Friday, April 17, 2015, 4:10 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Open My Heart.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 10 (Selected vv. ESV).
A Memorial Before God
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. ~ vv. 1-8
Cornelius was not Jewish. He was a Gentile. He did not have all the teaching in the scriptures that many Jewish young men received from childhood and forward. Back then Jews did not associate with Gentiles, either, so he lacked, perhaps, in Biblical instruction and training from those who were schooled in the Word of God. And, yet, he knew of God and he worshiped God with child-like faith. Although frightened by the vision of an angel of God, he did not hesitate to respond to the Lord by inviting him to speak to his heart. He also did not resist the message from the Lord nor hesitate to do what God told him to do.
This Happened Three Times
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. ~ vv. 9-16
On the other hand, Peter, who had grown up in the Jewish faith, who had faithfully obeyed the law of Moses, who was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, who had followed him in ministry for three years, and who now was filled with the Spirit, and had been used mightily by God in preaching the Good News of salvation, and was instrumental in seeing thousands of people turn their hearts to Jesus, doubted and questioned the Lord when the Lord visited him in a vision. So, why do you suppose a Gentile without all the training in the scriptures trusted the Lord immediately but Peter, who had Biblical teaching and training did not?
Although what Peter had learned concerning the law of Moses, which was God’s laws for his people under the Old Covenant, was correct and right for him to follow under the Old Covenant, he had that mindset so instilled in him that he was unwilling to listen to what he knew was the voice of God speaking to him. Notice he did not question that it was the Lord speaking, but he questioned what the Lord told him. And, this was not the first time for Peter, either.
When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to be killed, but that he would be raised from the dead on the third day, Peter took him aside and rebuked him and said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” So Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (See: Matt. 16:21-23). When Jesus told his disciples that they would all desert him when he was handed over to be killed, Peter told him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Yet Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Then Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (See: Matt. 26:31-35). We know that Jesus was right. Peter did deny Jesus three times.
So, some of Peter’s questioning of the Lord stemmed from his personality. He had his own mind about things, and did not believe easily anything that contradicted his own thinking, even if it came from the Lord. Yet, I believe that some of it stemmed, too, from what he had always been taught. Even though God himself came to Peter and told him to “Rise, kill and eat,” Peter refused because he was taught that was wrong to do, and he had always obeyed. Peter was slow to accept change, he was slow to accept a different way of thinking than what he himself thought, and he was slow to change his thinking about something he had always practiced, although it was right at the time. So, he took some convincing.
I believe many Christians today are right where Peter was. There are teachings they had instilled in them from childhood, some of which was Old Covenant teaching, some of which was traditions of men passed down from generation to generation, and some of which resulted from misuse or misinterpretations of scripture, often due to the use of taking scriptures out of context to support certain theologies. And, they are locked into these teachings, and even though God himself is speaking to them, and is trying to show them that what they believe is not correct, they are stubborn and are unwilling to listen to reason and to examine the scriptures to see if maybe what they have always believed is not what Jesus and the apostles taught. So, sometimes too much knowledge can be a hindrance to hearing the voice of God and to responding to him with child-like faith.
This was also not the first time Jesus incorporated the use of “three times” with Peter. Peter had denied him three times, and then Jesus had Peter reaffirm his love for Jesus three times (See: John 21). Now he sent him this vision three times in order for Peter to realize that Jesus meant business, and that Peter was to take notice. The number three, I believe, is very significant in scripture. For one, we serve a triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three-in-one. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead. So, although we certainly cannot build a doctrine around this, I do believe God still uses “three times” in our lives sometimes to let us know it is him speaking, and to let us know we need to pay attention and to take notice, because what the Lord wants to say to us is very important.
What God Had Planned
The men sent from Cornelius came to Peter, and Peter went with them to Cornelius’ house. Cornelius had gathered together his relatives and close friends to hear what Peter had to say. Peter acknowledged that, although it was a Jewish custom to not associate with Gentiles, God had shown him that he should not call any man impure or unclean, which was the point of the vision. Cornelius told Peter about his vision. And, then he said, “Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (v. 33b NIV84).
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)… They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. ~ vv. 34-48
Peter was sometimes slow in responding appropriately to the voice of God, yet he did eventually respond. He didn’t remain stubborn and unwilling to hear God, but he did think about it and pray about it, and he allowed himself to be teachable. Because Cornelius believed the Lord, and did what he said, and because Peter allowed the Spirit of God to change him in heart and mind, the gospel of Jesus Christ went to the Gentiles and many people were saved and were filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit, just as the Jewish Christians had also experienced. Awesome!
From this story I believe we can learn to have hearts responsive to God, to hear his voice speaking to our hearts, and to be willing to have our minds changed if what we had always believed and practiced is not what Jesus and the apostles taught. We can also learn to be more like Cornelius in responding with child-like faith. When we obey God in doing what he says, even if we are slow in getting there sometimes, God will use us in the lives of others to be his light, his witnesses, and to be his hands and feet to those who need Jesus, and/or who need his comfort and healing. So, let us not be stubborn and unwilling to listen to Jesus just because we have always believed a certain way, but let us be open and willing to hear his voice speaking to our hearts, and be willing to examine the scriptures to see if maybe what we had always believed and practiced is not in line with New Covenant teaching.
Open My Heart / An Original Work / July 2, 2013
“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Rm. 16:19b).
Open my heart. Let Your truth in.
Make of me a servant, pure within;
Sing of Your praise all of my days.
Let Your Spirit transform all my ways.
Jesus Christ died on a cross to
Save me from my sin.
“Repent of sin. Be cleansed within.
Obey all of His commands today.”
“Why do you doubt? Why do you fear?
Jesus Christ will wipe away your tears.
He cares for you. He feels your pain.
Die to sin, and life with Him you’ll gain.
Follow Him where’er He leads you.
Talk with Him each day.
Then you will know what He has planned
For your life before your world began.”
“Come unto Me, weary in heart.
Let My love and grace to you impart.
Believe in Me. Trust in My care.
Take your burdens to the Lord in prayer.
He will meet all of your needs,
And give you peace within.
Rejoice in Him! Tell of His love.
He will give you comfort from above.”