Text: Acts 10: 1-27
Proposition: Acceptance with God begins not with qualifications as important as they are but with the One who invites you, like an ark, to be in Him.
Introduction: When I was 19 I enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces. It was a lengthy process of medicals, aptitude tests and attitude tests as I submitted my high school marks and hoped for a favourable outcome. I received my letter of acceptance in the spring of ’69 and was soon learning what acceptance meant to the military. Acceptance is a big thing for all of us, we want to be accepted by any group we connect to, by our friends and especially by our family. But what about acceptance by God, how important is it to you to be accepted by the Lord Jesus Christ? Are there qualifications to meet, what does His acceptance of me depend on? Today we are going to see what acceptance looks like, we’ll see what it looks like to accept the way that God does things as He leads two men into the intersection of the cross. Have a look at Acts 10:1-27.
I. Acceptance Is a Set Up.
The last time we saw Peter he was in a town called Joppa at Simon the tanner’s house. Just 30 miles north of there, about a 10 hour walk, was the Roman fortress of Caesarea, also on the Mediterranean coast. Living there is Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who has come to believe in the God of the Jews. He’s a devout man, one who feared God, was generous towards all people and taught that to all in his house. One day about the ninth hour, or three in the afternoon, he was praying when suddenly this amazing thing happens. In a vision, something he could see more in his mind than with his eyes, an angel appears to him and calls him by name. In awe and fear he replies, “What is it Lord?” He’s told about a man called Peter staying in Joppa and that he should immediately send for this Peter who will tell him what he must do. Two questions come to mind:
1. Cornelius was praying just before this, what was it he was praying for? 2. Why didn’t God just answer him rather than having Peter come all the way to Caesarea to do what the angel could have done in an instant? Was it possible that Cornelius was asking God what he must do to be included in the kingdom of God, how he too could find acceptance with God when he was not allowed to sacrifice at the Temple? As to the second question of why didn’t the angel just give him the answer to that, is it possible that God prefers to use people to present the way of acceptance to God, rather than angels? Is there perhaps also a another reason, that God wants the leader of the church to go physically to the Gentiles showing the other Jewish believers that the way is now open to the Gentiles? Cornelius immediately sends three men out, two servants accompanied by a soldier, all devout men. It’s three in the afternoon when they leave and they likely walked until dark and then resumed their journey at daybreak the next day arriving at Joppa at the sixth hour, about noon. Now the camera of Scripture shifts to the next day, Peter is on the roof top of Simon the tanner’s house, praying. Suddenly Peter has this strange experience of seeing a sheet come down from heaven, like a great tarp, holding all kinds of animals and birds. It was noon, Peter was already hungry and then has this vision and a voice saying to him, “Rise Peter, kill and eat.” His immediate response was to correct God. It was like when he corrected Jesus when Jesus had predicted His own death and resurrection or like when Jesus was going to wash the disciples feet at the last supper and Peter refused Him. Peter had a habit of correcting God. We were listening to a Carolyn Arends song the other day that had this line in it, “Oh how I need vacation, ‘cause it’s so exhausting pretending I’m God, there would be much less frustration if I would let You do Your job” (Be Still). Have you ever been there, calling the shots that God would usually call? Peter advises God that this is not the right way to go, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean." The response was clear and, for Peters sake, repeated three times, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." We know from reading the whole story that God wants Peter to go to see Cornelius in Caesarea so two questions again pop to mind: 1. What does the image of all the animals in the sheet have to do with Peter going to see this Gentile soldier Cornelius? 2. Why doesn’t God just tell Peter to go to Caesarea? Let’s answer this first question about the animals and birds Peter sees. In Leviticus 11 and Deut 14 God lists the animals, fish and birds that the Jews are not to eat saying that by observing these restrictions they will show that they are set apart and holy before God. The Gentiles did not observe these restrictions and as such were considered defiled because of what they ate. Food literally became a barrier between holy people and unholy people. It was absolutely forbidden by the Jewish laws for a Jew to therefore eat or show hospitality to a Gentile. When God now declares these animals and birds clean He is overriding the previous injunction for seeking holiness. In effect He is taking down a barrier wall between the Jews and the Gentiles, both symbolically and literally in terms of dietary restrictions for holiness. There is now a new and lasting way for all to be holy. But God doesn’t reveal this to Peter outright, He wants him to obey by faith because the next step is right at the door. Faith has steps, each one always within your capability but each one involving another aspect of trusting God.
The Holy Spirit tells him there are three men waiting for him downstairs, neglecting to mention they are Gentiles. The command is straight forward, “Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” You know how things develop from there, Peter welcomes them, hosts them for the night, eats a meal with them and the next morning at sunrise he and six others return to Cornelius. Do you remember how in Acts 9 God spoke to both Ananias and then to Saul, bringing them together? It’s the same thing here, God gives direction to two men and leads them in the path of acceptance, their acceptance of each other and especially God’s acceptance of them both. So my original point was simply, ‘Acceptance is a Set Up’ and it is. It’s the grace and mercy that lead to faith and belief and salvation and God is clearly way out in front as this all takes place with Peter and Cornelius. So let’s talk about acceptance for a minute.
II. Acceptance Is the Cross.
There is both a horizontal and a vertical aspect to acceptance and both are critical. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was He gave a cross as an example: It was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, the vertical axis, and then to love your neighbor as you love yourself, the horizontal axis. If you ever thought that loving others was difficult you have no idea how hard that was for Jews and Gentiles. They despised each other not for what they did or for personality differences…they despised each other for who they were. Sometimes it’s a small step to despise a person for what they did to then despising them for who they are. Acceptance is all about seeing people as precious, seeing people as God sees them. Take the model of Jesus Christ, how did He accept us? The expression ‘warts and all’ comes to mind, so why did He do that? Partly it was because God the Father had sent Him to do that, partly it was because we so desperately needed to be accepted by God and there was simply no other way to be good in and of ourselves. Our sin kept messing it all up. It turns out that Jesus was the way in to God’s accepting us. As God the Father absolutely accepted Jesus the Son, so all who would be willing to agree with Jesus about Who He is as the Son of God would find that same acceptance. He came to take the deficit of our sin upon Himself that we might become recipients of His acceptance with Father. His righteousness is given to us as a covering. It’s like that picture of the prodigal son who returns to his father and the father wraps his own cloak around him right where they stand out on the road. Underneath the cloak he’s still a mess but what the father sees is the clean robe covering him and restoring him. That’s acceptance, the acceptance that Jesus came to bring to everyone who would trust their soul into His hands through a living faith. Jesus would take our sin and meet the cost of it. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”, that death refers to more than just a physical death. It’s true that when sin entered into the world death came with it, but there is also what the Scripture refers to as the second death, eternal separation from God. Sin leads to both and Jesus came to take away our sin, if we will entrust Him with it, paying the price of our sin. Love is the greatest expression of acceptance, but it has a price to it. You know John 3:16, “For so loved the loved that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God’s acceptance of you cost Jesus the cross, it cost the Trinity great suffering, unbelievable suffering. God the Son did all that in obedience to the Father because we desperately needed it. Do you think that your acceptance of others, your “loving your neighbor as yourself” will not also have a cost to it? It most certainly does but the net gain from such acceptance is when God takes your love and opens up shut down lives, locked up hearts, closed souls … enabling the way, the truth and the life of Jesus Christ to shine in. You shine when that kind of acceptance is evident in you because Christ shines through you. The acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ over all of who you are, like a great robe of righteousness, and your acceptance of others as the highest expression of the love God has called you is why acceptance is the cross. It’s what Peter was called to that day that he met Cornelius face to face and it was used of God to bring life where it had never been before. And I know He can cause the very same thing to happen again in you and me through the acceptance of Christ.