Who Does God Love More?
Every person can learn some lessons about a relationship with Jesus Christ by learning the lessons of this passage.
Chuck Yeager, the famed test pilot, was flying an F-86 Sabre over a lake in the Sierras when he decided to buzz a friend’s house near the edge of the lake. During a slow roll, he suddenly felt his aileron lock. Says Yeager, "It was a hairy moment, flying about 150 feet off the ground and upside down."
A lesser pilot might have panicked with fatal results, but Yeager let off on the G’s, pushed up the nose, and sure enough, the aileron unlocked. Climbing to 15,000 feet, where it was safer, Yeager tried the maneuver again. Every time he rolled, the problem recurred.
Yeager knew three or four pilots had died under similar circumstances, but to date, investigators were puzzled as to the source of the Sabre’s fatal flaw. Yeager went to his superior with a report, and the inspectors went to work. They found that a bolt on the aileron cylinder was installed upside down. Eventually, the culprit was found in a North American plant. He was an older man on the assembly line who ignored instructions about how to insert that bolt, because, by golly, he knew that bolts were supposed to be placed head up, not head down. In a sad commentary, Yeager says that "nobody ever told the man how many pilots he had killed." (From "Yeager" by Chuck Yeager, Bantam, 1985)
How many people are there around us who might me missing out on God’s best because we think we know better. I will share with you some lessons that Peter had to learn.
Lesson I. Good is not good enough
A. The little bit of information that we hear about Cornelius is pretty impressive. In v. 2 it says that he is devout and God-fearing. This sounds pretty good, but he apparently is not a full fledged believer yet. The use of this phrase probably means he was a pretty good guy, but he had not followed through on all everything that was needed for him to be considered a proselyte, or a convert to Judiasm. His acts of goodness had gained him a position of respect and admiration among the people he lived near. This seems pretty important since Israel was under Roman rule at this time, and Cornelius was put in place to enforce this. I think the Jewish people had a good opinion of many of the soldiers who were in their areas.
B. Even though Cornelius was called god-fearing and devout. He was a man who donated to the poor. He was really a good man. Even with all of this Peter was asked to go and speak with Cornelius about his faith. His being good was not good enough. It was going to take more than a series of good deeds for this man to be saved. He needed to put his faith and trust in jesus Christ. That is why Peter was sent for. Peter’s message was probably one that Cornelius was familiar with, but Peter challenged his with Salvation. He needed more than good deeds to get him to God. Even if he completed those steps that would have moved him beyond being called god-fearing and devout. That would not have been enough to get him to God. He needed something more.
C. Probably most people have a standard in their mind of what it takes to get to God. It is like the bar that the high jumper is challenged to get over. Somewhere we have made a line that says, if I am this good God will accept me. It did not work for Cornelius and it will not work for anyone else. We simply cannot be good enough. We cannot do enough good things to get to God. Before you start thinking of yourself as worthless, God has made a way for us to get to him without being good enough. No amount of money is going to buy our way to God. No amount of good deeds will make it possible for us to get to God. Nothing we do as humans will get us to God. The situation is not hopeless. There is something we can do.
Lesson II. God makes clean
A. God speaks to Cornelius in a dream, but then he also speaks to Peter in a vision. It is lunch time and Peter is hungry. While he is praying God causes Peter to see a sheet being lowered before him. In the sheet there are all kinds of animals that the Jewish people would consider to be unclean. Peter sees the sheet and these animals, but then a voice tells him to kill and eat. Peter was probably pretty strong in his Jewish faith even though at this time he was considered a follower of Jesus Christ. According to Jewish law these animals that peter is told to eat are unclean. Peter pretty much says, no way, I’m not that hungry. We read about it once in the passage, but it says in here that it happened three times. God tells Peter to eat, and peter refuses. Each time God tells Peter, “do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
B. It is no coincidence that the men from Cornelius show up to find Peter at about this same time. Jewish people had laws and traditions about food, but they also had laws and traditions about Gentiles. According to the traditions of the day, many Jewish people would not associate with Gentiles. Even though they might be forced to live in the same neighborhood as Cornelius, they would not speak with him. They certainly would not invite him over to their house, nor would they enter his house. These are things which were prohibited in Jewish law. They would not share a meal together. They had different rules and ideas about cleanliness and how food was to be prepared. So they could not eat together. They would not sleep under the same roof. These are practices that devout Jewish people would follow. These were probably practices that peter would have kept as well. These Gentile visitors arrive about the same time that Peter is having his vision. He has been told by the Lord, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." According to Jewish law Peter had every right to deny the request of these men. In v. 27 as Peter enters the house of Cornelius he says, “"You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him.” They both understand that this is breaking with the Jewish law.
C. Peter learns an important lesson here, and he shares it with Cornelius. “But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” Up to this point Peter was convinced that certain kinds of people were impure. This was the opinion of men. They misinterpreted God’s statements and made them into something they were not meant to become. So God showed Peter that it was okay for him to connect with Cornelius and other Gentiles without the fear of being ostracized by God. God was not going to punish Peter for associating with men like Cornelius.
D. Humans seem to be inclined to have this attitude about people that don’t look like us or act like us. When the first Europeans came to America they did not know how to take the Native Americans. The slaves that were brought from Africa and other parts of the world were not viewed as humans. They were actually treated more like animals in many cases. Even missionaries going to other countries sometimes try to make natives of that country more like them. They are not a lower grade of human being. They are still made in the image of God, even if it does not fit what our image of God is.
E. We might not understand different people. They might look different from us. They might have slightly different beliefs. Perhaps God wants us to go to a people group that we don’t feel real comfortable around. He wants us to reach out to that group. As we expand our circle of influence we might learn some things from the people we allow ourselves to be exposed to. We might also find that we can help those people in that circle.
Lesson III. Forgiveness comes through Jesus Christ
A. Peter makes an amazing statement in v. 34. "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Peter had been raised on the notion that if you weren’t Jewish you probably did not amount to much. Through the events that Peter has been through he realizes that God has more for the world than just to save the Jewish people. We might see a little pride in what Peter was saying here, but as Americans we can have that same kind of pride. We live in a nation that was established by Christian men who used Christian principles to guide them. It would be easy for us to believe that God has special privileges for our nation as well. I can remember hearing a few years ago that other countries were starting to send missionaries to America. I thought why, we are a Christian nation. That might be true, but we are not all Christians. God’s love and acceptance is for all people, and his favoritism does not shine on a certain nationality. His favoritism is for all who fear him and do what is right.
B. Then in v. 43 Peter makes another important statement about forgiveness. “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." I would guess that Cornelius was pretty well set on the thought that if he did enough good things he would be able to earn a good relationship with God. It seems to be emphasized that Cornelius was devout and God-fearing. He was a pretty special guy. Even with all of the good things he was doing he was not doing enough. The truth of the problem is that he could never do enough. There is no one who can do enough. It is just not possible to do enough to get to God. We cannot in our human weakness make it to God. It is not possible. That is why Peter is saying that, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." It is only through Jesus Christ that we are able to get our lives clean enough to come before God. We cannot live pure enough lives. We need the forgiving power of Jesus Christ for that forgiveness.
C. In these two statements I see something very important for all people to know. I think that Peter realized that no one is beyond the grasp of God. He might have been of the opinion that only Jewish people could come to God. They were the only ones who were born in the right place. They were the ones who were obeying the laws. They were the right people. Now Peter is being taught that these blessings are not just for Jewish people, they are for other people as well. God’s love is able to reach those people, even though they appear to be living the wrong kind of a life.
D. There is a message for Christians here. That is that no one is too far from God that he cannot reach them. We should not disqualify people from belonging to the family of God. For those who might not be Christians, you are not so far gone that God cannot reach you. There is no one in the world who is so good that they don’t need God, and there is no one in the world who is so bad that God can’t reach them. I am convinced that God has done everything short of making the decision for people, to make it possible for them to have a relationship with him.
This passage deals with two people who could have felt they had things all figured out. Peter was an outspoken leader of the disciples. Many times he was seen as hard headed. Cornelius could have been hard headed as well. He could have felt he had things all figured out, after all he was god-fearing and devout.
God has a desire to have a relationship with every person. If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, you can know that Jesus desires to have a relationship with you. None of us should ever dismiss anyone as someone too far gone to receive Jesus.