The message couldn't be any clearer. “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” And just in case Peter didn't understand, God showed him in vivid color. Three times Peter watched and listened as all the animals and birds of the earth were presented to him for food. It was a shock for a devout Jew like Peter who had followed the dietary laws of his people to the letter his whole life. But God was doing something new. The old restrictions about clean and unclean foods had to go because they no longer applied to the new covenant.
Even more importantly, Peter soon discovered that the old restrictions about clean and unclean people had also outlived their purpose. According to the Jews, the Gentiles were just about as unclean as anyone got. They didn't keep the Law. They didn't follow the customs. They didn't even worship God. But now God was reaching out to these unclean people in wholly new ways, and Peter was to do so, too.
The Holy Spirit told Peter in no uncertain terms to enter the house of the Gentile Cornelius. Peter obeyed, and when he saw the Spirit descending upon Cornelius and his household, he realized the depths of God's message. God had extended repentance, grace, and eternal life to the Gentiles. He was giving them the chance to become part of His people. Peter baptized the whole lot on the spot. Who was he to deny such a clear message from God? Who was he to hinder God's own work?
Tuesday – Christians
Christians. The designation is so familiar, so commonplace, that we take it for granted. We don't stop to think about what the word really means or to consider what a mark of honor it is to those who bear it as a title.
The word Christian derives from the Greek word christos, the title of Jesus Himself, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Christos in turn derives from the verb chriō, to anoint. Anointing literally involved pouring or rubbing olive oil on someone, but symbolically anointing consecrated a person for a special task, usually that of priest, prophet, and/or king. An anointed person was set aside and authorized for service. Life was no longer the same for the anointed person. He was no longer his own; he lived for others.
Christians, then, are anointed ones, consecrated for a special task, priests offering their sacrifices of prayers and of their very selves to God, prophets spreading God's word, kings ruling themselves strictly under God's moral law. Christians are set aside for service to God and to their neighbors. They no longer belong to themselves; they belong to God. They live for Him and with Him and in Him. They bear the name and share the title of Jesus Christ, their Savior.
What pleasure and amazement the members of the early Church at Antioch must have experienced when they were first called Christians. They would have recognized the honor and the responsibility of the title. We modern Christians would do well to recover a bit of their insight and strive to live up to the name we bear.
(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)
Wednesday – Not to Condemn
Jesus did not become incarnate to condemn the world but to save the world. Most of us will nod at this statement and think, “Well, of course, that's obvious.” But do we really believe it in practice? Or do we still tend to think of Jesus as a harsh judge who watches our every move and waits to nail us for something we did wrong or didn't do well enough?
Yes, our Lord condemns sin, and He punishes us when we sin. But the punishment is this: He allows us to experience the consequences of our sins so that we can learn not to commit those sins again. He doesn't vindictively assign arbitrary penalties. Instead, He disciplines as a parent does so that we mature and grow.
We might wonder, then, how anyone could lose salvation if Jesus does not condemn people. Does anyone actually go to hell to face eternal punishment? We can't say anything about individuals, but saints and mystics tell us that people who go to hell choose to do so. They choose to reject God and remain in their sins until the very end. They choose not to repent. They turn their backs on God's love and mercy. They say no to the forgiveness God holds out. They say no to Heaven. God doesn't condemn them; they condemn themselves.
Today let us rejoice that Jesus does not condemn us, that His will is to save us, that He wants us to be with Him for all eternity, and that He gives us all the grace we need to get home to Heaven.