The Life is in the Blood

15 “However, you may slaughter and eat meat within any of your towns, as much as you desire, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. The unclean and the clean may eat of it, as of the gazelle and as of the deer. 16 Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. 17 You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, or any of your vow offerings that you vow, or your freewill offerings or the contribution that you present, 18 but you shall eat them before the Lord your God in the place that the Lord your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your towns. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all that you undertake. 19 Take care that you do not neglect the Levite as long as you live in your land.

20 “When the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because you crave meat, you may eat meat whenever you desire. 21 If the place that the Lord your God will choose to put his name there is too far from you, then you may kill any of your herd or your flock, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your towns whenever you desire. 22 Just as the gazelle or the deer is eaten, so you may eat of it. The unclean and the clean alike may eat of it. 23 Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. 24 You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. 25 You shall not eat it, that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord. 26 But the holy things that are due from you, and your vow offerings, you shall take, and you shall go to the place that the Lord will choose, 27 and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the Lord your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God, but the flesh you may eat. 28 Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 12:15-28 ESV

The Israelites were about to enter the promised land where they would begin a new chapter in the story of their relationship with God. During their years in the wilderness, God had provided them with the tabernacle as their worship center and the place where they offered sacrifices to Him. And He had given them strict rules that accompanied their use of the tabernacle.

“If any native Israelite sacrifices a bull or a lamb or a goat anywhere inside or outside the camp instead of bringing it to the entrance of the Tabernacle to present it as an offering to the Lord, that person will be as guilty as a murderer. Such a person has shed blood and will be cut off from the community. The purpose of this rule is to stop the Israelites from sacrificing animals in the open fields. It will ensure that they bring their sacrifices to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle, so he can present them to the Lord as peace offerings.” – Leviticus 17:3-5 NLT

The tabernacle had been designed by God to be kind of a pack-and-go temple – a temporary structure that the Israelites carried with them all during their days in the wilderness. They were instructed to follow the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of could by day, both representing God’s guiding presence. Whenever the presence of God stopped, so did they, and they immediately erected the tabernacle, around which the tribes of Israel assembled their camps.

It was only at the tabernacle that the Israelites could slaughter animals and offer them as sacrifices to God. They were prohibited from shedding blood anywhere else within or without the camp. Anyone who violated this command and shed the blood of an animal anywhere else but at the tabernacle was to be cut off from the community. They were exiled.

But their entrance into the land was going to bring about a series of dramatic changes. First of all, God had told them that He would select a location within the borders of the land as the place where He would “make his name dwell” (Deuteronomy 12:11 ESV).

The land of Canaan was their final destination. There would be no more wandering necessary because they had arrived in the place God had promised to give to them as their inheritance. Not long after their initial victories over the cities of Jericho and Ai, the Israelites erected the tabernacle at a place called Gilgal. It would remain there for most of the years it took the Israelites to conquer the land. Eventually, it was moved to Shiloh, and then years later, to Gibeon. But, for the most part, the tabernacle remained in a fixed location during the years of the conquest of the land of Canaan. And God intended to provide Israel with a permanent place within the borders of the land where His glory would dwell and where they would offer sacrifices to Him.

“When he gives you rest from all your enemies and you’re living safely in the land, you must bring everything I command you—your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, and your offerings to fulfill a vow—to the designated place of worship, the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored.” – Deuteronomy 12:10-11 NLT

But until the time in which God designated that place, the Israelites were given a divine dispensation, allowing them to slaughter animals for meat anywhere within the land of promise. In a sense, all the land was considered holy by God because He had set it apart as His own. He had sanctified or consecrated as His possession, which He was giving to the descendants of Abraham. So, they were free to kill and butcher animals anywhere within the boundaries of the land. They were no longer required to bring the animals to the tabernacle. But there is a bit of confusion in God’s command. At first glance, it would appear that He is also allowing them to eat unclean animals, something He had explicitly prohibited in the Mosaic law. Leviticus 11 outlines the various animals that God had deemed as unclean and, therefore, off-limits to the Israelites. Yet, in this passage, it appears that God is changing His mind because He mentions the clean and the unclean. But this is a reference to the status of the people of Israel, not the animals. The New Living Translation helps clarify God’s point.

“All of you, whether ceremonially clean or unclean, may eat that meat, just as you now eat gazelle and deer.” – Deuteronomy 12:15 NLT

This special dispensation was due to the fact that the Israelites were going to be settling all across the land of Canaan, while the tabernacle would be permanently erected in a fixed location. Distance would make it nearly impossible for people to bring their animals to the tabernacle. Which meant that those offering the sacrifice could not receive personal purification, and their animals could not be slaughtered on site. So, Moses let them know that God was amending His laws concerning the sacrifice and consumption of meat.

It might happen that the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—is a long way from your home. If so, you may butcher any of the cattle, sheep, or goats the Lord has given you, and you may freely eat the meat in your hometown, as I have commanded you. Anyone, whether ceremonially clean or unclean, may eat that meat, just as you do now with gazelle and deer. ” – Deuteronomy 12:21-22

But one thing remained unchanged. They were not allowed to consume the blood of the animal. Moses made this point quite clear.

“But never consume the blood, for the blood is the life, and you must not consume the lifeblood with the meat. Instead, pour out the blood on the ground like water. Do not consume the blood, so that all may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what pleases the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 12:23-25 NLT

While they were free to kill and butcher meat anywhere within the borders of the land, they were not free to consume the blood of the animal. Why? Because the blood is the life. It was the blood of the animal that was used for purification during the sacrificial ceremonies. The blood represented the life of the animal and was sprinkled on the altar in order to purify it. The animal’s life, represented by its blood, had been given in place of the guilty individual who had offered the sacrifice. And the blood provided purification by offering forgiveness from sin.

“…according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

The blood was not to be treated lightly because it represented the life of the creature. And hundreds of years later, Jesus Christ would offer His blood as a sacrifice for many. The author of Hebrews describes the ultimate sacrifice where the blood of the sinless Lamb of God provided atonement for the sins of mankind.

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:12-14 NLT

There is life in the blood. And because Jesus gave His life by shedding His blood on our behalf, we have the guarantee of new life now and eternal life to come. So, even for the Israelites, the blood was to remain sacred. It represented life and was meant to serve as a purifying and cleansing agent in God’s sacrificial system. It was to be shed, not consumed. It was to be treated with reverence and awe. But the day would come when God would amend His commands yet again, making another special dispensation for His people. Fast-forward to the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed and listen carefully to the words He spoke to His disciples.

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” – Matthew 26:27-29 NLT

The life is in the blood. But while the blood of bulls and goats could only be sprinkled and provide temporary forgiveness of sins, the blood of Jesus is to be symbolically consumed, providing permanent forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Knowledge of the Holy

10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean…– Leviticus 10:10 ESV

26 Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

When God commanded His people, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV), it was clear that He had certain expectations He was communicating. This divine imperative is found in a whole section of Scripture in which God reiterates His  requirements for what it meant to “be holy.” In verse 2 of chapter 19, God commanded Moses to tell the people, “You shall be holy,” and then He followed it up with a list of specific rules and regulations outlining acceptable and unacceptable behavior for His people.

Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father – vs 3

you shall keep my Sabbaths… – vs 3

Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal – vs 4

When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. – vs 5

On that last one, God was very specific and indicated that the portion of the offering that was theirs to eat had to be consumed on the day the offering was made or no later than the day after. Failure to heed God’s command came with dire consequences.

If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from his people. – vs 7-8

Don’t miss what God says here. Deciding to keep the portion of the sacrifice graciously provided by God for His people and eat it just one day late resulted in the entire offering being made profane. Not only that, the one who offered it was to be cut off or separated from the rest of the congregation. The Hebrew word is karath, and it carries the idea of a body part being cut off. This was a severe punishment, resulting in the removal of the guilty party from the family of Israel. They were to be banished from the faith community. Why? Because they had profaned what was holy to the Lord.

The Hebrew word for “profaned” is chalal, and it refers to the polluting or desecrating of something that had once been sacred or set apart as holy. The offering became unacceptable to God because the one who offered it failed to follow God’s explicit instructions. And not only did the sacrifice become profaned and, therefore, unacceptable, so did the one who offered it. They were no longer fit for God’s presence. They were no longer welcome among God’s people. This is serious stuff.

And God was far from done. His list of requirements for holy living goes on for several more paragraphs, and notice how everyday practical they are.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge… – vs 9

you shall not strip your vineyard bare… vs 9-10

You shall not steal… vs 11

you shall not deal falsely… vs 11

you shall not lie to one another… vs 11

You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God… vs 12

You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him… vs 13

The people of Israel were not free to live however they wanted to live. Their daily activities and interactions with one another were regulated by God and not left up to their own opinions or devices. The rules regulating their behavior were far from subjective and never left up to the personal whims of the individual. God was demanding behavior that was in keeping with His will, not theirs. And if you look closely, so much of what God commanded them to do was in direct opposition to the natural inclinations of the human heart.

God required selfless behavior, reflecting a concern and care for others. He was demanding that His people treat one another justly and with dignity. They were to view one another as holy, set apart by God, and worthy of respect and honor. They had been sanctified or set apart by God as a unit. The entire nation of Israel was considered as God’s chosen people, His possession. And they were to practice holiness as a community, not just as individuals.

Which brings us to the two verses that opened today’s blog. In the Leviticus passage, God warned Aaron, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.”  As the God-appointed priest over the people of Israel, Aaron had a responsibility to teach the people what God considered holy and clean. In doing so, he was also to make clear distinctions as to what was common and unclean. These words are important for us to understand if we are to grasp the concept of sanctification.

Just a few verses prior to this one, we have the record of God destroying Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, who had offered strange or unacceptable fire before the Lord. Acting as priests before God, they had done something God had not authorized or commanded them to do.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. – Leviticus 10:1 ESV

And so, God cut them off – literally. He put them to death. And then He instructed Moses to give the following message to their father, Aaron:

“This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” – Leviticus 10:3 ESV

Their behavior had not sanctified the Lord. Their actions had not glorified Him. So, God punished them for their unsolicited and unacceptable behavior. And then He had Moses gather the remaining priests together and provided them with additional words of warning and instructions concerning their behavior in their role as priests. And this concluded with His words: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.”

They were to recognize and respect the differences between the qodesh and the chol, the tame’ and the tahowr. The Hebrew word qodesh is derived from the word for “sanctified”: qadesh. They were to know the difference between set-apartness and profaneness. The Hebrew word chol refers to anything unholy or unsanctified. It is common, having not been set apart for God’s use and His glory. As priests, Aaron and his sons had been set apart by God, and they were no longer free to live common lives, doing things according to their own wills or wishes. As God’s chosen possession, the people of Israel were no longer free to live common lives, conducting themselves like all the other nations around them. They had been set apart and were now considered holy by God. And He expected them to live that way. But to do so, they needed to know the difference between the holy and the common. They also needed to know the difference between the pure and the impure.

The Hebrew word tame’  refers to that which is unclean or defiled. And in this context, it means anything that had not been set apart and sanctified by God. This included not only the people of Israel, but their behavior as well, and all the rules that were intended to regulate that behavior. The Hebrew word tahowr is intended to reflect the opposite of defilement. It has to do with purity and cleanness. And God’s commands were to be considered pure, clean, and holy, and treated that way. That is why the apostle Paul wrote, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 ESV).

Every rule and regulation that came from the lips of God was to be considered holy and pure, and worthy of obedience. To disregard God’s commands was to treat them as unclean, an act that profaned and desecrated them. That’s why God wanted Moses to clearly articulate the difference between the holy and the unholy, the clean and the unclean. There was to be no confusion on the part of His people. They needed to know the difference so that they might live set-apart lives, in keeping with God’s commands. And that’s why God commanded Aaron and his fellow priests “to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses” (Leviticus 10:11 ESV).

An essential part of sanctification is the knowledge of what God expects of His people. It is impossible to live a holy life if you have no idea what that life is to look like. God does have expectations of His people. As Christians, we are to live lives that are in keeping with God’s holy requirements, just as Jesus did. We do not do so to win favor with Him or to earn our way into heaven. We do so because He has set us apart for His glory. Our lives are to reflect our status as His children. But we must be able to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean. And to do that, we must know God’s Word and be willing to receive instruction from His Holy Spirit. God did not save us and sanctify us so that we can continue to live our old lives according to our own selfish desires. We are no longer common. We have been set apart by God for His use and for His glory. We are holy, and our daily behavior should reflect that reality. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Don’t Oppose What God Approves.

But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”Acts 11:4-18 ESV
The first question we have to ask ourselves when reading this section of Luke’s account, is why did he include it? After all, it simply appears to be a retelling by Peter of all that happened while he was in Caesarea. In fact, it is virtually identical to what Luke wrote in chapter 10. But the key difference is the audience to whom Peter is sharing the story of the conversions of Cornelius and all the other Gentiles who had gathered in his house to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter is addressing his fellow apostles in Jerusalem. He is explaining to a room full of Jews what went down in Caesarea. And he is having to do so because he had been accused of wrongly associating with Gentiles. There were some in Jerusalem who, when they had received news of what had happened in Caesarea, where less-than-happy. In their minds, Peter had done the unthinkable. He, a Jew, had mingled with the unclean. He had defiled himself by associating with those whom the Mosaic law declared to be common and unclean. When Peter had arrived back in Jerusalem, rather than rejoicing with him over the exciting news of the conversions of Cornelius and his friends, these men said, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3 ESV).
Their response brings to mind the kind of reactions Jesus had received from the religious leaders regarding what they believed to be His questionable choices in relationships.

10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” – Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! – Luke 15:1-2 NLT

For some in the Jerusalem church, the idea of Peter eating with Gentiles was unacceptable. To think that he shared the gospel with them was even more disconcerting. How could he do such a thing? Well, Peter goes out of his way to tell them. He explains all that had led to his decision to make the journey to Caesarea. And he makes it clear that this had been God’s decision, not his own. He had simply obeyed orders and followed the divine directions given to Him by God. He recounts the vision he had received from God. And he once again makes note of the fact that the sheet containing all the unclean creatures had descended to him out of heaven. It had come from God’s very throne room, which meant that the very creatures Peter had viewed as unclean and defiled, had come from God’s presence. He had sent them. And at the end of the vision, the same sheet, full of supposedly unclean creatures, ascended back into heaven. And three separate times, God had told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 11:9 ESV).

Notice what God said to Peter. He was very specific in His word choices. God had told Peter that he had “made clean” these once unclean animals. The Greek word Luke used is katharizō, and it means to cleanse or purify. In a levitical or sacrificial sense, it means to pronounce something clean that has been purified by sacrifice. In a moral sense, it means to free something from defilement of sin and from faults (“G2511 – katharizō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). God was telling Peter that He had made a divine determination to purify what had at one time been considered unclean. He had done it. God had declared the creatures to be clean. He had passed judgment and declared His decision. And He had expected Peter to accept it.

And the vision had been just that: A vision. It had been a visual tool used to teach Peter a real-life lesson regarding Gentiles and his view of them. God was about to let down a sheet full of unclean creatures, in the form of Cornelius, his family members and friends. But God had cleansed them through the sacrifice of His Son. Their sin debts had been paid for on the cross. They had once been defiled by their sin and separated from God as a result of their impurity, but God had done something to redeem and restore them. He had sent His Son to die for them. And long before Peter and his six companions had made the trip to Caesarea, God had already chosen those who would be saved there. And Peter was not to call common what God had already made clean. God had chosen to remove the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, wrote of this important determination on God’s part.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT
The gospel was not reserved just for Jews. Jesus had come as the Jewish Messiah, but He had become the Savior of the world. And once again, Paul describes that what Jesus did on the cross had opened up the doors of heaven to all – both Jews and Gentiles.

13 But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:13-14 NLT

Peter had seen this happen first-hand. He had seen God bless the Gentiles with the same blessing He promised to Abraham. He had watched in amazement as the Holy Spirit filled those Gentile converts and empowered them in the very same way He had the disciples on the day of Pentecost. And Peter could only say, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17 ESV). Peter knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what he had witnessed in Caesarea had been of God. His vision, Cornelius’ vision, the coming of the Spirit, the gift of tongues – it had all been evidence of God’s divine hand. And he had no desire to stand opposed to the will of God.

And Luke simply records that when the Jewish believers in Jerusalem “heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (Acts 11:18 ESV). Like Peter, they saw that this was of God and that they had no business standing in opposition to what God had predetermined to do. If He had decided to deem Gentiles worthy of receiving the gospel, who were they to stand in His way.

As we will say later in Luke’s account, many of the same individuals who had called Peter to task over his association with Gentiles, would raise their voices again in protest over the growing movement to convert Gentiles to the faith. In fact, in chapter 15, we will see where Paul and Barnabas are accused of not requiring circumcision of all Gentile converts. Luke records, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:5 ESV). These men were teaching that Christianity was nothing more than a kind of reformed Judaism. They were demanding that all the requirements of the Mosaic law be kept in order to any Gentile to be accepted as a true believer. This matter will come up repeatedly in the later chapters of Luke’s account, as we see Paul and others continue to spread the good news regarding Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

There were those who could not accept what God was doing. It went against their preconceived notions of religious right and wrong. They had put God in a box and determined that there was only one way for people to have a right relationship with Him – and that was through some form of law-keeping or adherence to a set of religious rules. But Paul, the apostle who spent his life ministering the gospel to the Gentiles, would later write:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. – Romans 3:27:30 NLT

Peter and Paul were ministering in a new day. The rules had changed. The Redeemer had come. The way of salvation had been paved by the blood of Jesus Christ. No more hopeless attempts to try and live up to God’s holy standards on your own. No more need for physical circumcision. God was circumcising hearts and setting apart a people for His own, whom He had declared to be clean. And that would include Jews and Gentiles.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Good News For All.

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:17-43 ESV

Peter was at a loss as to what the meaning behind his vision might be. But even as he wrestled over the possible implications of his dream, he was told by the Holy Spirit that he would be receiving three visitors and that he was to accompany them. That was all the detail he received from the Spirit. And, just as the Spirit had said, the three men arrived at Simon’s house, in search of Peter. When Peter asked them the purpose behind their visit, they replied: “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say” (Acts 10:22 ESV). This entire encounter had the hand of God all over it. Cornelius was spoken to by an angel from God. Peter had received a vision, clearly given to him by God. Then he had received a word directly from the Spirit of God. Peter may not have known what his vision meant, but he no doubt understood that God was behind all that was happening. And so, after hosting his guests for the evening, he accompanied them the next day to Caesarea, not knowing what God had in store for him there. 

We know from Acts 11:22, that Peter did not go to Caesarea alone. He had invited six other brothers from Joppa to join him on the trip. The journey most likely took them about two days time. And when they arrived at the home of Cornelius, they found it packed with the centurion’s family and friends. Luke informs us that Cornelius, in a sign of gratitude and veneration, fell down at Peter’s feet and worshiped him. There is no indication that he knew of Peter’s status as an apostle of Jesus. He simply knew that this man had been sent to him by God with something important to share with him. But Peter, informing Cornelius that he too, was nothing more than a man, had him stand and explain what it was that he wanted. Cornelius recounted to Peter the vision and message he had received from the angel, then he explained that he and his guests were eagerly waiting to hear what God had to say to them through His messenger, Peter. “Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you” (Acts 10:33 NLT).

Luke doesn’t tell us when Peter finally put all the dots together. But sometime between when he arrived at Cornelius’ house, saw the crowd of Gentiles gathered, and heard Cornelius’ description of his vision, Peter grasped the significance and meaning of his own vision. Here he was in a Gentile’s home, surrounded by other Gentiles who eagerly waited to hear him deliver a message to them from God. And Peter, as a good Jew, saw the absurdity of it all. He even told Cornelius and his guests, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28 NLT). The vision of the sheet filled with unclean creatures and the command from God to “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:13 ESV), all began to make sense. He remembered the words of God, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV), and and he realized that Cornelius and the people gathered in his home were Gentiles whom God saw as clean, not unclean and common. They were acceptable to God, so they must be acceptable to Peter. To a Jew, a Gentile was considered unclean and to avoided at all costs. They were uncircumcised and did not keep the strict dietary laws of the Jews. They did not obey the Mosaic law. So, any contact with them made a Jew ceremonially unclean. And yet, here was Peter, under the direct command of God, sitting in the home of a Gentile, and a Roman centurion at that, getting ready to share the gospel. God was doing something new. He was opening up the door of salvation and including those outside of what had once been the closed doors of the Jewish nation. The apostle Paul would later remind the Gentile believers in Ephesus of the significance of their inclusion into the family of God. 

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT

He would remind the believers in Corinth that they were a fellowship made up of Jews and Gentiles, a blended family chosen and adopted by God. “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT). And here was Peter experiencing this new phenomena for the very first time. This was an historic moment. It was a paradigm-shifting point in time. Nothing would ever be the same. The playing field was being leveled. There would no longer be the haves and the have-nots, clean and unclean, Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised. And Paul would make that point perfectly clear in his letter to the Galatian believers.

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:26-29 NLT

All of this would have been a shock to Peter’s system. As a devout Jew, this was antithetical to all he had ever believed. He was part of the chosen race. He was a member of the holy nation, God’s people, the Jews. But Peter saw the hand of God in all of this. When God had commanded him to go to the home of Cornelius, he had obeyed. “So when I was sent for, I came without objection” (Acts 10:29 ESV). He may not have fully understood what was going on, but he knew it was the will of God, and that was enough for Peter. And when he saw what God was doing in Cornelius’ home, he fully grasped that God had far greater plans for the gospel than he or the other apostles had ever understood. God was non-discriminatory. In fact, Peter told Cornelius and his guests, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34 ESV). Peter got it. The vision of the sheet made sense now. Gentiles, or non-Jews, were no longer to be considered unclean and unacceptable.

Which is what led him to later write to the highly blended congregations located in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

Jews and Gentiles together were to make up the body of Christ. And so, Peter began to explain to the house full of Gentiles eagerly listening to his voice all that God had done through Jesus Christ, relating His ministry, death, burial and resurrection. And he told them the commission that Jesus had passed on to he and his companions.

42 “And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” – Acts 10:42-43 NLT

But notice that the “everyone” in Jesus’ order had just taken on a new meaning. No longer was the gospel restricted to Jews living in Jerusalem. It had already begun to spread outside the city walls and had even been taken to Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews living outside of Jerusalem. It had been shared with the Ethiopian eunuch. And now, Peter was sharing the good news with a house full of Gentiles in the city of Caesarea.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Tale of Two Visions.

1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa..

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Acts 10:1-16 ESV

Peter is in Joppa, the guest of Simon, the tanner. He is continuing his ministry among the believers there and sharing the gospel with the Hellenistic Jews who lived there. But his world was about to get rocked. While Peter had apparently become open to the idea of Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews coming to faith in Christ, he was about to learn that God had much broader, bigger plans for the gospel. Up until this point, it appears that Peter and the other apostles were somewhat reluctant to take the gospel to the Gentiles. It seems that their self-imposed requirement was that the gospel only be shared with those who had a pre-existing relationship with Judaism. Thus, they had been willing to approve of Philip’s work among the Samaritans, because of those individuals were technically part-Jewish and worshiped Yahweh. And it seems that those who came to faith in Lydda and Joppa had been Greek-speaking or Hellenistic Jews. Even Simon, the tanner, with whom Peter was lodging in Joppa, was most likely a Hellenistic Jew who had come to faith in Christ. So, it appears that some formal link to Judaism had become a necessary requirement before anyone could hear the gospel message. But all that was about to change.

 First, Luke introduces us to Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman cohort who lived in Caesarea, a city located up the Mediterranean coast, about 30-miles north of Joppa. This man was a Gentile, but Luke describes him as “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2 ESV). As an officer in the Roman army, it is doubtful that Cornelius had taken steps to become a full proselyte of the Jewish religion. That would have required circumcision and would been an extremely dangerous thing for a man in his position to do. After all, he was part of the Roman army that occupied Palestine and whose responsibility it was to enforce Roman law. But Luke makes it clear that this man worshiped the God of the Hebrews and was favorably disposed to the Jewish people. He regularly gave financial gifts to the poor and needy and even prayed to Yahweh. And it was during the ninth-hour, the Jewish hour of prayer, that Cornelius received a vision from God.

It is significant to note that God appeared to Cornelius long before any human representative did. In essence, God was giving His divine approval of not only Cornelius, but of all those who, like him, were outside the Jewish faith, but predisposed to having a relationship with God. This man had been drawn to God. He worshiped and prayed to God. Now, he was actually having an encounter with God. And the word he received from God, through the mouth of an angel, was quite clear:

4 “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” – Acts 10:4-6 ESV

Cornelius received instructions to send for Peter. God was very specific. He wanted Peter to be the one who to play a part in this man’s conversion. And so, Cornelius, petrified by what he had seen and heard, obeyed and sent two men to Joppa to find and bring back Peter.

Meanwhile, 30 miles away in Joppa, Peter was given his own vision from God. And his was dramatically different, and no less disturbing. Peter had gone up the roof of Simon’s house in order to pray and, while praying, he fell into a trance. It’s important to note that Luke describes Peter as having been hungry when he started his prayer time. His physical condition of hunger is going to play an important part in the overall context of the vision he was given by God. While waiting for his lunch to be prepared, Peter fell into a trance and had a dream about food. Not exactly an abnormal or unlikely scenario, but it is the nature of the food in Peter’s dream that make it significant. In his dream, he saw a giant sheet being let down from heaven, and in that sheet “were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air” (Acts 10:12 ESV). And we know from Peter’s reaction, that these creatures were all considered uncommon and unclean to Jews. They were all from the list found in Leviticus 11.

You may not, however, eat the following animals that have split hooves or that chew the cud, but not both. The camel chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. The hare chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. The pig has evenly split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses. They are ceremonially unclean for you. – Leviticus 11:4-8 NLT

10 But you must never eat animals from the sea or from rivers that do not have both fins and scales. They are detestable to you. – Leviticus 11:10 NLT

13 “These are the birds that are detestable to you. You must never eat them: the griffon vulture, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 14 the kite, falcons of all kinds, 15 ravens of all kinds, 16 the eagle owl, the short-eared owl, the seagull, hawks of all kinds, 17 the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, 18 the barn owl, the desert owl, the Egyptian vulture, 19 the stork, herons of all kinds, the hoopoe, and the bat. – Leviticus 11:13-19 NLT

Added to this list were various winged insects. Any and all of these creatures were forbidden and declared unclean by God. The Jews were not allowed to eat or touch them. To do so would make them ceremonially unclean. And yet, when the sheet descended from heaven, it was filled with nothing but these kinds of creatures. To make matters worse, a voice from heaven commanded, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.” The sheet had come from heaven. The voice had come from heaven. But the creatures were unclean. They were unacceptable and unholy. Why in the world was God commanding Peter to satisfy his hunger by consuming what was forbidden? Peter, shocked and outraged by the mere thought of doing such a thing, vehemently told God, “No!” and proudly stated, “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean” (Acts 10:14 NLT). This little exchange between Peter and God reminds me of another awkward moment that took place some time earlier between he and Jesus.

Jesus had just finished telling Peter and the other disciples that He was headed to Jerusalem, where He was going to be arrested, tried and executed. But He had also informed them that He would be raised from the dead. But Peter wasn’t listening. Instead, he took Jesus aside and rebuked Him.

But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

Later, on the very night Jesus was betrayed, He told the disciples that each of them would end up denying Him. But Peter had responded, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33 NLT). But Jesus broke the news to Peter that he would actually deny Him three times. To which Peter responded, “No! Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” (Matthew 26:35 NLT).

Peter had developed a habit of arguing with Jesus and now, he was doing the same thing with God the Father. Three separate times, God told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV). And I don’t think Luke’s mention of these three repetitive declarations by God is unimportant. If you recall, Peter had ended up denying Jesus three separate times on the night that He was betrayed. And, when Peter had encountered the resurrected Jesus, they had had an exchange, where Jesus asked Peter three separate times, “Do you love me?” And each time, Peter had responded, “Yes!” But with each of Peter’s statements of affirmation, Jesus had repeatedly commanded him to “Feed my sheep!” In fact, His exact words were:

“Then feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 NLT

“Then take care of my sheep.” – John 21:16 NLT

“Then feed my sheep.– John 21:17 NLT

Peter had been commanded by Jesus to care for His sheep. And now, Peter was going to learn that his definition of what it meant to be one of Jesus’ sheep was quite different than that of Jesus Himself. In fact, Jesus had clearly spoken concerning His sheep:

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. – John 10:14-16 NLT

There were sheep, “that are not in this sheepfold”, for whom Jesus had died. And Cornelius was one of them. Much to Peter’s chagrin, the gospel message was not reserved for the Jews. It was not restricted to those who had some kind of ethnic alliance with the Hebrew people. It was for any and all. Peter was about to learn what Paul would later write: “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes–the Jew first and also the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No One Said It Would Be Easy.

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? – 1 Corinthians 7:12-17 ESV

This is an extremely difficult passage and there are as many opinions concerning it as there are commentaries written about it. First of all, when Paul says, “To the rest I say, (I, not the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:7 ESV), he is not implying that what he has to say concerning these matters is simply his personal opinion and not divinely inspired. He is merely indicating that this is not something he heard taught by Jesus Himself. But as an expert in the Old Testament and an apostle of Jesus Christ, and due to the fact that he was divinely inspired by the Spirit of God, the words he writes must be considered as coming from God.

His emphasis in these verses shifts from addressing married couples who are comprised of believing husbands and wives. Now he is addressing those who find themselves married to an unbeliever. This was probably a very common issue in the church in Corinth. There were likely a good many who had come to faith in Christ apart from their spouse and who found themselves in a potentially difficult and compromising circumstance. If there were children involved, the situation was even more complicated. There were obviously those who were counseling that it would be better for a Christian to divorce their unbelieving spouse than to remain married. Paul would even give what appears to be similar counsel in his second letter to the Corinthians:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? – 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 ESV

And while this passage has been used to defend the ban on Christians marrying non-Christians, that was likely not Paul’s original point. He was addressing the need to avoid the kinds of relationships with unbelievers that might lead to spiritual defilement. This obviously applied to marriage, but was not restricted to it. Paul was not counseling or sanctioning that Christians separate themselves completely from the world. That would be impossible. In fact, earlier in this letter he referred to another piece of correspondence to the Corinthians in which he told them, “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1 Corinthians 5:9 ESV). But he clarified what he had meant by saying, “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). So Paul was in no way a proponent of Christian isolationism.

So what is a Christian to do who finds themselves married to an unbeliever? The main point here has to do with divorce, and Paul would say that it is wrong for a believer to divorce their unbelieving spouse. Rather, they should see themselves as a godly influence on their home. Their very presence within the home sanctified it or set it apart. This is where some of the difficulty comes about when interpreting what Paul means when he says, “the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:14 ESV). It would be inconsistent with the rest of Scripture to say that Paul means the believing spouse “saves” the marriage and converts the unbelieving partner. The lost spouse is made “holy” only in the sense that he or she finds themselves benefiting from the presence of a believer living within the same walls. Living in close proximity with a Spirit-filled believer could not help but have an influence on them. And this is true of the children in the home as well. They are not automatically saved as a result of having one believing parent, any more than those children who have two believing parents would be. But in a sense, they would be set apart by God by virtue of His having called one of their parents to saving relationship with His Son.

The real point of these verses seems to deal with what a believer is to do if their unbelieving spouse chooses to divorce them. The truth is that the very presence of a Christian in the home could drive the unbelieving partner away. As Peter indicates in his letter, there is a chance that a godly wife could have a positive impact on her unbelieving husband.

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives. – 1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT)

But there is also a good chance that her presence could result in conviction and conflict. The same is true of a believing husband. There is no guarantee that a lost spouse will be led to the Lord by a believing partner. I think that is what Paul means when he asks, “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16 ESV). So Paul’s counsel is that if a Christian finds themselves served with divorce papers by an unbelieving spouse, they should not fight it. But at the same time, they should not be the instigators of it. Paul simply says, “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved” (1 Corinthians 7:15a ESV). His bottom line goal was peace, not conflict. “God has called you to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15b ESV). God receives no glory from a marriage in which two unequally yoked individuals fight and feud with one another. If the marriage is relatively conflict-free and the unbelieving partner is willing to remain married, the Christian should in no way seek divorce. As Paul will write in the following verses, “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20 ESV).

These are difficult words. But they deal with the reality of the gospel entering into a difficult and depraved world. When light shines in the darkness, there cannot help but be conflict. When believers come into contact with the lost, there will be tension, testing, and the potential for trouble. Jesus warned us that the world would hate us. Our redemption as believers places a target on our back and makes us prime candidate for persecution by the enemy. The life of a believer is not an easy one. Our call to live set apart in a world that is set against us will not be a cake walk. We will be misunderstood. At times we will be mistreated. But we will never be abandoned by our God.

Dead To Rights.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:13-23 ESV

Paul bookends this section with virtually the same words. He opens with “let us not pass judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13 ESV) and ends with “blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself” (Romans 14:22 ESV). The only difference is the one on whom the judgment is assessed. We are not to judge each other and our actions toward one another should give us no cause to judge ourselves. And in both cases, it all seems to revolve around the issue of rights. Paul used himself as an example. He declared that had the right to eat whatever he wanted, because nothing was unclean for him. Paul would have been very familiar with the teaching of Jesus. “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:15 NLT). When Jesus had spoken those words, His disciples were confused, so He provided clarification. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes)” (Mark 7:18-19 NLT).

So Paul, even though he was a Jew, lived his life with a new-found freedom when it came to his eating habits. He no longer lived under the dietary restrictions associated with his Jewish heritage. But he was willing to give up his rights for the sake of a brother or sister in Christ. It all goes back to the “weaker” brother narrative in the opening verses of this chapter. There will always be those in the church whose understanding of the life of faith is less developed. They will bring to their faith a certain degree of legalistic expectations, believing that what they do or don’t do is what earns them favor with God. In Paul’s day, both Jewish and Gentile believers brought their own list of restrictions to the table. There were converted Jews who still felt it necessary to maintain the dietary laws of their Jewish faith. There were also Gentile believers who felt convicted about eating meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. Paul had to deal with this issue in the church in Corinth. He told them, “we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God” (1 Corinthians 8:4 NLT). But he went on to say, “However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated” (1 Corinthians 8:7 NLT). Then Paul dealt with the real issue. “It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). But for Paul, it all boiled down to the spiritual well-being of his brother or sister in Christ.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. – Romans 4:9-13 NLT

While a certain food may be perfectly fine for him to eat, Paul was not willing to demand his rights if it was going to cause a brother in Christ to stumble by sinning against his conscience. That is why he wrote, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes a brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21 ESV). It is a wonderful thing to enjoy the freedom that comes with the life of faith. Our right standing with God is not based on adhering to a long list of prohibitions and restrictions. But there will always be those who don’t understand this truth. They will have strong convictions regarding what they eat or don’t eat, what they can wear or not wear, and even what activities they can participate in or abstain from.

For Paul, the final word on all of this had to do with faith. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23 ESV). For the immature or weaker believer, conscience ends up playing a far greater role than necessary. Rather than enjoying the freedom that comes with knowing that his standing before God is fully taken care of by the finished work of Christ, he ends up operating off of his own inner sense of right or wrong. So if his conscience tells him not to eat something and he believes it is of God, to violate that belief becomes sin for him. He becomes burdened down with guilt for having done what he believed was against the will of God. Paul says, “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith” (Romans 14:23 ESV). So the stronger believer, rather than wearing his or her rights like a badge of honor, should love their weaker brother or sister in Christ, willingly setting aside their rights so that they might not cause a fellow believer to sin against their conscience. We are always to build up, not tear down. We are to lovingly teach and instruct one another, not boastfully and arrogantly display our rights and flaunt our freedoms in Christ. Peter summed it up well when he wrote, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 NLT).

Leviticus 11-12, Luke 7

BE Holy.

Leviticus 11-12, Luke 7

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. – Leviticus 11:44 ESV

There has been much debate over the centuries as to why certain creatures were considered by God to be clean while others were deemed unclean. Yet with all the discussion over the years, there is still no consensus as to why God declared these distinctions. There were obviously good reasons for these designations. God never does anything flippantly or without just cause. But the primary lesson to be learned from this detailed discussion concerning the clean and unclean is holiness. God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. He had set them apart from all the other nations. But their set-apartness was to be more than just a divine designation – it was to be lived out in practical ways. When God chose them as His own, He set them apart – made them holy. Now He was giving them concrete actions that would illustrate their holiness to the world around them. Much of what God was commanding concerning food was tied to the eating habits of the pagans who surrounded the Israelites. It was not enough for the Israelites to be known as the people of God, they must act like the people of God. So He gave them precise instructions that would clearly differentiate them from the rest of the world. At this point in time, God had chosen to use the descendants of Abraham as the means through which He would reveal Himself to the world. They were His designated ambassadors and, as such, they were to “consecrate” themselves to His service. The Hebrew word for “consecrate” is qadash and it means “to be separate, to be set apart, to be holy.” God was calling them to BE what they already WERE. He had set them apart, now He wanted to them to act like it.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had set the people of Israel apart positionally. They were His possession. But He also wanted them to live set apart, practically. Later on, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses would tell the people, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV). This was a call to a love and obedience that was holistic in nature, impacting every area of a person’s life – from their heart to their hands, from their attitudes to their actions. God’s commands concerning the clean and unclean had to do with distinctiveness. He was calling His people to a different way of living. He was giving them clean and distinct rules for living as His people that would be visible for all to see. God was concerned that the other nations would see and know that the Israelites were His people. It was not enough that they be known as His, they must also live like it. These rules concerning the eating of food would be a constant reminder to the people of God that they were to live differently and distinctively. They were not to live like the nations around them. They belonged to God and were to live according to His terms.

It is important that we remember that these rules were given to the people of Israel long before the coming of Christ. They were given for a particular people and were intended for a specific time period. It was important that the people of Israel remain distinctive and set apart in order that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, could be born as a descendant of Abraham through the lineage of King David. All through the centuries, God Himself would maintain the line of Abraham, in spite of them. Even after having sent them into exile for their rebellion and sin, He would restore them to the land of promise, all in keeping with His covenant with Abraham. But with the coming of Jesus, things would change dramatically. Jesus Himself would say, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11 ESV). Under constant attack from the Pharisees for His seemingly lax adherence to their ceremonial rules and regulations, Jesus was viewed as a heretic. He healed on the Sabbath. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He allowed Himself to be anointed by a prostitute. He healed the servant of a Roman centurion. He touched the funeral bier of a dead man, making Himself ceremonially unclean, but raising the young man from the dead at the same time. He allowed His disciples to “harvest” grain on the Sabbath and, when confronted by the Pharisees for this infraction of the law, He replied, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Over in the book of Acts, God would reveal to the Apostle Peter a change in the status quo. Since the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, God had been opening up the door to the Gentiles. He was expanding the designation, “people of God” so that it included those outside the nation of Israel. Peter, as a good Jew, was not quite up to speed on God’s new plan. He was actually resistant to it, so God gave him a vision. “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven” (Acts 10:9-16 ESV). God used the imagery of the ceremonially unclean animals to teach Peter that the Gospel was to be taken to the “unclean” Gentiles.

The apostle Paul, writing to a church made up primarily of Gentile believers, would put it this way: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:26-29 ESV). God had opened up the door – He was not making it possible for ALL men to become a part of His divine family.

What does this passage reveal about man?

But even while God has made it possible for all men to become His children, the need to live holy lives remains unchanged. While we no longer have to live according to the dietary restrictions found in the book of Leviticus, we are called to live lives that are holy, different and distinct. The same Peter who was given the vision from God, would later go on to write, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV). God has called us to live lives that reflect our position as His children. We have been called to live differently than the nations around us. Our actions are to express our new nature. Our lifestyle should be an outward expression of our new standing as sons and daughters of God. When Jesus came, He found a people who, while ceremonially clean on the outside, were unclean on the inside. Of the Pharisees, He would say, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27 ESV). When Jesus visited the house of a Pharisee and was anointed by woman with a checkered past, his host was appalled that Jesus would allow Himself to be touched and defiled by a sinner. But Jesus simply replied, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47 ESV). The Pharisee, who say himself as sinless and pure because he kept the ceremonial laws, expressed no love to Jesus because he saw no need for Jesus. This woman, while a sinner, showed through her actions of sacrifice, humility and selfless service to Jesus the true condition of her heart. She expressed her love to Jesus through visible acts of serve to Jesus. In that instant she had set herself apart, living out the reality of the command, “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is one thing to say, “I am a child of God.” It is another thing to live like it. I have been called to live differently and distinctively in this world. I have been set apart by God as His own, and He wants my life to reflect it. That means my Christianity is not merely a title I bear, but a lifestyle I live out in front of others. Jesus Himself said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter would echo the same sentiment. “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT).

Father, I want to live as what I am. I want my life to reflect my status as Your Son. I don’t want to simply claim that I’m a Christian, I want my life to prove it by my actions and attitudes. You have called me to live distinctively and differently in this world. It is difficult at times. The temptation to compromise and blend in is tremendous. Give me the strength to live for You in all that I do. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 59 – Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23

Silly Rituals. Serious Business.

Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Mark 7:6-7 NLT

The Pharisees took themselves way too seriously. But in reality, they were silly. They had become so wrapped up in their “age-old traditions” that they lost sight of just how ridiculous it all appeared. They had all kinds of cleansing ceremonies they went through before they could eat. Mark tells his primarily Gentile audience just how silly it all was. “The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions” (Mark 7:3 NLT). Notice he makes a point of saying that this was required by their ancient traditions, not God. He goes on to say that “Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of the many traditions they have clung to – such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers and kettles” (Mark 7:4 NLT). They had convinced themselves that all this madness somehow made them clean and acceptable before God. They lives in fear that they could have somehow become defiled by coming into contact with something unclean of unholy. But they gave no thought to what was going on in their own hearts. Jesus makes this distinction quite clear. When they confront Jesus and demand to know why His disciples don’t follow their traditions, Jesus pulls no punches. He quotes the prophet Isaiah who was quoting God Himself. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Mark 7:6-7 NLT). This was God speaking against the city of of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. Their religion had become routine. They were going through the motions. They thought that offering sacrifices was enough. But God was more concerned about their hearts than their offerings. And Jesus was more concerned about the hardened hearts of the Pharisees than He was their silly ceremonies for staying clean.

Their real problem was that they gave more credence to their own rules than God’s commands. They came up with all kinds of convenient work-arounds and loop holes that allowed them to ignore God’s commands and do what they wanted to do. And Jesus made it clear what they were doing. “And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition” (Mark 7:13 NLT). Their rules trumped God’s laws. Their silly rituals held more sway in their lives than the righteous demands of a holy God. And not only that, their rituals were worthless. They didn’t even accomplish what they hoped they would. Because the only impurity God is concerned about is that which is on the inside. God is obsessed with clean hearts, not clean hands. Jesus tells the crowd, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you” (Mark 7:20 NLT), not what comes from the outside. It is that which comes from a person’s heart that defiles him, and no amount of ceremonial hand washing is going to fix that problem.

These men had focused on the wrong thing. They were wasting their time obsessing over the externals, when inside they were corrupt, selfish, self-centered, egotistical, and in direct opposition to the will of God. They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. They credited His power as having come from Satan. They called Him a drunk. They ridiculed Him and tried everything in their power to discredit Him and, ultimately, would go out of their way to see that He was put to death. Their example of ceremonial hand washing and ritualistic cleansing was sending a wrong message to the people, and Jesus cleared it up. He made it painfully obvious that these men were far from pure and anything but holy. And the list He gave was more than likely one that applied to these sanctimonious religious leaders. “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:21-23 NLT). Interestingly enough, there is no recorded response from the Pharisees. No rebuttal. No defense. No denial. The conversation simply ends. Which speaks volumes. Jesus knew their hearts better than they did. And while they were content to play their silly games and pretend that they were holy, Jesus was letting them know that God takes holiness seriously and saw the true condition of their hearts.

Father, You can see into our hearts and You know things about us that we don’t even know ourselves. Forgive us thinking that the silly religious rituals we go through somehow make us right with You. Keep us focused on our own hearts and never let us forget that only You can cleanse the heart. We simply need to confess our sin and allow You to forgive and cleanse. You are in the heart transformation business. Don’t let us settle for the anything less. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 23 – Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16

The Lord Is Willing. Are You Ready?

Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16

“Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing you can heal me and make me clean.” – Matthew 8:2 NLT

How would you react if someone covered in contagious sores and possibly having a disfigured face came to you begging for help? What would you do? How would you feel? In Jesus’ day, leprosy was a horrible disease with no known cure. Those who contracted it were shunned by society and forced to live in isolation with other lepers, far from their families and friends. They were considered unclean according to the Law and unable to be restored to a right standing unless their healing from leprosy could be verified by a priest. These people were forced to call out, “Unclean, unclean!” if they came within shouting range of any normal person. This was in order to warn the other person to stay away. They were despised, rejected, unclean, unwanted, and helplessly burdened with a disease that had no known cure.

And yet, in our passages today, we read about one of these unfortunate souls who had the rare opportunity to come into contact with Jesus, the Messiah. He was taking a huge risk making his way into the crowds that surrounded Jesus. He shouldn’t have been there. He was an outcast and had no place among these people and in the presence of Jesus. But he came and he cried out, “Lord, if you are willing you can heal me and make me clean!” He somehow knew that Jesus could heal him. The question was whether or not Jesus would. But back to the original question. How would you react in this situation? What would your response be? Revulsion? Fear? Anger? I’m sure the crowds backed away as quickly as possible when they saw who it was that was kneeling at Jesus’ feet. They were horrified, shocked and probably a little bit put out that this social outcast had dared to ruin what had been a perfectly good day. But Mark tells us that Jesus was “moved with compassion” and He reached out and touched the man! You can almost hear the audible gasp come from the lips of the shocked onlookers as Jesus reaches out and purposely touches him. To do so was to not only risk contracting this man’s dreadful disease, but to make yourself ceremonially unclean. How could Jesus do this? Why would Jesus do this? Couldn’t He have healed the man with just a word from His lips? Was contact necessary?

Jesus always had a way of turning the status quo on its ear. He was a radical at heart. He never seemed to do what was expected or what was considered the usual. There is so much wrapped up in the imagery of this story. It reveals so much about Jesus, the healer, and Jesus, the Savior. This is less a story about restoration from leprosy, than a picture of redemption from sin. In this man we have pictured the state of every human being who has ever lived. All men are diseased, infected with sin, highly contagious, and unclean in the eyes of God. Their state is helpless and hopeless. There is no known cure for their malady. Their future is bleak. Their outcome assured. Death is all that awaits them. And yet, like this man, if they come to Jesus in complete submission and faith, and ask Him to heal them, His response will be, “I am willing, be healed!” And just as the man’s leprosy immediately disappeared, the sinful state of every man and woman who turns to Jesus for healing with be immediately healed and they will receive new life. Their uncleanness will be turned into holiness. Their certain death will be replaced with assurance of eternal life. Their condemnation will turn into forgiveness. Their isolation into full acceptance. And their healing will be complete and fully verifiable. The change in their condition will be easily recognizable to all who see them. Jesus healed this man’s physical condition. But the real reason He came was to heal mankind’s spiritual condition. And He is as willing today as He has ever been. All we need say is, “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Jesus, I am so grateful that You were willing to heal me. I know that my state was far worse than the man in this story. My sin was going to have a devastating effect on my future. I was diseased and destined to die as a result. But my death would have been an eternal one, separated from You forever. And yet Jesus, You showed me compassion, and reached out and touched me “while I was yet a sinner” and healed me. Thank You!  Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org