unclean

Set Apart by God

44 For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44-45 ESV

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

In order to understand the concept of sanctification, we have to spend some time in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, the word qadash is most commonly translated as “sanctified.” But you can also find it translated as “consecrated,” “holy,” or “hallowed.” It carries a number of different meanings, including “to set apart or separate.”

God set apart or sanctified the seventh day, the Sabbath, as a special day to be marked by rest from work. He also set apart the priests and assigned them the responsibility of acting as His servants, caring for the tabernacle and offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. And God set apart the tabernacle itself by displaying the glory of His presence in the Holy of Holies.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are countless examples of qadash, the setting apart of something or someone by God for His use. God set apart Abram as His own, choosing him from among all the people on earth and making a covenant promise to make of him a great nation. 

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

And God kept that promise to Abram by blessing him with many descendants, who became the people of Israel. His decision to set apart Israel as His own possession was not based on some characteristic found in them, but was determined by His love for them. And God expressed His love by sanctifying them, setting them apart from every other nation on earth, and providing them with a one-of-a-kind relationship with Himself.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV

The nation of Israel enjoyed the unprecedented status of being God’s chosen people. But their relationship with God came with expectations from God. As the Leviticus passage reveals, their lifestyle was to reflect their sanctified status as God’s possession. He had set the apart as His own and their behavior was to reflect their status as His possession. And notice that God put certain restrictions on them that included their dietary habits. Thirty seven times in Leviticus 11, God uses the word tame', to refer to those creatures which He deemed as “unclean” or “defiled,” and therefore, off limits to the Israelites. The list included camels, pigs, vultures, certain sea creatures, and insects. God refers to these creatures as being sheqets, which means “detestable” or “an abomination.” In a sense, God had sanctified these creatures as unholy. They were to be avoided at all costs. The people of Israel were to refrain from eating them. If they did so, they would become defiled and, therefore, unholy.

Even contact with them could make an Israelite impure. Which is why God warns the Israelites: “ You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them” (Leviticus 11:43 ESV). Instead, the people of God were to consecrate themselves or set themselves apart as holy to God. The word translated as “consecrate” is qadash, the same word translated later in the passage as “sanctify.” The people of Israel, having been set apart by God, were to set themselves apart through their actions, by faithfully obeying God’s commands.

Notice that their distinctive lifestyle was tied directly to their distinctive relationship with God.

“For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44 ESV

God tells them that, because He is set apart or holy, they were to be also. The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is qadowsh, and it is derived from the root word, qadash. The people of Israel were to live set-apart lives. God had called them to live distinctively different lives, set apart from the rest of the nations around them. They had been set apart by God and now there were to live as who they were. And that distinctiveness was to show up in everyday life.

God reminds the Israelites that He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt and had brought them to their own land. It was within that new land that their lives were to reflect their new status as His children.

“I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:45 ESV

By commanding the Israelites to “be boly,” God is not asking the them to become something. He is not suggesting that they have to set themselves apart or make themselves holy. No, He is demanding that they live in such a way that their lives adequately demonstrate their set-apart status. Why? Because they belong to Him and He is set apart and holy. There was no other god like Yahweh. And there was to be no other people like the Israelites.

And the apostle Peter picks up on this call to distinctiveness as he writes to believers living in the first century. Quoting from the Leviticus passage, Peter reminds New Testament followers of Christ that they too are to live set-apart lives.

First of all, he warns them not to go back to their old way of living.

Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

They were to be “obedient children,” living according to the commands of God. Not to win favor or to earn brownie with God, but as a means of reflecting their set-apartness. They had been chosen by God and their behavior needed to distinguish them as His children. Set apart people live set apart lives. Sanctified people live sanctified lives. Those who God has deemed holy should live lives that reflect their holiness. And Peter makes it clear that holy people strive to be holy in all their conduct. No compartmentalization. The Greek word Peter used is anastrophē and it refers to “manner of life” or “behavior.” There was to be no area of the believer’s life that was free from God’s expectation of holiness. God had set the entire individual apart, not just their soul, mind, or spirit. The apostle Paul told the believers in Rome:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 NLT

Christ-followers are to live set-apart lives, in every area of their lives. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament and the believers in the New Testament, modern-day Christians are to be holy because the God who chose us is holy. Our lives are to reflect our sanctified status as His children. We are to live like our heavenly Father, not perfectly or completely free from sin, but with an intention to show ourselves to be who He has made us to be: His children.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

I Will…Part 2.

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. – Matthew 8:5-13 ESV

Matthew follows up the story of Jesus healing the leper with another surprising account of His healing of a Roman centurion’s servant. While we typically make much of the centurion’s display of faith, which Jesus does as well, we too often overlook the more subtle, yet equally significant statement made by Jesus in verses 11-12:

11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. 

The centurion was a Roman and, thus, a Gentile. He was a commander over 100 Roman soldiers, and it is likely that his servant, who was paralyzed, was also a Gentile. As Jesus entered into the city of Capernaum, He was accompanied by His 12 Jewish disciples and, more than likely, had a sizeable crowd of other Jews tagging along in hopes of seeing Him perform yet another miracle. So, Matthew sets up an interesting confrontation as this Roman military commander, a Gentile, approaches Jesus and requests the healing of his paralzyed servant. The 12 disciples and the other Jews in Jesus’ entourage would have been shocked at the centurion’s boldness. How dare he, a Gentile, approach Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, with a request of this nature. The Jews despised Gentiles and weren’t exactly fond of the Romans either. They viewed Rome as an occupying force that kept the Jewish nation in subjection through their military presence and economically stifling taxation requirements.

The Jews would have been appalled at the audacity of this Gentile’s request and eager to hear what Jesus would say in response. After all, he was a pagan, Gentile, Roman, and a member of the occupying military force. And he was requesting the healing of his Gentile servant. It’s likely that the Jews fully expected Jesus to turn down the man’s request. And later on in Matthew’s Gospel, he records an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman, who came to Jesus asking that He heal her daughter.

22 “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” – Matthew 15:22-23 ESV

Notice that the disciples begged Jesus to send the woman away, fully expecting Jesus to turn down her audacious request. And, at first glance, it would appear that Jesus agreed with them.

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” – Matthew 15:24-26 ESV

Jesus confesses that He had come to be the Messiah of Israel, having been born a Jew and a descendant of David, the great king of Israel. He even suggests that it would be inappropriate to give to a Gentile what had been intended for the Jews. But look carefully at the woman’s response:

27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” – Matthew 15:27 ESV

She recognizes and fully admits her unworthiness, but appeals to Jesus’ mercy, begging Him for nothing more than the healing of her daughter. And Jesus responded:

28 “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:29 ESV

Like the centurion, this woman had come to Jesus out of desparation. Her need was great and she had nowhere else to turn. These two Gentiles, a Canaanite and a Roman, had heard of the miraculous works of Jesus and took the chance that He might use His power to their loved ones. And both displayed a faith that Jesus commends. The centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word. He somehow knew that Jesus had authority, given to Him by God, that would allow Him to heal from a distance. The Canaanite woman believed that Jesus was gracious and good, and would be willing to use His God-given power to heal her daughter. And in both cases, Jesus answered their requests. 

But back to verses 11-12. As surprised as the disciples would have been at Jesus agreeing to heal the centurion’s servant, they would have found this statement absolutely shocking. But Jesus was simply quoting from the Old Testament, reminding His Jewish followers of what God had already said would happen.

11 For from the east to the west my name will be great among the nations. Incense and pure offerings will be offered in my name everywhere, for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord who rules over all. – Malachi 1:11 NET

2 It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
3     and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV

Yes, Jesus had come to the Jews and He would continue to minister among them, declaring Himself to be their Messiah and Savior. But He knew there was a day coming when the message of salvation would be made available to all, Jews and Gentiles. With His coming death and resurrection, the offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone would be opened up to all men, regardless of their ethnicity. And the day will come when people from every tribe, nation and tongue will stand before God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, in the eternal Kingdom.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. – Revelation 7:9 NLT

In the early days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was focused primarily on the Jews. But every now and then, He gives His disciples a glimpse of the future agenda of the Kingdom. He had come for all. The Jewish people, chosen by God, had always been intended to be a light to the nations, but they had failed. So, Jesus came to be a light to the world.

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV

The Jews would end up rejecting Him as their Messiah, convincing the Romans to crucify Him. But Jesus would rise again, being restored back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it would be this message of Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples would one day take to the nations. The apostle Paul summarized the Gospel message quite succinctly in his letter to the Galatian believers.

3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NLT

A Gentile came to Jesus requesting the healing of his servant and Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But even more significant than that statement was Jesus’ claim that Gentiles would be present in the Kingdom of God. He came to give His life for all men of every tribe, nation and tongue. And while it would be a long time before the disciples got their heads around that concept, the day would come when they fully embraced the divine plan which made the Gospel available and accessible to all.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Amazed and Appalled.

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 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. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”Acts 10:44-11:3 ESV

Peter preached the gospel to a house full of Gentiles and something incredible happened. They came to faith. Now, that alone should not have surprised Peter and his six companions. They had seen thousands of people respond to the gospel message, placing their faith in Christ. But this was the first time they had seen it happen to non-Jews or Gentiles. And what made this particular occasion even more amazing was that Cornelius, and those among his family and friends who placed their faith in Christ, immediately received the filling of the Holy Spirit. If you recall, back in chapter eight, Philip took the gospel to the Samaritans and Luke records, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12 ESB). They believed and were baptized, but it was not until Peter arrived that they received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. – Acts 8:14-17

Why was the situation in Cornelius’ house different? They simply believed and were not even required to undergo water baptism. Luke simply states that the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. In verse 16 of chapter 11, Peter infers that these new converts had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And not only that, they received the Spirit in the same that he and the 119 other disciples had on the day of Pentecost.

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” – Acts 11:15-17 ESV

They had the exact same experience as that of the Jewish disciples of Jesus. They received the Spirit and they spoke in foreign languages. And more than likely, they spoke in Aramaic, because the men who accompanied Peter from Joppa were Jews and they were able to understand that they were praising God. These Greek-speaking, Gentile converts to Christianity were experiencing the same powerful display of the Spirit’s indwelling and confirming presence as Peter, James and John had. And it was all based on nothing more than their faith in the gospel message as proclaimed to them by Peter.

So, why the difference? How come the Samaritans had been required to wait for the arrival of Peter and have him lay hands on them before they could receive the Holy Spirit? Luke never provides us with an explanation. He simply records the facts as they occurred. Once again, we have God seemingly breaking established protocol. Not only was He doing a new and seemingly unacceptable thing by having Peter take the gospel to unclean, uncircumcised Gentiles, He was pouring out His Spirit on them without any involvement by one of His chosen apostles. All of this would have left Peter and his six companions perplexed and bewildered. What was God doing? What was He thinking? And Luke records that Peter and his fellow Jews were amazed at what they were seeing. This would not have been what they expected. It was hard enough for them to fathom God allowing Gentiles to embrace the gospel. But for Him to do so without requiring them to undergo water baptism, signifying their repentance, was hard to understand. These Gentiles were immediately anointed by the Spirit of God, with no additional or prerequisite steps placed upon them. What we have here is the inaugural occurance of what will be many more Gentile conversion stories. And they will all follow this same basic pattern. 

Immediately after their acceptance of Christ as Savior and their acceptance by God as illustrated by their baptism in the Spirit, these new converts were baptized in water, signifying their acceptance and membership into the family of God, the body of Christ. And just as Peter’s vision of the sheet filled with unclean creatures had been a shock to his system, this day’s events was a real-life illustration of what God had been trying to tell him through that vision. “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV). The word “common” has a much more intense meaning in the Greek. It is koinoō, and it refers to something that is defiled, unholy, or profane. God had been trying to tell Peter that Gentiles, who were seen as “common” or defiled by the Jews, were no longer to be viewed that way. He was declaring them clean. And Peter had just seen God confirm His words with actions. The apostle Paul would later write of the significance behind that day’s events.

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

That day, in the home of a Roman centurion, Peter was given a shocking introduction into God’s new dispensation of grace. In that room there stood Jews and Gentiles, each of whom had expressed their faith in Christ as their Savior and had received the gift of the Holy Spirit as confirmation. They had all things in common. They were co-equals. They were brothers and sisters in Christ. And as Paul would later tell the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NLT). This was a new day.

But not everyone was going to be thrilled with God’s seeming change in plans. When word got back to Jerusalem that Gentiles had received the word of God and been baptized in the Spirit of God, they were not exactly thrilled. This had not been what they were expecting. It wasn’t that they were unwilling for Gentiles to be included in hearing the gospel message. Jesus had made that pretty clear in His commissioning of them as His witnesses. It was just that they thought there would be more requirement involved, such as circumcision, conversion to the Jewish faith, keeping of the Mosaic law, and more. After all, these people were common and unclean. They were out of step with the holy demands of God’s righteous commands as given to Moses. There had to be more for them to do. And when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, he was met with criticism from the circumcision party. This is a reference to those Jews who had come to faith in Christ, but who held strong ethnic-religious ties to their Jewish faith. After all, Jesus had been a Jew and a rabbi. He was the Messiah who, according to the Old Testament prophets, was to be the Savior of the Jewish people. These people put a high stock in things like circumcision and the keeping of the various dietary restrictions and Jewish religious observances. So, they were not exactly thrilled to hear that the Gentiles in Caesarea had been baptized into the body of Christ without any additional requirements placed upon them. In fact, they look down their noses at Peter and express their disdain for his activities in Caesarea: “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3 ESV). As far as they were concerned, Peter had violated the law of God. He, a Jew, had defiled himself by associating with common, unclean Gentiles. But they were in for a shock. Their preconceived notions of how things should be were about to be rocked. They were going to hear about Peter’s vision about the sheet filled with unclean animals. They were going to share his shock at God’s command to “kill and eat.” They would reel upon hearing Peter’s recounting of all that happened in the home of Cornelius. And I find it interesting that Peter doesn’t bother to bring up that his host during his stay in Joppa had been a man who practiced the unclean trade of tanning animal hides. Peter kept that little tidbit to himself.

But the bottom line is going to be that the church was entering a new and exciting dispensation, where the grace of God was going to be extended to all and all who would believe in the name of His Son. Men, women, slaves, freemen, Jews, Gentiles, Romans, tax collectors, prostitutes, priests, widows, businessmen, shepherds, fishermen, and even tanners. We may not always agree with God’s ways. We may not approve of His methodology. But God doesn’t ask for our advice or our permission. He simply asks that we trust Him and willingly submit to His divine plan for our lives and the redemption of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Good News For All.

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 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. 42 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. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:17-43 ESV

Peter was at a loss as to what the meaning behind his vision might be. But even as he wrestled over the possible implications of his dream, he was told by the Holy Spirit that he would be receiving three visitors and that he was to accompany them. That was all the detail he received from the Spirit. And, just as the Spirit had said, the three men arrived at Simon’s house, in search of Peter. When Peter asked them the purpose behind their visit, they replied: “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say” (Acts 10:22 ESV). This entire encounter had the hand of God all over it. Cornelius was spoken to by an angel from God. Peter had received a vision, clearly given to him by God. Then he had received a word directly from the Spirit of God. Peter may not have known what his vision meant, but he no doubt understood that God was behind all that was happening. And so, after hosting his guests for the evening, he accompanied them the next day to Caesarea, not knowing what God had in store for him there. 

We know from Acts 11:22, that Peter did not go to Caesarea alone. He had invited six other brothers from Joppa to join him on the trip. The journey most likely took them about two days time. And when they arrived at the home of Cornelius, they found it packed with the centurion’s family and friends. Luke informs us that Cornelius, in a sign of gratitude and veneration, fell down at Peter’s feet and worshiped him. There is no indication that he knew of Peter’s status as an apostle of Jesus. He simply knew that this man had been sent to him by God with something important to share with him. But Peter, informing Cornelius that he too, was nothing more than a man, had him stand and explain what it was that he wanted. Cornelius recounted to Peter the vision and message he had received from the angel, then he explained that he and his guests were eagerly waiting to hear what God had to say to them through His messenger, Peter. “Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you” (Acts 10:33 NLT).

Luke doesn’t tell us when Peter finally put all the dots together. But sometime between when he arrived at Cornelius’ house, saw the crowd of Gentiles gathered, and heard Cornelius’ description of his vision, Peter grasped the significance and meaning of his own vision. Here he was in a Gentile’s home, surrounded by other Gentiles who eagerly waited to hear him deliver a message to them from God. And Peter, as a good Jew, saw the absurdity of it all. He even told Cornelius and his guests, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28 NLT). The vision of the sheet filled with unclean creatures and the command from God to “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:13 ESV), all began to make sense. He remembered the words of God, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV), and and he realized that Cornelius and the people gathered in his home were Gentiles whom God saw as clean, not unclean and common. They were acceptable to God, so they must be acceptable to Peter. To a Jew, a Gentile was considered unclean and to avoided at all costs. They were uncircumcised and did not keep the strict dietary laws of the Jews. They did not obey the Mosaic law. So, any contact with them made a Jew ceremonially unclean. And yet, here was Peter, under the direct command of God, sitting in the home of a Gentile, and a Roman centurion at that, getting ready to share the gospel. God was doing something new. He was opening up the door of salvation and including those outside of what had once been the closed doors of the Jewish nation. The apostle Paul would later remind the Gentile believers in Ephesus of the significance of their inclusion into the family of God. 

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT

He would remind the believers in Corinth that they were a fellowship made up of Jews and Gentiles, a blended family chosen and adopted by God. “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT). And here was Peter experiencing this new phenomena for the very first time. This was an historic moment. It was a paradigm-shifting point in time. Nothing would ever be the same. The playing field was being leveled. There would no longer be the haves and the have-nots, clean and unclean, Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised. And Paul would make that point perfectly clear in his letter to the Galatian believers.

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:26-29 NLT

All of this would have been a shock to Peter’s system. As a devout Jew, this was antithetical to all he had ever believed. He was part of the chosen race. He was a member of the holy nation, God’s people, the Jews. But Peter saw the hand of God in all of this. When God had commanded him to go to the home of Cornelius, he had obeyed. “So when I was sent for, I came without objection” (Acts 10:29 ESV). He may not have fully understood what was going on, but he knew it was the will of God, and that was enough for Peter. And when he saw what God was doing in Cornelius’ home, he fully grasped that God had far greater plans for the gospel than he or the other apostles had ever understood. God was non-discriminatory. In fact, Peter told Cornelius and his guests, “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” (Acts 10:34 ESV). Peter got it. The vision of the sheet made sense now. Gentiles, or non-Jews, were no longer to be considered unclean and unacceptable.

Which is what led him to later write to the highly blended congregations located in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

Jews and Gentiles together were to make up the body of Christ. And so, Peter began to explain to the house full of Gentiles eagerly listening to his voice all that God had done through Jesus Christ, relating His ministry, death, burial and resurrection. And he told them the commission that Jesus had passed on to he and his companions.

42 “And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” – Acts 10:42-43 NLT

But notice that the “everyone” in Jesus’ order had just taken on a new meaning. No longer was the gospel restricted to Jews living in Jerusalem. It had already begun to spread outside the city walls and had even been taken to Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews living outside of Jerusalem. It had been shared with the Ethiopian eunuch. And now, Peter was sharing the good news with a house full of Gentiles in the city of Caesarea.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

BE Holy.

Leviticus 11-12, Luke 7

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. – Leviticus 11:44 ESV

There has been much debate over the centuries as to why certain creatures were considered by God to be clean while others were deemed unclean. Yet with all the discussion over the years, there is still no consensus as to why God declared these distinctions. There were obviously good reasons for these designations. God never does anything flippantly or without just cause. But the primary lesson to be learned from this detailed discussion concerning the clean and unclean is holiness. God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. He had set them apart from all the other nations. But their set-apartness was to be more than just a divine designation – it was to be lived out in practical ways. When God chose them as His own, He set them apart – made them holy. Now He was giving them concrete actions that would illustrate their holiness to the world around them. Much of what God was commanding concerning food was tied to the eating habits of the pagans who surrounded the Israelites. It was not enough for the Israelites to be known as the people of God, they must act like the people of God. So He gave them precise instructions that would clearly differentiate them from the rest of the world. At this point in time, God had chosen to use the descendants of Abraham as the means through which He would reveal Himself to the world. They were His designated ambassadors and, as such, they were to "consecrate" themselves to His service. The Hebrew word for "consecrate" is qadash and it means "to be separate, to be set apart, to be holy." God was calling them to BE what they already WERE. He had set them apart, now He wanted to them to act like it.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had set the people of Israel apart positionally. They were His possession. But He also wanted them to live set apart, practically. Later on, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses would tell the people, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV). This was a call to a love and obedience that was holistic in nature, impacting every area of a person's life – from their heart to their hands, from their attitudes to their actions. God's commands concerning the clean and unclean had to do with distinctiveness. He was calling His people to a different way of living. He was giving them clean and distinct rules for living as His people that would be visible for all to see. God was concerned that the other nations would see and know that the Israelites were His people. It was not enough that they be known as His, they must also live like it. These rules concerning the eating of food would be a constant reminder to the people of God that they were to live differently and distinctively. They were not to live like the nations around them. They belonged to God and were to live according to His terms.

It is important that we remember that these rules were given to the people of Israel long before the coming of Christ. They were given for a particular people and were intended for a specific time period. It was important that the people of Israel remain distinctive and set apart in order that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, could be born as a descendant of Abraham through the lineage of King David. All through the centuries, God Himself would maintain the line of Abraham, in spite of them. Even after having sent them into exile for their rebellion and sin, He would restore them to the land of promise, all in keeping with His covenant with Abraham. But with the coming of Jesus, things would change dramatically. Jesus Himself would say, "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person" (Matthew 15:11 ESV). Under constant attack from the Pharisees for His seemingly lax adherence to their ceremonial rules and regulations, Jesus was viewed as a heretic. He healed on the Sabbath. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He allowed Himself to be anointed by a prostitute. He healed the servant of a Roman centurion. He touched the funeral bier of a dead man, making Himself ceremonially unclean, but raising the young man from the dead at the same time. He allowed His disciples to "harvest" grain on the Sabbath and, when confronted by the Pharisees for this infraction of the law, He replied, "The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath."

Over in the book of Acts, God would reveal to the Apostle Peter a change in the status quo. Since the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, God had been opening up the door to the Gentiles. He was expanding the designation, "people of God" so that it included those outside the nation of Israel. Peter, as a good Jew, was not quite up to speed on God's new plan. He was actually resistant to it, so God gave him a vision. "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" (Acts 10:9-16 ESV). God used the imagery of the ceremonially unclean animals to teach Peter that the Gospel was to be taken to the "unclean" Gentiles.

The apostle Paul, writing to a church made up primarily of Gentile believers, would put it this way: "for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:26-29 ESV). God had opened up the door – He was not making it possible for ALL men to become a part of His divine family.

What does this passage reveal about man?

But even while God has made it possible for all men to become His children, the need to live holy lives remains unchanged. While we no longer have to live according to the dietary restrictions found in the book of Leviticus, we are called to live lives that are holy, different and distinct. The same Peter who was given the vision from God, would later go on to write, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy' (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV). God has called us to live lives that reflect our position as His children. We have been called to live differently than the nations around us. Our actions are to express our new nature. Our lifestyle should be an outward expression of our new standing as sons and daughters of God. When Jesus came, He found a people who, while ceremonially clean on the outside, were unclean on the inside. Of the Pharisees, He would say, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27 ESV). When Jesus visited the house of a Pharisee and was anointed by woman with a checkered past, his host was appalled that Jesus would allow Himself to be touched and defiled by a sinner. But Jesus simply replied, "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7:47 ESV). The Pharisee, who say himself as sinless and pure because he kept the ceremonial laws, expressed no love to Jesus because he saw no need for Jesus. This woman, while a sinner, showed through her actions of sacrifice, humility and selfless service to Jesus the true condition of her heart. She expressed her love to Jesus through visible acts of serve to Jesus. In that instant she had set herself apart, living out the reality of the command, "Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is one thing to say, "I am a child of God." It is another thing to live like it. I have been called to live differently and distinctively in this world. I have been set apart by God as His own, and He wants my life to reflect it. That means my Christianity is not merely a title I bear, but a lifestyle I live out in front of others. Jesus Himself said, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter would echo the same sentiment. "Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world" (1 Peter 2:12 NLT).

Father, I want to live as what I am. I want my life to reflect my status as Your Son. I don't want to simply claim that I'm a Christian, I want my life to prove it by my actions and attitudes. You have called me to live distinctively and differently in this world. It is difficult at times. The temptation to compromise and blend in is tremendous. Give me the strength to live for You in all that I do. Amen

Silly Rituals. Serious Business.

Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Mark 7:6-7 NLT

The Pharisees took themselves way too seriously. But in reality, they were silly. They had become so wrapped up in their "age-old traditions" that they lost sight of just how ridiculous it all appeared. They had all kinds of cleansing ceremonies they went through before they could eat. Mark tells his primarily Gentile audience just how silly it all was. "The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions" (Mark 7:3 NLT). Notice he makes a point of saying that this was required by their ancient traditions, not God. He goes on to say that "Similarly, they don't eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of the many traditions they have clung to – such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers and kettles" (Mark 7:4 NLT). They had convinced themselves that all this madness somehow made them clean and acceptable before God. They lives in fear that they could have somehow become defiled by coming into contact with something unclean of unholy. But they gave no thought to what was going on in their own hearts. Jesus makes this distinction quite clear. When they confront Jesus and demand to know why His disciples don't follow their traditions, Jesus pulls no punches. He quotes the prophet Isaiah who was quoting God Himself. "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God" (Mark 7:6-7 NLT). This was God speaking against the city of of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. Their religion had become routine. They were going through the motions. They thought that offering sacrifices was enough. But God was more concerned about their hearts than their offerings. And Jesus was more concerned about the hardened hearts of the Pharisees than He was their silly ceremonies for staying clean.

Their real problem was that they gave more credence to their own rules than God's commands. They came up with all kinds of convenient work-arounds and loop holes that allowed them to ignore God's commands and do what they wanted to do. And Jesus made it clear what they were doing. "And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition" (Mark 7:13 NLT). Their rules trumped God's laws. Their silly rituals held more sway in their lives than the righteous demands of a holy God. And not only that, their rituals were worthless. They didn't even accomplish what they hoped they would. Because the only impurity God is concerned about is that which is on the inside. God is obsessed with clean hearts, not clean hands. Jesus tells the crowd, "It is what comes from inside that defiles you" (Mark 7:20 NLT), not what comes from the outside. It is that which comes from a person's heart that defiles him, and no amount of ceremonial hand washing is going to fix that problem.

These men had focused on the wrong thing. They were wasting their time obsessing over the externals, when inside they were corrupt, selfish, self-centered, egotistical, and in direct opposition to the will of God. They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. They credited His power as having come from Satan. They called Him a drunk. They ridiculed Him and tried everything in their power to discredit Him and, ultimately, would go out of their way to see that He was put to death. Their example of ceremonial hand washing and ritualistic cleansing was sending a wrong message to the people, and Jesus cleared it up. He made it painfully obvious that these men were far from pure and anything but holy. And the list He gave was more than likely one that applied to these sanctimonious religious leaders. "For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you" (Mark 7:21-23 NLT). Interestingly enough, there is no recorded response from the Pharisees. No rebuttal. No defense. No denial. The conversation simply ends. Which speaks volumes. Jesus knew their hearts better than they did. And while they were content to play their silly games and pretend that they were holy, Jesus was letting them know that God takes holiness seriously and saw the true condition of their hearts.

Father, You can see into our hearts and You know things about us that we don't even know ourselves. Forgive us thinking that the silly religious rituals we go through somehow make us right with You. Keep us focused on our own hearts and never let us forget that only You can cleanse the heart. We simply need to confess our sin and allow You to forgive and cleanse. You are in the heart transformation business. Don't let us settle for the anything less. Amen.

The Lord Is Willing. Are You Ready?

Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16

“Lord," the man said, "if you are willing you can heal me and make me clean.” – Matthew 8:2 NLT

How would you react if someone covered in contagious sores and possibly having a disfigured face came to you begging for help? What would you do? How would you feel? In Jesus' day, leprosy was a horrible disease with no known cure. Those who contracted it were shunned by society and forced to live in isolation with other lepers, far from their families and friends. They were considered unclean according to the Law and unable to be restored to a right standing unless their healing from leprosy could be verified by a priest. These people were forced to call out, "Unclean, unclean!" if they came within shouting range of any normal person. This was in order to warn the other person to stay away. They were despised, rejected, unclean, unwanted, and helplessly burdened with a disease that had no known cure.

And yet, in our passages today, we read about one of these unfortunate souls who had the rare opportunity to come into contact with Jesus, the Messiah. He was taking a huge risk making his way into the crowds that surrounded Jesus. He shouldn't have been there. He was an outcast and had no place among these people and in the presence of Jesus. But he came and he cried out, "Lord, if you are willing you can heal me and make me clean!" He somehow knew that Jesus could heal him. The question was whether or not Jesus would. But back to the original question. How would you react in this situation? What would your response be? Revulsion? Fear? Anger? I'm sure the crowds backed away as quickly as possible when they saw who it was that was kneeling at Jesus' feet. They were horrified, shocked and probably a little bit put out that this social outcast had dared to ruin what had been a perfectly good day. But Mark tells us that Jesus was "moved with compassion" and He reached out and touched the man! You can almost hear the audible gasp come from the lips of the shocked onlookers as Jesus reaches out and purposely touches him. To do so was to not only risk contracting this man's dreadful disease, but to make yourself ceremonially unclean. How could Jesus do this? Why would Jesus do this? Couldn't He have healed the man with just a word from His lips? Was contact necessary?

Jesus always had a way of turning the status quo on its ear. He was a radical at heart. He never seemed to do what was expected or what was considered the usual. There is so much wrapped up in the imagery of this story. It reveals so much about Jesus, the healer, and Jesus, the Savior. This is less a story about restoration from leprosy, than a picture of redemption from sin. In this man we have pictured the state of every human being who has ever lived. All men are diseased, infected with sin, highly contagious, and unclean in the eyes of God. Their state is helpless and hopeless. There is no known cure for their malady. Their future is bleak. Their outcome assured. Death is all that awaits them. And yet, like this man, if they come to Jesus in complete submission and faith, and ask Him to heal them, His response will be, "I am willing, be healed!" And just as the man's leprosy immediately disappeared, the sinful state of every man and woman who turns to Jesus for healing with be immediately healed and they will receive new life. Their uncleanness will be turned into holiness. Their certain death will be replaced with assurance of eternal life. Their condemnation will turn into forgiveness. Their isolation into full acceptance. And their healing will be complete and fully verifiable. The change in their condition will be easily recognizable to all who see them. Jesus healed this man's physical condition. But the real reason He came was to heal mankind's spiritual condition. And He is as willing today as He has ever been. All we need say is, "Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean."

Jesus, I am so grateful that You were willing to heal me. I know that my state was far worse than the man in this story. My sin was going to have a devastating effect on my future. I was diseased and destined to die as a result. But my death would have been an eternal one, separated from You forever. And yet Jesus, You showed me compassion, and reached out and touched me "while I was yet a sinner" and healed me. Thank You!  Amen.