The Gospel Crosses Over Barriers
November 17, 1996
日本キリスト教団 大阪のぞみ教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Osaka Nozomoi Church, Japan Church Christ
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA, Translated December 29, 2008
1. From chapters ten to eleven is recorded a long narrative leading up to the establishment of the church at Antioch, which would later become the base of the mission to the Gentiles. Upon reading it I think you will notice it right away, that it is written in a long drawn out way, repeating itself a lot, so much so that it feels a bit tedious if you go by how it feels to you. Which is another way of saying that this shows that Luke, who wrote it, had attached a great deal of importance to this event. [He did so] because this was an event with greater significance than any major event, historically speaking. Through this, the gospel of Christ was brought to the Gentile world, and it stopped being a Nazarene sect [within] Judaism. Along that line [of thought], we can begin to declare the ensuing history of the world of Christianity and, furthermore, the history of the whole world. Of course, along the same line [of thought], we too have our history. But, that major event happened because in a corner of the world a person named Cornelius met a man named Peter who was an ex-fisherman and he heard a message from him. It was a small thing [that happened]. In a certain sense, it is similar to the kind of thing that happens every single day. But, God used a small thing and lead history next from it.
2. There was a man named Cornelius in Caesarea. He was a Roman and he was a centurion. About him it is written that "He was fervent in the faith, he feared God with his entire house, he gave many alms to people, and he prayed unceasingly to God." He belonged to a congregation of persons called "God-fearers" or "God-respecters." That means that although these Gentiles had not received circumcision, they attended Sabbath worship services, they went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and they were familiar with the Greek version of the Old Testament scriptures. Such persons could be found everywhere in assemblies belonging to the Jewish religion. Even the likes of the Ethiopian eunuch, who is found in chapter eight, belonged to "the God-fearers." What were these persons, who were Gentiles, being attracted to? [Scholars] think that perhaps those who felt dissatisfaction with the superstitions associated with idol worship and with the decadent customs [in society] had been attracted by the high ethics of Judaism and the piety of fearing the one and only one God. Therefore, Cornelius along with [the other God-fearers] was zealous in alms-giving and prayers, which were viewed as "works of righteousness" in Judaism.
3. [Cornelius] heard a message, then he sent men to Joppa, and sent for a character named Peter. That's the subject matter of this narrative. Peter was the guest of a man named Simon the Tanner. [One] man called "a God-fearer" heard a message and deliberately sent for a man who was the guest of a tanner. I don't think that could happen under normal circumstances because anyone vaguely familiar with Judaism would know that "tanners" were called "sinners." That is clearly an unjust discrimination. But, since the job of tanning leather always comes in contact with the carcass of an animal, it was considered an unclean occupation. Therefore, to be a guest in that place obviously means he is not a rabbi. We see also from such a point that he is a newcomer, recently converted to Judaism. Indeed, he is not only not a rabbi, but it is clear as well that he is hardly an orthodox follower of Judaism respectful of the traditions. Cornelius was attracted by the things at the fringes of the followers of Judaism, and since he could only reason within the fringes of it, first of all it is hardly likely that he would ever have heard a message [like he did] and sent for Peter.
4. If we ask then how did something so unlikely even happen, the scripture explains that he had a vision. In his vision an angel from God comes in and calls to him, "Cornelius!" Then the angel goes on to say. "Your prayers and alms have reached the presence of God and are remembered. Now, send a man to Joppa and invite Simon who is called Peter. He is the guest of a man named Simon the Tanner. Simon's house is by the seacoast," (verses four through six). Going by chapter eleven and verse fourteen, the angel seems to have said at that time, "He will tell you words that will save you and all those in your family." So, he thought let's hear the words that will save me and my family. And he invited Peter. The scripture is right now explaining why. The reason he invited Peter and wanted to hear his message is nothing except this.
5. We mustn't think such a story is dumb. It is actually showing us something very important. Visions and angels come and go in this [long] narrative. Later Peter will have a vision. I think that for many persons such experiences are certainly unfamiliar. However, what is important here is not the supernatural phenomenon in and of itself. What Luke is emphasizing in this text is the truth that if the protagonist in this story is not Cornelius, then neither is it Peter. Which is to say that, it is God himself who is moving in the setting of the story. God is working with Cornelius and having him send Peter. Cornelius gathers the people and Peter comes to them. Then upon hearing the gospel from Peter they are saved. As I said earlier about it, it is a small event, but it is a major historical event. So now, the Bible is emphasizing that although it very much so appears to be a human activity by all accounts, yet it is not a situation that humans had put together.
6. The main character is God. And it is making the statement that it is the same way in our own every day matters, where things like angels do not come on the scene [right before us]. True enough. The things done according to our will are only a paltry part of our lives. The angel appears on the stage here in order to make us realize the arrogance that humans are the ones moving [things], whether in our individual lives or in the history of the world.
7. It is the same when it comes to our hearing the gospel or speaking the gospel. God works with persons, he prepares persons. Upon being prepared, he sends the person out to speak the gospel. In this scene the angel doesn't directly speak the gospel. It means to say that God doesn't directly speak the gospel. God speaks through a person. He arranges an encounter for that purpose. Your worshipping now is not merely coming from your own will. Your hearing the gospel is not mere chance. The fact that it could not have happened on its own says that it happens through the will of God.
8. Well, next up, let's turn our attention to God's working in Peter.
9. He went on the rooftop to pray about twelve noon. The scripture says, "He felt hungry and wanted to eat something." Praying on an empty stomach, he entered into a trance. Then he saw a vision. So when he was made to see a vision of food, God was doing something humorous. However, the details of the vision were serious to Peter.
10. The heavens opened and a large cloth like container came down to the earth hanging by four corners. In it were beasts, things that creep on the ground, and birds. Most of them were so-called "unclean animals" as per the law of the Jews. Therefore, when Peter hears the voice, "Oh Peter, get yourself up, slay and eat!," he immediately responds, "Oh Lord, that's ridiculous. I have never eaten one impure or unclean thing," (verse fourteen).
11. Jewish food regulations are recorded in Leviticus chapter eleven. Speaking on animals, one should eat [animals] having split hooves and which chew the cud. Anything but these are not allowed. Therefore, they do not eat pigs. This means that even in modern times, traditional Jews keep strict observance of this. I have heard that when they invited Judaism's rabbis to Tokyo Theological Seminary they made preparations for new things, including the pots and the pans, and even different kinds of dishes. Because of the possibility that they had cooked unclean animals in the old frying pans, it was required that they get new ones ready. What I heard is almost funny, however, it is a very serious matter for them. Even when Peter said, "Oh Lord, that's ridiculous!," still though, it was a very serious matter for him.
12. Why would food regulations matter so much? Several reasons can be considered, but one wonders if perhaps it has to do with a kind of impurity. In the Old Testament scriptures, for example, it is written that when [somebody] came into contact with a corpse and so then the person became defiled, then [the priests] would perform a rite of purification. In other words, [the unclean status] would be taken away by a cleansing ceremony. However though, there is no where written in the scriptures for the uncleanness received by unclean food to be removed. I think that alone [was reason enough] that it had been taken it so seriously.
13. In addition, the reason being clean or unclean was an issue is that it had an affect on one's relationship [and current interaction] with God. It goes without saying, but this condition where the text here speaks of being clean or being unclean has nothing at all to do with the way we speak in regard to hygiene or dirtiness. It is absolutely only a religious condition. In the first place, being defiled or unclean means the condition in which one is not permitted to be in fellowship with a holy God. By saying unclean food it means an unclean thing because it will put one into the condition of not being permitted fellowship with God. However, when Peter gave that reply, he had heard a voice, saying, "You must not say that what God made clean is unclean." And he had this same [happen] thing three times.
14. What in the world does this mean!? Is [God] just saying, "Abolish the food regulations!?" In truth, Peter didn't understand it himself. That's why he mulls around. Then [some] men sent from Cornelius come over. Whereupon, the Holy Spirit makes the following statement to Peter. "Three men have come looking for you. Stand up and go down, do not hesitate to depart with them. I have sent them," (verses nineteen - through twenty). With that then, when he went downstairs, it was not Jews who were there. That was probably a bit of a shocker for Peter. He asks them, "Why have you come here?" Whereupon, they said, "The centurion Cornelius is a righteous man, he fears God, and he is a man with a good reputation among all the Jews; he has received an announcement from a holy angel that he should invite you to his home and hear you speak."
15. With that then, I suppose that Peter understood. What did he understand. Later, the details can be found in the words that he spoke about Cornelius' home. Please look at verse twenty-eight. "As you all know, it is forbidden by the law for Jews to associate with foreigners and to visit foreigners. However, God has shown me that one must not call any person unclean or defiled." We must be careful to observe that he is not saying merely that "Since they are the same human beings [as us], [we] must not discriminate." It is absolutely only an issue of [a person's] relationship with God.
16. Please consider how that Peter had been the guest of Simon the Tanner in Joppa. As I mentioned earlier, he is doing something that no traditional Jew will absolutely ever do. If we ask why Peter was able to be Simon's guest, [the answer would be] because Jesus did the same thing. [The answer would be] because Jesus used to have meals with sinners and tax collectors and because Peter was there too and he had seen the figure of [Jesus doing that].
17. Jesus' having taken a meal with sinners isn't telling us that "Everybody is the same human beings." That's not what he meant, but rather he had taken meals in the sense that "They too are persons invited to a relationship with God." Naturally then, the gift of God's forgiveness is an assumption behind that. Under the assumption that God the Father does forgive persons and that he does invite anybody to a fellowship with him, Jesus was at dinner with sinners. Because he is Jesus he could do that; for, he did go to the cross for the atonement of sins. Because of the fact that he had borne upon himself sin [for everyone], he could speak of forgiveness of sins. So, he opened the way to perfect fellowship with God by the bloodshed of [his] atoning work.
18. Fellowship with God comes only from the atoning work of Christ. Peter understood that. Therefore, he no longer had to care if Simon was a tanner or not; for, he was in Christ and in a relationship with God. However, in Peter's consciousness, Gentiles were still unclean persons. That is, they were not subjects for God's invitation. They were not beings whom were given [the privilege of] fellowship with God.
19. God took issue with that. "You must not call unclean that which God made clean." God opened the way of fellowship through Christ and he has invited [all] persons. Therefore, [we] must not exclude anyone as a subject [of invitation]. That's what it means where it says, "You must not call anyone unclean or defiled." Peter appropriately understood the meaning of the vision. As a result, in verse twenty-three the text says, "Those persons were also welcomed and allowed to stay over" in Simon's home.
20. We have read the narrative concerning a small event which gave the start to the Gentile mission. God works with persons and prepares them to hear the gospel. In addition, he sends persons, grants encounters, and speaks forth the gospel. In this way then, God has shown to people the grace that he has given through the atonement made by Christ, and he invites persons to a relationship and a fellowship with him. Therefore, we must not regard anyone as excluded from an invitation to God. Of course, we must not regard even ourselves in that way. Through this narrative in which the gospel crosses over barriers and goes out into the Gentile world, we know that.