Summary: God is the God of all the nations.
“The Ethnic God”
January 15, 2006
Introduction: This morning, we have talked already about the mission outreach that we are partnered with in North Africa with Jeremy and Stephanie Clark, So often when we think of missions and evangelism we think of supporting people like the Clark’s who do such great work. It is easy to think of simply sending money or provisions for people living overseas. Today, I want to paint a picture for you of why it is so important for us to be concerned about the spiritual condition of those living in lads far away from us.
There is a great passage of scripture we want to focus on today that tells the story of the first time that the message of the gospel spread across ethnic lines. It is a powerful story of the grace of God and the movement of His Spirit. Before we get into the meat of the passage, I need to give you some background information.
This story focuses on the life of Peter. As you probably know, Peter was one of Jesus closest friends here on earth and he was a disciple who helped build the church after the death of Christ. Peter was Jewish fisherman when Jesus called him. He was one of the most zealous and outspoken disciples, and was probably the oldest of the twelve. It was Peter who gave the heartfelt message at Pentecost in Acts 2 that saw over 3,000 Jewish people follow Christ on one day.
Peter was probably not an overly zealous Jew. He was a passionate follower of Christ, but was the ethnic and cultural traditions of his Judaism were not so ingrained that he would not bend them. However, he was not prepared to become a friend of the Gentile or non-Jewish person in order to minister to them in the name of Christ. That is what makes this story such a great lesson in the grace and love of God.
Peter is in the coastal city of Joppa staying the home of Simon the Tanner. He is apparently doing some ministry there among the Jewish believers in the town. About noon one day, Peter goes up to the roof to pray. While he is praying, he sees a vision of a sheet being lowered to earth from heaven with all types of animals on it. As he is in this trance like state, he hears a voice telling him ot take whatever animal he wants and kill and eat it.
Now, that may not sound like a big deal to us. I mean, how may of us have had visions of cheeseburgers or a bar-b-que sandwich around lunch time? But what you have to remember is that Peter is by upbringing and by cultural tradition a Jew, which means he lives by the dietary standards of the law of Leviticus.
God had given the nation of Israel some very specific instructions on what they could eat and what they were forbidden to eat. In Leviticus 11 in the Old Testament, we see God give the nation the foods they could and could not eat. It was designed not just as a way to keep them healthy, but as a way to set His chosen people apart form the other nations.
Peter argues with God that he could not eat anything that is unclean because he is a Jew. Now, here is a lesson for you. If you are in prayer and have a vision and God speaks to you, don’t argue!! Peter protests to God in Acts 10: 14 that he has never eaten anything impure.
"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
Acts 10:14 (NIV)
But God has a different idea in mind for Peter. He has a unique reply that changes not only Peter’s heart and mind, but the course of eternity for all of humanity.
“The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Acts 10:15 (NIV)
Here is the point: God and Peter are not discussing what Peter should have for lunch. Instead, God is using this picture to open Peter’s eyes to a greater eternal truth that he is about to reveal.
As Peter is in the middle of this vision, three men show up who have been sent from Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Cornelius was, as scripture calls him, “a devout and God-fearing man.” He was the leader of a large group of soldiers who were garrisoned at Caesarea. It is important to note that Cornelius is not Jewish. He is a man who believed in a god, but did not have personal understanding of the true God. As he had been praying to God the day before, a vision came to him telling him to send for Peter in Joppa. So he does.