Liberated from Legalism - pt 7 [6-6-21]


To better understand what's going on here in the second half of chapter 2, we need to set the context. Specifically, what do we know about the city of Antioch and what do we know about mealtime traditions? We all love talking about food, right?


First, the travelogue. Where was Antioch and what kind of city was it?


Antioch was about where the current border is between Syria and Turkey. It was founded about 300 years before the birth of Jesus by a former general of Alexander the Great. By the time of Paul, it had become a hub for trade routes from Persia to points in Asia and the Mediterranean. It also served a strategic purpose for travel north and south. Antioch contributed to the growth and prosperity of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine empires. In fact, one suburb of Antioch {you fans of Scooby-Doo will appreciate this}, Daphne, was a pleasure resort and residential area for the upper classes.

When Rome became the dominant force in the region, it became the third largest city of the Roman Empire. Because of the growth and prosperity and advantageous travel routes, Antioch became one of the earliest centers of Christianity. In fact, as we've seen in previous weeks that followers of Jesus were referred to a belonging to The Way, the followers of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch.


So, as we can see, Antioch was fairly important to the spread of the Christian faith.


Let's now set the cultural stage. Here's Galatians 2:11-12:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

Like every culture everywhere, going back to when our ancestors were living in trees and caves, mealtime was important. It was both about survival and social connections. No different here in Antioch.


An added layer for the Jewish converts to Christianity was the spiritual connection to food. Keeping Old Testament food laws was one way for the Jews to show that they belonged to God. And so, for Christian converts from Judaism, these dietary habits remained important. We get that. It was one of those things, "no harm, no foul." On top of that, mealtimes were sacred to Jews. We remember the way people reacted when Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors.


Here was the reality in Antioch. This was a city of about 500,000 people. About 10% of the population was Jewish. You had quite a melting pot going on there. It was especially magnified in the church. You had a majority of Jews who wondered what was going to happen with this new Christian sect. You had Jewish converts to Christianity. And you had Gentile converts to Christianity.


One of the first things they had to wrestle with was table fellowship. We know from Galatians 2:1-10 that the decision was reached in Jerusalem that Gentiles belonged in the church. They didn't have to keep the Old Testament law in order to be saved. That was a good thing. At the same time, Jewish Christians could maintain their culture by keeping the Old Testament law. That was also a good thing. Everybody won. The Gentiles could behave like Gentiles and the Jews could behave like Jews. None of these secondary things were tied to salvation. It was a right and workable solution.


But what about when they gathered together? How were Jews supposed to relate to Gentiles when they gathered for food and worship? How were Gentiles supposed to relate to Jews when they gathered for food and worship? The Body of Christ gathered together in one place. They worshiped together. They sang together. They ate together. Therein was the problem. The Jewish believers came from a tradition that had expressly forbidden eating with Gentiles. How could Jewish Christians honor all the food-related laws if they ate with Gentiles who ate the wrong foods, prepared the wrong way, and in some cases had been first offered as a sacrifice to pagan gods?


You hear the dilemma.


Think about your family and mealtime. Think about the way it was or is or

how you hope it will be. Mealtime is about family and grace and acceptance and joy. You get the point.


When I was in high school, my sister's fiancée's older sister - I might need a flow chart for this one - was invited over for Thanksgiving. She was older, probably in her early 30s {that's old to a high school boy}, and why she spent Thanksgiving with us, I can't remember. My mom did all the cooking, except for the pies. My sister made the pies, which she was quite good at.


Anyway, come afternoon…for some reason Thanksgiving is the only time you eat a full dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon…about an hour before dinner in came my sister's fiancée's sister, only she was not alone. She had her new Filipino boyfriend with her. He seemed nice enough, first impressions and all.


Now, I don't know how you are when you're having guests over for a big meal. Are you a nervous host, confident, anxious, clumsy, whatever? How about with uninvited guests? My sister's soon-to-be-husband was no big deal. His sister was fine; he asked my mom a few weeks earlier. But then she showed up with this new boyfriend, and it was his first American Thanksgiving. How do you respond in situations like that?


Some people shoot for a Norman Rockwell holiday experience. This was something different. Not better…not worse…just different.


My mom, always full of grace and kindness, was unruffled. She loved cooking. She loved feeding her family. And this surprise guest was simply one more person to enjoy her cooking.


The best part about that Thanksgiving was our guest's response to my mom's Jell-O salad. It is lemon Jell-O with bananas and crushed pineapple set in it. Then egg whites, pineapple juice, and whipping cream are slowly heated in a saucepan, to which then are folded miniature marshmallows. This is spread over the set Jell-O, and then topped with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. It is a beloved Mortimer family masterpiece.

My mom was anxious, in a positive way, for our last-minute guest to try it. I knew my wife was the one when, a few years later, she and my mom got along splendidly. She handed the recipe down to her. Lori has since met and exceeded all expectations for its production. Our Filipino guest at first gave it a politely skeptical look. The first bite was all it took. We did not have leftovers that year.


Eating together is essential to human relationships. It creates lasting memories. It binds us in ways that seem almost, at times, mystical.


Leaving the Mortimer Thanksgiving Day table from almost 50 years ago, lets return to Antioch.


Although the apostles, with Paul, had settled the theological question of salvation for the Gentiles, they had a practical question still to deal with. What about fellowship with the Gentiles?


With this question looming over them, God revealed a radical solution in a

vision to Peter. Before we look at that solution, here's something to

remember:

Every issue we face…Every question we have…Every doctrine we

believe…Every ideology we entertain…Every relevant position we consider…We must always ask one question - "What does Scripture teach?"

So God revealed something in a vision to Peter. It spoke to their dilemma and it was included in God's Word to lead, guide, inform, and direct future generations of believers. Are you with me on that? This is authoritative for us.


On a side note, after the death of the apostles, the age of revelation through visions ceased. It ended with them. All we need to know is found in the Bible. There is no new revelation or truth to be given to the church or believers.


So, back to what God revealed to Peter. We find it in Acts 10:9-16:

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.

God was preparing Peter for something. What we're going to see next is how God was working out His electing purpose in sending Peter to a Gentile. This is the sovereignty of God.


Acts 10:17-23 continues:

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 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 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.” So he invited them in to be his guests.

Do you see what God was doing here? God was preparing Peter not just for a transformation in how he saw evangelism but also in how he understood fellowship. How was he to relate to people who were different from him? Remember what we read in Galatians 2:12 - Peter was eating with the Gentiles. That was a huge reset of his thinking. Acts 10 gives us the background for why that happened. It also helps us understand why Paul gave Peter such a strong rebuke. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Back to Acts 10.


Verses 24-33 continue to story:

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers

from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 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. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

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 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 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.’ 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.”

Oh, the beauty of the sovereignty of God.


And then Acts 10:34-35 gives us the barrier-shattering conclusion:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “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."

Do you hear what God revealed to him? You mind your business, I mind my business, we both love Jesus because we have been called and saved by him, so it's all good. In both evangelism and fellowship they were not separate, but equal.