May 23 – Acts 10


To really understand what’s going on in this passage, you first need to know that the very idea of Gentiles being acceptable to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, is a monumentally big deal. Sure, from the very beginning God has taken Gentiles into his family—Abraham was a Gentile before God called him, and a “mixed multitude” of ethnicities accompanied Israel on the Exodus (Exo. 12:38). But all these people didn’t keep being Gentiles. They were required to become Torah observant Jews, from making sacrifices and keeping kosher to every male in the family getting circumcised. A Gentile like Cornelias in Acts 10 could be called a “God-fearer”, one who worshipped Yahweh and hoped to be acceptable to him, but until he became a Jew he could never hope to actually have a share in the eternal inheritance of God’s people.

So Gentiles becoming observant Jews and following Yahweh was all by the book (though a tad uncommon). The real kicker here in Acts 10 is that Gentiles were received by God without first becoming Jews. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves—looking at the passage we’re first introduced to Cornelias, who is told by an angel in a vision to seek out the apostle Peter. Meanwhile, Peter is being prepared for what’s about to happen. In the middle of the midday hungries, Peter received a vision from the Lord of a sheet filled with all kinds of animals. The reptiles tip us off since their status was clear according to the Levitical dietary laws (Lev. 11:29-30)—this sheet is filled with both clean and unclean animals. Being an observant Jew himself, Peter declines the offer, claiming he has never eaten any unclean food. But Peter should’ve remembered who was making the offer here, since it was God who both created the dietary laws of the Torah and who offered these animals in a vision. God wasn’t tempting Peter to break the law (James 1:13), he was setting a new precedent, and using the dietary laws to convey it.

“What God has made clean, do not call common.” Two things are going on here. First, God is rescinding the dietary laws of the Mosaic Law. If you’re wondering, “why in the world did God care if people ate reptiles?”, that’s a really good question. On the whole, the ceremonial components of the law, including the dietary laws, were meant to set Israel apart and highlight their unique role as God’s chosen people. It underscored their holiness, which they only had from God like the moon reflects the sun. But this set-apart-ness interrupted fellowship with any other ethnicities, because it was unlawful for Jews to eat with Gentiles. While God was working through the nation of Israel this had a purpose, but in the work he was doing through Jesus in the New Covenant this now stood in the way. So the second thing God was doing here was much bigger than the food laws: God was rescinding the exclusion of the Gentiles entirely. And not only will there no longer be a distinction, but God himself make clean what was once unclean.

Through the chapter we see Peter processing this giant change in his worldview, which surely was a difficult process. He goes from puzzled over the animal sheet to willingly stepping into a Gentile’s house and interested in what’s going on. We see in 10:28 that he’s putting the pieces together, “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” But he has further to go. In 10:34-35 he finally admits not only that he shouldn’t consider Gentiles unclean, but also that God himself is willing to call Gentiles clean, and that anyone, no matter their ethnicity, is acceptable to God if they’ve placed their faith in him. After his sermon, amazingly the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit. 10:44-45 shows us that the folks with Peter were totally unprepared to see that happen, likely because they assumed the Holy Spirit was only given to Jews. But Peter completes the dismantling of the distinctions by saying, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people?”(10:46) Cornelius, his household, and his friends are baptized, welcoming them into Jesus’ Church as full-fledged members and including them as heirs to the covenant of promise.

If you’re reading this and you aren’t of Jewish heritage, then this chapter is about your inclusion as well. Without the good news of Jesus being freely offered to Gentiles, you wouldn’t have a hope of sharing in the eternal inheritance of God’s people. If that’s you, your story is wrapped up in Cornelius here, because the both of you were accepted by God solely on the work of Jesus on your behalf. This should help us 1. rejoice over God’s love for us and 2. aid us in dismantling any distinctions we might make between those who we think should receive the good news and those who we think are too far off. God desires to bring all kinds of people to himself, from the richest to the poorest, from the most socially acceptable to the most socially unacceptable, from every ethnicity and culture, even from the side of town you’re scared to drive through. In reading this passage, may our expectations of the gospel be in line with its actual reach.

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Acts 10 for us? It’s a long passage but it’s all one story, and well worth it.

• What stood out to you in this passage?

• What’s going on with the sheet and animals here?

• Why was it a big deal that these Gentiles got saved?

• How do you think this experience affected Peter?

• What can this passage tell us about what God desires?

• What can this passage tell us about how we might be used to spread the good news of Jesus?