|Drawing by Michael Weaver|
To understand why Peter refused God's offer to eat unclean food three times, it is very important to read the post for Leviticus 11 from YEAR ONE of the Bible Book Club in the Reflection section below.
The events in this chapter were so significant that Peter told it three times (Acts 10, 11, and 15:6-9). So, this is a significant event in Scripture. Learn it well!
Cornelius was a Roman officer in charge of 100 soldiers in the Italian Regiment that consisted of 600 soldiers. He was not a full Jew, but he feared God. Jeremiah 29:13 says "You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart." Cornelius was what we would call today a "seeker" and "sharer"; a true "person of peace." (See the Reflection section in the post for Luke 10 for a more detailed explanation about a "person of peace.")
Our sovereign God coordinated the visions of Cornelius and Peter so that this Gentile and his entire household would find a relationship with God through Christ when Peter solemnly testified that Jesus is "the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead" (10:42). What a surprise for observing Jews that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out for Gentiles as well (10:45), but that had been God's plan all along. We will see more of this as we study the book of Romans.
As I have said from the beginning of the Bible Book Club, Gentiles were always part of God's plan for salvation, and He certainly led the way for it in this case! God "accepts men from every nation (people) who fear Him" (10:35).
For review, here is what I wrote regarding Leviticus 11:
As I was meditating on Leviticus 11, my son was meditating on Acts 10 by illustrating the picture above. In Acts 10, Peter saw a sheet descending from heaven with all kinds of those forbidden animals mentioned in Leviticus 11. A voice told him to "arise, kill, and eat!" Of course, Peter said he could not because those animals were unclean! A voice said, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." Wow! What a radical shift!
The gist of what God was trying to tell Peter was what Jesus already said in Mark 7:14-23 and Matt. 15:10-20: that nothing outside the man was going to make him "unclean" but a person is defiled morally by what he thinks in his heart. He was getting at the hypocrisy of the "cleanness" of the Jews on the outside when their hearts were hard on the inside.
Through this vision, God was showing Peter that he "should not call any man impure or unclean . . . and that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right" (Acts 10:28, 34-35). Prior to this, Peter would not have even eaten with Gentiles without risking defilement. God enlightened Peter at the proper time so that he could go to the God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius. As a result, Peter would share the good news of Jesus Christ with Cornelius and his family, and they would become the first Gentiles to follow Jesus!
While God wanted to "set apart" Israel for Himself and to separate them from the pagan practices around them during the time of Leviticus, He still desired that all nations would worship Him, and He still does to this day!
A side note: I love how God orchestrated it for Michael and me to be meditating on related passages on the same day. That is such a God thing! I am also amazed that every single animal he drew on that sheet really was an unclean animal even though he has yet to read the specific unclean animals of Leviticus 11!APPLICATION
There is a fine balance between being holy and "set apart" from the world and reaching out to the world Jesus came to save. I have often found in my effort to reach out to non-believing friends, I have stepped over too far into the worldly "unclean" side of life where I had to reevaluate and adjust.
I have also found the other extreme in friends who shelter themselves so much from the world that they have no meaningful impact upon the people around them.
Where are you on the continuum?
Maybe you are on one end where there are areas in which you need to consecrate to the Lord and separate from the world's ways so that the non-believers in your life can see that you are different in a very good way.
Maybe you are on the other end where you are so afraid of defilement from the world that you never rub shoulders with those who need Jesus.
How can you come to find a balance between those two extremes? Talk to God about it.
Lord, help us to be so in tune with You that we hear You and obey You when You tell us to go and do something. Lead us to our "Cornelius" who is a seeker and sharer of You. Give us the boldness to solemnly testify of Jesus Christ. In whose name we pray, Amen.