God’s Word for You
Acts 10:21-23a The kosher conundrum
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 5, 2020
21 Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. Why have you come?” 22 They answered, “The centurion Cornelius is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is highly respected by the whole Jewish nation. He 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 Peter invited them in and treated them as guests.
Peter headed downstairs, probably by an outside stairway (compare Luke 5:19 for a similar way up to the roof). After polite greetings and introductions, Peter invited the men inside to spend the night. It would have been too late to get started on the journey to Caesarea, so he “treated them as guests” and made sure they had what they needed to spend the night. For the Jews, it was less a problem to receive Gentiles in one’s home than it was to be welcomed into the home of a Gentile. Still, it was a significant step for Peter.
The apostle now knew about Cornelius: He was a Roman centurion. He was a Gentile. He was respected by the Jews and he believed in God, but even though he was respected by the Jews of Caesarea, he was a Gentile. He did not live according to kosher dietary laws. If Peter was going to go to him, visit him, preach the gospel to him, then Peter was going to have to be received into his home and eat as the Gentiles ate. Now Peter would begin to understand the vision from God. The Holy Spirit had said, “Don’t hesitate to go with them,” and the vision assured him that anything he would do would be all right with God. More than that, anything Peter had to do with regard to this summons by Cornelius was God’s plan; it would be approved of by God and it would be blessed by God.
It would have been shortly after this that the meal Peter was waiting for was served. Since he treated the visitors as guests, they would have been invited to eat with him. What Peter was being served would certainly have been kosher, but it didn’t matter anymore. Peter was no longer bound by the kosher laws—no one was. Peter (and later on, Paul) would proclaim the fulfillment of the ceremonial law that freed all Jews and all mankind from the laws of Moses. Any Jew to the present day who puts his faith in Jesus as Lord is set free from the ceremonial law. It is, in many ways, like a man who has been married a long time and is suddenly widowed. He realizes that he is no longer bound by the marriage vow, even though he continues to love, honor and respect his wife. He can behave like a man who is single because he is single under law. It does not dishonor his marriage or the memory of his dear wife to do so. In Peter’s case, it is a credit to Peter and to his lifelong faith that he hesitated and wrestled with the idea of being freed from the kosher dietary laws, but he was set free of them. Pork, lobster, duck, shrimp—all of these delights were his if he wanted them, and none of them should be refused in the house of a Gentile.
It was a new way of thinking, a new door to be stepped through on the way to inviting the whole world into God’s kingdom. God gathers people into his family through one means, the means of grace. But in offering that means (the gospel in word and sacrament) we must not let ourselves be bound by unnecessary limitations. “You rebuke and discipline man for his sin; you make his spirit shrivel up like a cobweb” (Psalm 39:11, Latin Vulgate). Our objections to the way God works through us should vanish like a cobweb in a flame; we have no call to question the way God works through us.
Once when I was a missionary, a man I was trying to share the gospel with wanted me to come with him and his fiancé to the beach, a little bay that was an inlet of the Pacific Ocean through Puget Sound. I hesitated. For me, sharing the gospel meant a table and chairs, an organized series of lessons that would carry us from one point to another, on my terms. But that’s not what this man wanted or would have understood. He wanted to get to know me, to float around in the saltwater in inner tubes and talk about God under the immense blue width of the summer sky. The Holy Spirit had to give me a nudge through the common sense of my wife to go and do it. For me, a student of the Word of God who prefers the close walls of a library to the lush sand of a beach, it was like being torn away from kosher food. But it was the will of God. Don’t fight against that will. Be ready to step through whatever door opens to proclaim Jesus the Savior of the world.
Pastor Timothy Smith