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Acts 10:1-10:23a
Key Verse: 10:13

In the previous passage when Peter raised the dead, that seemed to be the peak of Peter’s life. It could be so in terms of power. Today’s passage deals with another side of Peter. God shows his vision to Peter to enlarge Peter’s heart for the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. God also prepares a Gentile, Cornelius to be the first recipient of the gospel. In this study we can think of God’s heart for all people of the world and his way of working.

First, Cornelius’ obedience (1-8). Look at verse 10. “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.” In the gospel there are two beautiful stories of centurions. One was greatly admired by Jesus for his faith in Jesus’ word (Lk 7:1-10). Another centurion was changed by looking at Jesus on the cross. To his eye Jesus who was dying on the cross was a righteous man, the Son of God and he praised God (Lk 23:47). Here in Acts Luke introduces the third centurion, Cornelius. Cornelius was stationed at Caesarea, a garrison city named after Augustus Caesar, the administrative capital of the province of Judea,. |The city boasted a splendid harbor built by Herod the Great. “Regiment” translates usually “cohort”, which consisted of six “centuries” (100 men), each under the command of a “centurion”. Ten cohorts made up a legion. So a centurion corresponded approximately to a “captain” or “company commander” in our day.

What is written about Cornelius? Look at verse 2. “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” It is not about his courage and his career as a valiant solider. Usually, solders don’t care anyone, not to mention fearing God. Also, it is not easy for them to have a good family life, going out for fight or for draft whenever called and moving here and there for their stationing. But Cornelius was God-fearing and also all his family were God-fearing and devout through his influence. His social life and religious one were also excellent. Soldiers were also inclined to rob people of something especially in their colony. But Cornelius gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. He must have sought God and formed a good religious life. According to his servants who were familiar with him, “He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewfish people.” We know how the Jews hated the Roman soldiers, for the Romans trampled their land and their people. But this centurion was an exception. His life was an admirable one.

Then what happened to him? Look at verse 3. “One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’” This was an unusual thing in his life. So Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord” he asked. He wanted to know what was happening in his life before God. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” What a complement! We do not know what he prayed for, but his prayer was sincere enough to be remembered by God and come up to him. And his giving to the poor was not a showing off done in the eyes of people for others’ recognition, but done secretly before God so as to come up to God as a memorial offering. His life seemed to be perfect before God.

However, what did the angel say further? Look at verses 5 and 6. “Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” This part of the angel’s words was totally new and hard to understand to Cornelius. Why this sudden command to call Peter? Later, according to the words of the men who were sent by Cornelius for Peter, Cornelius was told to have Peter come to his house so that he could hear what Peter would have to say. Still, it could not be an enough explanation of the reason. Questions could rise in him continually, “Why should I call him and listen to him while my life is going well in every area?”, “Why should I bother to send my men to that place, which would take more than one day’s trip?” (32 miles, 50km)

Of course, God had an amazing plan for him and for the world, which could not be explained fully at this time. The plan was that a Gentile Cornelius would come to know Jesus, the way of salvation, and he would be an entrance to the Gentile world for the good news of Jesus. The grand plan of God was far beyond Cornelius human understanding.

At this what was Cornelius’ response? Look at verses 7 and 8. “When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.” Cornelius responded to the command of the angel of God with unwavering obedience. We can have a question, “Why did God choose Cornelius among so many other Gentiles to be the first one to accept the gospel and thus for the gospel of Jesus to enter the Gentile world? There would be many reasons. But one undeniable reason was Cornelius was God-fearing and obedient. He was a man of obedience. We know how difficult it is to obey God when everything goes well in life. People can respond to God when they are in need. That’s good. Yet, it is hard to listen to God when life is so smooth like gentle waves of the sea. Cornelius, however, obeyed God’s command and direction in his favorable life situation. So God could choose and use him, although God’s choosing is always his one-sided grace. This is the case of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Why did God choose Mary to be the mother of Jesus among many women in the world? There were several human qualifications as being pure in heart, but most importantly she was obedient enough to say, “May it be done as you have said,” when her happy life with Joseph seemed to be guaranteed. God is seeking obedient men and women for his great work. May we learn obedience and grow in obedient spirit. Let’s remember that even “Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered, although he was a son” (Heb 5:8).

Second, Peter’s vision (9-23a). Look at verse 9. “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.” This is an interesting description. It is a description of synchronizing two events taking place in different locations. It was for a certain purpose. At that time who could notice this? Nowadays people can see two or three events or more happening at the same time through camera. And people can plan out such things, but not with 100% sureness. What humans plan cannot be 100% sure, but only what God plans. The short description of verse 9 shows that God is in control for his definite purpose.

Now the author moves the attention to Peter. Look at verse 10. “He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.” We don’t know why Peter became hungry. Probably it was because he didn’t eat breakfast or just lunch time was approaching. Or he prayed earnestly and became hungry. Anyway, he was hungry and wanted something to eat. Usually when we are hungry, we cannot sleep, especially young people. But what was happening here? While the meal was being prepared, Peter fell into a trance. He could have swallowed up his saliva, because of the food smell in his hunger. But he fell into a trance. It was also God’s intervention.

Then what happened? Look at verses 11,12. “He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.” This was the vision God displayed for Peter. This vision connects heaven and earth, the sheet coming down from heaven to earth by four ropes tied to four corners of the sheet. In Genesis Jacob while sleeping saw a vision that there was a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it (Ge 28:12). It was a spiritual vision. But how about Peter’s vision? Not angels but only animals appeared. It seemed to be less-than-human beings vision. Then what was the message after this visual scene? Look at verse 13. “Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’” What a striking command! The voice did not say, “Take care of the animals,” but “kill (slaughter) and eat.” It seems to be a very brutal and scary command. What was Peter’s response at this command? “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” At the moment Peter’s hunger and appetite must have been gone completely. The animals on the sheet included the unclean animals that God forbid the Jews to eat. To Peter eating such animals was disgusting, so he strongly rejected the command. At this the voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. Later when Peter met Cornelius, Peter said to him, “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” So we can see that this realization came when he thought of the meaning of the vision and through seeing all the series of the happenings.

In Leviticus, God set clean and unclean food, what the Israelites could eat and what they should not. In this regulation there was a dietary purpose. But more than that, it showed God’s desire for his people to be holy, being clean inside and out. After all the commands about ‘clean and unclean’ God’s command was “Be holy, because I am holy” (Lev 11:44,45; 1 Pe 1:16). However, in the course of keeping the food laws just outwardly, they considered themselves clean and the Gentiles as unclean. As the time passed by, unhealthy and detrimental pride was formed in them. They regarded the Gentiles as dogs, less than human beings, being proud of their status as God’s chosen people. Later they judged Jesus and his disciples, when they saw that some of the disciples ate food with unwashed, thus unclean hands. But Jesus rebuked for their hypocrisy and taught them that what makes man unclean is not unclean food or unclean hands but unclean heart. In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean” (Mk 7:29). Jesus confirmed this declaring when he died on the cross, saying, “It is finished.” Through his death, all the laws including the food law were fulfilled. Yet, their pride as clean people was so strong and unbreakable. It was the Jews’ racial pride and became Judaism. They claimed that God’s blessing was solely for them. This idea was embedded in their mindset generation after generation, and even Jesus’ disciples were not an exception. When Jesus rose again and talked about the kingdom of God and the promise of the Holy Spirit, they understood it only in the terms of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Then Jesus told them to entrust such a matter to God and said clearly, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

However, now God’s direction intervention and drastic surgery was needed beginning in the heart of Peter for the expansion of the gospel to the Gentile world. In the previous passage we could see that Peter’s faith in Jesus was so powerful to the point of even raising the dead. But unless his deep-seated racial prejudice (intolerance) was broken down, he could not be used by God for his ultimate purpose. Peter’s staying in the house of Simon the tanner, the one converting animal skins to leather, was a kind of process for this. Yet, God’s drastic measure was needed. This was the reason God showed the unpleasant vision of even the repulsive animals and gave him the strong command, “Kill and eat.” This shocking and strong command and three times of the happening of the same thing showed how unbreakable Peter’s idea of Judaism was and God’s uncompromising and relentless attempt and effort for the evangelization of both the Jews and the Gentiles. God’s blessing through his Son Jesus had to flow to all people of the world.

We know that when God called Abraham, God wanted to bless all peoples on earth through him, which was God’s promise to him. For this Abraham himself had to be the man who loved God more than anything else and thus prove that he truly feared God. Then he could be a source of blessing and the ancestor of faith. For this purpose God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only Son as a burnt offering. The command sounded inhumane and brutal. But behind this command there was God’s heart for all people of the world. So when Abraham amazingly obeyed God and passed God’s test, God said swearing by himself, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Ge 22:18). And when God sent his Son Jesus into this world, God’s intention was to let his Son be killed on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of mankind. In the Old Testament God did not allow Abraham to kill his son at the last moment, because what God wanted from Abraham was his love and obedience to God. Also God utterly forbade the Israelites to follow the custom of other nations of killing their children and offering them to their gods. That’s was detestable to God and his people. But God let his own Son to be killed because of his love for the people of the world. God’s heart and love for all people of the world was indestructible and undying. So here when God commanded Peter to kill and eat, it was none other than God’s exclusive heart for people of the world, both the Jews and the Gentiles. We really thank and praise God for this heart of God. Apostle Paul understood this heart of God and he said in Ephesians 3:6, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

What does this mean to us? To kill and eat everything we need powerful and internal stomach to digest all kinds of food of all nations. But more importantly, we should be globally or internationally minded. Even in the business world globally minded companies can survive in the long run. Intolerant and narrow-minded companies will die in the matter of time. To be globally minded sounds good. But it requires breaking any racial pride or superiority and each individual’s strong ego of self-centredness. We should keep a personal faith in Jesus. But God does not want us to be selfish Christians, Christians with Judaism, thinking of God’s salvation and blessing upon only myself, my family, and my country, although that is an amazing grace of God. God wants us to be mindful of others beyond human ties and really Christ-centred. We could see in Genesis that when Abraham prayed for the perishing souls in Sodom, God was very much pleased with him, accepting his bargaining again and again. Jesus once said in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

Of course, being globally minded does not mean being open-minded compromising with godless culture and ungodly way of living and worldly ideas. We should never compromise with anything or anyone at the cost of the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the life worthy of the gospel. We should not lose the gospel spirit in the course of embracing any kind of people. Keeping with the gospel spirit, we should obey the command, “kill and eat.”

In verses 17-23, God worked spontaneously in leading the men sent by Cornelius and in directing Peter until Peter accepted them into the house to be guests, which was a historical event.

Again thank God for his heart for all people of the world. May we learn obedience to the command, “Kill and eat” and be a blessing to others, one after another, and pray for world evangelization.

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