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What I Have Called Pure - Acts 10

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01.16.2022 Dehumanizing the Other [Acts 10]
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01.16.2022 Dehumanizing the Other [Acts 10]
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What I Have Called Pure – 01.16.2022

[Acts 10]

Kathleen Peterson tells an old story about a bank in Chicago that once asked for a letter of recommendation on a young Bostonian who was being considered for employment. The Boston investment house could not say enough about the young man. They wrote back, “Well, his father was a Cabot, his mother was Lowell. Further back he’s a happy blend of Saltonstalls, Peabodys and other of Boston’s first families.” Apparently all those names are wealthy and famous people in Boston. His recommendation was given without hesitation. Several days later, the Chicago bank sent a note saying the information supplied was altogether inadequate. It read: “We are not contemplating using the young man for breeding purposes. Just for work. Is he a good worker?”

We open up in our scripture today with this fellow Cornelius. [read v.1-4]. So Cornelius is a Roman Centurion, one of the soldiers in occupied territory. And you would think that the Roman soldiers were the bad guys – I mean, the country of Israel is under military occupation. But they tell us that this fellow Cornelius, is actually a delightful human being. Gives to the poor, prayers to God, gets visits from angels – all around good guy. And the angel comes to him and says, “Hey, God has been watching what you’ve been doing with your life – and you should really meet this guy Peter.” So Cornelius sends some of his servants to go get Peter.

Meanwhile, over in a nearby city of Joppa, Peter was getting ready to have lunch. He went up on his roof to pray, which seems a little odd to me – but I live in Michigan, my roof’s not that much fun to sit on. So Peter’s up on the roof, waiting for lunch to be ready, and he slips into a trance. It’s a pretty weird story, check this out, [read v.10-16]. Peter’s on the roof. A sheet comes down, full of weirdo animals – reptiles, birds, etc. And he hears a voice that says, “eat them.” But Peter says, “No, no – I’m Jewish, and the Jewish dietary rules say that those foods are impure. So I don’t eat that stuff.” And apparently this happens three times – which is so strange to me. I mean, what would that even look like? Did the sheet, like, rewind and go back up into heaven? And come back down? Eat this. No. Sheet goes back up, comes back down. Eat this. No. It’s very strange this trance or vision of whatever you call it, but verse 15 is the key. It says, [read v.15]. It’s a pretty trippy experience for Peter to watch this sheet full of animals come up and down out of heaven, and honestly he’s not totally sure what the message is. Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.

One thing that might help us understand is to remember the Jewish context. Jewish people throughout their entire existence, ever since Moses, as a people they have always had a set of rules that keeps them distinct from their neighbors. They are only allowed to marry people from the tribes of Israel. They wear certain clothes, they eat specific foods and avoid other foods. A lot of these customs were designed to keep them separate from the people around them. And to be honest, a lot of it was that they considered themselves to be better than everyone else. They are God’s chosen people. Jewish people would look around at the other people living in the land and say, “you’re not God’s chosen people. We are God’s chosen people. God loves us, not you.” There were Jewish people and then there were Gentiles. Gentiles was sort of that word we use for all the other groups of people. Jewish people were closer to God because God chose them. They’re his favorites. An entire country that believed God loved them more than all the other countries. So back to Peter and his weird vision it says, [read v.17-18]. So while Peter is pondering the sheets full of reptiles falling from the sky, he has some visitors at the door. They say, “hey, we’re from Cornelius’ house – he’s pretty cool, please come with us.” So Peter goes to Cornelius’ house, and right away he gives us an insight into why this is a big deal, [read v.28]. So apparently, it was illegal for Jewish people to associate or even visit with a Gentile. I mean, I knew that Jewish people had these separate rules – like, they couldn’t get married to other people, and they ate differently, but I never realized how strong those rules are. They can’t even hang out with someone who is not Jewish. We are God’s super special chosen people, and we only hang out with other of God’s super special chosen people – we wear pink on Wednesdays and you can’t sit with us. This is more exclusive than lunchroom tables in high school. BUT, let’s hear the verse again. [read v.28]. Peter is putting together the vision with his real life experience. I thought it was about food. Peter says, “I don’t eat impure animals” and God says, “don’t call things impure that I call clean, but what’s going on here is that Peter expands the lesson to include people as well. Cornelius and Peter chat for a bit, explaining why they’re here and then in verse 34 Peter gets to the core teaching.

[read v.34-35]. God does not play favorites. God accepts from every nation those who fear him and do what is right. This might sound like a normal teaching to you and me – to our modern ears of course God accepts people from every nation – but this was a radical idea for Peter and all his Jewish buddies. God’s favor, God’s chosen people – it’s not about bloodlines or what country you are from. God accepts those who fear him and do what is right. Couple things from that. Number 1 – God accepts from every nation. That should destroy racism and nationalism. It doesn’t matter what country you are from. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, or what customs you grew up with. It doesn’t matter who your parents are. God accepts from every nation. Number 2 – God accepts those who fear him and do what is right. Another phrase we use is those who repent and are baptized. God accepts those who respect his authority and live the way he has taught. The key feature of the people of God is not skin color. The key feature of the people of God is not what country they are from, or whether they are from well respected families. No, the key feature in the house of God – the one and only thing we all have in common is repentance. No matter who you are. No matter who you were before you came into this room – the one thing we who follow Jesus have in common – is that we have all repented. We give up our sin to follow Jesus. We fear God and do what is right.

Here’s why this matters. In the modern world we obsess over our identity. If you go look at some social media accounts – you’ll see a whole bunch of gibberish that is designed to tell you who they are. There’s personality tests – I’m an INTJ, or the enneagram – I’m a 6w2. Horoscopes – I’m a saggitarius. There’s educational gibberish – I’m an MDiv, PHD candidate DDS (wait, I think that one means dentist). You’ll see overly political ones – with candidates names and years. BLM, Free Palestine, and then pronouns – we spend an enormous amount of time presenting ourselves to the world, and then making sure the world respects the way we present to the world. We obsess over our identity. And to be honest, we all find those things very helpful – because then we know who is in or who is out. We know how to draw the lines. I know people – I have some single friends who are on dating apps and I’ll see stuff like, “well, if they have anything that’s pro-Trump in their bio – I won’t friend them.” OR in the other direction, “if they have pronouns in their bio – I don’t want to interact with them.” And I think some of you are probably thinking, “yeah! Because then I know who is good and who is bad. Who is on my team and Who is on the other team.” We are a people obsessed with the different categories and the different boxes that the world has given us to choose from. And into the chaos of our cultural fascination with ourselves Peter puts this line out there, “God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” For Christians, the only piece of our identification that matters, the only thing that needs to go in the bio, is repentance. Repentance is the one universal feature of the Christian family.

And Peter follows up that message with the gospel. If you don’t know, the Gospel is the good news about Jesus. That Jesus, the son of God, was sent into this world to save us from our sins. He died and our sin died with him. If we repent, if we say sorry for our sins and commit to loving Jesus and following him as our lord and savior – we become washed clean. Do you see it? This story started with Peter and his weirdo vision about unclean food. And God told him, “don’t call impure anything that God has made clean.” And then through this interaction with Cornelius God shows Peter – this is not about food, this is about God’s people. Because through Jesus, God has called you clean. You come to Jesus, with all your sin – it’s like dirt on your clothes, and he washes you clean. Three days after he hung on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead, conquering sin and death so that we could have a new life. And that’s the message that Peter is giving to Cornelius. It’s all over verse 36 to 43, and he emphasizes that he and others are witnesses. He’s giving his eye witness testimony to Cornelius. I saw this stuff with my own eyes!

Verse 44 [read v44-46]. Circumcised believers, (read: Jewish) they were astonished. Shocked that God’s gift of the Holy Spirit would be poured out on non Jewish people. There is no nationalism in God’s love. The key feature of God’s family is repentance. And the chapter ends with Cornelius getting baptized in the name of Jesus for the glory of God.

God does not show favoritism. God accepts people from every nation, from every background, from every situation – God accepts those who fear him and do what is right. I want you to stop and hear that good news. Whatever gibberish you use to define yourself, whatever letters and numbers you have in your bio – if you will repent and believe, God will accept you. God does not show favoritism. God forgives sin through Jesus Christ. He washes us clean, and then tells Peter, “do not call anything impure, that I have made clean.” God is ready to wash you clean, right now this morning. God is ready to forgive your sins, no matter where you come from. The only thing you need is what all Christians have – repentance through Jesus Christ.

Every time I read the bible, I always like to ask, “why does this matter? What does this mean for my life?” I think today it’s pretty obvious. So I have two challenges for you. First – fear God and do what is right. Another way to say that is “repent and believe.” Jesus came for you. Jesus came to wash you clean so that you would never be called impure. Repent and believe in Jesus and God will forgive your sins, wash you clean and you will never be called impure. The second challenge follows right out of that. If God does not show favoritism, we need to offer that forgiveness, that cleanliness – to literally everyone we know. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. It’s not bad to have stuff in your bio. To be excited about personality tests or politics, your education or your hobbies. It’s not bad. But a lot of us spend a lot of time trying to rebuild the walls that Jesus tore down. But like I said before – the only universal feature of the family of God, the only line we draw – is repentance.

I think about that Boston banker who needed a recommendation to work in a bank in Chicago. They thought his heritage, his prestigious family was enough of a recommendation – but that’s not what the bank cared about. God does not show favoritism, but he forgives sin through Jesus Christ – and what he has called clean, no one can call impure. Amen.


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