The Path of Peter to All Peoples; Part 3, No Partiality​

Acts 10:23-48

And on the next day he [Peter] arose and went away with them [the servants of Cornelius] and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. And when it came about that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” And as he talked with him, he entered, and found many people assembled. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. “That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. And so I ask for what reason you have sent for me.” And Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, and he said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. ‘Send therefore to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.’ “And so I sent to you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” And opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him. “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)— you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. “And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. “God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Notice the irony or lack thereof: Peter once believed that the Lord came to establish a Jewish Kingdom–whithout gentiles, yet when Cornelius bowed to him, he told him not to because he also, was a mere man. Notice the sublime string woven throughout all of Scripture that points, frankly, to this point. Notice not only the growth and expansion of the Kingdom, but also the growth and expansion of Peter’s heart–his hidden place, deep within his being. That is, progressively, and also in this moment, the words of God changed his mind and worldview. Again, Peter, who has perpetually preached the promises of God, progressively and yet with pinpoint precision, had his mind changed at this moment, like heavy snow building up on a branch until in that one, split second, it breaks off.

Context is King: “And on the next day he arose and went away with them and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. And when it came about that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” And as he talked with him, he entered, and found many people assembled. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.”

I believe that up until now, Peter wasn’t fully convinced or assured of what he was doing, based on the context at this point. Notice that the Spirit didn’t tell him specifically what he was to do, except to go and have no misgivings. Each event in this episode is like another inch of heavy wet snow on the brittle branche, bending it before a break. Slowly and methodically God is changing Peter and the planet. When Cornelius bowed to Peter, that was another inch of snow on the brittle branch of Peter’s beliefs. When Peter was worshipped, it put Peter on the same plain as Cornelius. “Stand up; I too am just a man.”

“By the testimony of two or three witnesses everything shall be confirmed.” Some of the brethren went with Peter and the servants to the home of Cornelius. Therefore we have not only eyewitness testimony but they did as well. In the same way, Cornelius called close friends and relatives. Not as much as witnesses but to be witnessed to. Still, we have an abundance of witnesses. Problem; these witnesses were uncircumcised foreigners, Invaders of Israel as it were.

Bigger problem; Peter says that it is unlawful for him to associate with them. Biggest problem; Nothing in the Law of Moses states that the Jews must not associate with the gentiles, nothing! The opposite is true, Israel was supposed to have mercy on the aliens and foreigners because they were aliens in the land of Egypt. To this day people place personal preference over Scriptural context. Now, Peter is not naive now, he now knows that the Law of Moses states that Israel is to embrace the alien among them. He is pointing out the preposterous position that the interpreters and scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees have imposed on the Scriptures, of which Peter fully believed, until now, now he see’s that they didn’t expose the Law, they imposed on the Law–not an exegesis but an eisegesis. That is, they brought their own expectations and presuppositions into their translation of the Law. Take a deep breath and let that sink in. Nowhere, ever, does the Law of Moses forbid the Jew from associating with the gentile. Yet Peter confessed that he thought it did. Again, context is king, notice; “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” Another inch of  snow on the  brittle branch. Remember the vision and the word of God.

“Arise Peter, kill and eat.” A masterfull metaphor, meaning that no one should be considered unholy based upon their nationality. But can we say that the opposite is true, dogmatic dispensationalists? If one cannot be considered unholy based upon their nationality, can one be considered holy based upon their nationality? Like the scribes and Pharisees, priests and Sadducees, the dogmatic dispensationalists add their presuppositions to the interpretation of the text. Yet I see no need for interpretation, it’s right here in black and white, or black and taupe, in our case. As I have said before, they, whomever they are, say that taupe is very soothing and I know that my words are unsettling because I ask the mega-churched and the dogmatic dispensationalists to change their minds. Yet I do it based upon the context, aspiration of author, genre, examples and dividing rightly. Don’t string verses together to support your presuppositions but see the sublime string, woven throughout the word of God. Let the building, gathering snow of contextual considerations break the branch of presuppositions. In other words (taupe is very soothing, breath in and out), stop acting like the Sadducees and Pharisees–Peter did. He put aside what his world had taught him and embraced what the Spirit said. Yet while willing to associate with the gentiles, he still didn’t know why he was there. Therefore the snow kept falling on the brittle branch.

“‘That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. And so I ask for what reason you have sent for me.’ And Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, and he said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.” And so I sent to you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.’”

Cornelius recounts the answer to his prayer. He summerizes what we have read previously but adds something interesting–something very Old Testament and Revelation like; “a man stood before me in shining garments.” We know from the previous context that this was an angel but could it be that it was the angel, the messenger? That is, was this Jesus himself? I don’t know, angels are representetives of and like the Master, so that I could go either way. Nevertheless, Jesus himself or an angel, it got Peter’s attention. Clearly Cornelius recounts an encounter with the Divine or with one of his messengers. “Come on Russell P, take a guess, we won’t hold you to it.” Angel; it’s a significant situation but God has angels for a reason. But based on the language it is entirely possible that it was Jesus, himself. Yet I would expect that if it was Jesus, we would have been given a little more description to acsertain that fact. Nevertheless, Peter understood the scenario, finally. Watch the branch break under the heavy snow of the Spirit.

“And opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)— you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.'” Something is stated by Peter that even though we have read it twice, we gloss over it. Paul reminds the reader of Romans and Peter puts it plainly here; “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ.” Israel was entrusted with the word of God and that word of God all pointed to Jesus, yet most of them didn’t see him during the time of visitation. Therefore antisemitic attitudes are absolutely absurd. Nevertheless, God is not one to show partiality. It so sublimely simple that we can’t comprehend it–we neither look up to Israel nor look down on Israel as far as religion is concerned. Israel has committed atrocities and also enlightened the world. They have turned desolation into farms for food and made dirty water clean. They provide doctors to those that hate them and water to those that despise them. But as we will see it is less about nations than it is about the heart of the individual.

The path of Peter to all peoples has been detailed in the proclamation of Peter to all peoples. Let’s look at it line by line. Peter confessed to having eyes that could not see, notice; “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.” “Now;” neither before, in all his preaching to people, walking with Jesus, literally, nor later in his death, but at that moment when Cornelius recounts his vision, does Peter finally understand–the branch broke. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Through his Spirit, Jesus continues to progressively change the minds of his followers. While on earth and even after his ascension, Jesus did not tell the disciples everything but everything they needed to know to get the ball rolling. But now, Peter perceives plainly that partially does not exist with God. Once upon a time not so long ago, based on erroneously interpreted eisegesis, Peter believed falsely, that God did show partiality, like the Pharisees and dogmatic dispensationalists.

Circumcision vs. circumcision of the heart: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.” As Paul wrote to the Romans; “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly.” And, “’THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

“The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)— you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed.” John the Baptist was the harbinger who heralded the Messiah, saying, “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John proclaimed a baptism of repentance, for people to change their minds. After being baptized by John in the Jordan of Judea, Jesus returned to Galilee, performing most of his miracles there.

“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” Peter is probably the best eyewitness we have to the crucifixion other than John and all the Marys. Peter was so close to the action that he felt had to deny Christ thrice, to not be punished too. Peter also was one of the earliest apostles called and was there at the Transfiguration and other exclusive events. Yet Peter included the other brethren as eyewitness as well. “By two or three witnesses shall everything be confirmed.”

“And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.” It seems as though Peter has softened his stance on the scribes Sadducees and Pharisees and all other people present who yelled “crucify him!” Quickly, concisely and almost nonchalantly Peter says, “they also put him to death by hanging him on a cross.” This is a far cry from the following proclamation of Peter: “Jesus, the one whom you delivered up, and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” Peter is now speaking to an audience that wasn’t there that day, yelling, crucify him. Yet Peter does remind everyone that God chose him and his circle to eat and drink with after the resurrection, a select group of fishermen, tax gatherers and women. The Sadducees and Pharisees were not invited.

“And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Watch what happens immediately as Peter says, “everyone who believes in him receives the forgiveness of sins.”

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.”

We call that the rubber stamp of approval from the Holy Spirit. Many of our charismatic collectives believe that this is a proof-text for speaking in tongues for salvation. How quickly we forget the context. Peter specifically said, before anyone spoke in any tongue, “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Nowhere does Peter add, if they also speak in tongues. This was a special, symbolic event, even for Peter, for his eyes were opened. The Holy Spirit had the people present speak in tongues as a seal of approval. It is now official, believing gentiles are fellow heirs with believing Jews. The Spirit confirmed that he was the heavy snow that broke Peter’s branch by having the people present proclaim his power by speaking in tongues.

“Then Peter answered, ‘Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’ And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.”

What is it with the early church and the rush to baptism? Even now that the gentiles have been added to the fold, rather than appreciate the moment and let it settle in, Peter abruptly suggests baptism. I am being sarcastic if you cannot tell. It’s one of the proofs in our current church climate that we may have some rethinking to do. Rather than rush to baptism we wait, and wait. Many people don’t get baptized at all. But we notice that early in church history, baptism was a big deal. Lord willing, we will deal with the big deal of baptism soon as we continue to consider the context of Acts. For now we see the sublime string of progression, the snow-covered, broken branch of Peter’s presuppositions and preconceived notions. Even though he was an actual eyewitness, progressively Peter had his mind changed. See it for what it was, Peter was ethnocentric towards Israel but the Spirit split that branch off the tree of Peter’s beliefs. And what was no small shift in the heart of Peter, is even more magnificent in the history of the world. To quote Peter, “God is not one to show partiality.” Imago Dei; from the beginning, man was created in the image of God. True christianity is the only view which sees no culture, color, or creed that excludes anyone from being a member. The Bible is clear that we are all the same; All people are created in the image of God and All people have sinned against God. Jesus paid the price of that sin on the cross and he offers forgiveness and a kingdom to all who put their faith in him; Jews or Gentiles. Therefore consider your preconceived notion and presupposition that God has two distinct people with two distinct plans. You didn’t come up with that, you had to have had it taught to you.

 

 

 

 

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