Principles from Peter toward Traditions
October 29, 2012, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book | Tags: , , , , ,

Last week we ended Acts 9 by reading what may have seemed like unimportant information,  “And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner”.   It is important to remember that God’s word was not randomly written by man, but carefully constructed by God.  Remember when we read the Bible, “all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable”.  There is nothing in it that isn’t important.  So why is this important?

Peter, in chapter 10, will do something that is against the traditions that he has followed most of his life.  The last verse in Acts 9, tell us that God was changing Peter because he stayed with a “tanner”.  Peter is going against what is socially acceptable in Israel.  Tanners were despised by the Jewish society, and especially the legalistic Pharisees.  First, they had to deal with dead animals, a practice that was contrary to Jewish ceremonial practices. Second, a tanner probably smelled because of dealing with dead animals.   Most likely the local synagogue had shunned Simon the tanner.  In order to transform Peter into a witness to Gentiles, God had to chip away at his preconceived beliefs and practices that had turned into useless and limiting traditions and prejudices.  God had to prepare Peter and the church to move from having a Jewish focus to a world-wide focus which would include Gentiles.  The first step was having Peter stay with Simon the Tanner, perhaps as long as two years.  Peter’s prejudices and traditions, based on Old Testament law, were being transformed because he was now free from the law.  Christ had fulfilled the law and had imputed His righteous life as a man to Peter as well as to all believers.  Beginning with the story of Cornelius in Acts 10, we see how God worked in Peter, a Jew, to reach Gentiles and can apply it to how He is working in us, Gentiles, to reach all in this world.

Why Peter?

Peter was the instrument God used in growing the church in its infancy.  Back in Matthew 16:19, the Lord Jesus Christ, our God, said that He was giving Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter.  He planned on having Peter unlock the doors of the church to all groups.  He preached the first sermon of the church and 3000 Jewish men were saved, baptized and added to the church.  Later as persecution drove the church away from Jerusalem, Peter was used by God to open the door of the church to the Samaritans, who were part Jewish and part Gentile.    In Acts 10, Peter is used by God to unlock the door to the church to the Gentiles.  Because of a life full of Jewish traditions, legalism, and prejudice this was a door that Peter would find difficult to unlock without God chipping away at those preconceived beliefs and practices that served as a barrier to obedience in Peter’s life.  The great thing about the indwelling Holy Spirit in a believer’s life is that He works within us to give us the ability and power to always obey God’s commands and calls.

The New Covenant was designed to knock down the barrier between Jew and Gentile.  Paul spoke on God’s intention to reconcile both Jew and Gentile to Him, and place them together in one body, a mystery to past ages, but a reality in the church.  Jews struggled with understanding this reconciliation after a lifetime of viewing Gentiles as lesser beings, even referring to them as “dogs”.

A strict Jew would never be a guest in a Gentile’s home and he would never permit a Gentile to be a guest in his home.  Jewish law described Gentile homes as unclean.  Dirt from Gentile countries were even considered unclean, and would defile the dirt of Israel forever.  Whenever a Jew left a Gentile country, they would shake off the dust from their feet to prevent Gentile dirt from coming to Israel.  When the 70 went out to preach the gospel, those who wouldn’t hear their words were to be treated as a Gentile, by shaking off the dust from their feet.  They were still under the law.  But the cross changed everything!

Jews and Gentiles were at odds.  The Jews viewed Gentiles as unclean and had strict laws that prevented Jews from being defiled.  Milk from a cow milked by Gentile hands couldn’t be used by Jews.  Bread and oil prepared by Gentiles could never be used by a Jew.  Even utensils used by a Gentile had to be purified by fire and water.  Gentiles in reaction to this treatment, scorned Jewish practices such as circumcision, Sabbath rest, worship of an invisible God, abstinence from food declared unclean, and hundreds of restrictive rules.

Now Christ intended to make them ONE in Him.  Only God can transform lives of hatred and prejudice and if any is in Christ, he is a new creature.  Old traditions and ways would change and be replaced by new principles and ways, but as sinful creatures, we rebel and follow our beliefs at times.  Peter struggled with this at times, but always came back to following Christ.

God’s plan always involves God’s preparation.  In Acts 10, we see God preparing two people, Cornelius, a Gentile and Peter, a Jew.  Each receives a special vision as a part of the preparation.  By Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council was held and came to the conclusion that Gentiles were a part of the church.  Jesus Christ changes things!   In this passage we see how God prepares the receiver of the gospel (Cornelius), and the messenger of the gospel (Peter) and then at the perfect time, God brings the two together.

God chose a man to receive the Gospel but He always gives that man a choice.  This is election and free will working together.

 Here’s what we learn about the man.  First, he lived in Caesarea.  Caesarea was the location of a military garrison and the headquarters of the Roman government.  The majority of the population was Gentiles.  Caesarea is about 30 miles north of Joppa, which today is called Tel Aviv.  Caesarea was a gift to Herod the Great from Roman Emperor Augustus.  Cornelius was a centurion of an Italian band or group of 100 men.  A Roman legion was 6,000 men, divided into 10 groups, called cohorts, of 600 men.  Each cohort had 6 centurions, one of which was Cornelius.  We also know that Cornelius had a seeking heart and mind.  We also see that Cornelius was described as devout, feared God, influenced his house, gave alms or money to the people (a word used in Acts to speak of Jews), and prayed to God continually.  In spite of his good works, Cornelius had a great need.  He was separated from God and need to be redeemed.  He needed Jesus to change all things.  Cornelius had a certain amount of light and sought to know in a personal way the God he knew about.  When we see Cornelius referred to as one who feared God, we see a Gentile who was sick of his own worthless religion and who came to the conclusion that the true God was Jehovah, the God of Israel.  He worshipped in the synagogue, and followed the ethics of the Old Testament, including alms-giving and prayer.  He had not become a proselyte because he had not been circumcised.  This step was necessary to convert to Judaism.  This act would fully identify the Gentile with Israel and he would be considered a Jew in a spiritual sense.  In Acts 11:14, Peter related that he was to tell Cornelius the message of salvation so he and his house could be saved.  We read that at the ninth hour (3 p.m.) God sent a vision to Cornelius.  This was the time of evening prayer for the Jews.  We see God moving in response to prayer.  God was about to answer his prayer by giving him more light and then giving the receiver, Cornelius, the opportunity to actively respond.  Notice also that the angel mentioned in the vision didn’t share the gospel.  The vision itself didn’t share the gospel truth.  He wanted a man, Peter, to share the gospel.  He wanted Cornelius to be obedient to the truth.  Also notice that Cornelius was to send men to Peter.  He wasn’t to go himself.

In addition to Cornelius, God was preparing Peter.  Remember, Peter was to unlock the door to the Gentiles but he had to go in faith to Cornelius.  Peter was told by the three Gentiles who arrived at his door to come meet a man who wants to see you.  Second, Peter would go to the Gentile’s house to lead him to the Lord.  If the church were to spread to the Gentiles, Jewish believers would have to go to the Gentiles.  Remember Jews wouldn’t go to the house of a Gentile.  God was breaking down barriers because Christ changes everything.  The great thing about Cornelius is his immediate obedience.  He sent two servants and one soldier to go to Peter about 30 miles away and ask him to come and share the gospel.  While the Gentiles made the 30 mile trip, God began to work on Peter.  About noon, Peter went to pray on the roof top.  While there, Peter got hungry.  But instead of eating, he went into a trance.  God used Peter’s hunger to teach him a great truth.  We read that Peter was heaven open and a tarp pulled together and tied with a rope that extended back into heaven being lowered.  It was full of animals, both clean and unclean.  In Leviticus God laid down absolute standards regarding the diet of Jews.  Some animals were called clean and others were called unclean.  No self-respecting Jew would eat an unclean animal.   In this distinction we see the grace of God.  While one reason for the diet was to separate the Jews from the other nations, it was to keep the Jews away from socially interacting with Gentiles because the Gentiles were idolatrous and God wanted the Jews to stay away from idols.  As we read the Old Testament, in spite of God’s desire to keep the Jews from the worship of worthless idols, they still turned to them and away from Him.  God’s grace was frustrated.  In the New Testament, Christ changes things.  While we are set apart people unto God, we are called to take the gospel to the world.  God, in His grace, wants us to be His instruments that He lives through.  When we let our traditions and prejudices keep us from sharing the gospel, then we frustrate the grace of God today.  The second reason God set dietary laws for the Jews was to keep Israel from the diseases and epidemics experienced by the pagan Gentiles.  Today, God has principles that when we follow, keep us from both physical disease but more importantly, spiritual disease.  The church of today is far too often going through the motions of church.  We seek to have great numbers as we build our churches while forgetting it is Christ who is to build His church.  We place more importance on the quantity of our worship than on the quality of it.

So Peter is faced with a dilemma.  Obey God and eat clean and UNCLEAN animals, or follow his traditions and prejudices.  Peter chose to disobey.  Peter had responded to Christ by rebuking Him and every time he ended up failing.  Here again we see his stubborn pride and rashness.  Three times Jesus asked if Peter loved Him and three times Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep.  Three times here God told him to eat the animals.  Then the tarp and animals were taken back up into heaven.  What was God doing?  I think the first thing was teaching Peter that the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Christ and was no longer in effect because Christ changes everything.  The dietary laws were primarily designed to separate the Jew for the Gentile, but Christ changed that.  He was building His church which would be made up of Jew and Gentiles.  In this new body, Christ emphasized unity.  The social barrier had to be removed because through Christ they were to be one.  Love was to unite them in their worship and service for the only One Who matters, the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the early church, Jews and Gentiles wouldn’t eat together at times because the Gentiles would eat things that the Jews wouldn’t eat.  Paul tells them to act in love and while they were free, demonstrate love toward their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ who were still struggling with this new freedom in Christ.  Jews were told not to make Gentiles conform to dietary laws that God set aside.  God wanted unity and love was the agent to achieve this one-ness.  The tarp is the church, the animals represent Jews and Gentiles, and the coming down from heaven tells us that the church is created or built by Christ and the going up into heaven can represent the rapture, with Jew and Gentile believers being taken together into heaven.

Let’s stop here to talk about us.  In Matthew 15:1-20, Christ told the people that there is nothing from outside a man that defiles him, but that which comes from within.  Food is processed and removed from our system.  If it is eaten with clean or unclean hands, it will soon be removed.  The Pharisees had made washing hands a part of the law requirements of the Old Testament.  While it is a good thing to wash hands eating with dirty hands will not destroy you.  I remember playing baseball as a boy and after the game, a parent would bring out a watermelon.  We rush to grab a piece of the delightful treat, with hands dirty from playing the game.  No one got sick or died from the experience.  Sure our moms would have preferred that we wash our hands, but we were just boys being boys.  But washing hands was a rule added by the Pharisees to the law and the disciples of Jesus were considered “sinners” for not washing their hands.  Even God took Old Testament law, clean and unclean animals and set it aside because the law was made perfect or complete in the finished work of Christ.  But from within us, in our heart or inner being, are evil thoughts, immorality, violence, covetousness, as well as a number of other sins.  God is more concerned with what comes out of us.  In I Timothy 4:3-4 God, through the writings of Paul, tells us that false teachers try to put us back under the law.  Today, what traditions do we have.  Our pastor recently preached about what Jesus said about traditions.  From his sermon, I was challenged to examine what traditions I hold to and practice.   Sadly, many churches have elevated traditions to an equal status with the Bible.   Jesus, in Matthew 15, evaluates traditionalism.  Notice what Jesus said is the problem with traditionalism in verse 6.  “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”  The Pharisees had complained to Jesus that His disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate.  Jesus then asked why they broke God’s law of honoring their parents.  Pharisees taught that you could say “Corban”, or declare that money that could be used to honor and take care of parents was a gift for God and that you were then free from honoring and taking care of your parents.  If you then used the gift for God by giving it to the Pharisees or if they used it themselves, according to the Pharisees, you were free of any responsibility to your parents.  Their man-made tradition was more important to these legalists than God’s word.  That’s the problem with traditionalism and legalism.

What are we doing that in effect makes the word of God void?  Have we spent a lifetime in memorizing the Bible, thinking that will make us right with God, but follow our traditions and wrong beliefs while setting aside the Word of God in our daily life.  Being obedient to man-made rules and our traditions is NOT the same as being obedient to God and His Word, regardless of what is widely accepted by leaders and the majority.  When we follow something other than God’s truth, we are hypocrites, pretending we’re right with God in our outward actions while setting aside His word in our hearts.  We follow men’s teachings and opinions even more than we follow God’s.  We might look the part of a God follower, but like Cornelius, we’re lost.  Often when we follow traditions and legalism, we talk about God’s power and presence but have no real connection with Him because we have frustrated the grace of God. So we find ourselves in a catch 22-cycle.  I have no power with God because I’m not right with God so I try to be right with God by following more rules that men give.  I am frustrating the grace of God so I continue to be without His power and presence.  Until I make the break from following outward rules and regulations, I don’t connect with Christ.  If I can be right with God through anything other than Christ, then Christ died in vain.    I also lose meaningful worship with Christ through His word when I try to live to a religious standard.  I connect to Christ through His word.  Have you gone to church and felt empty when you left?  You went because you’re suppose to but while a lot of stuff went on, it didn’t seem like Jesus was there.  I’m not talking about emotionalism because some churches try to replace the actually presence of God with fake experiences.  I’m talking about a worship that focuses on God and not on entertainment.  Is your church experience one of sitting in a pew while being entertained with music and then a sermon or are you actively worshipping God?  A sad result of traditionalism and legalism is that Biblical teaching and preaching is traded for sermons that leap from a text verse into the opinions of men about subjects that the passage doesn’t even deal with and the Bible never mentions.  How sad it is to go to a church were no matter what the passage is, the sermon is the same service after service and never changes.  We reflect about the old fashion church and live in the past when God was present because our services now are now filled with something other than worship.  Many continue in this type of church because they grew up or have always gone here and after all, the pastor has taught them that he is always right and that any other church is a lesser church.  We have a world to reach and we are trying to do it on our own.  Let’s examine our traditions and rules and get rid of the ones that have no foundation in the scriptures.  We need to keep the ones based on the Bible and the teachings of Christ and the early church.  According to II Thessalonians, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle”.  What traditions should we be practicing?

  • Humble yourself both before the Lord and others (Matt. 18:4)
  • Love others, even your enemies (Luke 6:27)
  • Treat others the way you want them to treat you. (Luke 6:31)
  • Give freely to others (Acts 20:35)
  • Pray
  • Worship
  • Serve
  • Submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ

The types of traditions that we are to follow are the ones that only come as Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, transforms us internally.  When we do our worship will be God-centered, Spirit-controlled and alive.  We look forward to getting together to worship and learn from His word.

At just the right time, God sent the three men to Peter.  God is always an on time God.  The Spirit told Peter to obey and go with the men.  God was required active faith from Peter.  Notice that Peter was obedient and allowed these Gentiles to stay with him.  Christ changes everything.


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