Acts 11: 1-18
11Now the apostles and the believers* who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers* criticized him, 3saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 8But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me [by Cornelius] from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.* These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’
A couple years ago, Karen and I went to see a play at the CLO Cabaret called “First Date”.
It was a musical farce about two people on a blind date.
As Aaron and Casey try to get to know each other it comes out that Casey, unlike Aaron, is not Jewish.
The scene freezes.
Aaron’s mind wanders in a production number where he is musically instructed by Jewish relatives and friends that “This girl is not for you!”
Casey is not for Aaron because Casey is not Jewish.
It was pretty funny.
But it is also poignant.
Humanity is incredibly tribal.
Each has unique rules, traditions and expectations of its members.
To be in the tribe, you must follow these traditions and meet these expectations.
If you don’t you “are not for them!”
You aren’t welcome.
Maybe even looked down upon.
Israel was no different.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were instructed to keep themselves pure.
No living or intermarrying with non-Jews.
Lots of rules, traditions and expectations to live by in order to be different from those outside the tribe.
The people not for us!
No Caseys allowed!
That was the way it was when Jesus came.
But then, before Jesus left, he gave his followers the Great Commission.
Go and make disciples of all nations.
So what exactly did that mean?
We find out in Acts.
It is a story that covers 1 and ½ chapters.
All of Chapter 10 and half of chapter 11.
The longest story in Acts.
An epic with a world changing message.
Peter’s baptism of Cornelius.
You see, before Peter met Cornelius, there was a dispute among the leaders.
The dispute asked this simple question:
Must someone be a Jew first to be a follower of Jesus?
Peter’s position on the matter before encountering Cornelius had been clear.
Only Jews were invited.
Non-Jews were not.
They were not for us!
Peter knew the rules, expectations and traditions when it came to the Gentiles.
They were profane and unclean.
Not for us.
He had been taught that from his youth and it was a part of who he was.
Yet Peter is told, by God, to do that which ran counter to everything he believed.
Values that he firmly held to be true—divinely established, absolute and eternal.
Can you imagine what Peter felt like when he was told to go to Cornelius?
In today’s jargon we might say he was “creeped out”.
If fact when first told to go, Peter said no to God!
Peter was not going to touch anything unclean – like a gentile.
And Cornelius is not just any gentile.
He is a Roman Soldier from Italy.
He is a foreign enemy conqueror.
But Peter ultimately goes to Cornelius, preaches the Gospel, and then baptizes Cornelius and every one in his household.
Gentiles, all of them.
Unclean, every one of them.
It would be hard to overstate the impact of Peter’s baptism of Cornelius on the budding church of Jesus Christ.
It resulted in the transformation of a small Jewish Jerusalem sect into the Christian faith community we see today.
Peter followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and did something profoundly against everything he had been taught as a Jew.
He baptized a gentile.
And when Peter baptizes them, the Holy Spirit lights up their heads with fire.
Just like the Apostles at Pentecost.
Peter didn’t see that coming!
But then Peter remembers something Jesus said.
16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’
And he finally gets it.
God wants all humanity to come to Him, not just the Jews.
And Peter is changed!
At his baptism Cornelius had been touched by the Holy Spirit.
The meaning was clear.
God shows no partiality.
There were no longer any differences between people who wanted to be disciples of Jesus.
Everyone is welcome at the table of the Lord.
And now Peter is back in Jerusalem.
And the leaders of the faith have some questions for him.
Peter is scolded by the Jerusalem leaders.
You did what?
You ate with the unclean?
You baptized the unclean?
What were you thinking?
Then Peter told the story.
The power of the story silenced Peter’s critics.
They stopped scolding Peter and praised God.
They praised God because God turned out to be more merciful than they could ever have imagined.
Even gentiles were welcome.
They are for us!
Jesus was not just for the Jews.
To become a follower of Jesus, no one is required to become something they aren’t first.
They just have to follow Jesus.
And when we go to those “not for us” and tell them that – tellthen that they are welcome in the kingdom – that they are for us and we are for them – they will be changed, and we will be changed, too.
It was Peter’s willingness to tell Cornelius about Jesus that changed not only Cornelius, but … Peter!
In giving the blessing of the Gospel, Peter was blessed.
I have seen this work.
I met someone like Peter in Malaysia.
In Kota Kinabalu there is a missionary school for stateless children.
These are kids who were born in Malaysia to foreign workers.
They are Iban or Philippine mostly.
They are not considered Malaysian because their parents are not Malaysian.
They are not welcome back to their parent’s county because they have no “papers”.
They are not permitted to go to Malaysian government schools because they are not Malaysian and usually end up on the streets, begging or doing unspeakable things.
But the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia has opened a school just for them.
Many of the teachers are Christians from China.
One is Tanley.
Tanley is a really big guy with a really deep voice.
He reminded me of Andre the Giant in the movie “The Princess Bride”.
Tanley told us his story.
He came to Kota Kinabalu at the invitation of a child hood friend named Tracy who was teaching these children there.
He confessed that the Chinese are quite prejudiced.
They believe they are special.
They inhabit what they call the middle kingdom.
Not quite heaven, but above the rest of us.
He knows it’s wrong, but he has been carefully taught this, and despite that he is a follower of Jesus, he sometimes can’t help feeling that way.
And he encountered his prejudice immediately at the Basel school.
Tanley went to teach his first class.
He hated it.
The children were black.
He was white.
He did not like the way they looked.
He did not like the way the smelled.
He did not like the way they talked.
He did not like the way they acted.
These children were not for him.He was ready to quit at the end of his first day.
But Tracy convinced him to stay another day.
The next day, the kids were so glad to see Tanley again that they all ran to him and hugged him.
He liked the hugs.
He went back another day.
That day, in teaching a Bible verse to the kids, he did a little dance.
Andre the Giant dancing.
The kids went wild.
They loved it and danced with him.
Climbed all over him
And loved him.
And Tanley found out something that to him was extraordinary.
Tanley loved them back.
Tanley thought he came to teach the children about Jesus.
But the children taught him.
The children he was supposed to teach about love taught him to love.
He told us that he now believes God sent him there to learn how to love from these children.
Just like Peter and Cornelius.
Peter went to teach Cornelius about Jesus, but then learned what Jesus had tried to teach.
God loves every single one of us enough die so that we might live.
And we are to learn that, too.
And when we do, we will be enlightened!
For Peter, that meant non-Jews were included.
For us it includes all the Caseys that we think are not for us.
And for Jesus, we are all Caseys.
Folks not for the kingdom, until he opened the doors and let us in.
If there is to be a distinction made, that distinction is for God to make, not us.
And God, according to Peter, makes no distinction.
And Paul in Galatians 3 confirms Peter’s conclusion:
27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
That is the Jesus Way!
God is impartial.
And that’s a good thing, because otherwise, we might not be for the kingdom!
So when you look over those that disagree with you, that do not live as you live, that conduct themselves in ways you find hard to accept, remember that they are as welcome in the kingdom as any of us!
They are loved no more or less by God than we are.
And even if it is not the way we would like it to be, we must repeat Peter’s question:
“Who are we that we question God?”
Because who God has made clean, we must not call profane.