Summary: We often let ’cultural Christianity’ override the truth of God’s grace in our relationships
There’s a story about a mother who handed her six-year-old son two candy balls, and told him to share with his four year old brother. She said, “He may spit it out, because they’re kind of sour tasting. But if he keeps sucking on it, there’s bubble gum in the middle”. The older boy ran outside to find his little brother. As the mother watched out the kitchen window, the four-year-old put his piece of candy in his mouth. His big brother watched in obvious suspense while the four-year-old’s face began to screw up with the bitter taste. As he slowly began to drool out the corner of his mouth and raise his hand to his face, palm up, his older brother yelled, “Don’t spit yet!”
In Acts chapter 10, God gives Peter a lesson in preparation for ministering to a group of people that Peter has always considered, well, unpalatable.
On the surface we read this passage as relating to the division between Jew and Gentile, and we rejoice that through Christ the dividing wall has been torn down. But there is much more to this scripture account, and some of that much more involves a sometimes bitter lesson for us.
As we read the chapter, we see Peter making application of this vision, in verse 28:
“And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean”.”
Now I want to follow the steps of Peter in the learning process, and we’ll see some lessons for ourselves as we go along.
The Pharisees had just criticized Jesus for allowing His disciples to eat without performing the ritualistic hand washing ceremony that their traditions called for. So Jesus has entered upon a discourse to correct their error, and when He is done, having left the area, His disciples ask Him in private what He meant by the things He said.
“And He said to them, ‘Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?’ (Thus He declared all foods clean) And He was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.’”
Now note that He was speaking privately to His disciples here, including Peter, and He was saying things that apparently, in their hearing, was tantamount to a declaration that all foods are clean and ok to eat. We know, because the gospel writer includes that statement in the text: “Thus He declared all foods clean”. Interestingly, it is commonly accepted that Peter was probably the one dictating this gospel to John Mark as his scribe.