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Acts

God's Timing

Acts  9:32 - 10:23

Is it not a common failing of Christians that, like little children, they want all things "now?" The Bible teaches us, however, that God has his own timing. We see an example of it in this passage, the first of two lessons on how the church first reached out to the Gentiles.

Peter

(Acts 9:32-43 NIV) As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. {33} There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. {34} "Aeneas," Peter said to him, "Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat." Immediately Aeneas got up. {35} All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. {36} In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas ), who was always doing good and helping the poor. {37} About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. {38} Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, "Please come at once!" {39} Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. {40} Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, "Tabitha, get up." She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. {41} He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. {42} This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. {43} Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

The Head of the Disciples

It is a time of peace for the church. Peter is not making a "missionary" journey; rather, this is a pastoral trip. Peter is ministering to the godly, strengthening the church with the miraculous works accorded the Apostles.

This is the second phase of the Great Commission. First Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and then the world. The world is about to knock on Peter's door. But Peter does not know that; I suspect he is rather comfortable in what he is doing. Indeed, to heal the sick is one thing. We, with our technology, can do something like it. But raising the dead is entirely another matter. Would not Peter feel very much confirmed in his position? A bit on the comfortable side? Definitely where God wanted him to be?

The circumstances

Note that Peter was not necessarily planning to go to Joppa. But it would be the next stop, if you were going to the sea.

Travel Map What is more interesting is this: he is staying with one Simon, a tanner. Now a tanner is one whose profession frequently makes him ceremonially unclean in Jewish Law. Yet Peter stays in the house of this man. Is this God's "coincidence?" Peter stays "some time." It is most likely that Peter was obedient to his Lord's instruction to stay at the first house that would take him in.

God's pry bar for change

Peter could not have known it, but he has placed himself in a position where God can make a radical change. He has done this through three simple things:

·         He has done "the good thing which is at hand." He planned a trip; the trip was rearranged - but in each instance he is doing what is good and right. In our terms, he was going with God's flow.

·         He heeds the call - of the church. No angel, nor the Holy Spirit sends him to Joppa. Rather it is the call of his Christian brothers that he is heeding. Even the Apostles serve rather than rule - just as their Lord did.

·         Trust. Peter no doubt felt like a yo-yo on a string sometimes - but he knew who had hold of the string.

Cornelius

God has a gift for finding anonymous Christians and using them for his mighty purposes. Here is a man notable not for his position but for his works.

(Acts 10:1-8 NIV) At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. {2} He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. {3} 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!" {4} 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. {5} Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. {6} He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea." {7} 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. {8} He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

The man of habit

Cornelius was a centurion. This was a commander of a hundred men in the Roman army, a force renowned for its discipline. Ancient history tells us that this army frequently defeated its enemies at great odds - because of its superior discipline. The rank is roughly that of a Master Sergeant. It has been my experience that master sergeants are not innovative and creative people - they are creatures of habit and personal discipline. We would do well to see this man's habits:

·         Prayer - he is praying in the middle of the heat of the day - thus taking advantage of the time.

·       Giving - he is a man who is known as one who gives, and gives generously. Soldiers are not noted for the fortunes they are paid.

The devout man

The word "devout" has fallen from popular favor today. There was a time that being known as "devout" was a credit to your reputation. Today we disapprove of too much zeal. But we can see some of the virtue in that word here:

·         The angel says that his prayers and gifts have come up to God as a memorial offering. The word, mnemosunon, (from which we get our word mnemonic) is used only one other time in the New Testament. Jesus describes the action of the sinful woman who anointed his feet with this same word. It is not so much a sacrifice for sin and atonement as it is a pure joy in the Lord - a gift of love.

·         It is interesting that the story of Dorcas being raised from the dead is in this section; she and Cornelius are much alike. Those around them regarded them in much the same way. You note that Cornelius' household also worships God.

·         He is said to be "God-fearing." The expression is a technical one; it means one who prays and sacrifices to God without following the ceremonial aspects of the Law. In ancient Rome the Jews were exempt from military service in the Roman army (they would not fight on the Sabbath). It says much for a man who is attracted to this religion by its sheer moral power.

The obedient man

If there is ever a characteristic of a Roman soldier, it is disciplined obedience. This carries over into his life with God. We see that obedience in several ways:

·         The example of that obedience is likely what brought the members of his household to the same belief. There is no leadership like that of example.

·         When he sends three to Peter, note that they are believers too. Even his soldier attendant is described as devout. What certifies the matter is this: he trusts them with the reason for the trip. This man does not command blind obedience, but shares the vision. Like the centurion in Capernaum, he knows how to command - starting with personal obedience.

·         He shares the vision - despite the fact that he himself does not know why he is sending for Peter! A large portion of the obedient life is trust in what God does not care to explain.

Peter's Vision

We must now examine the vision as Peter saw it, and a strange sight it must have been to him:

(Acts 10:9-23 NIV) 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 of the earth and birds of the air. {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. {17} While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. {18} They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. {19} While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Simon, three men 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?" {22} 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 have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say." {23} Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along.

The value of tradition

The ancient world had a different view of tradition than we do. Tradition, if it is unrelated to sports, has a negative slant to it. They would have viewed it as the accumulated wisdom of their culture. We have to argue for tradition; they would have to argue against it. Tradition, if you will, is the vote of those who don't happen to be walking on the surface of the planet.

In short, tradition is yesterday's good idea. To handle it rightly, we must know the purpose of the tradition. The dietary laws of the Jews were handed to Moses (and greatly amplified later) so that the Jews would be separate - holy to God. But in that same Old Testament is the prophecy that there would come a time when the blessings of God would be spread to all nations.

So then Peter, confronted with this vision, has a choice to make. Does he follow the tradition, or the command of the vision? His response is recorded; let us see if we can deduce how he arrived at it.

The Vision

Note first, please, that Peter was at prayer. He was in an attitude where he would be receptive to God's call. In short, he was in the right frame of mind.

Note, however, how God takes advantage of his bodily state. He's hungry. He's just arranged to be fed lunch (cooking is woman's work, right?) So he's praying on an empty stomach. God then uses his desires to show him a new thing.

One very interesting point is this: the vision is shown to him three times. Why?

·         Some say this is to show him how completely God is set upon this course - one scene for each, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

·         Others see it as a continuation of Peter's denial (three times) and restoration.

·         Perhaps a more simple explanation is this: Cornelius sent three men.

Peter's reaction

Peter can hardly be blamed if he is puzzled. This is a symbolic vision he has been given; these things take some time to work out. The Spirit does not give him that time just yet. While he is still wondering what that all meant, the three men from Cornelius show up. The Spirit gives Peter the nudge.

Amazingly, Peter invites them in. Remember that this would be seen as a grave breach of Jewish law. Perhaps the fact that this is a tanner's house has proven useful after all!

Peter has now been brought, by a series of "coincidences," to do the unthinkable: Peter, the Jew, is going to visit a Gentile house. In so doing, he will begin the process of bringing the Gospel to the world.

Themes

This lesson is a preparation for the next section. All the action happens in the next section of Scripture. But it is useful for us to see how God prepared his servant for such a change:

·         Peter placed himself in an attitude which was ready to accept what God commanded. He prayed.

·         Peter is not "planning ahead for God." Rather, he is doing the task at hand, no matter how strange that task might seem to him or inconvenient it might be.

·         Most of all, we see the advantage of good habits. If God is to make a difference through you, see the habits of those he has used before:

·         Prayer

·         Giving

·         Obedience.

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