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Stepping out of your comfort zone

(58)

Sermon shared by Chris Appleby

May 2004
Summary: Peter discovers that God has more in mind than just the people of Israel as heís taken outside his comfort zone to share the gospel with Cornelius
Series: Book of Acts
Denomination: Anglican
Audience: Believer adults
Sermon:
Itís a weird story isnít it? Peterís up on the roof of Simon the Tannerís house in the middle of the day praying and he starts to feel hungry. So he asks the cook to prepare some lunch and while heís waiting he falls into a trance. Perhaps the heat of the day has got to him. Perhaps he starts to think about what the cook might be preparing for him. But as heís in this trance he has a vision. A vision of a sheet, or perhaps itís a sailcloth, being lowered to the ground by its corners. And in it are all sorts of animals, reptiles and birds. Then the strangest part of the vision happens. Someone speaks. A voice says "Get up, Peter; kill and eat." Peter would have been used to killing fish, cutting them open to clean them, so it isnít the idea of killing these animals that surprises him. Rather itís the kinds of animals they are. These are animals that have been declared unclean by the Old Testament Scriptures. And now heís being told to eat them? Naturally he objects. Heís a good Jew. He wouldnít eat anything unclean. Thatíd make him ritually impure, not to mention disobedient to God.

But then he gets an even bigger surprise. Heís told that God has made these things clean. How can he call them profane if God has declared them clean? Then the whole process repeats, 2 more times. Peter obviously needs time to process what all this means.

Iím reminded of the call of Samuel, when God had to call him 3 times before Eli realised what was happening and told him that it was the Lord speaking to him. Just as in that instance, something significant is about to happen here but Peter takes a while to work it out.

Well we donít know what was going through Peterís mind. He was certainly confused by this repeating vision. But his confusion was cleared up when there was a knock at Simonís gate. Some men were there. Sent by a godly centurion, named Cornelius, to ask Peter to come and tell him the message he has for him. Cornelius was a Roman, but nevertheless a God-fearer.

Heís a step further back than the Ethiopian Eunuch we met in ch9. He was a Jewish Proselyte. Cornelius had accepted that the God of the Jews was the only true God, but he hadnít taken the further step of becoming a Jewish proselyte. Still, weíre told he prayed constantly to God. What did he pray? Well, possibly that he be included in the salvation that God had promised to his people, - which was just what God was about to bring him.

He too had seen a vision. In his case it was of an angel telling him to send men to Joppa, to find someone named Peter.

This is amazing isnít it? Hereís Cornelius sending for Peter, but he doesnít know what Peter is going to say or do. Peter has this strange vision. Then Corneliusí servants arrive with the message that theyíve been sent as a result of an angel appearing to Cornelius.

And suddenly it all becomes clear to Peter. He isnít as slow on the uptake as you might have thought, given that he had to be shown the vision three times. Thatís what the vision was all about! The Holy Spirit makes it clear to him, telling him that he should go with these men. Now he realises that this vision of the animals and birds was all about the prohibition on Jews mixing with Gentiles. When he gets to Corneliusí house he explains it to Cornelius and his family: "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile;
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