Summary: God challenges Peter’s prejudices in three ways firstly i. through a vision ii. through a personal encounter with Cornelius iii. By turning up himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.
How do we feel about those people who live at the other end of our road? How do we feel about those people who live on the new estate or come from the old village of Peasedown? How do we feel about people from Wellow, Midsomer Norton, Radstock or Combe Down. How do we feel about people from Wales, Scotland or Ireland? How do we feel about people from Germany, The Caribbean, Nigeria or India? How do we feel about those people who do not share our faith: Muslims, Hindu’s, Buddhists, Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses? How do feel about those people who do share our faith but do so in a different way Roman Catholics, Baptists or Methodists? How do we feel about those people who have money, success and career or conversely how do we feel about those who are disadvantaged, weak and marginalised? All of us will answer these questions in a different way. In a way conditioned by our upbringing and our cultural setting. All of us if we are honest each have our own set of prejudices. Our own set a views about those around us. Often these prejudices are so deep seated that it is difficult for us to change our views. Just like us the apostle Peter and his fellow Jews have their own set of prejudices conditioned by their upbringing and by their cultural setting. Peter and his fellow Jews too are going to find it difficult to change these prejudices especially when it comes to the gentiles and those who do share their Jewish faith. Chapter 10 is pivotal in the Book of Acts, because it records the salvation of the Gentiles. We see Peter using "the keys of the kingdom" for the third and last time. He has opened the door of faith for the Jews (Acts 2) and also for the Samaritans (Acts 8), and now God uses him to bring the Gentiles into the church. God challenges Peter’s prejudices in three ways firstly through a vision, secondly through a personal encounter with Cornelius the Gentile and finally by turning up himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.
God now uses a vision about food to challenge Peter and his fellow Jews prejudice that the Gentiles were unclean verses 9-16. The distinction between "clean and unclean foods" was a major problem between the Jews and the Gentiles at that time. In fact, Peter’s Jewish Christian friends had often criticized Peter for eating with the Gentiles! But God now uses a centuries-old regulation found in Leviticus chapter 11 to teach Peter and his fellow Jews an important spiritual lesson. God was not simply changing their diet; He was changing their entire program! What God was saying through this vital vision was that the Jew was not "clean" and the Gentile "unclean," but both Jew and Gentile were "unclean" before God! " That both Jew and Gentile are in the same position, both are sinners, both are in need of salvation or rescue. And what’s more God was making clear through this vision that a Gentile did not have to become a Jew in order to become a Christian. All of this would have been mind blowing to Peter. It flew in the face of everything that he had been taught and believed. God clearly realises that it is going to be difficult for Peter to accept this new revelation, this new program, his new kingdom which is why God repeats the vision three times verse 16. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” So what does this all mean for us today. Well firstly let us not fall into the same trap as Peter and his fellow Jews and think that just because we live in the Christian West, or because we come to church every Sunday that were are somehow privileged. We just like Peter and his fellow apostles we are sinners and we are in need of salvation. Salvation that only Jesus can offer because of what he has done on the cross.
Having challenged Peter’s prejudices about the gentiles in a vision God now sets up a meeting for Peter with Cornelius verses 29-35. Cornelius is a gentile and a Roman centurion, whose heart has clearly tired of pagan myths and empty religious rituals, and who has turned to Judaism in the hopes that he can find salvation. Cornelius is as close to Judaism as he can get without be able to become a true Jew. There were many "God fearers" like him in the ancient world. But what is interesting to note about Cornelius is to see how religious a person can be and yet he is still not be saved. We cannot fault Cornelius’ obedience to God’s Law, his fasting, and his generosity to the Jewish people but he was not permitted to offer sacrifices in the temple, so he presents his prayers to God as his sacrifices. In every way, Cornelius is a model of religious respectability—and yet he was not a saved man. The difference between Cornelius and many religious people today is this: Cornelius knows that his religious devotion was not sufficient to save him. Many religious people today are satisfied that their character and their good works will get them to heaven, and they have no concept either of their own sin or of God’s abundant grace. What is fabulous is that God hears Cornelius’ prayers. God hears this gentile man crying out to him that he is a sinner and that he needs God to save him. As Peter hears Cornelius’ story he too is blown away by the fact that God has clearly spoken to this gentile as well. Peter finally puts his prejudices to one side and says some of the most crucial words ever written in the Bible verses 34 and 35 "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” With those words Peter uses "the keys of the kingdom" for the third and the last time. Ten years after the Day of Pentecost God’s salvation is now available to all: to Jew, to Samaritan and finally to Gentile. God’s rescue plan is now complete.