A Heavenly Buffet
God jump starts the process of finally reaching out to the Gentiles by handing out visions.
Happy Father’s day to you.
You know, Father’s Day is a really common day for families to go out to eat for lunch.
Maybe some of you are doing that for lunch yourselves even.
We’re going up to the lovely city of Cambridge to see my parents.
And I imagine were going out somewhere.
If we wouldn’t have been going up to Cambridge, which up there, we’ll probably eat at Culver’s, which I personally won’t complain about
But if we were down here…I’m pretty sure my dad would pick Old Country Buffet
Personally, I have mixed feelings about buffets.
When I was 10 years old, I had some sort of fish, or at least I think it was fish at OCB, and I had a crazy allergic reaction to it…so that wasn’t a good start in my relationship with buffets.
And plus, I’m a ridiculously picky eater. So buffets just aren’t that special to me.
I walk around going, “Can’t eat that…that’s disgusting…what the HECK is that…that looks like someone vomited in a tray and brought it out to serve…that’s gross.”
And I usually settle with something like: a Slice of pepperoni pizza, some mashed potatoes, and some French fries”
Now that’s a meal!
And today…I want to look at a similar passage in the Bible where Peter is…a man after my own heart…just not interested in some of the food on the buffet table. J
We are continuing our teaching through the Book of Acts series today.
Acts is the 5th book of the New Testament and is the story of how the church got started after Jesus went back into heaven.
Last week, when we left off, God was using Peter, who was one of the early church leaders, to do some miracles in a city called Joppa.
Today, we’re going to see how the church is going to take “a giant leap forward” as it starts bringing the good news of God’s forgiveness to more people.
(Acts 10:1-8) – NIV
1 At Caesarea (EXPLAIN LOCATION DAVID) there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 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!” 4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 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. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
Okay…couple of things to point out here.
First of all, what’s a centurion? Maybe you’ve heard that phrase before…or maybe not…or maybe all you can picture is just some man in some armor…which would be kind of correct.
A centurion is just basically a Roman Soldier who is in charge of 100 men.
The passage also describes him as a devout man and a God-fearer.
The phrase “God-fearer” is used multiple times in the Bible. In their language it just essentially meant a Gentile (non-Jew) who was interested in God…but didn’t fully understand…hadn’t fully converted to be a Jew.
So, he was probably someone who believed in God…not just in idols…and also respected the moral and ethical teaching of the Jews.
And really, I would say, that’s not unlike most people in America and their relationship to Christianity
As a person who’s borderline obsessed with statistics, I’m continually shocked at the stat that says 90% of people in America believe in God.
Now, has most of the “church” in America lost touch with them…absolutely…but does that mean people have lost touch or given up on God…no. Not yet.
And sometimes we just characterize people who aren’t in churches as terrible people…and everyone’s out doing terrible things…but most people in this country…have a family…they’re trying to get by…live a decent life…maybe they even pray once in a while when life gets tough
And that’s who Cornelius was. He believed God existed. He believed in doing good in the world.
But here’s the thing: That’s not what God is looking for.
God’s not looking for people who believe He exists and are nice.
The Bible says in James, “That even the demons believe God exists…and shudder.”
See, the most important thing God did in ALL of history was to send his Son Jesus to die in our place…so we could accept that…and be forgiven…and live for Him.
And Cornelius…despite his generally positive feelings towards God…has no idea that Jesus did this for him.
So…God gets the ball rolling…sends him a vision…and they send for Peter…who is in Joppa, which is where we saw him last in Acts 9
The passage continues
(Acts 10:9-22) – NIV
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time ,“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. 17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” 21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”
So, we’ve got another crazy vision.
And God pulls down this heavenly buffet for Peter, and he pulls his best David Sorn impression, and says, “ICK! NO way I’m eating that!”
He says, “That’s unclean! That’s impure!”
So, what’s “unclean” about it? What’s “impure?”
In the Old Testament, the first 2/3 of the Bible…in Pre-Jesus times, God had certain laws and regulations for the Israelites (the Jews)…Jesus’ ancestors.
And some of those laws focused around clean and unclean things the people could eat.
(Leviticus 11:1-3) – NIV
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: 3You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud.
So, why do something like this???
Some people speculate, God was doing it for health reasons, etc., and that might have been part of it…but the biggest part was that he wanted to set them apart as holy, and holy/separate from the ppl around them.
The Israelites were SURROUNDED by people around them that were evil in all sorts of way you can’t even imagine.
And God put things in place to purify a remnant of people that would remain faithful to Him… That were supposed to remain pure.
Because they were the line of people through which the Savior would come.
Maybe a good example of this is the Royal Family…and I’m not talking about Lebron James’ kids.
Think about like the Royal Family of England. Their kids grow up with a different set of rules.
Rules about etiquette, and rules about how to greet one another…how to interact with the poor, the wealthy, the esteemed, 500 rules for table manners…
But then there are us commoners…I can’t even hold a fork right.
So why do they have all these different rules?!?
It’s because they’re trying to preserve something incredibly important.
And so was God.
But the rules were only to serve a point for a certain time…
Because something greater was coming.
As Jesus says in Matthew…one who would FULFILL the law.
But the Jews had become fixated on just obeying the rules. So much so, that they became more about them being different than other people then them obeying God…which are 2 totally different things.
So, when God tells Peter…go, kill, eat, Peter’s thinking…
“Um, I can’t eat this stuff. It’s kind of against my rules.”
But what does God say to him??
(Acts 10:15) – NIV
15 The voice spoke to him a second time ,“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
And Peter’s gonna understand in a little bit here that God’s not just talking about animals and etiquette, he’s talking about people in general.
Stop looking at those other people who don’t have your rules and your ancestry and calling them impure…or not good enough for my message. They’re all worthy of the chance to hear my message!
And God had been trying to make this clear for a while to the Jews.
(Genesis 12:3) – NIV
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
The plan from the beginning was always for God to reach the world. It would be weird if it weren’t. And the prophets (like Isaiah) speak of this often
But sometimes the Jews didn’t want to own up to that.
Even when they read passages like that or even when they heard Jesus say it
Which Jesus clearly tells them in Mark 7 that it’s what comes OUT of a man that makes him unclean, not what goes into them.
And yet, when the church started…who did they bring the good news to?
Themselves. Just other Jews.
And a few things happened to make them question it…but they just sort of wrote it off.
In Acts 8 especially. The Samaritans (which are like half Jews) come to Christ…but the Jews were probably like…meh…close enough.
Then, an Ethiopian Eunuch comes to Christ..but he had probably converted to Judaism first…so close enough.
If these people, whom God had entrusted to start reaching the world, were ever going to fulfill his commission and reach the world…they were going to have to get over themselves.
And finally God just starts to take it in his own hands.
“I’ll give a vision to Cornelius…a vision to Peter…and let’s get this thing going here!!”
And Peter does the right thing…he says…okay…I know these people are different from me…but God I will go…
Interestingly enough…he says he will go while in Joppa, which is the very city that Jonah himself once boarded a ship and ran away from when God asked him to do the same thing…go speak to people unlike him
Another story in the NT of God redeeming the Israelites of old
Because this is our mission. To reach the people of the world. To reach as many people as we possibly can with the good news of God. To do anything else would be to be on the wrong mission.
And sometimes that even means going to far places.
Speaking of, make sure you do not miss church next week:
We are going to be making a really important announcement about our first-ever adult short-terms missions trip. Super pumped!
GOD DOES NOT SHOW FAVORITISM
Okay, so Peter agrees to go, and Peter and Cornelius are going to finally meet.
(Acts 10:23-33) – NIV
23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” 27 Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 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. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” 30 Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
So, what we see here, is Peter explaining that he’s connecting the dots.
That God is finally, finally, after repeated tries, banging it into his head…that all people are worthy of hearing his message.
NOT just the Jews.
And now…Peter has this incredible opportunity…which literally is going to change history…literally.
This is really a turning point in HISTORY…when Christianity turns from a reform movement within Judaism…to something that’s going to take the entire world by storm.
(Acts 10:34-48) – NIV
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 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. 39 “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, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 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. 42 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. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Awesome. Perhaps the most important turning point for Peter is when he utters, “I now realize how true it is that God DOES NOT SHOW FAVORITISM.”
That God is for all people!
Now, we would look at that, and say, great…God is for the Gentiles too. We’re pretty much all gentiles. Great. Cool. Glad the good news reached us.
But here’s the problem: We are now entrusted with the good news…just like the early Jewish Christians were…but we are still doing the same thing.
We’re keeping it to ourselves. Our own people. Our own crowd. People like us.
But God wants to reach the world through us. As the Bible says, His heart…is that none should perish. He does NOT show favoritism.
I wish I could show you…I wish I myself could understand…how MUCH God longs for people who don’t know Him to know Him.
How much He longs for them to let Him forgive them.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian family…and I have members of my own family who don’t know Him.
They don’t know Jesus. They don’t his love.
And that hurts. A lot. And I LONG so deeply for them to know Him.
But as much as I long for that…it’s not even 1/100th of how much God longs for them to know His love and accept his forgiveness that Jesus offered on the cross. NOT EVEN CLOSE to 1/100th
See, God doesn’t look at people w/ favoritism. He doesn’t look at people and say, “Meh, She’s not worthy. Not after what she did. OR, nah, wouldn’t forgive him…have you seen his past…”
Let’s remember…we weren’t worthy either.
None of us earned our way here. The only reason we know Him, if you do, is because He had mercy on us.
But see, once we start to know Him for a while, we fall into this trap where we start thinking we’re special for knowing Him.
He likes us. He approves of us We’re different. Not like THEM.
And we can get caught…just like Peter and the disciples…who MUST HAVE thought…these Gentiles aren’t worthy of the Gospel by the way they acted.
Why else would they not have gone to them??!?
God had to practically punch them in the face to go there.
But we can fall into the same trap…and start thinking that other people aren’t worthy.
But guess what…everyone’s worthy of hearing the Good news.
Not everyone will accept it. But they’re worthy of hearing it.
And of us telling them about it.
But, the great thing about Peter, is he is eventually willing to grapple with the uncomfortable.
He was willing to say…okay God…I’ll go. I’ll obey. I’ll hear you out.
I’m not sure I feel comfortable going to the home of a gentile…of a different ethnicity…and a different faith…who also happens to be a leader in the army who currently OCCUPIES my own country…BUT IF YOU WANT ME TO, I WILL GO!
And the problem is…we’re often unwilling to get uncomfortable…and in our unwillingness, we miss the movement of God.
Let me ask you a question: What would have happened if Peter had said no?
I heard a really famous pastor in America speak once…and he told his life story and how God had moved he and his wife to a different state to start this church, and how it grew to thousands and thousands of people, and how he writes books, and how they help people all around the world…
And he finished his message by saying, “And what if way back in the day…when God asked me to start that church…I would have said no?”
And my friend, sitting next to me, leaned over and said to me, “I’m pretty sure God could have found someone else to go.”
And it’s true. IF Peter wouldn’t have been willing to get uncomfortable and go reach people…God would have just sent someone else.
And Peter would have missed out on the adventure.
And sometimes I wonder the sheer number of things we miss out on because we’re not willing to get uncomfortable.
Will you get uncomfortable for God? Will you be willing to reach out…start inviting…start talking to even people you KNOW are far from God…or are different from you?
What are you missing out on already by not willing to get uncomfortable w/ God?
We’ve got a couple of churches in our church planting network that are reaching people like crazy for Jesus…as God has just started us on a recent journey like that here.
But they are reaching people who were once far from God…so much so…that their churches are filled with alcoholics, drug addicts, you name it.
Some of them now saved and sober…some of them still trying to figure it out.
And these same churches have started to have some of their Christian people leave their churches.
And when asked why, they’ve had numerous people report back, “Because we don’t want our kids to attend the same church as drug addicts and hang out with the kids of an addict.”
Listen, let me be frank. If you’re not interested in an environment like that…you might as well save yourself the time and leave this church now.
We want to reach people far from God…and God is already starting to use us in that way.
This is what the Bible is about. What ACTS is about. It’s about going out and reaching people. If they don’t do that, there’s no story. No church. And we don’t know God today.
And if we don’t do that today…in our culture….Jesus is going to be an after thought in the upper Midwest…just like he already is in places like Europe.
But it all has to start with us realizing that at the core, we’re no different. Were any of us any better? No way. Not even close. Maybe even worse.
Yet, God had mercy on us.
And we’ve got to get out of just religious habits. I mean, look at Peter. He hadn’t reached out to the Gentiles…in part cuz they were…different…but also because he was entrenched in religious habit.
I mean, God said to him, “It’s okay, eat this. And even though GOD HIMSELF JUST SAID TO DO IT, he says, “NO!” Crazy.
But that’s what it’s like.
We get so used to our religious systems and habits and practices…that we sometimes miss the heart of God.
And if we’re not careful…the church in America is going to be buried so deep in the habit of “playing church” with nice church people and going to church potlucks with other really nice church people…that we’re going to forget that the church is supposed to be the hope of the world.
So let’s be like Peter. Let’s be a people who are willing to get uncomfortable to get out and tell people the best news they could ever hear.
And mostly, or I should say, firstly, let’s not forget what God did for people like us.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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