From the beginning, God had a plan to redeem sinful man to Himself by sending His Son as the ultimate sacrifice. From Genesis 12 we learn that that blessing and honor will come through the descendant of the godly man of Abraham. God prepared and protected Abraham's descendants through feast and famine, freedom and slavery and finally brought them out of slavery in Egypt through His servant Moses. Moses and the children of Israel then spend forty years wondering through the wilderness waiting until God said the time was right for the Israelite nation to enter the promised land of Canaan. Shortly after entering the wilderness, God gave the Ten Commandments and other laws to Moses on Mount Sinai for His chosen people. The laws were more just and fair than laws had ever been up to this time, but there were some strange laws also. Let me read Deuteronomy 14:1 and 2 from the King James Version for you.
Peculiar is defined as "characteristic of only one person, group, or thing - distinctive." God needed this nation to stay as separate as possible from the other nations to keep this line of Abraham pure to bring His Son into the world and to keep them from idolatry to worship Him. In Genesis 9:3, God had told Noah that every moving thing that lives would be food for mankind. But in Deuteronomy 14 and Leviticus 11, God instructs Moses that the children of Israel would be different and set apart from the rest of the world. Beginning in verse 3 of Deuteronomy 14, God proceeds to tell them some of the ways they are going to be different from the rest of the world. They would only be allowed to eat certain "clean" animals.
In Leviticus 17, God tells them other ways they were to be different. They were to kill the animals for food in only one certain way. They were never to eat blood. In relationships, incest of any kind was forbidden. Women were to be untouched during their menstrual cycle. No children were to be given as a sacrifice to Molech. Homosexuality and sodomy were forbidden.
These all had some basis in health reasons, but other nations were doing them and surviving quite well, so there must be another reason for them. That reason being that God wanted this nation to feel different from the other nations and the other nations to feel differently toward them. God goes on in Leviticus 19 and gives them some more laws that will mark this Jewish nation as different. Laws about fairness, leaving some of the harvest in the fields for the poor and the sojourner, no garments of cloth made of two kinds of material, stay away from mediums and wizards and witchcraft. Verse 27 says, "You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard."
After the Israelites adopted this way of life, they were different from the rest of the world. At times many would slip away from these laws and follow the ways of the world, but God provided them with someone to bring them back to His teachings. So by the time God's Son, Jesus, enters this world, the Jewish nation is in the world, but very different from the world in both the world's eyes and in their own eyes. They felt different, peculiar and chosen to bring God's true worship to the world.
Many Jews were adamant evangelizers. There were many Jewish synagogues in Rome made up of not only Jewish-born people, but also of many who became Jews by choice - proselytes - those who admired and respected this nation who worshiped only one God - a God who expected His people to act in a just and moral way. They gave up paganism and acceptance in the world for a higher form of worship and morality.
Perhaps Cornelius had been impressed with the Jewish people while growing up in Italy and had requested this assignment in the Jewish homeland. Or perhaps he only learns of it after coming to the land of Palestine. Either way, their peculiarity attracted some as well as repelled some. Fortunately, Cornelius was attracted.
Peter was a Jew brought up with these peculiar laws. As far as we know at no point in his life did he feel compelled to rebel against these laws and take up the ways of the world. He had not been formally schooled in Jewish law as Saul was, but he probably had a basic Jewish education that the young boys received in their home synagogues. He knew the Jewish laws and held a great respect for them. These laws had made it possible for Abraham's descendant, Jesus the Messiah, to come into this world. As a result, Peter was able to receive a much superior education from this Man of God, the Son of God. And more importantly, he knew that for the first time his sins and others' sins had been totally forgiven. After Peter had time to reflect on the message of the trance he received while up on the rooftop, perhaps he remembered the words of Jesus that are recorded for us in Matthew 15:11, "not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man."
It was going to be hard to give up a way of life so ingrained on this Jewish man's mind. For generations this had been the way of his people. Three times Peter told the Lord, "NO! I've never eaten anything that is common or unclean." The Lord told him, "What God has cleansed, you must not call common." Peter repulsively refused all three times. We've seen Peter refuse the Lord before. When Jesus wanted to wash his feet as recorded in John 13, Peter said, "NO, you shall never wash MY feet." After a mild rebuke Peter changed his mind and said, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and head."
Other people have tried to say, "No," to the Lord. Moses tried it when God wanted him to lead His captive people out of Israel. Moses didn't want the leadership role, but he got the position anyway. Jonah tried to say, "NO," to God by running away to sea so he wouldn't have to go to Nineveh and preach, and ended up getting swallowed by a great fish and having to go anyway. Ezekiel tried it. We read of others trying to say "No" to God.
Have you ever had the nerve to say, "No," to God? We do it today, don't we?
The Lord tells us to share the Good News with others, and we stubbornly say, "NO, I don't know enough, or I might say the wrong thing and only make matters worse."
We say, "NO," to God when we don't give generously and cheerfully. We think we have better use for that money.
We are saying "NO" when we refuse to communicate with our Lord in prayer.
Or when we refuse to attend worship.
We say, "NO," to God when we accept man's teachings instead of God's teachings.
We are saying "NO" when we put worldly things before God. God will not settle on second or third place in our lives. He wants the #1 position.
We are even saying "NO" when we show HATRED to others instead of God's love.
Following the trance, Peter pondered whether God had cleansed more than just animal flesh. After the trance, the journey to Caesarea and the falling of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles at Cornelius's house, Peter understood that God had made the "previously thought unlovable Gentiles" LOVABLE. He understood that all men were capable of being cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Peter understood the gospel is for ALL.
God has made the unlovable, lovable. It is easy for us to point a finger at these old Jews/new Christians and ask, "How could they have not figured that out earlier?" The prophets from Abraham through Jesus had all said, "all nations would be blessed." But let's be careful pointing fingers at them. It is hard to love those we think of as unlovable. We would never consciously label anyone unlovable, but our actions sometimes do. It is hard for us to love and take care of the homeless. Have you been down to the rescue missions lately? I haven't. And it is hard for us to show love toward the Muslims who are causing such strife in the world these days. Yet God loves the souls of the homeless and the Muslims just as much as He loves us. And He would like to add them to His Kingdom.
Titus 2:14 tells us that we as Christians are to be the peculiar people now. And we are to be peculiar by being zealous for good works. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. I don't know if I could ever feel a love great enough for those homeless to go and tend to their needs myself and give them shelter in my house. God has a lot of work to do on me yet. But, what a message it would send throughout this community if we showed such love for the "unlovable"those that it takes a greater effort to love.
Yet, God is telling Peter and us that He loves all mankind, by sending the Holy Spirit to fall on these Gentiles.
The coming of the Holy Spirit did not give the Gentiles remission of sins. Verse 43 tells us that comes through the putting on of Jesus's name. The coming of the Holy Spirit did not take the place of water baptism. We see that being administered in verses 47 and 48. Nor did the Holy Spirit purify Cornelius. Acts 15:9 tells us they were purified by their faith.
What purpose did the Holy Spirit serve? Acts 15:8 tells us the Spirit bore witness to them. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter understood that he is to love and care for the Gentiles also. The Holy Spirit came to show Peter and the other Jews that the Gentiles could now be saved as mentioned in Acts 11:18, and they didn't have to go through Judaism to become a Christian. They could simply go from a state of being unsaved to saved by acting upon their belief. (Acts 10:43, 47, 48.) And the falling of the Holy Spirit also showed that Gentiles were equal to the Jews in the Church, since the Spirit fell on Gentiles just as it had on the Apostles. There is no such thing as a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR