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Up until around this time in the story, people who were children of Israel (the Jews), had been seen as God’s only special people.
Since those who were not Jews didn’t follow the rules given to Moses, the Jews were told (sometimes by God and sometimes by religious rules) to consider the not-Jews unclean or not set apart as special. So the Jews didn’t eat with or go into the houses of those who were not Jews. They would “keep away” as if there were invisible barriers between them.
But when Jesus came to the earth, He came to break down all those walls and barriers. Everyone has the chance to be made right with God through Jesus and the sacrifice that He made when He died on the cross.
But most of the people at this time in the Story thought that Jesus had come to save only the Israelites (the Jews). They didn’t realize that God’s Big Plan was WAY bigger than that.
But ONE day, that all started to change...
Peter was in a town called Joppa staying with a man there known as Simon, the leather worker.
Around lunch time, Peter decided to go up on the roof to pray, even though he was very hungry.
While Peter was praying, he had a vision (that means he saw something supernaturally) — it was a message from Jesus Himself! In this vision, Peter saw a big sheet come down from Heaven. The sheet had all sorts of animals on it. Jesus knew Peter was really hungry, so He said, “Peter, take some of these animals, and eat them.”
Now I’m not sure if you remember this, but according to the Deal of Rules given to Moses, Jews were NOT allowed to eat most of the kinds of animals on that sheet! Those animals were considered “unclean” — so the Jews had to “Keep away!” from food like that.
Peter was confused. He thought maybe Jesus was testing him to see if he would obey or disobey God’s rules. So Peter said, “Ohhh no, Lord! I have never eaten anything that is unclean. I keep away.”
But Jesus responded, “Peter, if I make something clean and special, don’t you say that it’s not!”
THREE times this same thing happened. As Peter sat there on the roof considering what this message from Jesus meant, God’s Spirit said to Peter, “Peter, three men are downstairs looking for you. Go with them because I sent them to you.”
(Can you guess who’s at the door? Do you remember from the last story?)
When Peter got downstairs, he found out that the three men were the servants of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. That meant they weren’t Jews! And Peter was a Jew.
Of course, Peter went with the men, just like Jesus had told him to do, and naturally he took a few other believers along with him.
When Peter got to Cornelius’ home, Peter said to him, “You know, according to the Jewish book of rules, I’m not suppose to even be in your house right now. But God has shown me that I should not call anything or anyone unclean if God decides they are clean! So, when you asked me to come, I didn’t argue. Now, why, may I ask, am I here?”
Cornelius then told Peter all about the angel’s message. When Cornelius finished, Peter said, “Now I get it! God does not show favoritism in dealing with people! Anyone who fears Him and does what is right from ANY nation is welcome to come to Him!”
Then Peter went on to tell them the amazing story of God sending His Son, Jesus the Shining Rescuer, and how He gave His life as a sacrifice to wash away all the sins of anyone who believes.
As Cornelius and everyone with him listened to Peter, God gave them His Holy Spirit from Heaven, just like He had given it to the others on the day of Pentecost.
When Peter saw this, he said, “No one can stop these people from being baptized now, because they’ve received the Holy Spirit just like we did! Let them be baptized!” And they were — Cornelius and his whole household!
Because of how Cornelius had kept caring about God and obeying Him and giving Him gifts, do you see how that made Cornelius’ heart ready? God’s miracle seed of a whole new Heaven Life, sprung up to life in Cornelius. And God gave Cornelius a huge gift — the gift of His Spirit.
A day like this is coming for you, too — a day when you will see your need for a Rescuer, and you’ll have an opportunity to be relocated — moved from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Glory of His Son.
Because each person who lets their old life be buried into Jesus’ death in baptism, will be raised up to walk in His whole new resurrection Life.
After this, everyone around heard that some who were not-Jews had accepted the word of God. Some of the people back in Jerusalem were upset about it. But Peter told them the whole story about the sheet of animals, about going to Cornelius’ house, and about how the Holy Spirit came on them the same way as it had the Jews.
Peter said, “So if God gave them the same Holy Spirit present as He gave us, who was I to try to stop God?!”
When the other believers heard this, they realized that they were wrong and started praising God, saying, “God has given the repentance that leads to life even to those who are not Jews! There’s no more ‘us’ and ‘them’! Stuff’s getting better every day!”
God’s heart had always been for the whole world to have this chance. Jesus had broken down the barrier between Jews and not-Jews. There was no more keep away — NO MORE “us” and “them.”
Remember back when Jesus talked to the thirsty woman at the well? He said, “Soon, it’s not going to be about where you worship — here or there, this mountain or that mountain. Soon it will ONLY be about the heart. It will be about Spirit and Truth, not about when and where.”
And now Jesus was taking them even deeper… It wasn’t about when and where OR who your parents were or what color skin you had or what country you were from.
Jesus was, and is still today, breaking down ALL the barriers. ANYONE can come to God THROUGH Jesus. Everyone from every country, every language, every past opinion or religion can choose to come close, close, close to Jesus Himself. Period. There are no more barriers to keep anyone from leaving their old sinful life and finding a whole new life in Him.
God’s Deal of Rules was a shadow to teach people that holiness — being set apart as special — matters to Him. When He declared that this New Covenant was about Spirit and Truth, the word used for “truth” wasn’t the word for “rules” or “laws” or “doctrines” or “right beliefs”— it was the word which means Reality, aletheia.
So from that time on, Jesus was breaking the barriers, not so that everyone could become a part of a shadow religion of “who, what, when, and where.” But rather, Jesus was offering everyone the ability to step into His Holy Spirit Life and be worshippers in Truth — which is everything that is Right and Real, not shadow.
WHAT difference does it make where a person was born, or what color their skin is, or what religion they were born into, or what bad things they used to do in their old life!? It doesn’t make ANY difference to Jesus. If a person turns away from their sins and comes to Him, none of those other things matter. Jesus only cares about the HEART of a person NOW.
When the curtain to the Most Holy Place ripped in two, so did everything that kept people away from God and from each other. Now everyone has the chance to approach God, through being washed in the blood of His Son.