Hunkered Down Devotion

Acts 10:1-16 (Voice)
10 Cornelius, a Roman Centurion and a member of a unit called the Italian Cohort, lived in Caesarea. 2 Cornelius was an outsider, but he was a devout man—a God-fearing fellow with a God-fearing family. He consistently and generously gave to the poor, and he practiced constant prayer to God. 3 About three o’clock one afternoon, he had a vision of a messenger of God.
Messenger of God: Cornelius!
Cornelius (terrified): 4 What is it, sir?
Messenger of God: God has heard your prayers, and He has seen your kindness to the poor. God has taken notice of you. 5-6 Send men south to Joppa, to the house of a tanner named Simon. Ask to speak to a guest of his named Simon, but also called Peter. You’ll find this house near the waterfront.
7 After the messenger departed, Cornelius immediately called two of his slaves and a soldier under his command—an especially devout soldier. 8 He told them the whole story and sent them to Joppa.
9 Just as these men were nearing Joppa about noon the next day, Peter went up on the flat rooftop of Simon the tanner’s house. He planned to pray, 10 but he soon grew hungry. While his lunch was being prepared, Peter had a vision of his own—a vision that linked his present hunger with what was about to happen: 11 A rift opened in the sky, and a wide container—something like a huge sheet suspended by its four corners—descended through the torn opening toward the ground. 12 This container teemed with four-footed animals, creatures that crawl, and birds—pigs, bats, lizards, snakes, frogs, toads, and vultures.
A Voice: 13 Get up, Peter! Kill! Eat!
Peter: 14 No way, Lord! These animals are forbidden in the dietary laws of the Hebrew Scriptures! I’ve never eaten nonkosher foods like these before—not once in my life!
A Voice: 15 If God calls something permissible and clean, you must not call it forbidden and dirty!
16 Peter saw this vision three times; but the third time, the container of animals flew up through the rift in the sky, the rift healed,

Without an understanding of the culture and the context, this vision that is given to Peter is even more confusing than it already is.  Peter, as a faithful Jew, would have strictly followed the dietary laws set out in the Torah.  So, while the vision Peter has is certainly still strange, understanding the vision's message in relation to the Kosher food laws Peter and other Jewish Christians were still observing, adds some needed clarity.

While that context helps us understand what this vision means for Peter, it doesn’t necessarily do much to indicate what it means for us.  Since Peter’s vision Christians haven’t been expected to refrain from food that was deemed ‘unclean’ in the Torah.  Paul takes this dietary freedom even further, making it clear that even food that had been dedicated to idols or false gods was acceptable to eat, as long as one had a clear conscience about it.

The message and meaning for us comes from not looking at the specifics of this situation, but rather extrapolating the meaning that underscores the details of Peter’s vision.  What is going on here might be considered a classic example of the ‘letter of the law’ vs. the ‘spirit of the law’.  

Here Peter is hesitant – initially proclaiming he won’t eat the food even though the Spirit has directed him too, because it goes against the law that he has been taught.  The Spirit then responds, ‘If God calls something permissible and clean, you must not call it forbidden and dirty!’   The letter of the law of God said one thing, but the Spirit of God said something different.

There are many instances throughout history where we have seen this dynamic play out, with the law of God, found in the Bible.  In our country’s past, many good Christians held up the letter of the law – the Word of God found in scripture – as a justification for slavery.  Throughout history passages of scripture have been harnessed to seemingly allow for the oppression of women, people of different (or no) faith, and more.  

As we sit here in the twenty-first century, we understand the error of those readings of scripture and how, despite what it seemed at the time, the Word and Law of God weren’t really in conflict with each other.  

That is the lesson for us to learn and apply to our lives from this passage: If we encounter a rule, a law, or an interpretation of scripture – even one that has been long held – that clearly runs counter to the Spirit of God, revealed to us in and through our savior Jesus Christ and his life, death, and resurrection – we need to trust the Spirit.  

Sharing God’s Love,

Prayer: Lord, help us to hear, understand, and follow the lead of your Spirit and let that Spirit guide our understanding of your Word and your Law.  Amen.

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