A PLAN COMES TOGETHER
“The next day as the three travellers were approaching the town, Peter went onto the balcony to pray. It was about noon. Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at the four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and bird and reptile you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: ‘Go to it, Peter — kill and eat.’
“Peter said, ‘Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.’
“The voice came a second time: ‘If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.’
“This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled up back into the skies.” Acts 10:9-16 (The Message).
“I love it when a plan comes together!” said Hannibal Smith of the A-Team. Don’t you love God’s timing?
This was a crucial moment in the history of the church. Up to this point, it was growing and flourishing in the Gentile communities of Israel and Syria. God had clearly and powerfully moved in the Samaritan villages and towns, signifying His approval of their inclusion in the life of the kingdom of God. But they were half-Jews anyway.
But the Romans? They were the pits. To interact with these hated and despised Gentiles was a no-no. It would take drastic action on God’s part to convince Peter that what was about to happen was okay.
There was deep symbolism in this vision. Eating was an activity loaded with significance. It was much more that enjoying a meal in the company of others.
In a previous post I explained that eating with someone was a symbol of reconciliation. The Hebrew word for a meal is “shul” and for a table is “shulkan”. But the same word, “shulkan”, can also mean “reconciliation” and “a lamb skin.” What do these three words have in common?
If there was no table, a lamb skin would be used as a sort of picnic blanket. The sacrifice of a lamb’s life was made in order to have a lamb skin (shulkan) to use as a table (shulkan) to eat a meal (shul). Sacrifice was the grounds of reconciliation. A Middle Eastern person will only eat with someone to whom he has been reconciled. Eating together signified that two people or a group of people had not issues with each other and were therefore in fellowship with one another.
God was preparing Peter in two ways. He had to make a paradigm shift regarding what he “ate” and with whom he ate. It was obviously a serious issue for Peter because Paul had to rebuke him to his face in a later incident when Peter drew back from eating with Gentiles in the presence of some legalistic Jewish believers.
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles, but when they arrived, he began to pull back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.” Galatians 2:11-12 (NIV).
The symbolism of Peter’s vision was powerful. He was invited to eat from a revolting array of creatures. This illustrates Peter’s deeply-entrenched revulsion towards Gentiles. Without the vision and the disgust it had raised in him, would he have readily accompanied the three Romans back to Caesarea to enter a Gentile home and “eat” with Gentiles? I don’t think so. His scruples would have been sorely tested.
There had to be a personal reassurance from the mouth of God to remove Peter’s prejudice against the Gentiles. Once again God was gracious to an erring human. Jesus had instructed His disciples to take the kingdom of God to the world but it would take more than words to convince Peter that He really meant it. Something as supernatural as this vision was necessary to move Peter into the next phase of Jesus’ mission to the world.
God will do what is necessary and whatever it takes to move you and me into understanding and obedience to His will so that we can play our part in advancing His kingdom here on earth. Even our scruples and prejudices must give way to a greater purpose into which He calls us in partnership with Himself.