RPM, Volume 17, Number 24, June 7 to June 13, 2015

To the Ends of the Earth Pork — the Other White Meat

Acts 10:9-23

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Now turn with me once again to The Acts of the Apostles, or The Acts of Jesus Christ, or even The Acts of the Holy Spirit. Turn with me to chapter ten, and we're going to read together verses 9-23.

Now I know that those of you who are astute will be able to point out that we haven't done verses 1-8. I hope there are a few who can point that out to me! And the reason is because of the way Luke so often tells a story in The Acts of the Apostles — he envelopes stories...stories within stories — and the story of Cornelius is in two parts: at the beginning of Acts 10 and at the end of Acts 10, and in the middle is this story about Peter. But both of these stories are actually going on at the same time, and for the purposes more of logic than anything else, I want us to look at this section tonight, and then next Tuesday we'll be looking at the beginning and end of Acts 10.

Now with that in mind...and it is so very significant that these scholars (and some of whom are students of mine) from the FORTS network that we support here at First Presbyterian Church...it's so very, very relevant that they should be here tonight, because in many respects this is what this section is all about. It's about the gospel going into all the world. It's about the calling of Gentiles into union and communion, along with believing Jews, into the church of Jesus Christ.

Now let's pray together as we read this passage.

Father, again we thank You for the Scriptures. We thank You that holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Help us again tonight to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Now hear with me the word of God:

On the next day, as they were on their way... (Now, I need to explain there are three men on their way from Caesarea up to Joppa, coming from the house of a man called Cornelius)...

On the next day as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry, and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." Again a voice came to him a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." This happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.

Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked direction for Simon's house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs, and accompany them without misgivings; for I have sent them Myself." Peter went down to the men and said, "Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?" They said, "Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man, well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you." So he invited them in and gave them lodging.

Amen. And may God add His blessing.

I have vivid memories of my grandfather on my father's side. He died when I was in my late teens. He lived on a farm. It was part of the same farm that we lived on. It had been divided into two; my father had been given a section of my grandfather's farm. And for most of the time that I knew him, he was riddled with arthritis...wasn't able to bend from the hips downwards, walked with two sticks. Lived on his own (my grandmother had died), and had a smallish farm. Kept some chickens and a cow or two, but especially (in the point of the story) he always had one pig. He slaughtered this pig just before Christmas — did it all himself — and then.... He had no refrigeration. There was no fridge of any description in the house. He barely had electricity. And he would salt this pork, the whole side of the pig would be salted, and it would be hung on a hook in the larder in the kitchen. And when I would visit, he would go in there with a very sharp knife which he kept in a sort of pouch on the side of his hips. He would slice some of this bacon (actually it was just fat!) and he would just slice several chucks of this fat and fry it in lard (more fat!) and with bread that would be my dinner. (Now I have to tell you that my grandfather lived until he was 95 years old, and never once was in hospital!)

But tonight's passage is about food, and it's about pork — "the other white meat." It's about the food laws, the kosher laws of the Old Testament, the laws that Ligon went through not so long ago in the Book of Leviticus, in chapter 11 and again a parallel account, almost, in Deuteronomy 14, as Moses is giving instruction now to the people of God on the plains of Moab, just before they cross over the River Jordan and into the promised land. Strict culinary restrictions about Israel's eating habits: animals that chewed the cud were OK, and so long as their hooves were cloven or split; and certain birds, winged creatures outlawed were storks and owls and bats. But it was OK to eat locusts. And you call them "katydids"? however you pronounce that here in the South...

It's tempting, and I've read many an account over the years that the reason why God introduced, for example, a ban on eating pork or bacon was for hygiene reasons prior to refrigeration. I don't believe a word of it. It wasn't anything to do, I think, with hygiene. It was to do with separating the people of God, or separating Israel from the Canaanites. It was separating Israel from the surrounding nations. Nothing would do that with greater force than food. It separates you.

I had a flat tire not so long ago, and the seminary had this little relationship with a garage in Clinton so I drove there and asked them to fix this puncture that I had in my tire. And there was a man there. He's an African-American; he's probably in his 60's. It was hard to tell. He was sitting on a couple of tires, and on his lap was a plate — a plastic plate with something hot and steaming. And I said to him (it looked absolutely revolting!)...I said to him, "What is that?" And he said, "Oh, that there be chittlin's," he said. Now, I had heard the word before. I wasn't sure how to spell it, but I'd heard the word before. I never want to eat it! Whatever it was and I've been told what it was.... I have no aspirations whatsoever to eat it. Food will divide you!

If you go to Sam's on a Friday evening and take your little cart around, you'll see in a certain section pickled pig's lips in a jar. I don't eat that, either! Food divides. And it certainly divided Israel from the surrounding nations. Imagine how difficult it would be to invite folk to eat.

My wife...one time, a Jewish missionary — a friend of mine, I thought — who had food issues...and he made it known to me as I was inviting him for a meal at my home that he was a vegetarian. "Fine," I said. Ask no questions for conscience sake; God alone is Lord of the conscience...left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men and all that.... And I said to Rosemary, "We're going to have to prepare a vegetarian meal." And my wife went to extraordinary lengths. Do you know how difficult it is to prepare a vegetarian meal if you're not in the habit of preparing one? And she went to extraordinary lengths. Took her all day. She got some recipes from friends and members of my family who are strict vegetarians, and served this delightful meal — recipes I'd never eaten before, but they were absolutely wonderful and delightful. And just as we were sitting down, he said, "This dish...." and it was a kind of soup, a vegetarian broth, you know? Warm, hot, with vegetables...I thought it did the trick. It was vegetarian. And he said, "How did you make this broth?" and I saw trouble coming immediately, and I wouldn't have answered the question! But my wife answered the question and she said, "I used a vegetable stock cube." "Ah!" he said. "Let me see the box." I knew trouble was coming now. And he looked at the box, and sure enough on the box there was something with a number, an "E" number. I have no idea what it was, but he wouldn't eat it. And that was it. And you know, he was a friend and still is sort of a friend, but I can tell you my wife was not fast pleased. It took several days to calm her down from this debacle over food. Food will divide you.

Peter is on the roof of a house in Joppa. It's by the Mediterranean, and he's in the house of Simon the tanner, and we're told that the house is right by the sea, on the coast. He's on the roof at mid-day, and he's praying. It's not usual to pray at mid-day — Daniel prayed three times a day, but mid-day was not one of them. Peter is praying for perhaps extraordinary reasons. He's on the roof maybe because it's private on the roof, but maybe because at mid-day there are those wonderful Mediterranean Sea breezes. Maybe there's an awning to keep the sun away.

And three men have been sent to Peter. We'll hear more of that part of the story next Tuesday. These two things are going on simultaneously. God has been speaking to a man called Cornelius. We'll also talk about Cornelius next Tuesday. But three men, three soldiers, or two soldiers and a friend, perhaps, of Cornelius have been sent...the journey...that would take them maybe three or four hours to make the journey from Caesarea to Joppa. And Peter is on the roof of the house, and he's fallen into a trance, and he's hungry. And food is being prepared. And as he falls into this trance, he sees a vision of some kind, and a sheet, or the Greek seems to suggest a container — even the sail of a sailboat, is lowered down from its four corners. And the idea of four corners is somewhat suggestive of the largeness of this vision — the four corners of the earth. It's somewhat apocalyptic, this description of what Peter actually sees. And inside are...it's "Animal Planet!" It's all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and creeping things — clean animals and unclean animals, including presumably a hog or two.

The Jews had made several wrong conclusions about the food laws. One conclusion that they had drawn was that because they didn't eat pork, they were better than other people. Yes, I've met vegetarians like that, too. They also — and Jesus picks this up in Mark 7 — they also confused the outward and the inward. They believed that simply refraining from eating certain things made them holy, and do you remember what Jesus says? It's what comes out of a man, not what goes into a man that makes you holy, that defines you as holy.

And Peter is being asked to go to (a) a Gentile home; and, (b) to have dinner with him. He's been invited to dinner in Caesarea in the house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, a Gentile — a God-fearer, to be sure — but a Gentile, nevertheless. Not circumcised, didn't obey kosher laws... not just the food itself, but the food preparation...you know, the hands that have gone into making this food. And he protests. And he protests violently. Three times God says to him, and three times he protests.

What's this all about? Let me suggest just about four things.

I. Let me suggest first of all it's about vegetarianism.

Let me have a go at that. I have dear friends I have family members who are card-carrying vegetarians, and I know what I'm talking about here ...vegetarians who insist that the eating of meat — red meat, white meat, any kind of meat — is ethically wrong; who suggest that the real fall is man's domination over creation rather than his empathy with it. The same kind of philosophy that governs the Wicca nature religion, or the Druids. It's Dionysian.

Some of you, on another score, may have come across the name of Professor Andrew Lindsey. Professor Andrew Lindsey teaches at Mansfield College in Oxford. He received a D.D. — not "Doubly Destitute," as C. H. Spurgeon said D.D. stood for, but a Doctor of Divinity. And he received it from the former Archbishop of Canterbury (or a former Archbishop of Canterbury, George somebody or other, whose name I can't remember..). Andrew Lindsey has written a book. It's a best-seller. It's been translated into Japanese and Italian, and I think Portuguese and Spanish, and it's called Animal Theology. It's a great read. It's got a wonderful cover. Basically his view is that God created all things equal — animals as well as human beings, and that part of our reflection of the image of God is to treat animals on a par with human beings.

The answer to that is I have no qualms with people who are vegetarians for their own sake, if that's the choice that they make. I have no qualms about that whatsoever. But the imposition of that on the conscience of others, I do have problems with, because it imposes something on the conscience of Jesus, because Jesus ate the Passover — roast lamb, as you will recall. And one of the last things that's recorded of Jesus in His resurrection body is that He ate fish with the disciples on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It's about vegetarianism, and how wrong it is as an imposition on the conscience of others.

II. Secondly, it's about hospitality.

I won't spend too much time on this. It's the fact, first of all, that Peter is in the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa, and then he invites the three friends who come from Caesarea into the house, and they spend the night there before the next day they head down to Caesarea. It's all about hospitality. What a wonderful thing to draw from this story of how Peter, from Jerusalem, is given hospitality in Joppa; and himself gives and provides hospitality, and who will later write in his epistle, "Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." What a wonderful thing it would be if we would draw a very simple lesson tonight, and maybe invite some of these friends of our FORTS scholars into our homes over Thanksgiving or over Christmas, and share a meal with them. That would be a wonderful lesson to draw from this passage.

III. A third lesson is more difficult and more sensitive.

What exactly is Peter being asked to do? You see, one of the things that had developed because of the kosher laws among the Jews... now, we're familiar with anti-Semitism in our time, of Gentiles hating Jews, but actually the reverse was true in Peter's time, because the Jews as a race had developed an opinion that they were better than others...better than the Gentiles. They called Gentiles "dogs," after all. It was a reverse discrimination to the one that we presently see. And Peter is being asked as a Jew, and a circumcised Jew and a kosher-abiding Jew, to go to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile, a Roman soldier, and have a meal with him. It would be like somebody asking me to go and eat chittlin's with this man! It would be on a par with that.

I went on a trip one time to India, and on another occasion went on another trip to Pakistan to visit some missionaries. I ate some things that I don't even want to think about in Pakistan. In India, it all tasted of curry so it all tasted the same; I just didn't want to look at what it was I was eating. But I was given very strict instructions on more than one occasion: Do not refuse this food. Do not, under any circumstances, spit it out. Do not say some disparaging remarks about not liking X, Y, or Z. Because in one instance the meal that had been prepared for me had cost this family an entire week's worth of wages, and I ate it, asking no questions for conscience sake. I was glad to get home, and I did spend several days in hospital when I got home from Pakistan, but I ate it.

There's a lesson here, friends, about racism. Yes, there is. Because Peter is being asked to show the same hospitality to a Gentile as he would to a fellow Jew, and it wasn't easy for Peter; and he will stumble at this again in Antioch. And Paul recounts the incident in Galatians 2, when his brothers from Jerusalem come up to Antioch and he's been eating with the Gentiles...pork sandwiches for lunch — but when his friends, his Jewish Christian friends from Jerusalem, come up, all of a sudden he's not eating pork sandwiches any more, and he's not eating at the same table as the Gentiles any more. He's just eating with the Jewish Christians. And Paul withstood him to the face.

Now that was something you'd want to see - the encounter between Paul and Peter — because there's a movie in it. Yes. This, according to Mark Dever, of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, in his second volume on the New Testament, he says this is the most important chapter in the Bible. Now I have to tell you, when I first read that I thought, "Mark! Come on!" But actually I think he's right. This is the most important chapter in the Bible because this is the moment when the gospel is now going to spread to the end of the world: from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth.

It's one thing to have nice little theories about the gospel and its relationship to Gentiles when you're in Jerusalem; it's another thing now to actually go to the house of a Gentile and eat his food. And that's what Peter is being asked to do, and that's why he's protesting so much. Because it's been underlined that the gospel is for black and white, for Caucasian and African American, and whoever they are. And our dear friends from Mexico and Zambia and Kenya and Korea and — who have I left out? — Malawi, and Pickens and wherever else you're from. It's for the whole world, because as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 that dividing wall of partition between Jew and Gentile has been broken down as a consequence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, born Scythian or whatever, because we are all one in Jesus Christ, and there is only one way of salvation: through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone; and whoever that person is and what ever their ethnicity may be, we're all one in Jesus Christ. That was a hard lesson, my friends. That was a hard, hard lesson for Peter and it's a hard lesson for us. But it's a lesson for the sake of Christ and the gospel we have to take into our hearts.

But you know, there's one more thing. Because do you notice on a more personal level that Peter has a terrible habit. Now I have habits...I'm not going to tell you what they are, because then you'll always point them out to me...but my wife knows what my habits are. But I have habits, and Peter has a habit. He has a habit of saying "Lord" and "no" in the same breath. Do you remember at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus began openly to say that He would be taken to Jerusalem and there would be put to death by those scribes and Pharisees, and so on? And remember what Peter said? "This will never be." Do you remember later, in the Garden of Gethsemane he cites from Zachariah 13 and says you'll all be scattered tonight...and you remember what Peter says? "They may all be scattered, but not me, Lord." And he's doing it again here. He's calling Him "Lord" and he's saying "no." How can you do that? How can you say "Lord" and "no" in the same breath?

But isn't there a bit of Peter in all of us? We want to call Him Lord, and we do love Him, and we want to obey Him, and we want to follow Him with all of our hearts; and yet there's another spirit within us that says "no" or "not yet" or "not now" or "not in this way." So that the good that we would, we do not; and the evil that we would not, that we find that we do.

A new world order is dawning here in Acts 10, from old covenant to new covenant. May these lessons be applied to our hearts.

Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You for this extraordinary passage, and we pray that these lessons...that we might learn them and keep them, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Please stand. Let's sing together once again "The Doxology" and I'll pronounce the benediction.

[Congregation sings.]

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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