Thursday, June 15, 2006

And the point of the passage is...

Cornelius, a centurion in the "Italian regiment," has a vision that we read about in Acts 10. He sees an angel, who tells him to send for Simon called Peter, who is staying in a certain house by the sea in a certain town. Just before Cornelius's messengers arrive, Peter has a vision, which repeats for a total of 3 times, telling him basically that the gospel is for everyone, not just for Jews. This is quite a vision, too:
He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."

"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

Acts 10.11-15
By the way, in case it wasn't obvious, Jewish people weren't allowed to eat reptiles. And they couldn't eat all kinds of birds of the air -- only some birds of the air. Ditto the four-footed creatures.

(A side note: we see this story itself three times -- once here, again when Peter tells Cornelius and his household about it, and the third time when he tells the church in Jerusalem about it.)

Then, you know, Peter goes to Cornelius's house and tells the people gathered there about Jesus and forgiveness of sins available to them.

The very first time I went to a Christian conference, the speaker
, Leroy Eims, read from this passage, noting that this was the first time Peter was speaking to a Gentile audience, and that Peter said about Jesus that "he is Lord of all" (Acts 10.36, KJV). Leroy told us that Peter was very fond of saying that Jesus is Lord -- in his first sermon to a Jewish audience in Acts 2, Peter says, "God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (2.36). He then asked, "Why does Peter say that? What does he mean?" and took us through Mark 4 and 5, where Peter saw Jesus exercise power over the wind and the waves, over the demons (in the land of the Gadarenes), over disease (the woman who suffered from bleeding) and death itself (the daughter of Jairus). I sometimes wish I could see things like that in the Scriptures -- connecting the revelation of Jesus's power in various arenas to what Peter says in his sermons.

And today, I think that wish, that unspoken prayer if you like, may have been answered. I think that Luke, the author of Acts, is telling us something about God by showing us all these contrasts. An Ethiopian seeker, lacking knowledge of the Old Testament, heard about the Lord through Philip. Saul, a persecutor of the church who knew everything there was to know about the Old Testament, got the message direct from Jesus himself. Aeneas, a bedridden man (we know nothing about his faith or devotion to the Lord) is healed instantly, as is Dorcas, a devout woman who was actually dead. Today we see visions coming both to a Gentile worshiper of God who lacks knowledge, and also to Peter, who has knowledge but who (before the vision) was unwilling to talk to Gentiles.

I think Luke wants us to know that the Lord can heal anyone, that he can speak to anyone for any purpose, directly or through human agents, that he can heal anyone regardless of race or devotion or condition; they can be paralyzed for eight years; they can even be dead.

And what does that mean for me today? One thing it means is that whatever the problem - lack of knowledge, lack of willingness, sickness, death, whatever - God is bigger than that.

But what would I say to the brother I met at the men's retreat, whose son has been suffering for decades from various physical and mental ailments? I don't know.

But the Lord knows. And he cares. Beyond that I dare not say.

posted 6/16

No comments: