Sunday, November 8, 2009

unpacking Luther’s Baggage, chapter 3, page 5

The second Bible passage that I’d like to explore is Acts 10. Peter is in Joppa, enjoying the cool sea breeze coming off the Mediterranean on the roof of his friend’s home when God drops in. It’s been 10 years or so since the resurrection and the Gospel has been pretty much limited to the Jewish Messianic community. The Father needs to prepare Peter for expanding this mission, but before he can do that, he has to change Peter’s thinking.  Peter is part of a culture that needs reminding of what God’s passion is: to bring all people, not just Jewish people, to Himself.  The rabbis had erected oral laws that acted as fences to keep people from getting too close to the Gentiles. Though righteous Gentiles like Cornelius were welcomed in the Synagogue, the Jews would never return the favor and visit them in their own homes; including Peter.
While Peter is on the roof, God begins a multi-media presentation projected onto a wide screen Tallit.  Peter squints to take-in the vision, but is repelled when he recognizes the images: They are all unclean animals, swine, shellfish, etc. He is further shocked to hear God’s voice say to Peter, “Kill and eat”. To this Peter brashly says, “Not so My Lord! You know I have never eaten such things.”
God, who is the author of the commandments within the Torah, has just instructed Peter to disobey the Torah! This is amazing. Why would God do that? And is there a precedent for this? Yes, there is; I can think of two examples, though I am sure there are others. The first is when God tells Abraham to kill his son as a sacrifice. You could argue that the Torah had not yet been written, but Abraham is about to do what he knows is wrong, when God intervenes. It was an extreme request to see if Abraham would trust and obey the LORD.  
The second has to do with Ezekiel. The God of Abraham chose Ezekiel to perform a series of bizarre street theater skits to illustrate what God was about to do to Judah. In chapter 4 he was told to portray the coming destruction of Jerusalem by play acting with models of towers, earthworks, battering rams, and armies as he laid siege to a drawing of Jerusalem that he made on a clay slab.  Next he was told to bear the guilt of the house of Israel by laying on his left side for 390 days and then on his right for 40 days. Exactly when during the day he was to do this is unclear since he was also told to make “Ezekiel bread” and eat it every day. But the sticking point was that he was told to bake it over a fire fueled by human dung!  Like Peter, Ezekiel brashly said “No Lord God! I have never defiled myself - from my youth until now I have never eaten anything that died by itself or was killed by wild animals, no such disgusting food has ever entered my mouth.” God answered, “All right, I will give you cow dung to use instead of human dung.”  
We’ll leave Ezekiel at this point since his next assignment will be to shave off his hair and beard with a sword! - but the fact remains, God asked Abraham, Ezekiel, and Peter to violate His own commandments. But in each case, the person under test did not commit the act and the commandment was kept intact. Peter was pondering the meaning of the vision when God said three times, “Stop treating as unclean what God has made clean.” In the midst of all this, Cornelius’ men arrive at the gate and the Spirit of God says, “Three men are looking for you. Get up, go downstairs and have no misgivings about going with them, because I myself have sent them.”
The next day Peter accompanies the men to Cornelius’s house. His speech tells what the vision accomplished: “You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to come visit him, is something that just isn’t done. But God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean.” The bottom line is that this chapter and this vision have absolutely nothing to do with relaxing the dietary laws that God gave to His people regarding what to eat. It had everything to do with inviting all people, not just Jewish people, to Himself.

What is disheartening is that so many Christian commentators, teachers, and preachers use this verse to say that God did away with His wisdom for eating. Not only are they missing the point of the story and overlooking the benefits of God’s wisdom, they are not thinking through the impact of such a conclusion. For argument’s sake, let us assume that Peter was now free to eat whatever he wanted to.  If this were so, it would be huge news! It would be topic number one wherever he went. Yet conspicuous by its absence is any mention of this subject in the ensuing chapters. It was not an issue because that was not a take away from the sermon; obeying the Lord in all His ways is the take away.

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