Well, here’s the answer: After praying in the afternoon, the Apostle Peter had a grand vision from God while waiting for his lunch to be made. His belly was rumbling, and he wanted something to eat, but instead what he received changed the trajectory of the world forever! So, it’s kind of a big deal.
Before Peter’s vision, a Gentile (non-Jew) officer named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea received a message from an angel telling him to send for the Apostle Peter in Joppa. Cornelius was a God-fearing man on the brink of conversion. The only thing he lacked was the gospel and the Holy Spirit. So, obeying the wishes of the angel, Cornelius sent his men to Joppa.
Sometime later, Peter was praying on a rooftop in Joppa. After he finished, he sent for some lunch because he was hungry. And while he was waiting for his food, he fell into a trance. In this vision, he saw the heavens open up and a great sheet descending with all kinds of animals in it. Then, the voice of Jesus called out to Peter saying, “Rise, kill and eat.”
Peter’s response is really important. He told Jesus no!
He told Jesus that he had never eaten any common or unclean thing. What’s that mean? Well, Peter is referencing the Jewish dietary laws first mentioned in the Old Testament (Leviticus 11). There were certain animals that were considered common (not holy) or unclean which should be avoided. As a good Jewish man, Peter maintained this standard in his life.
The tension that is developing in this event is how do the old Jewish laws interact with Jesus’ work on the cross. Peter who was more informed on the ways of Christ than most was still abiding by the old laws for purification purposes. So, for Jesus to tell him to eat common and clean things was a confusing experience. Obviously, this matter between the old law and Jesus was underdeveloped in the early Church.
Peter and Cornelius
After Jesus said three times, “What God has made clean, do not call common”, the vision ended, and Peter was thoroughly confused. While still dazed, Cornelius’ men showed up asking for the one called Peter. As they approached, the Holy Spirit told Peter to go with them without hesitation. The reason why there would be hesitation on Peter’s end was that these men were Gentiles and Jews did not travel or interact much with those who were not Jews.
Peter, along with many of his brothers in Christ, traveled with the Gentiles to Caesarea to meet Cornelius. When they arrived, Cornelius and his whole household were waiting for Peter. Now, with the vision in the back of his mind, Peter looked at the Gentile crowd and it hit him.
Peter tells Cornelius that it is unlawful for Jews to interact with other peoples and nations in this friendly manner. But, he adds this concession. He says, “However, God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”
The vision he had in Joppa was not primarily about food!
The vision was about people! Up until this time, the Jews were a holy nation set apart from the others. One way they were set apart was through the Law. But all of this was to uphold the promise given to Abraham that his people would be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2–3).
All throughout the Old Testament, you see a call for the people of God to reach the nations. But, in Israel’s reckless sinning, instead of being a blessing to the other peoples, they developed a prejudice. Peter would never have gone to see Cornelius if the Holy Spirit had not directed him because Jews don’t interact with Gentiles.
But now, Peter should not call common what God has made clean! The mystery of the vision was revealed to Peter. He realized that the new people of God in Christ incorporated the Gentiles too! This was a mega plot twist.
Peter went on to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household. While still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon them. In awe, Peter and his companions baptized the first Gentiles believers in the early Church.
Peter in Jerusalem
After this, Peter went to Jerusalem to tell the elders what occurred. He reported to them how the same Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles. They were hesitant at first, but the final response was praise! They glorified God and said, “So then, the Gentiles have received repentance that leads to life.” After this monumental event in human history, the ball really started rolling.
The first multicultural church began developing in the city of Antioch. Thousands of people, Gentiles and Jews, were coming to Christ. And, those helping lead this new church were Paul and Barnabas who were both called to be a light to the Gentiles. After a couple of years in Antioch, the city church actually sent Paul and Barnabas to go to the other Gentile cities on the first missionary journey.
From then on, the early church grew to incorporate every people, tongue, and nation!
Jesus’ great commission for his Church was to go and make disciples of all nations. Somehow the prejudices of the Jewish leaders and their loyalty to the old law were getting in the way of the gospel being proclaimed.
Paul called the incorporation of the Gentiles “the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 3:1–13). It was a surprising turn of events, but God has always had in mind a people for himself made of all peoples, tongues, and tribes (Revelation 7:9).
The question we (Jews and Gentiles) should ask ourselves today is are our prejudices and loyalties getting in the way of reaching the nations. Are we keeping ourselves from interacting with people who are not like us?
Our call is to go make disciples of ALL nations!
There are so many unreached and unengaged peoples in the world who have never heard the joys of the gospel. There are billions of people have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. What are you doing to reach them? What is stopping you?
One reason, like in the case of Peter, could be that you don’t value all peoples. If that’s the case, I encourage you to pray. Ask the Lord to foster in your heart a joy in diversity. Also, check out books like Operation World and websites like Joshua Project. These resources can open your mind and heart to what God is doing among the peoples of the world.
Finally, I encourage you to seek out relationships with people who are not like you. Tap into rich cross-cultural communities in your towns or cities. Go with your church on a short-term mission trip and practice the same kind of ministry in your own neighborhood. Praise God for his plan from the beginning of time to have for himself a people made of peoples!
Relish in the multicultural expressions of the Church and do not call common what God has made clean.