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Sunday, August 4, 2013

How Many Times Does It Take?

In looking at Acts 10, we must see what happened in chapter 9. In chapter 9, Saul arrived in Jerusalem for the first time as a follower of Jesus Christ. Prior to this time, he was known in Jerusalem as a persecutor of followers of the Way. In Acts 9, we see him arrive in Jerusalem, be feared by the Jesus believers, be taken in by Barnabas, and be led into the circle of disciples by Barnabas. After his introduction to the disciples, Saul stayed with Peter (Petros means “stone or rock”) for 15 days.
During his stay with Peter and his wife, Saul and Peter became acquainted with each other. This may not have seemed like a big deal to us, but for that time, it was a big deal. Saul had been a Pharisee/Rabbi/persecutor of Christians. Prior to arriving in Jerusalem this time, he had only been seen as a follower of Jesus in Damascus and the Jews there wanted to kill him. Peter had been a fisherman before Jesus called him to follow Him and trained Peter to be one of His disciples. Peter, though a Jew, did not have the extensive Jewish rabbinical training of Saul. Peter, like other Jews who became followers of Jesus, still kept a kosher home. At that time in history, Jesus followers were considered a sect of Judaism. Saul came to Jerusalem specifically to see Peter and get to know the man upon whom Jesus said He would build His church (“Upon this rock I will build my church.” Matthew 16:18). Saul wanted to meet the person who walked with Jesus. He wanted to learn what Jesus taught to Peter first-hand. Peter needed to learn from Saul about reaching the Gentiles. This man, Saul, who was immersed in Judaism, was reaching out to the unclean and outcasts though he had been trained not to associate with them.
From here, we begin in Acts 10. This chapter opens with a God-believing Roman centurion praying to God. During his prayers, and angel is sent from God who commends Cornelius’ heart seen through his benevolence and devotion to Yahweh, the God of the Jews. For Cornelius to become a God-follower, he would have seen the work of Yahweh God in the lives and history of the children of Israel. He would have chosen of his own volition to believe in Yahweh and to dedicate himself to following what he had seen the faithful Jews do in their lives. He could not have become a Jew, though, since his mother was not a Jew. He is even noted by Peter in Acts 10:28 as being a person with whom a legal Jew could not associate. The question then arises, how did Peter come to be in Cornelius’ house and among the “unclean?”
Cornelius, during his prayers, heard from the angel to go to Joppa and find a man named Simon called Peter and ask him to come to you. Cornelius sent some servants who walked for 61 km from Caesarea to Joppa to find Simon Peter. They arrived at the house of Simon the Tanner about the time Peter was finishing his prayer time with Yahweh. Peter’s prayer time on that day brought a vision from God. In the vision, which God gave Peter, three times animals of all kinds were lowered on a cloth from above and God told Peter to kill and eat them. Peter said. "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean" (10:14, NASB). God told Peter, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy" (10:15). This is the second time that Peter has been confronted with being with “unclean” people or eating “unclean” food. It is at the point that God raises the sheet back to heaven in Peter’s vision that Cornelius’ men arrive asking for Peter. Do you think Peter has learned from God yet? Let us find out.
The next day, Peter, his fellow Jewish Christians, including an attendant, and Cornelius’ servants, arrive back in Caesarea at Cornelius’ house. Immediately when Cornelius sees Peter, he falls on his feet and bows to Peter. Peter tells Cornelius to get up for he is just a man also. Do you think now that Peter understood the lesson from God, which He first began teaching him through Saul and continued teaching him with the vision?
 After Peter asks Cornelius for what reason he was sent for and Cornelius explains his visit by the angel from God, Peter begins to recount the Gospel, the message about Jesus Christ, to Cornelius and all who are in his house. Upon hearing of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Cornelius and everyone in his house were touched by the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. All the Jewish Christians who traveled with Peter along with Peter, himself, see firsthand that Jesus Christ came for the Jews and the Gentiles. Peter then states, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” (vs. 47) Now, we know for sure that Peter understands fully the lesson God was teaching him.
God’s salvation is for everyone, Jew and Gentile. Saul fully realized this when the disciples in Jerusalem sent him back to Tarsus to preach the Gospel. Tarsus was outside the Promised Land. Tarsus was home to Saul. In Paul’s (Saul prior to Acts 13:9) second letter to the Corinthians, he speaks to them about being the aroma of Christ to the living and the dying so that all may know of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:15) He is making no distinction that they are to be an aroma of Christ for the Jews. In fact, Paul goes so far to say in his letter to the Galatians,
you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 2:26-28, NASB)
Before we accept Christ as our Savior, we are all sinners; that is our only distinction. After we accept Christ, we are all children of God. There is no other distinction necessary.
            Paul does not stop at just making a distinction between saved and unsaved. He teaches to everyone he encounters and who follows Jesus, that we are each to be ambassadors for Christ, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NASB) Paul says this of all who are followers of Christ. Paul uses a term that was used by Malachi in chapter 2 verse 7, when Malachi says, “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” An ambassador is a messenger. In regards to Jesus, we are to be messengers of His and tell others of His love expressed by Jesus’ death for sin so all can be forgiven.
            Nowhere in Paul’s writings does he say that the Gospel message of the love of God through Christ’s death and resurrection is only for the Israelites. On the contrary, Paul goes so far as to say that all those who believe on Him (Jesus) shall be called children of God (Galatians 3:26). Paul also says in Romans 8:14-16,
those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ""Abba," Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.
We are not Jew and Gentile, clean and unclean. God made each of us. Nothing that God made is unclean. It is for us, God’s creation, that God sent His Son, Jesus to die so that we can all become children of God, so we can return to God and be in a loving relationship with Him. Jesus did not command the disciples in Matthew 28 to go only to Judea. He told them, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
            Peter learned the lesson God was teaching him in the vision. He taught it to Peter three times in three different ways-with Saul, the vision, and with Cornelius-but he learned it. Saul/Paul learned it when he was sent to non-Jewish countries. Our question is did we learn the lesson. It took three lessons for Peter to learn. Other things he learned quicker. Sometimes it takes us more than one lesson to learn something. Why is that? Maybe we are stubborn and think we know the right way. Maybe we think of “those” people as beneath us or too dirty, too different, or not my problem. Maybe we are afraid. I know there are lessons I have had to go through a couple of times to learn them. What is creating the wall to your learning what God is trying to teach you? God did not send Jesus for some of us. Jesus died on the cross for all of humanity, all of God’s creation. Is it not time for us to get to the point where Peter found himself? “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" (Acts 10:47).
We are not the one who decides for whom Jesus died; that was decided from the foundation of the world. We are only to become that sweet aroma so that those who are without Christ and salvation can know Him. We should reflect the glory of the Lord from our time with God just as Moses did from his time on the mountain. What is stopping your from learning God’s lesson and becoming the light that goes to the nations proclaiming His love and salvation for ALL humankind?
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing: to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17, NASB)