None of us enjoy limitations. None of us like to be hemmed in and controlled.
We all want to burst through boundaries and be free!
And at its core, part of the central message of Christianity has to do with destroying the prejudices and boundaries of our lives, our societies, and this world. These boundaries are often extremely difficult for us to deal with in our own lives, let alone identify. This is because they are so deeply engrained in us by our families, our education, our society, and often our religious beliefs as well.
Jesus wants to destroy prejudices
All of this is illustrated powerfully by a story of a vision that Peter had in the book of Acts. It seems like a rather odd story to us. We find it described in the tenth chapter of Acts.
The background is that a Roman Centurion called Cornelius had sent some messengers to ask Peter to come and share the good news about Jesus with him and his family. Being a good Jew, who back then kept away from Gentiles, Peter was unlikely to accept the invitation. And God knew that, so he sent Peter a vision to prepare him to accept the invitation.
This is what the story says,
The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”
“No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”
But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven (Acts 10:9–16, NLT.)
I wonder why the vision was repeated three times. It was probably because if you read the story of Peter and the other disciples, you’ll see that it took a lot for the teachings of Jesus to sink in. A lot of repetition was required, and God knew that. This was a very important lesson that he wanted Peter to learn.
During the time of Moses, God had given his people strict laws about diet to follow. There were some foods that they couldn’t eat, and these foods were considered unclean. Orthodox Jews still follow these rules today. Today food that is allowed to be eaten is called kosher food.
In the vision, the animals that Peter saw in the net were all unclean animals. That’s why, when the voice from heaven told Peter to kill and eat them, he replied that he had never in his life eaten anything that the laws of Judaism declared were prohibited.
Christianity has too often been used to create barriers
Many people think that the key teaching of this vision is that the Jewish laws about food don’t apply anymore, so it’s OK to eat whatever you want. But that’s not the principal meaning of this vision. We can be sure about that, because a little later, Peter visits the house of a Gentile. According to Jewish law, Gentiles were unclean, and a good Jew was not allowed to step foot in a Gentile’s house. But Peter shows that he has understood the meaning of the vision, when he says to Cornelius the Gentile,
Peter told them, “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. So I came without objection… (Acts 10:28–29.)
Christianity has too often been used to set up barriers between people. The message of Christianity has been so misrepresented that many people have turned away from the judgmental and divisive way it has been presented. However, the message of Jesus is, at its core, a radical message of inclusion for all who accept it.
All who trust in Jesus are accepted
Peter had a lot of baggage from his Jewish upbringing. It was baggage about which people were clean and which were unclean, and which were acceptable and which were unacceptable. It had to do with where you were born, and what race you belong to, and even things like how wealthy you were, and whether you were healthy or sick. God sent him this vision to bust his boundaries.
The message of this story should challenge everyone to re-evaluate their own prejudices, and maybe to allow a few boundaries to be busted in their own lives. All who trust in Jesus are accepted, without consideration of their past, what they look like, or where they come from.
Article supplied with thanks to Dr Eliezer Gonzalez.
About the Author: Dr Eli Gonzalez is the Senior Pastor of Good News Unlimited and the presenter of the Unlimited radio spots, and The Big Question. Sign up to his free online course called Becoming a Follower of Jesus to learn about Jesus and His message.