GETTING THE MESSAGE/Acts 10:1-23
The Lord had promised to build His church, beginning in Jerusalem and then spreading to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts Chapter 1). Thus far in Acts we have seen the gospel spread in the Jewish cities as promised. Many have been converted through the good news that Jesus came to take away sin, vanquish death, and break the power of Satan.
Now the gospel will go to the Gentiles, or to the nations. Luke tells us about Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who is a Gentile (Acts 10: 1). He was a devout man who feared God, and gave generously. This means he believed in the God of the Old Testament, the Lord of Israel.
We are also told he prayed continuously (verse 2), and one day when he was praying he saw a vision of an angel. The angel told him that his prayers and alms had ascended as a memorial to God. For the Lord to be well pleased with them meant Cornelius prayed and gave from a humble, thankful heart. No sinful man can do this without also sincerely confessing his sins.
The angel instructs Cornelius to send men to Joppa where Peter was staying at the time, and the centurion immediately complies. As the men he sent draw near to Joppa, Luke tells us that while Peter was praying, he went into a trance, and the Lord gave him a vision of a sheet descending from heaven filled with all kinds of living animals.
The voice of the Lord commands Peter to “Rise, kill, and eat (verse 13).” Peter objects because as a devout Jew he had never eaten unclean animals, which were forbidden in the ceremonial laws of Israel. The Lord tells Peter to not call common what he has made clean and this same interaction happened three times, and then the vision was over.
While Peter is puzzling over the meaning of the vision, the men from Cornelius were out by the gate of the house asking for him by name. The Spirit of the Lord tells him to go to them and not hesitate to accompany them. Peter invites them in and will go back with them to see Cornelius.
But we will pause in the story at this point to think of the meaning and application of what we have read. The first point is the need we have to be made clean before God and that only Christ can do that. The Jewish ceremonial laws were enacted by Moses to teach Israel to be separate from the corruption of the nations, and to be holy unto God.
All of the constant washings, sacrifices, dietary laws, and other Jewish ceremonial laws pointed to the need to be pure before God. They all pointed to the need we have of Christ; the washings, His cleansing; the sacrifices, His atoning sacrifice; the dietary laws, the need to be pure in heart toward Him. Christ was the fulfilment of all these laws, so they are abrogated by his coming and work.
The repetition of the vision to Peter was to emphasize that the Lord’s plan is to make Gentiles clean and part of the church. They too, like the Jews, would be cleansed from sin and the corruption of the world. There is no difference in Jew and Gentile; both can be made right with God through the blood of Christ.
The astounding thing to Peter and the Jewish Christians is that the Lord would call the corrupt Gentiles to be his people. They were far from God, without hope and without God (Ephesians 2:12). This should astound us as well. Salvation is undeserved and we may rightly tremble before God, but when the Father sees the blood of Christ we are safe.
We may rest in calm security. We have God’s Sacrifice and God’s word to create in us a sense of perfect security. He will spare us, because he did not spare his Son. We should be joyful in this truth and be careful of pride and boasting in light of it.
Peter had revulsion at eating anything unclean. The Lord, with his holy nature, is rightly repulsed by our corruption, and the uncleanliness of our hearts (Matthew 15:10-20). If Christ doesn’t wash us, we can’t be clean or acceptable to him. We can’t wash ourselves.
But the Lord will take us in. Jesus never repulsed a humble sinner who came to him. He ate and drank with sinners. He said it was the sick that were in need of a physician. There will not be any lost souls who can say “I went to Jesus but he refused me.” It is not possible that you would be the first person to whom Jesus shall break his word. He casts out none who come to him.