Summary: Fueled by Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Jesus’resurrection showed that God opened the door for oddballs and misfits.
Acts 10:9-16 – From Lamb to Ham
I’ve been wanting to preach this message for some time. And right after Easter is a good time to do it. Today I’m talking about one of the changes that Jesus made by His life and death. I’m talking about food.
Now, our religion has very little to do with what we eat. Not so with the Jews. So much of what makes a Jew a Jew is their dietary rules. Leviticus 11 spells out the Jewish food laws: no pork and no shellfish mostly, as well as no rabbits, no flesh-eating birds, no lizards, no snakes, and so on. Some of these rules are fine with me, but come on. For us to give up entirely bacon, pork roast, ham steaks, sausage, scallops, clams, lobster… these would be hard for most Atlantic Canadians. In fact, many people find them hard, maybe even good Jews.
I’m told of a rabbi who had been leading a congregation for many years, and grew upset by the fact that he was never able to eat pork. So he devised a plan where he flew to a remote tropical island and checked into a hotel. He immediately got himself a table at the finest restaurant and ordered the most expensive pork dish on the menu.
As he eagerly waited for it to be served, he heard his name called from across the restaurant. He looked up to see 10 of his loyal congregants approaching. His luck, they’d chosen the same time to visit the same remote location!
Just at that moment, the waiter came out with a huge silver tray carrying a whole roasted pig with an apple in its mouth. The Rabbi looked up sheepishly at his congregants and said, "Wow - you order an apple in this place and look how it’s served!"
So for over 1000 years, no good Jew would even think about eating pork chops. Chicken, turkey, lamb… but never ham. Peter was one such Jew. Serious about his faith, he would never even touch an unclean animal. One day he was in prayer in Acts 10, unaware that so-called uncleanness was coming to find him. Let’s pick up the story in Acts 10:9-16.
Now, if this were just about food, we would say, who cares? What does it matter to us what Peter ate? But it turns out, the main lesson in here for Peter and for us is that we are to accept whatever God calls clean, food or people. The story continues: v17. Who was Cornelius? A Gentile. A Roman soldier. Someone Peter would not have given the time of day, if he had not been obedient to God. Cornelius, a God-fearing man but certainly no Jew, had been told to find Peter, the earliest leader of the church. Peter would help him to know the God he feared.
So Cornelius’ servants found Peter, and took him to find Cornelius – v18-27. Now, what was happening here would have been quite a shock to the early Christians, who had all grown up with the Jewish ceremonial laws. Peter alike. Notice what he says in v28a. For a Jew to enter the house of a Gentile, an unclean person, would make the Jew unclean too. Dirty. Defiled. A sinner. Unworthy to worship God.
But Peter continues in v28b-29. God had given the word that what was previously considered unclean was no longer so. God said that the animals once considered unclean like, I’m assuming, pigs and rabbits, were now considered clean and all right – the Jewish word kosher. Likewise, if God says that a person is considered clean, then don’t tell God otherwise, no matter what your tradition says. So, the door was opened for Gentiles to be Christians – those who were once excluded from the promises of God were now allowed in. It was a wonderful day for all of us, a day to see God’s grace in action.
Jesus had said that it’s not what goes into a person – that is, food – that makes a person unclean, but rather what comes out – that is, actions, vocabulary, thoughts, attitudes, words and so on. It’s the internal thoughts and actions of the heart that God was concerned with. Jesus did away with the old boundaries of clean and unclean. The sacrifice that Jesus made destroyed the barrier that separated people, the book of Ephesians tells us. His death moved his people from lamb to ham.
But so what? What does this matter? If any of us chooses not to eat bacon, it’s likely for health reasons, not religious reasons. And another thing - aren’t all of us in here Gentiles? So what if Gentiles were allowed to be part of the church? Does that mean anything to us now? Does Peter’s vision mean anything to us? Does it matter to us modern-day Gentiles if the lines of clean and unclean, kosher and un-kosher, inside and outside have been erased? It does if you consider what it meant to be kosher. Let’s look at the rules again in Lev.11.