Some of us need more than a gentle nudge to persuade us. Others again can be downright stubborn. I suppose I am somewhere in between, but theologically I am so conservative that I would be considered by some as downright stubborn!
Peter leans somewhere near the very stubborn side doctrinally. Remember we are dealing with Cornelius who was spoken to by an angel in a vision instructing him to have Saul collected and brought to his household. Saul again was in a trance and saw a sheet coming down from heaven with every conceivable animal on it … both that which as considered “clean” and eatable plus that which was considered “unclean” and legally and religiously not to be eaten by Jews. The sight is replaced with a voice:
Ac 10:13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
1) The voice is that of the Lord Jesus. Notice in verse 14 that Peter knows it is Jesus without question. He remembered the voice he had heard so many times for three years. The instruction … “get up” literally means to get up from a crouching position or to wake up from your sleep to do something. Couple this to the command to kill and eat that made no sense to him. This would violate Jewish Food Laws. He now proves his obedience to the dietary and ceremonial laws within the covenant God made with Israel by saying … “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” He is not pretending to be a holy Joe. He is brutally honest. Yet in this honesty he is revealing he has not yet grasped Jesus’ instruction:
Ac 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Maybe he was lenient on “Samaria” but what about “the ends of the earth”? Jesus said reach the Gentile world and how can you reach the Gentile world if you reject certain foods that they eat? Surely this would be insulting! But there is more … far more! Jesus reinforces what the sheet of animals means:
Ac 10:15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
This is more than revolutionary for Peter … this is outrageous because Jesus (God) is overturning the “clean and unclean” distinctions and dietary laws together with all the other Ceremonial Laws. Jesus is saying that absolutely nothing must get in the way of fellowshipping with Gentiles as well as evangelizing them. The sheet appeared a final time and then disappeared never to return again. The concept of “second” and “third” have no doctrinal of theological meaning here, but the rebuke does. If God declares all animals are now in the bracket of “clean”, neither Peter nor any Christian may hold to the old covenant’s requirements. That would be twisting Scripture! And by the way … this would include any person amongst those who hold to keeping the Jewish Sabbath Day!
2) Peter’s experience caused him to engage in much thought and contemplation.
Ac 10:17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the encounter.
This was unbelievable! How could this be? Even though the Lord Jesus stated that as God, He is reversing the Laws He gave to Moses because it is now New Covenant time! The Jews were God’s special people but because of their rebellion and refusal to go into all the world to speak of the true God (See Genesis 12:3), He Himself starts the initiative of opening the doors for Gentiles to stream into His Kingdom. Now Kingdom is universal! I can’t imagine Peter’s thoughts. It must have been extremely hard for Him. But the story continues to unfold!
3) The arrival of the delegation from Cornelius.
Ac 10:17 the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there
They asked around and found out where Simon the Tanner’s house was and arriving there, they stopped outside the front gate. They did not go to the door, rather they called out to Simon inquiring whether Peter was lodging there. The soldier with them gave them protection and authority to call out without interference. The way this was done shows respect for the house owner and his guests.
4) Seemingly before the food was ready, whilst still in deep thought about what Jesus hold told him, the Holy Spirit speaks to Peter.
Ac 10:19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
Peter knows that the voice was Jesus’ and now he listens and obeys the Holy Spirit’s instructions. These events are not how God communicates today. He has given His Word (The Bible) and all instructions for salvation, holiness and life, together with preparation for heaven are contained within His Word. Note the specifics …
(1) Three men. That is the two servants and the one soldier
(2) They are looking for you. Before he could ask “why, he is told …
(3) Get to your feet and go down stairs.
(4) Don’t waste time.
(5) I … the Holy Spirit had sent them. Peter now knows the full story of the delegation but still does not understand the “sheet, animals and why God made all animals clean”. Peter’s shows His understanding of the Spirit’s instruction and goes down stairs to meet the men immediately.
5) Some interaction between Peter and the delegation.
Ac 10:21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
Peter informed the delegation that he was the person they were looking for. He further requested they inform him of the reason they come to him. It is possible that meeting them outside was a cautionary measure.
Ac 10:22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”
They explained who they were … from Cornelius the centurion; who he was … a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people; the reason for their visit … A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say. They identified Cornelius as a godly man respected by the Jew. Then they explain an angel from God had directed him to have Peter come to him and address them. Peter needed to visit a gentile household … an unclean household and speak the Gospel to them. Things are starting to fall into place:
Ac 10:23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
Lord, help us to exercise hospitality. Amen.