What is Peter Telling Us?
There is a message of Christianity that is often forgotten, especially since there are so many denominations often at war with each other; all human beings are brothers and sisters created and loved by the same God. Jesus came to break down the walls we have built between each other and to discover we are called to look out for each other as members of the same family, and to be saved from the power of sin and death by him.
I have a story to read you this day from the 10th chapter of the book of Acts that powerfully brings home this central truth and teaching of Christianity.
There was a man named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea. Captain of the Italian Guard stationed there. He was a thoroughly good man. He had led everyone in his house to live worshipfully before God, was always helping people in need, and had the habit of prayer. One day about three o’clock in the afternoon he had a vision. An angel of God, as real as his next-door neighbor came in and said, “Cornelius.”
Cornelius stared hard, wondering if he was seeing things. Then he said, “What do you want, sir?”
The angel said, “Your prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God’s attention. Here is what you are to do. Send men to Joppa to get Simon, the one everyone calls Peter. He is staying with Simon the Tanner, whose house is down by the sea.”
As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two servants and one particularly devout soldier from the guard. He went over with them in great detail everything that had just happened, and then sent them to Joppa.
The next day as the three travelers were approaching the town, Peter went out on the balcony to pray. It was about noon. Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile, and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came. “Go to it, Peter—kill and eat.”
Peter said, “Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”
The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”
This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies,
As Peter, puzzled, sat there trying to figure out what it all meant, the men sent by Cornelius showed up at Simon’s front door. They called in, asking if there was a Simon, also called Peter, staying there. Peter, lost in thought, didn’t hear them, so the Spirit whispered to him. “Three men are knocking at the door looking for you — get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.”
Peter went down and said to the men, “I think I am the man you are looking for. “What’s up?”
They said, “Captain Cornelius, a God-fearing man well known for his fair play—ask any Jew in this part of the country—was commanded by a holy angel to get you and bring you to his house, so he could hear what you had to say.” Peter invited them in and made them feel at home.
The next morning, he got up and went with then. Some of his friends from Joppa went along. A day later they entered Caesarea, Cornelius was expecting them and had his relatives and close friends waiting with him. The minute Peter came through the door, Cornelius was up on his feet greeting him—and then down on his face worshiping him! Peter pulled him up and said, “None of that—I’m a man and only a man, no different from you.”
Talking things over, they went into the house, where Cornelius introduced Peter to everyone who had come. Peter addressed them, “You know, I’m sure that this is highly irregular. Jews just don’t do this—visit and relax with people of another race. But God has just shown me that no race is better than any other. So, the minute I was sent for, I came, no questions asked. But now I’d like to know why you sent for me.”
Cornelius said, “Four days ago at about this time, midafternoon, I was home praying. Suddenly there was a man right in front of me, flooding the room with light. He said, “Cornelius, your daily prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God’s attention. I want you to send to Joppa to get Simon, the one they call Peter. He’s staying with Simon the Tanner down by the sea.
So, I did it—I sent for you. And you’ve been good enough to come. And now we’re all here in God’s presence, ready to listen to whatever the Master has put in your heart to tell us.”
Peter fairly exploded with his good news. “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God okays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from-if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again-well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.
“You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.
“And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the one who God destined as judge of the living and the dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.”
No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” Gentiles, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.
Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, He ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days.
I believe the same Spirit is active today. I ask each of us to be ready to both proclaim the Good News where it is asked, and to baptize the believers in the name of Jesus. Amen.