1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
In today’s passage, we draw near to one of the most important boundaries that marked off Jewish life--the boundary between Jews as the unique, covenantal family of God over against the other nations and ethnicities of the world, the Gentiles.
We are first introduced to a devout Gentile named Cornelius, who was “God-fearing” (Acts 10:2)--a descriptive title often used for Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel, but because of their Gentile status remained at the perimeter of the Jewish community. An angel appears to tell him his prayers have been answered (Acts 10:4, 31), and though we are not told what these prayers were about, one can guess that they concerned this issue of whether he might be accepted into the family of the one God of Israel.
But notice how this answered prayer gets worked out in the dream that comes to Peter. Peter is hungry, and while a meal is prepared he dreams of a sheet held by its four corners filled with food forbidden by the kosher diet of an observant Jew. He sees a mixture of all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds (Acts 10:11), the kind of food that might be found at a Gentile banquet. God has now made these things clean, so Peter is invited to sit down at this makeshift picnic and dig in!
Why does God confront Peter on this issue (three times no less)? Well for one thing it is an issue that Peter will continue to struggle with. Paul will later write of an occasion where he had to confront Peter in Antioch for not digging in at the table with Gentiles, only this time it was with Gentiles who were already Christians (see Galatians 2:11-15). Paul essentially tells Peter that the gospel, the good news of Jesus reconciling us to God, means nothing if it does not reconcile us to others in such a way that we can cut the brisket together and get our hands sloppy with sauce around a table.
Who we eat with, who we invite to our table says a lot about who we think is loved by God and who we in turn find lovable. And this is a gospel issue, because we follow a Savior who invites us all to his table, where he lovingly serves the bread of his broken body and the wine of his shed blood. What does your table say about you?
Now, Lord, enable your servants through the empowerment of your Spirit to speak your word with great boldness. (taken from Acts 4:29)
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.