Tuesday, April 21. Acts 10:44-48.
This is a repost from the Acts study and reflects on the whole story found in Acts 10.
Peter’s vision on the tanner’s roof must have been one of the most confusing moments of his life. Try to place yourself in his shoes (or sandals). For his entire life he had been taught that it was wrong to eat certain types of food. In fact, it wasn’t just wrong, it was a sin and doing so would cause God to reject you as an unclean person. Compounded with this teaching was the notion that the reason the world was so bad was because so many people were not obeying these rules and these “unclean” people were polluting our society and they must be avoided at all costs. Even associating with them would spoil you, corrupt you, and bring the wrath of God down on your head.
Now, look into the sheet that is full of unclean animals and hear the voice that says, “Take and eat.” What?!? Surely not, Lord. That is you, right God? I mean, how could you possibly ask me to do this?
Here are some thoughts and observations:
Perhaps it wasn’t that God was being contradictory. Perhaps it was that Peter’s theology, as it had been handed down to him through generations of teachers, had become fundamentally distorted and had strayed from the core of God’s heart and intention. When God gave the dietary laws to the slaves in Egypt, God was protecting them from disease and pestilence in an environment that was very hostile to their survival. They were untrained as a nation and they were moving into cultures that undoubtedly carried disease that was foreign to their systems. Because God is a loving God who cares about the people, and because God’s intent for Abraham’s family was to be a blessing to all nations, God instituted dietary laws. Throughout the centuries these laws had become distorted and had evolved into a tool to drive a wedge between nations. By Peter’s day the dietary laws had become a badge of honor that set the Jewish people apart from the “heathen.” They also became a litmus test of holiness that would keep the wrath of God at bay and prove one’s worth in the kingdom. The law that had given life in its conception now bred death and destruction. God was not contradicting Godself; God was confronting distortion and beginning the liberation process for Peter and the church.
Following God is a scary and unpredictable endeavor. Look at the great stories of the leaders in the Bible – Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah. When was God tame and predictable in those stories? God told Abraham to go into the unknown, with no map or instruction book; only a relationship with God. God threw Joseph into a dungeon with no explanation or hope. He only had faith. God led Moses with a wild pillar of fire and smoke, and led him on unpredictable paths through the wilderness. God allowed David to enter the holy place and he didn’t die. David followed God with his heart as he bumbled around with his own sinfulness. Elijah knew God well enough to call for rain and hear God’s gentle whisper in the cleft of the rock. Each of these men did not follow a predictable, law-bound God. Instead, they were in relationship with the infinite, Almighty, and they obeyed as God led.
Today, Peter begins that journey with God. Get up and eat. Now go and extend the right hand of fellowship to the man who represents all that you have been told is evil in the world. Step across the great divide and allow God to do his work in spite of your shortsightedness.
Here is the message for the church today. Many times we become focused on the “laws” that we have created. “Good Christians” do this and “Good Christians” DON’T do that! “Oh, I can’t believe he went and did ________! I thought he was a Christian? We must no longer associate with them.”
Remember, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brought us a new law. He called us to holiness; to maturity. Yet, the maturity he called us to was not about what we do or don’t do on the outside. He called us to grow in the maturity of God’s unconditional, absolute love. We are called to love the unlovely, the sick, the enemy, and the “unclean.”
Where are the dividing walls today? Are there any places in our hearts where we find the self-righteous tendencies that so easily creep up and place us in the camp with the Pharisees? Are there any people, Christian or not, that we consider to be “unclean” because of the things that they do on the outside of their body, before we ever take the time to examine the inside of their heart? Perhaps we can walk across the bridge of God’s Kingdom alongside of Peter and reach out a hand today.