IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT





Playing Favorites

Date: Mar. 2, 2014

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 10:1-11:18

Key Verse: Acts 10:34-35

“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 

Everyone has their favorite things. We have our favorite friends, foods, movies, music, and sports teams. My favorite car is the 71 Dodge Challenger, my favorite musician is guitarist Randy Rhoads and my favorite food is a juicy ribeye steak. Favorites are not bad except when they begin to affect our relationships. I’ve seen how favoritism has caused problems in families, at the work place and even in churches. In today’s passage we see how God opened Peter’s eyes on the subject of favoritism.

Chapter 10 is a pivotal chapter in the Book of Acts because it records the salvation of the Gentiles. It’s the reason that all of us are here today, so this should have a special place in our hearts. In order for this event to take place, we see how God used Peter by giving him the “keys to the kingdom” (so to say) for the third and last time. God had already used him to open the door of faith first for the Jews in chapter 2 at Pentecost, and secondly for the Samaritans in chapter 8 and now God would use Peter to bring the Gentiles into the church. This is what Jesus’ meant in his great commission when he sent them to the ends of the earth. Today’s event took place about ten years after Pentecost. You might ask, why did the Apostles wait so long to go to the Gentiles even after Jesus had told them to go? (Mt. 28:19–20) It seems logical that they should have gone to their Gentile neighbors as soon as possible. But God has his own time and plan, and the transition from the Jews to the Samaritans to the Gentiles was a gradual one.

Anyway let’s get into this passage, take a look at verses 1 to 8. “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.” Caesarea is a port city that was about sixty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem and thirty miles north of Joppa. At that time, Caesarea was the Roman capital of Judea. It was where the Roman army was headquartered. I read that Herod the Great had it rebuilt in honor of Caesar Augustus, thus it had many beautiful buildings. In that city lived Cornelius, a Roman centurion, whose heart had tired of pagan myths and empty religious rituals, and who had turned to Judaism in hopes he could find salvation. Cornelius was as close to Judaism as he could get without actually being one. It’s interesting to see how religious a person can be and still not be saved. Cornelius was sincere in his obedience to God’s Law, but even with his devoutness and generosity to the Jewish people he was not permitted to offer sacrifices in the temple, so he presented his prayers to God as his sacrifices. (Ps 141:1–2) In every way, he was a model of religious respectability—and yet there was something missing, he was not saved. The difference between Cornelius and many religious people is this: he knew that his religious devotion was not enough to save him. Many religious people think that their moral character and good works will get them to heaven, and they have no concept either of their own sin or of God’s grace. In his prayers, Cornelius was asking God to show him the way of salvation. (Acts 11:13–14) And the amazing thing is, is that God heard his prayers and answered him. It says that Cornelius prayed regularly. Prayer is a time for us to open up to God so that that we can find his direction and leading for our lives. And so God came to him in a vision.

In the book of Acts, visions occur frequently as a way of divine leading, which shows how we are all under God’s direction. This passage may be the clearest example of how God works because neither Cornelius nor Peter took any initiative in what transpired. God was working in both of them simultaneously through the visions that he gave them. God sent an angel to instruct Cornelius what to do and, in true military fashion, he immediately obeyed. But why send for Peter, who was thirty miles away in Joppa, when Philip the evangelist was already in Caesarea? (Acts 8:40) Because it was Peter, not Philip, who was leading the church, and I believe that this event was just as important to Peter as it was to Cornelius.

As God was working in Cornelius, he was also working in Peter. Take a look at verses 9-16. “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.” The sheet contained representatives of all the animals on the earth. It symbolized the entire animal world which included clean as well as unclean animals. As the voice from heaven commanded Peter to kill and satisfy his hunger he was upset and protested vigorously because what the voice wanted him to do was against their law. Imagine if you were in Peter’s shoes and God spoke to you in your prayer and told you to break the law, how do you process that? How do you deal with the conflict between the two? First of all, you better be sure that it’s the voice of God you’re listening to and not something else. Peter’s reaction is immediate because he’s never eaten anything unclean. It would have been gross to him. However the voice ignored his protest, reissuing the command and adding, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” The command came three times; each time Peter objected and fell into further confusion.

God had established the dietary laws for their protection and also as a way to set the Jews apart and distinguish them from the rest of the world so that they would have a clear identity as God’s people. But result of their law was that the Jews broke things down into categories of clean and unclean. Thus they put the Jews into the clean category and non-Jews into the unclean one. But with this vision, Peter didn’t fully understand what was going on, God was not simply changing Peter’s diet; He was changing their entire way of life. The Jew was not “clean” and the Gentile “unclean,” but both Jew and Gentile were “unclean” before God! “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (Rom. 11:32). This meant that no one was righteous not even one. All of us are like the animals in the vision, impure and unclean. It also meant that a Gentile didn’t have to become a Jew in order to become a Christian.

Still, Peter struggled to comprehend the meaning of what God was telling him, so God sent the Holy Spirit to him again, “… the Spirit said to him, “Simon, threemen are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” 21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” Peter was dying to know why they came. “The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”

Oh, ok, now Peter was beginning to understand a little, so he began to have fellowship with the people he used to consider unclean.

The next day Peter and some of the believers in Joppa headed out to Cornelius’ house. When he got there Cornelius greeted him and fell at his feet in reverence. Cornelius was a humble man. He was a captain in army, he was used to commanding people and others showing respect to him, but here he was showing respect to a Jew, the people the Roman’s conquered, and humanly speaking Peter was a nobody. Still Cornelius respected him as God’s servant.

Peter was uncomfortable with Cornelius at his feet, so he raised him up and he began to let everyone present know how unacceptable it was for a Jew to associate closely or even be in the home of a person of another race. God, however, had shown Peter that he should not call another person unclean (v. 28). Actually, Peter’s vision had only related to unclean foods, but he had understood fully the symbolism of the creatures in the sheet. All were God’s creatures; all were declared clean. God had led him to Cornelius, and God had declared Cornelius clean. The old purity laws could no longer separate Jew from Gentile. Still, Peter didn’t realize the full implication of God’s sending him to Cornelius. He had no idea that God intended Peter to accept Cornelius as a Christian brother. So he asked Cornelius, “Do you know why I’m here?”

Cornelius recounted specific details of his vision to Peter. It’s kind of funny, Peter didn’t know why he was sent there, Cornelius didn’t know what he was to bring Peter there but there was one thing everyone was certain of: God was the one who brought them all together. Cornelius also knew that God brought Peter to him to share something important. That is why he assembled his family and friends. All were now waiting to hear the Lord’s message from Peter (v. 33). They were not interested in a lecture on Jewish religion, but they were lost sinners begging to be told how to be saved. The general public knew about Jesus’ life, ministry, and death, but only the Apostles and other believers were witnesses of His resurrection. Indeed, Peter had a message, the message, the word of life. It was now clear to him why God had led him there. Peter was to bear his witness to the gospel before this gathering of Gentiles. In verse 33, I love the attitude of the listeners, it’s so beautiful. They were ready to soak up God’s word.

Finally Peter thought that he knew why he was there so he said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (v34-35) Peter began to open up and understand. God does not play favorites, or show favoritism. God created all people, he loves them all the same. But people often have their favorites. We have our own favorite view of what we want believers to be like. Usually we want people in our fellowship that we approve of. So we favor someone who looks clean cut and comes dressed nicely vs. someone that has tattoos and is unshaven. Or maybe we favor a certain ethnicity, or culture, or children. In our ministry we favor those who have outgoing gifts, like bringing many people, to worship service, or have many one to one Bible studies over those who serve quietly behind the scenes. In the past, if someone was mentioned in the Sunday message, we favored them over others that we not. Or if you got your picture on the annual calendar you were favored. When we favor someone, we raise them up above everyone else but the opposite of that is judgment when we push down those that we do not like. But James, the brother of Jesus, said, “if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (Ja 2:9) It is wrong in the sight of God to play favorites. God makes the sun shine on all people.

That’s what it looks like when we show favoritism on others, but what about when we expect to be favored. It’s easy to fall into the trap of favoritism when we start to have an attitude of entitlement, where we expect some sort of special treatment from others, or from God. God does not show favoritism, it is by his grace only. When we are new Christians, we are thankful for God’s grace upon our life. But after a while of following God, we begin to think that God owes us some favor because we have followed him. We forget that its by his grace alone. The Jews thought that they alone were God’s chosen people, so they expected to be treated differently by God and others. Once I studied the Bible with a Jewish guy and his comment to me was, “Us Jews are God’s chosen people, the rest of you are all on the outside hoping to get in.” I was stunned. That was exactly how the Pharisee acted back in Jesus’ time, could there possibly be modern day Pharisees? Yep. And in fact we all probably fall into this trap from time to time, becoming proud that we are someone special. Each of us must repent and have a humble attitude like Cornelius.

Peter gave them the message of the gospel and God worked mightily through it. He didn’t even complete it before he was interrupted by the Holy Spirit. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Finally Peter realized the full extent of God’s plan. They were astonished that this could happen, both Jew and Gentile were children of the same God, brothers & sisters of the same father. In the past, this was not possible, but through Jesus it was possible.

Still this was hard for the Jews to accept. When Peter got back to Jerusalem, the Jews there gave him a hard time. But Peter concluded, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” When we realize that God is our heavenly Father and all people are his children, we must not show favoritism. Evidence of this is that Ruth and Rahab, who were both Gentiles and yet they are included in the genealogy of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah said that they would be a light to the Gentiles, (Isa 42:6, 49:6) but maybe the Jews took it as if they would rule over other people but God wanted them to serve other people. God accepts people from every nation but that doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want, no. Verse 35 tells us that we must fear God and do what is right. Just because God loves us doesn’t me we can get away with doing wrong things, no. Moses was not able to enter the promised land because he didn’t obey what God told him to do. There are consequences to our actions. We must fear God and do what is right.

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