Acts 11:1-18 – Peter’s report to the church at Jerusalem on why he ate with the uncircumcised. Peter’s vision of the sheer being let down with clean and unclean foods.
Psalm 148 – Praise the Lord mountains and hills, cattle and bugs, men and women, young and old.
Revelation 21:1-6 – New heaven. New Earth. New Jerusalem. Wipe tears from every eye. Death will be no more.
John 13:31-35 – Little children, I am with you only a little longer. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
April 21, 2019 – RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD: Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon: They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day. We are witnesses.
April 28, 2019 – Easter 2C: Acts 5:27-32 – Peter to the high priest: The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand. We are witnesses.
May 5, 2019 – Easter 3C: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20) – Saul’s conversion.
May 12, 2019 – Easter 4C: Acts 9:36-43 – Peter’s resuscitation of Tabitha in Joppa.
May 19, 2019 – Easter 5C: Acts 11:1-18 – Peter’s vision and eating with the uncircumcised.
May 26, 2019 – Easter 6C: Acts 16:9-15 –Paul’s vision during the night: A man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come to Macedonia and help us.’ The gospel enters Europe.
Thursday, May 30, 2019 or Sunday, June 2, 2019 – ASCENSION OF OUR LORD: Acts 1:1-11– Jesus is lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
June 9, 2019 – PENTECOST: Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost. Roaring wind and tongues of flame.
Last week Peter raised Tabatha in the coastal city of Joppa (Acts 9). This week, still in Joppa, God speaks to Peter through a vision/dream (Acts 11). Next week God will speak to Paul through a vision/dream (Acts 16).
Joppa, mentioned four times in the Old Testament, is a Mediterranean port city on the western coast of Israel. Today it is known as Jaffa. Legend holds it was named for Japheth, son of Noah, who built it after the flood. It is the city to which Jonah fled and caught a ship out of Dodge when he was supposed to be going to Nineveh.
In the New Testament, Joppa is mentioned in Acts 9, 10 and 11. Here’s the text, from Acts 11:
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
This is a retelling of the vision that was already described in the previous chapter (Acts 10). The vision in chapter 10 preceded Cornelius’ arrival, preparing Peter for this moment. Peter preached (once again), “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” The gospel and the church will now be open to non-Jewish believers. The resurrection has changed the way Gentiles relate to Jews. Faith in Christ brings down walls. If your faith is building walls, you’re probably not doing it right.
Our text begins with the news that the Gentiles have also “accepted the word of God.” Luke uses this phrase “word of God” 16 times in Luke/Acts, five times in Luke and eleven times in Acts. In Luke the “word of God” came to John the Baptist, spurring his ministry. The crowds gather around Jesus to hear the word of God. The word of God is like seed which a sower sows. In Acts, the word of God is spoken by the apostles and it spreads. It is unlikely Luke intends the phrase “word of God” to mean Jesus himself, like John does. Instead, it means Jesus’ words His teachings. Luke wants us to know that the Gentiles are accepting the word of Jesus.
This is great news, but the circumcision party has gotten word that Peter himself was seen eating with Gentiles. Was Cornelius baptized? Does baptism erase the line between Jew and Gentile? Are the Torah’s dietary laws now to be disregarded? So he walks them through his vision. He has undergone a transformation.
In the vision, a large sheet is let down from heaven. On the sheet are a number of animals, including those that are forbidden in Leviticus 11. God commands Peter to “kill and eat.” Peter says he cannot, because he has never eaten anything unclean. God tells Peter not to call unclean what God has called clean. God tells Peter not to make distinctions, and the Spirit falls upon the Gentiles. Peter concludes, if the Spirit fell on them as it had him, who is he to hinder God?
Pastor Robert Deffinbaugh from Richardson, Texas, says “Peter is called on the carpet.” His reluctance to fellowship with Gentiles, his suspicious view of them as being other, “heterodox,” unworthy, has nothing to do with the kingdom of God that is breaking into the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God challenges Peter’s worldview. Like Paul, he must have a conversion. He will have to be born again. Again.
For those who remained in Jerusalem, Peter’s methods may seem a bit unorthodox. Those who remained cloistered in Jerusalem may not be ready to see what the Spirit is doing. Those who remain cloistered in a Christendom view of the church may not be able to see what the Spirit is doing today.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Can we get on board with what God is doing, even if “we’ve never done it that way before?” Or do demand God get on board with what we’re doing? As if the passage said, “Listen Lord, your servant speaks.”
For Peter, it must have seemed strange, leaving behind what he had been taught by his parents since he was a child. Nevertheless, it is curious the Jewish Christians would criticize Peter for hanging out with uncircumcised men and eating with them, when this is precisely what Jesus had done. Jesus’ ministry can be characterized as eating with tax collectors and sinners. Commensality. Jesus was also known to relax some of the Levitical codes. His disciples did not fast at the appropriate times. They picked heads of wheat on the Sabbath. Failed to wash hands.
In Mark 7:14-23 Jesus declared all foods clean,
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19 since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Jesus’ faith is not moralistic legalism. Christianity is not meticulously keeping a list of dos and don’ts. Christianity is being in a trusting relationship with God in Christ, then being led by the Spirit. The implications of this are just beginning to dawn upon the church. A window of awareness will open, then shut again for a few decades.
For Peter, the proof is in the free gift of the Holy Spirit. “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced.
What if this was our litmus test as well? Rather than lifting proof texts out of the Scriptures, what if we ate with all those we consider sinners or unclean, loving, entering into relationship, sharing the Good News, and watching to see what the Spirit does?
Christ is for the outsiders as well, or those we in the church often consider outsiders. In the 80’s and 90’s I saw more compassion for persons with AIDS from outside the church, than from those inside the church. Sad but true. The true church does not consist of those on the membership rolls of congregations. The church is that community of all who are “in Christ,” whether the church recognizes it or not. “By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Those who seek to follow the self-emptying way of Christ need one another. They need a community. That community is the church. “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name…”