Devotional 119: No Man Common or Unclean

Acts 10:24-33

Peter Meets Cornelius

24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”

30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

When we understand that G-d means to graft us in through the covenant of grace, the act of holding onto our own salvation without sharing the good news takes on a different kind of disobedience.

We understand the Jews were chosen, as Moses said:

Deuteronomy 7:7-9

The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples.

But under the New Covenant, Christ tells us: (John 10:14-16)

14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

Paul affirms this again (Romans 9:22-26)

22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

25 As He says also in Hosea:

“I will call them My people, who were not My people,
And her beloved, who was not beloved.”
26 “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,
‘You are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

We should be joyful that we who believe are no longer under the wrath of G-d, but we are not to keep silent. We are to tell the Good News, and it is up to Holy Spirit to open the ears and hearts of those who would listen.

Cornelius thought to gather his relatives and close friends ahead of Peter’s arrival. They were expecting something great to happen in the presence of the most volatile disciple who had finally come to a more steadfast faith, to the point where he was standing up in the midst of assemblies to proclaim the divine glory of someone he once vehemently denied to the point of cursing.

And he says to them:

Acts 10:34-35

Preaching to Cornelius’ Household

34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

If the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, and all who dwell on it, how then, in His presence, can anyone be unclean? Through faithlessness,  doubt, denial,  unbelief, backsliding,  compromise, and willful and presumptuous sin without repentance.

We cannot find the Narrow Way without faith, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and works.

In the current times when xenophobia and racism are at a fever pitch, not just here, but all across the world (as Christ foretold, ‘brother against brother, and nation against nation’) we are not to consider the ‘other’ as an unclean thing unworthy of salvation.

As Paul told the Corinthians,

 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

So while there is no partiality, it is not a license to continue sinning, for without repentance and faith in Christ there is no remission of sin, and the wrath of the Father remains.

We are not called to judge, but tell, and let the Spirit do His work. He may be content to leave the seed for the moment, and water it another time, but we must remember always that it is G-d who brings the increase.

In the meantime, we work out our own salvation, and take the planks from our eyes, living righteous lives and worshiping the Lord in spirit and truth, loving G-d with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving one another as Christ loved the Church.

In these times, it’s a daunting task, but we have the words of our Savior: (Matthew 19:26)

26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

You have invited us to the wedding feast, ragged and unworthy to stand before G-d, worthy of judgement and the outer darkness. Thank You for giving us a way to be reconciled to our Creator without sin, and that is through faith in the atoning work you did for us, that we might escape the tribulation of the days to come, and inherit the kingdom along with You.

We thank you, Good Shepherd, for the grace you’ve given us, for sustaining us in the valleys of trials and temptations, for bringing us out, for healing us by Your stripes, for granting us Your peace, and for showing us the Father.

We thank You for providing us a Comforter who guides us into all truth, and convicts us of sin. He is the seal and approval of our salvation, when You’ll call us forth from the grave with a great shout.

We thank You for interceding for us, the unchosen, before Heaven’s throne, and not condemning us as we continue to strive for Your example, growing in favor with G-d and man. Continue to speak to us while we’re enduring the scorn of Your enemies as proof we are indeed the sons and daughters of the living G-d, as we contend in the gates with those who would silence us. Fill our mouths with Truth no one can speak against, and give us what we should say.

Help us to speak truth to power, and truth in love, proclaiming You before men that we might also be proclaimed by You to the Father.

Give us the strength, in our trembling, to stand in the midst of the assembly, and by the power of Your Spirit preach the Gospel to all who cross our path, that they may see and know we are Christians, and glorify G-d as You claim them for the kingdom.

Open our hearts, our eyes, our spirits to rejoice with the angels when souls are redeemed from all nations, not just with those who look, act, and believe as we do.

From this day forth, help us to know that it is the Father’s will that all should come to repentance and faith in Christ, and no one should perish, but to also tell them that there will be a day of judgement, and in that day the Covenant of Grace is void.

May the grace, peace, and power of  the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 45: Made to Stumble

Mark 14:27-31  Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

27 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night,[a] for it is written:

‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep will be scattered.’[b]

28 “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

29 Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.

30 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”

31 But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”

And they all said likewise.

***************

Let me set up a scenario for you:

You’re in a dark, cold cell; hungry, tired, and thirsty.

Heavy chains and manacles are on your wrists and ankles.

Vermin nip, flies beset, and you’re shivering.

The cell door opens, and in come the guards again; you see they mean business, again.

Heavy blows that hold nothing back rack your face and body, and once again, the long, cold, shiny blade is laid against your throat, and the spit lands on your cheek as they pull your head up by your hair and use the blade to life you on your toes, and it breaks the skin as you feel your neck start to bleed.

“Renounce Jesus,” they say, and you open your mouth….

**************

The goal is to be like Christ, but as I’ve said before, we’re more like Peter.

Our faith is not entirely based on what we believe of Christ, but also what we believe of ourselves.

How steadfast and faithful we are in our own minds! How unwavering and brave!

When storms come, the Christ image in our minds sets our faces like flint, but on the inside we’ve taken our eyes off Him, and we don’t dare say, “Lord, save me!” because of a moment of fear and doubt, or in the midst of a trial.

We are told over and over again that the Apostles not only didn’t understand, but ultimately they were afraid to question Him on what He meant. (Mark 9:30-32)

In our weakness, we try to repair the torn veil or substitute it by statements of boldness: “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.”

And then an unbeliever exposes us to the harsh light of our tormentors, and we curse, then hide and weep.

I am thankful that He has compassion, and that He knows me better than myself.

We’re only fooling ourselves, and I am thankful that He forgives a broken heart and contrite spirit.

He later asked Peter three times if he loved Him, one brick of restoration for each one Peter broke apart with his denial.

Do we love Him enough to die, figuratively and literally, that He might not be ashamed of us, deny us to the Father, and command our departure to the outer darkness? Paul admonishes us to take heed when we think we stand, lest we fall.

Let us build each other up in faith, and with joyful hearts embrace our fates like ‘the others’ in Hebrews who received no miraculous rescue from persecution and death because the world ‘was not worthy of them.’

Peter’s bitter tears finally humbled him, but the Lord uses that in which we are gifted to His glory, for in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit touched the hearts of three-thousand because of Peter’s boldness, and he never looked backed (except when he lapsed in front of Paul. Big mistake…)

Be encouraged, brothers and sisters; He is the author and finisher of our faith.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

If I scatter, let my bitter weeping make the ground good soil and fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit to speak light to darkness, love to hate, but mostly truth to power. Let me be compassionate but uncompromising, bold but not self-righteous, fearless with faith and holding onto Your promises of a prepared place.

And let me always speak, as You did, in love. Let my words be few as they point to Our Father, that He get all the glory, honor and praise.

Thank You for looking upon this unworthy servant, and restoring him to be reconciled.

In Your Name, I ask it.

Amen

Devotional 34: Sifted Like Wheat

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial: Luke 22: 31-32

31 And the Lord said,[a] “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest that when Peter rebuked Jesus, it was because he thought he knew where his testing would come, but it came in a place he didn’t expect, and he wept bitterly because he failed so miserably.

Indeed, all of the Apostles swore loyalty, but when the hour came, they fled. We see our Lord sorrowful that they would not even stay up to pray for Him, as they were heavy with food and drink, coupled with doubt and not comprehending the things that Jesus said would occur.

But as I often write, Peter is perhaps the most relatable disciple, because his walk with Christ is as intense, volatile, and prone to error as our own. Jesus, in fact, implies it is Satan who speaks through Peter as the hour approaches, and Jesus rebukes not Peter, but the tempting spirit speaking through him. “This will surely not happen to You.”

It was Jesus’ own hope that the Father pass the cup of sin and gall to find a sweeter way, but He set aside His glory and desire to be spared to obey the Father.

We’re not told when Satan asked to sift Peter, to really see what he was made of, as he sifted Job. But just as God was certain in Job’s steadfastness despite his laments, Christ was equally sure of Peter’s shakiness despite his claims of steadfastness. We see in verse 32 that in fact that He already knows what Peter will do, just as he knew what Judas would do. Peter would deny Christ before men, to the point of cursing those in the crowd who insisted they’d seen him with Jesus.

It is the ultimate act of love in what Jesus not only says to Peter, but to us in our most wretched state in the lifelong war between flesh and soul,

When you have returned to Me…”

This is a statement we are to cling to, for our Savior tells us that if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before the Father. This is why the Word admonishes to seek Him while He may yet be found. No one is redeemed faithless and unrepentant from the grave.

“When you have returned to Me…”  The lost sheep is never banned from the flock, because those who follow know His voice. There is no place else to go, as we find so often in our wanderings to other temples and idols, for He alone has the words of life and truth.

As the Father grants the prayers of the Son, there is yet time for Peter to receive the keys to Heaven, and so Jesus prays not only for his return, but commands him to strengthen his brothers.

Satan has planted his tares, and will sift the saints in the last days, but it is Christ and His angels who will reap the last harvest, and there will be nothing left to glean. As John the Baptist tells us,

 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3).

Our Lord would not have His most tempestuous, impetuous disciple be chaff; As the angel said to Mary, “Go and tell the disciples, and Peter…” (Mark 16:7)

As Peter’s denial was threefold, so was his path to restoration, as the Lord asked him three times after the Resurrection:

“Peter, do you love me more than these?”  (John 12:15)

We answer, as he did, in all our failings: “Lord, You know that I love You.”

Therefore I pray:

My Lord and Savior, my heart is grieved that Your inquiry should so pierce my heart, because I have done in deed that which made You have to ask. Under the covenant of grace, I would see myself returned and restored to you, and redeemed spotless again in the Father’s eyes.

I would have my own spirit rejoicing again in Your presence, my place in the Kingdom of Heaven assured, my crown still bright, my works unconsumed as wood, hay, stubble, or chaff, my divine work finished, and my earthly connections to those You gave me intact.

I would not be cast into the outer darkness, weeping and gnashing my teeth.

Like the holy Psalmist in whom the Father was pleased, let me be tested and tried to see if there is any wicked way in me, and give me a clean heart and an upright spirit. Help me to remember, and know, that in You my salvation is assured, my return to You certain. Strengthen my love for You and establish it unshakable in the bleakest of circumstances and the most wicked of persecutions.

And use my trials, O Lord, to help me to strengthen my brothers and sisters, that they may return to You also.

In Your Holy Name, and by the Power of the Spirit of the Living God, I ask it.

Amen.