation and every situation who fear Him. It is not our role to bar heaven’s doors to anyone, but to open the doors to everyone so that they can meet Jesus and be changed and forgiven by Him.

  1. Good News For All

The Good News today is that the Good News is for all.

Peter made that Good News short and sweet… oh, so sweet!! “Everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins!” That’s the good news for you! That’s the good news for EVERYONE!! Every one who believes – every man, woman or child, every rich person, every homeless person, every person in between, every black person, every Asian person, every white, brown or red person, every young, middle aged or old person… Every ONE who believes in Jesus receives His forgiveness. Heaven is open for all. Salvation is available for all. The Good News is for all.

What do we do with that? We keep the church as inclusive as God intended it to be. We celebrate the diversity of those God has called to believe in Jesus and to receive forgiveness of sins. We celebrate the gift of each person. And we use the last word on the story as our response and attitude: “When they heard this, they… praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted [all people] repentance unto life.’” Amen.


Post a comment