Today we will continue our journey through the book of Acts by returning to Chapter 10 were we left off last time with Peter in a state of altered consciousness hearing a voice instructing him to kill and eat unclean animals which Peter refused to do. This sheet of animals appeared three times and thee times Peter was told to kill and eat. Then the sheet disappeared and it is apparent Peter returned to normal consciousness.

       It is recorded that Peter was left wondering about the meaning of the vision.  The Greek word translated “wondering” means to be greatly confused, perplexed and at a loss. While Peter was experiencing this confusion, the three Gentile men sent by Cornelius had arrived and were at the gate of the house were Peter was staying. It is recorded that the Spirit told him to get up and go downstairs to greet the men and not hesitate to go with them.

       Peter follows the instruction given to him and asks the men why they have come.  The men reply that they have come from Cornelius the centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. They tell Peter that a holy angel told Cornelius to have Peter come to his house so that he could hear what Peter has to say.

       We see the men spending the night where Peter was staying.  The next day, Peter and some of the Christian converts living in Joppa and the men from Cornelius depart for Caesarea where they arrive the following day. The distance from Joppa to Caesarea is around 34 miles.  We don’t know what time of day they left Joppa but it is apparent they first arrived in Caesarea the next day which means they probably stayed somewhere over night before arriving in Caesarea.

       Acts 10: 24-26: The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself."

       The Greek word rendered here as reverence is proskuneo which has the basic meaning of prostrating oneself before someone else as an act of reverence or worship. This Greek word appears 60 times in the NT and is often rendered as worship.  It is apparent Cornelius looked upon Peter as worthy of great reverence and even worship.  Why was this the case?   All we are told is that an angel appeared to Cornelius instructing him to send for a man named Peter.  We are not told about anything else the angel may have shared with Cornelius about Peter or if Cornelius did some homework and learned about who Peter was.

       On the other hand, Peter’s visit came about as a direct result of Cornelius being instructed by a heavenly messenger to send for him.  That probably was enough to convince Cornelius that this man named Peter must have been a very special person and virtually worthy of worship.  Peter, however, would have none of this worship stuff and quickly pointed out to Cornelius that he, Peter, was only a man and nothing more.  As we covered in some detail last time, Jesus had named Simon a petros which is Greek for a small stone.  Peter was quite aware of his status.  

       Acts 10:27-28: Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: "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.  So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?"

       A large gathering of people had come to hear Peter. We have already read that Cornelius had called together his relatives and close friends. Apparently Cornelius had numerous relatives and close friends.  Peter immediately shows that he had come to understand the vision he experienced of being told to eat unclean animals.  The vision was to show Peter that Gentiles are not to be considered impure or unclean.

       The idea of Gentiles being impure and unclean came about as a result of various regulations that were designed to keep the Israelites religiously pure and not be defiled by pagan religious practices.  The Mosaic Law had prohibited Israelites from marrying non Israelites primarily to protect Israelites from being influenced by pagan religion.  Gentiles worshiped many Gods.  The Israelites worshiped only YHWH.  Various regulations were established to further maintain separation between Israelites and Gentiles. The dietary laws are a good example of such regulations.  Circumcism was a huge point of separation.

       Peter, however, was brought to understand that under the new order of things that was being established, such separation was no longer required by God.  Peter came to realize that God does not show favoritism but accepts all who do what is right.

       Acts 10: 34-35: Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

       If you carefully read through the Scriptures, you will see that God has always accepted anyone that recognized Him for who he is and strive to live a life congruent with the moral law God established at creation. The Israelites were not chosen to be a special people because they were better than Gentiles but because God wanted to take a people out from the quagmire of human lawlessness and make them to be a light to the rest of mankind. We know from Scriptural history that Israel failed miserably in fulfilling this role.

       Let’s return to Peter’s vision for a moment.  In the vision experienced by Peter, he was presented with a host of unclean animals and told to kill and eat. This group of unclean animals is presented to Peter three times.  Peter recoils at the instruction to kill and eat and answers that he has never eaten anything impure or unclean.  It is apparent Peter, subsequent to the Christ event, was still strictly following the dietary regulations God gave to Israel though Moses.  Peter is then told to not call anything impure that God has made clean.

       Some believe that in God telling Peter to kill and eat unclean animals and not to call anything impure or unclean that He has made clean, God was in effect showing that the dietary regulations regarding unclean meats was no longer valid.  Is this how Peter viewed the vision?

       Acts 10:28-29: 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.  So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.

       Peter sees the vision telling him that he was no longer to look upon Gentiles as inferior but to accept them as being equals with Israelites. There is nothing here indicating Peter viewed this vision as God abrogating the dietary regulations given to Israel.  It appears Peter was simply brought to acknowledge that salvation through Christ was not only for Israelites but for Gentiles as well and that is what the vision was all about.  In understanding this, Peter had no hesitation in going to the see the Gentile Cornelius.

       Having said this, I have heard it argued that God would not have told Peter to eat unclean animals and thereby violate the Law and commit sin.  It is argued that God could not say He cleansed the meats if indeed He hadn’t and then use unclean meats to symbolize cleansed people?  It is argued that for the symbolism to be valid, formerly unclean meats were no longer unclean just as formerly unclean Gentiles were no longer unclean.

       While this argument is interesting, it is certainly apparent that symbolism is often used in Scripture to make a point and such symbolism doesn’t require that there be a one to one validity between that being used as the symbol and that which it symbolizes. Figurative language is common in Scripture. For example, Paul used Hagar figuratively to represent Mount Sinai and to symbolically represent Jerusalem.   

       Galatians 4:2-25: For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

       It should be obvious Paul is using figurative and symbolic language to demonstrate that Israel continued to believe itself subject to Old Covenant regulations rather than embracing the New Covenant and salvation through Christ.  Hagar is used to stand for Mount Sinai and the city of Jerusalem and not that she is Mount Sinai or Jerusalem.

       With Peter and the Cornelius event, it is very probable that God was using the cleansing of unclean meats purely as a device to show Peter he was not to consider Gentiles as unclean and nothing more than this.  This certainly appears to be how Peter understood this.  It is instructive that Peter was still keeping the dietary laws years after the Christ event.  We see in NT Scripture that the death of Christ brought the covenant God made with Israel to an end along with the Mosaic regulations on which it was based. Yet Peter is still strictly keeping the dietary laws and presumably the Mosaic regulations in general. 

       As we will see as we continue in this series, many, if not most of the Jewish converts to Christianity, continued to keep the Law of Moses.  Later in this series we will discuss the Law of Moses in detail and its relationship to both the Jews and the Gentiles when we discuss the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15.  It will be then that I will discuss dietary regulations and the entire scope of the Law of Moses and how we are to view that law as New Covenant Christians.

       Returning now to Acts 10, we see Peter asking Cornelius why he was sent for. Cornelius reiterates to Peter how four days earlier he was in his house praying at three in the afternoon when suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before him and said the following:

       Acts 10:31: `Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.

       In the last sermon in this series I discussed how Cornelius was a worshiper of the one true God and even appears to be following the Jewish practice of praying three times a day.  Cornelius was a generous man and is seen as giving to the poor.  As briefly discussed last time, giving to the poor is seen in Scripture as a central dynamic of being a servant of God. Under the Old Covenant there were many instructions regarding taking care of the poor.  This certainly carried over to the time of Christ.  To the young man who told Jesus that he had faithfully kept all the commandments and asked what he lacked, Jesus said this:

       Matthew 19:21: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

       I don’t believe Jesus is teaching that to be a Christian one must divest oneself of all processions and give them all to the poor.  But the message is clear that giving to the poor is an important dynamic of doing the will of God.  When it was decided that James, Peter and John would continue to preach the Gospel to the Jews and Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles, Paul records all that was asked was that they would continue to remember the poor.

       Galatians 2:9-10: James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

       In the case of Cornelius, it is instructive that it is his regular prayer and his giving to the poor that endeared him to God and he is now being rewarded for his diligence in these matters.  It reminds me of what Jesus said.

       Matthew 6:3-4: But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

        Getting back to Acts 10, we see Cornelius continuing to recite to Peter how it came to be that he asked for Peter to come to him.  He concludes his remarks with the following:

       Acts 10:33: Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us."

       It is instructive that Cornelius sees the group that had gathered at his house as being in the presence of God and that what Peter was about to tell them was at the command of God.  It is very apparent that Cornelius was very aware of the significance of what was happening and about to happen.  He definitely saw this occasion as God directed and anticipated that Peter was about to deliver to the group information provided by God. We see the evidence for this in Acts 11:14 where Peter recites his experience with Cornelius to the Jerusalem disciples.

       Acts11:13-14: He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, `Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.

       When Peter left Caesarea he traveled to Jerusalem to report to the disciples there what had transpired with Cornelius and his family and friends.  The disciples at Jerusalem were very suspicious.  They did not expect the Gentiles to be accepted by God to participate in the Christian movement.   This passage of scripture records Peter telling the suspicious believers in Jerusalem of how he was directed by God to go to the house of Cornelius and how Cornelius was told by the angel that appeared to him that Peter would bring a message which would enable Cornelius and his entire household to be saved.

       Cornelius, along with his family and friends who had gathered to hear Peter, must have been excited.  There must have been great anticipation of something very important about to happen.

       Acts 10:34-44: Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached-- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.  "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen--by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

       Let’s unpack this a little bit.  It is instructive that Peter prefaces a good part of what he tells them with the words “You know.”  He says “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel,” etc.  He says “You know what has happened throughout Judea.”  The Greek word rendered, “know” is the Greek verb eido (a-do) and has the basic meaning of to perceive with the eyes. Peter appears to be saying that Cornelius and those present with him already knew of the things Peter was telling them.  They already had basic knowledge of the Christ event.

       Acknowledging this, Peter goes on to explain how he and those who accompanied him were personal witnesses to what took place including the fact Jesus was resurrected from the dead and that they actually ate and drank with him after He was resurrected.  Therefore, we see Peter providing eyewitness confirmation of Jesus having been resurrected and being alive after having been dead.

       It is then recorded that while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message and the evidence for this was that they spoke in tongues.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter are shown to have been astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles.  The fact they were astonished shows that up to this point, the Jewish converts to Christianity believed that the Christ event and what it signified was only for Israel and not anyone else.  They were now forced to recognize and accept the fact that salvation through Jesus was for everyone and not just for Israel.

       This was a huge turning point in the development of the Christian church. As will be seen as we continue our journey through Acts, this event would lead to much controversy as to what role the Mosaic regulations would play in the developing Christian community.  At this point in that development, it is apparent that Jewish converts to Christ still adhered to the Old Covenant regulations.  They had simply added Christ to the mix.  This would become a major source of friction between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, a matter that Paul would spend much of his time dealing with.

       How did the circumcised believers who had come with Peter know these Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit?  They spoke in tongues.  You will remember that on Pentecost, the witness to the giving of the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues by those given the Spirit.  It is apparent that these Gentiles were speaking in tongues in the same manner that those who received the Spirit on Pentecost spoke in tongues.

       That is how Peter and his associates knew the Holy Spirit was being given to these Gentiles, an event that greatly astonished them. Peter plainly indicates that the tongues spoken by these Gentiles were the same as what they spoke on Pentecost.  In explaining his actions to the skeptical Jewish believers in Jerusalem, Peter said this;

       Acts 11:15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.

       In previous sermons in this series we determined that the tongues being spoken on Pentecost were actual extant human languages.  Since the tongues spoken by these Gentiles were seen as the same kind of tongues experienced on Pentecost, it is evident the tongues spoken by these Gentiles were extant human languages as well. Since I dealt with the tongues issue in depth in previous sermons in this series, we will not revisit that issue beyond what I just discussed.  

       After it was determined that these Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit, they were baptized with water in the name of Jesus.  Chapter ten ends with Peter apparently staying with these Gentile converts for a few days.

       Acts 11 begins by informing us that the apostles and brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter travelled back to Jerusalem, he immediately ran into resistance from the circumcised believers.

       Acts 11:2-3: So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."

       Peter defends himself by reiterating all that happened in association with the Cornelius event and concludes his defense by saying that if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who was I to think that I could oppose God?"  Peter’s explanation appears to have pleased the circumcised believers Peter was addressing and they are seen as praising God for accepting the Gentiles.

       The rest of Acts 11 provides an overview of how the Gospel message began to take root across a rather large territory.  We saw earlier in this series how after the martyrdom of Stephen, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  In Acts 11 it is recorded that those who had been scattered by the persecution associated with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews but some spoke to Greeks

       Acts 11:19-22: Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

       This again brings up the question we discussed last time of whether Cornelius and his family were the first Gentile converts to Christianity.  Here we have the Gospel being taken to Greeks shortly after the martyrdom of Stephen.  The martyrdom of Stephen took place before the conversion of Saul and before the Cornelius event.  Saul is seen as consenting to the stoning of Stephen.  Saul is then seen as persecuting the Church before his conversion on the road to Damascus.  The conversion of Cornelius and his family took place sometime after Saul’s conversion. 

       Some commentators believe Hellenistic Greek speaking Jews are being referred to in Acts 11 and not Gentile Greeks.  Some Greek manuscripts of the NT have a rendering that suggests this.  However, Acts 11 appears to contrast the taking of the Gospel to the Jews with others taking the Gospel to the Greeks which would suggest these Greeks were non-Jews, in other words they were Gentiles.

       It is entirely possible the Cornelius event took place simply to convince Peter and his associates that Gentiles were indeed accepted by God outside of having to live by the Mosaic regulations.  There may have been Gentile converts to Christianity prior to the Cornelius event.  We can’t be certain about this one way of the other..

       Acts chapter 11 continues with Barnabas and Saul spending a whole year teaching in Antioch and it is recorded that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.  Chapter 11 ends with a prophet from Jerusalem coming to Antioch predicting a famine would spread over the entire Roman world.  The disciples at Antioch are seen as sending gifts to the brothers in Judea to help them deal with the famine.  Next time we will begin with Acts 12.