We’re continuing in the Book of Acts, and last week, Theresa gave a great lesson that touched on Peter’s character.
I like Peter. He’s messy. When I study Peter, I find I’m often studying myself. Peter’s growth isn’t clean and neat, it’s random and backsliding and lurching forward. It’s full of mistakes. And yet, Jesus loved Peter.
II. Acceptance of Peter
As I was studying the life of Peter for this lesson, I found that many scholars believe that the book of Mark could have possibly been called the book of Peter. Mark wrote the gospel, but many indications are that Peter dictated his life experiences to Mark who wrote them down. One indication that Peter dictated the book of Mark was that Mark was a constant companion of Peter and they were very close. 1 Peter 5:12-14, Peter ends his letter like this:
This is the same Mark, and so close to Peter that Peter calls him his son. Then, one of the most telling indications that Peter dictated the Book of Mark is from the Transfiguration of Jesus, let’s take a look quickly at Mark 9:2-4 –
So Jesus Peter, James and John were all alone. So where was Mark?
Some of the confusion, I think, comes from thinking that Mark is one of the twelve apostle, which he is not. The word “apostle” implies “sending forth,” while “disciple” implies “following.” Mark was certainly a follower of Jesus and a close friend of Peter, but Mark was not one of the apostles.
Peter was a fisherman. Fishermen were gruff, sometimes vulgar. They used colorful language. They had tempers. They smelled like old fish. And yet, when Jesus said “follow me” in Luke 5, Peter dropped everything to follow Christ. Jesus accepted Peter, smelly fish deodorant and all.
Peter still made mistakes. In Mark chapter 8, Jesus is telling his disciples that the Messiah would suffer and die for their sins, and Peter rebukes Jesus. And Jesus turned, looked at Peter, and said, “Get the behind me, Satan!”
It’s not the only time that Jesus looked directly at Peter. In Mark 14, Jesus tell his disciples that they will all fall away from him, like sheep they will be scattered. And Peter, “Even if all the others fall away, I will not.” And Jesus tells Peter that this very night, Peter will deny him 3 times. When the rooster crows for the third time, Luke 22:61 says, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” Can you imagine what “the look” looked like?
And yet, there’s hope for Peter. When Jesus asks His disciples in Mark 8:29, “Who do you say I am?” Peter blurts out – Peter blurts a lot of things – “You are the Christ, the Messiah.” After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter was the first to “raise his voice” at Pentecost, the day the church came into being. Peter was “the rock” that Christ founded His church.
And today, in Acts 10, we see both sides of Peter. We see his stubbornness and we see his leadership at the same time. He’s already founded the church and our smelly fisherman is now preaching to the church.
III. Acceptance of Food
Let’s start with Acts 10:9-15 –
We’re going to look at our scripture today from a couple of different viewpoints, but first I want to point out that Peter is still a mess, but he’s learning. Peter’s initial response to his vision is basically this:
If the Lord asks us to do something, our response shouldn’t be “no.” Is He Lord or is He not? If He is Lord, then our only response should be “yes”. But like Peter, I seem to have a hard time learning this lesson. Sometimes my response is something like, “Good idea, Lord. I hope somebody does that. Soon, too.”
God tells Peter that it’s ok to eat that which was previously considered unclean. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 defines what is unclean, things we should not eat. Things that are unclean include fish that do not have scales, a mammal that that does not both chew the cud and have a divided hoof, flying insects that walk instead of hop. It’s a pretty complicated list. Most carnivorous creatures, so some birds like vultures and seagulls. Interesting that though the list of unclean foods goes back thousands of years, science is starting to show that “unclean” foods are not the healthiest things to eat, and some are very unhealthy. So under Old Testament Law, the Jews were prohibited from eating unclean foods.
The list of clean and unclean foods was quite extensive.
Peter was a devout Jew. He didn’t eat unclean foods. But remember that, while we learn a lot about God’s character through the Old Testament, we do not have to obey the 613 mitzvots. We can if we want to, but two scriptures tell us that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law, and that such obedience doesn’t save us anyway. We cannot work our way into heaven. First is this statement from Jesus in Matthew 5:17 –
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Christ didn’t delete the Old Testament; He fulfilled the Old Testament. It is finished. Galatians 3:24-25 says –
So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
Now Peter is still trying to live under the law and refusing to eat unclean foods, when God tells Peter that these rules regarding unclean foods have also been fulfilled in Christ. God tells Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
IV. Acceptance of Gentiles, You and Me
Jew Acts 10 goes on to say that Peter was wondering about the meaning of this vision when a Roman Centurion named Cornelius summons him. The Holy Spirit tells Peter to get up and go with them.
Now, this was something Peter wouldn’t want to do as a devout Jew, so when Peter arrives at the centurions, he says in Acts 10 verse 28,
This is important to us as follower of Jesus. God’s plan of salvation was originally for Israel alone. However, especially in the book of Matthew, we see that the Jews rejected the Christ, and salvation was opened to the gentiles as well. Peter is sort of clumsily getting this message – in fact, one of Paul’s letters to Peter was to rebuke Peter for his duplicity. When Peter would go to a new town, he would go to the synagogue and observe all the Jewish rituals and traditions. Peter would be a very devout, orthodox Jew. But then Peter would preach that there was only one plan of salvation, and that was to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ. It was gift of grace, and nothing we could do would earn our salvation. Paul’s letter essentially asked, “Well, which is it? Why are you following the law if it is by grace alone that we are saved?”
Peter’s vision was about unclean food, but he realizes that the message is for Jews and gentiles, too. God created gentiles, and it was not for Jews to judge God for His plan of salvation for the gentiles. And it is good news indeed that God accepts gentiles like you and me.
I make mistakes. To that extent, I’m a lot like Peter. And the more I study, the more I realize what a slow learner I am. Even this week, during a visit with somebody very close to me, I attempted to make a funny. But it didn’t come out funny. It came out vulgar and crude. It came out ugly. It came out like a fisherman’s deodorant.
And I realized that, though I try to walk in the light and live my life according to the riches and the grace within Christ Jesus, I still walk in the flesh. I’m still a mess. And I am so, so very thankful that, despite my deodorant, I am accepted. I am loved. I am a child of God.
V. Acceptance of Others
In Acts 10:34, Peter offers this observation,
Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Not just the Jews. Not just people in Judea. Christ is Lord of all. Jews, gentiles, you, me, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton.
The thing is, that nobody who we are, Jesus Christ will accept us. When Jesus asks us to follow Him, He doesn’t ask us do run some sort of spiritual obstacle course before we’re allowed to call ourselves Christians. When He calls us, He meets us where we are. We might own our own company, we might work for somebody who owns their own company. We might be a world traveler; we might be a homebody. There are no prerequisites, Jesus accepts us as we are. If we accept Jesus into our hearts, then we begin a lifelong journey of understanding love, forgiveness, acceptance, sacrifice. But we don’t start at the end of that journey, we start at the beginning.
Accepting Jesus is easy. Living for Jesus is a lot harder, but don’t confuse the two. Accepting Jesus gives us a gift to enter the kingdom of heaven. Living for Jesus gives us the abundant life He promises us, now and eternal.
For those of us who have accepted this gift, we begin a new relationship. Of all the gospels, the Book of John is written to the gentiles. The purpose is to evangelize a lost world and call the gentiles to the love of Christ. In John 1:9-13, let’s read the message to gentiles –
Let’s parse this a little to understand it.
- “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” Who is John talking about? John is talking about Jesus, the true light that shines in a dark world of sin that we were born into. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, that has come to fulfill God’s plan to take away the sins of the world.
- “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” Jesus was born in this world, but John 1:3 says that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” In other word, though Jesus was responsible for creating our world, the very world He created didn’t know who He was.”
- “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” Jesus came as the Messiah to save the Jewish people, but the Jewish people didn’t now accept Him as the Messiah. Instead, they taunted Him, they scourged Him, they crucified Him. They killed Him.
- “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” And here good news for the gentiles – if we receive Jesus Christ, our lives are changed forever. Where once we were enemies of God, now we are His adopted children.
I think it’s important for us to recognize where we are in this world before we accept Jesus. We are children of God now, it says. But before, well, let’s look at John 8:42-44 –
Like it or not, before we are adopted by God, we are children of the devil. The destination for the children of God is heaven, the destination for those who do not accept the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus is to accept the wages of sin, and the wages of sin is death. John 8:23-24, Jesus says,
It’s more than sad that those that die in their sins are one profession of faith from eternal life. But when one rejects God in this life and chooses not to follow Jesus, God grants their ultimate wish. If they do not want to be with Jesus, then forever more they will be away from Jesus.
We are children of God; they are children of the devil. We are in this world; they are of this world. But God’s instructions to us as followers of Jesus is to be like Christ Jesus. We do not – cannot – condemn those who reject Jesus. Instead we pray for them and live our lives with the light of Jesus Christ within us. They are one profession of faith away from being our brother or sister in Christ.
I’ve been going to a bible fellowship every other Friday night, and for the last year, one of the group has asked us to pray for her brother. She had accepted Christ, her brother had not. And every time she brought up Jesus to him, he shut her down, told her he didn’t want to hear of it.
He developed cancer, and it advanced rapidly. He went into hospice 2 weeks ago, and he would let his sister read from the bible, but other than that, would not discuss it further. She continued to ask the group for prayers.
And then, this week, he died. As John 8:24 says, he died in his sins, no evidence that he had accepted the free gift of salvation that was right in front of him. No matter how he had lived his life, he would have been accepted all the way to the last breath.
Everybody wants to be accepted by somebody. I once read an essay that everything we say and do can be summarized by just one goal: We want to matter to somebody.
Love and acceptance is available to us in abundance if we just know where to look. Christ loved Israel. Christ loved the gentiles. Christ loves the world. Christ loves you and me, and accepts us just as we are.
We’re called to be like Christ, which means we are to love those that do not yet love Christ. To let them know they are accepted.
And we can be at peace, that despite our deodorant, Christ accepts us. Turns out, we do matter to somebody. We are adopted children of God, and we matter to Jesus. We matter so much that He gave His life so we can be saved.
Have you made an error you regret? Something so icky you would never talk about it with friends or family? And is it coming between you and God? Don’t be afraid that it’s too icky for God. God saw death on a cross, and scourging and crucifixion is icky. Whatever it is, acknowledge it to God and talk to Him about it. God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west. God is accepting and does not hold it against you. You shouldn’t hold it against you, either.
Let others know that this love and acceptance is available to them, too. It doesn’t matter who they are, where they came from, what they’ve done, salvation is available to everyone who asks. As it says in Galatians 3:26-28,
To God be the glory.