Sermon title:

Peter’s Keys Opened the Door to All

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, January 17, 2021

 

 

We all know that our Lord Jesus was Jewish—

the promised Jewish Messiah, descended from

the family line of Jerusalem’s King David.

 

And we know that all of the 12 Apostles

were also Jews.

 

In fact, the 120 disciples who spoke in tongues

on the day of Pentecost would also have been Jews.

 

And the thousands who were baptized on Pentecost,

after hearing the disciples speak in tongues—

the languages of the various nations

where those visitors to Jerusalem came from—

those thousands were also Jews

who had come back to Jerusalem

for the Jewish holiday.

 

Even the Ethiopian eunuch Deacon Phillip baptized

near Gaza, on the road back to Ethiopia—

that Ethiopian eunuch was

a convert to Judaism,

who had come to worship

at the Temple of the Jews.

 

So, the early Christian Church was originally

entirely Jewish—at least for several months,

and possibly for its first 3-1/2 years,

according to some authorities.

 

Now, to us today in America,

that doesn’t seem like a big thing.

We’ve all got Jewish neighbors, Jews we work with,

go to school with, or have contact with

in our everyday routine.

 

And they look and act just like everyone else.

 

If we never discussed religion or nationality with them,

we know they’re Jewish only because

they have a last name like Cohen or Horowitz.

 

There aren’t many outward distinctions.

 

But that hasn’t always been the case.

 

Most Jews in modern America

have been assimilated,

and merged with the culture around them.

 

But 100 years ago, Jewish men might have looked

more like those in this photo taken in 1917.

They may have worn beards,

while their neighbors were clean-shaven.

 

They may have worn pigtails or ringlets

at the sides of their heads.

 

And they may have worn unusual clothing.

 

And, even today in the Ultra-Orthodox

Haredi neighborhoods of New York City

you will see Jews whose dress and grooming

is starkly different from others around them.

 

 

And God meant it to be that way.

 

Over 3,000 years ago, God gave instructions

for the Jews to dress and groom themselves

differently from other people.

 

For example, at Numbers 15:37, we read

37 Then the LORD said to Moses, 38 “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: Throughout the generations to come you must make tassels for the hems of your clothing ...

40 The tassels will help you remember that you must obey all my commands and be holy to your God.

 

In the King James Version and some other translations,

the word for “tassel” is rendered as “fringe.”

So, for thousands of years, Jews obedient to God

have dressed differently from everyone else

by wearing these fringes or tassels.

 

We know that our Lord Jesus

strictly followed the Law of Moses,

and so he wore such tassels or fringes

on his clothing.

 

And we see a reference to it when a woman seeking healing

touched the fringe or tassel Jesus was wearing,

as we read at, Matthew 9:20,

Just then a woman who had been suffering from chronic bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel of his garment,

 

And, even today, you will see strict Orthodox Jews

with those tassels on their clothing.

 

But God’s instructions,

to make Jewish men look different

from everyone else, went beyond clothing

and also included grooming.

 

At Leviticus 19:27,

the Law God gave them through Moses said,

"'Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”

So, faithful Jewish men were never clean shaven.

 

And they never wore a crewcut or any short hairstyle.

 

Some might braid the hair at the sides of their head

into pigtails, or roll it into a tight curl,

but all who were faithful to God

would obey by not cutting it.

This contrasted with the styles

of the nations around them,

and always made Jewish men

stand out as different.

 

Part of God’s purpose was to keep the Jews separate,

so they could remain as a unique people

for thousands of years,

without blending into pagan society.

 

Only as a separate people could they still be there,

waiting for the Messiah, when Jesus came,

1500 years after Moses gave them the Law.

 

And one of God’s Laws to the Jews

that was most effective at keeping them separate

was the Kosher diet.

 

Jews could not socialize with other people

by accepting meal invitations from them,

because non-Jews did not serve Kosher food.

 

“Kosher” literally means “clean,”

and the Law of Moses spelled out

which food was clean or unclean.

 

Leviticus Chapter 11 and Deuteronomy Chapter 14

list specific animals, fish and birds that are Kosher,

and those that are not.

 

For example, Deuteronomy 14:4 says,

4 These are the animals which you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, 5 the deer . . .

 

And both chapters go on to list or describe in detail

what Jews would not be allowed to eat.

 

Foods forbidden to Jews included pork, lobster, clams,

quahogs, and many other foods that were eaten

by their neighbors of other nationalities.

 

So, even more than the peculiar dress and grooming,

the Kosher food requirements

would keep Jews from mingling with non-Jews.

 

If they even touched non-Kosher food,

the Law required them to take off and wash their clothes,

declare themselves unclean,

and keep away from other Jews until nightfall.

 

God apparently intended this as part of what it would take

to preserve the Jews intact

for thousands of years

as a separate “Chosen People.”

-----------------------------------------

 

So, that brings us back to

the Christian congregation in Jerusalem.

 

It was made up entirely of Jews—the Twelve Apostles

and the thousands of Jews who accepted the Gospel

at Pentecost and during the months that followed.

 

Before leaving them to go to heaven,

Jesus had given them the Great Commission.

 

At Matthew 28:19 he instructed them,

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

 

How were they going to “make disciples of all nations”

in view of the Kosher laws that kept them separate?

 

Well, those Kosher laws were part of the Old Covenant,

and Jesus had now established a New Covenant.

 

And that New Covenant obligated Christians to obey

NOT the Laws of Moses of the Old Covenant,

but rather what Jesus taught them:

teaching them to obey everything

I have commanded you.

That required a big change on their part.

It took the Twelve Apostles months or a few years

to realize what they had to do.

 

They did NOT immediately make “disciples of all nations,”

because they stuck to Jerusalem and Samaria

and other places where they could mingle

with fellow Jews

who kept the Kosher lifestyle.

 

Something had to change.

 

Something big had to happen.

 

And that’s what we read about in the 10th Chapter of Acts.

 It says,

1 Now there was a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man, and one who feared God with all his house, who gave gifts for the needy generously to the people, and always prayed to God. 3 At about the ninth hour of the day, he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God coming to him, and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 He, fastening his eyes on him, and being frightened, said, “What is it, Lord?”

 

Cornelius was not a Jew.

 

He had not converted to Judaism.

 

He had not gotten circumcised and

had not joined a synagogue.

 

But he believed in the God of the Bible,

and prayed and did good works.

 

God’s angelic messenger to him commented on that,

as the vision continued.  We read,

He said to him, “Your prayers and your gifts to the needy have gone up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and get Simon, who is also called Peter. 6 He lodges with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the seaside.”

 

Cornelius was a high-ranking Roman military officer,

and was accustomed to taking orders

from those ranking above him,

but now he obeyed the instructions

that the angel in the vision gave to him.

 

He did exactly as he was told.We read,

7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier of those who waited on him continually. 8 Having explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

 

It’s interesting to note who Cornelius selected

for this mission,

and how he went about giving them orders to go.

 

In order to summon Peter,

he could have given the assignment to go get him

to anyone under his command—

any of the soldiers or household servants.

 

They were all obligated to obey centurion Cornelius’s orders

without questioning why.

 

A soldier’s position is often expressed by the familiar phrase,

“Ours is not to question why.

Ours is but to do or die.

 

And household servants of the Romans

were in a similar position.

 

But, as we just read, Cornelius selected

a “devout” soldier to send—

one who would appreciate

a vision from God with an angelic messenger.

 

And, even to the household servants

sent to accompany the soldier,

Cornelius explained everything to them.”

 

This tells us something about this centurion:

that he valued other people

and treated them as equals,

sharing the vision with them,

rather than just give orders.

 

At Acts 10:9, the scene switches back to Peter, at Joppa.

 

9 Now on the next day as they were on their journey, and got close to the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray at about noon. 10 He became hungry and desired to eat, but while they were preparing, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and a certain container descending to him, like a great sheet let down by four corners on the earth, 12 in which were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild animals, reptiles, and birds of the sky. 13 A voice came to him, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!”

14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”

15 A voice came to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” 16 This was done three times, and immediately the vessel was received up into heaven.

 

This vision Peter received

went contrary to his life-long training as a Jew.

 

The voice from heaven commanded him

to break his Kosher diet

and eat meat that was not Kosher.

 

What could a vision like that possibly mean?

 

The account continues,

17 Now while Peter was very perplexed in himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate, 18 and called and asked whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was lodging there. 19 While Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three  men seek you. 20 But arise, get down, and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”

21 Peter went down to the men, and said, “Behold, I am he whom you seek. Why have you come?”

22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous man and one who fears God, and well spoken of by all the nation of the Jews, was directed by a holy angel to invite you to his house, and to listen to what you say.” 23 So he called them in and provided a place to stay. On the next day Peter arose and went out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 On the next day they entered into Caesarea. Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his relatives and his near friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell down at his feet, and worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up! I myself am also a man.” 27 As he talked with him, he went in and found many gathered together. 28 He said to them, “You yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man who is a Jew to join himself or come to one of another nation, but God has shown me that I shouldn’t call any man unholy or unclean. 29 Therefore also I came without complaint when I was sent for.

 

Peter explained what a big thing it was

for him to accept this invitation to Cornelius’s home.

 

Roman soldiers were unclean under Jewish law.

The Romans gathered at this Italian’s home

were all people who

a God-fearing Jew would carefully avoid.

 

Accepting Cornelius’s hospitality in his home

put Peter in danger of touching, or even eating,

the non-Kosher food Italians ate.

 

And that would make Peter ceremonially unclean,

force him to launder his clothing,

and leave him unclean until evening.

 

And then, if he and the men travelling with him

stayed over at Cornelius’s house

and ate the unKosher breakfast

Cornelius would provide in the morning,

it would make them unclean again.

 

But Peter understood that the vision of non-Kosher animals,

and the command from heaven to eat them

was God’s way of setting him free

from Jewish customs and Old Testament Law.

Peter explained this to Cornelius

and the crowd of Italians and other non-Jews

gathered at his house.

 

Then we read at Verse 34,

34 Peter opened his mouth and said, “Truly I perceive that God doesn’t show favoritism; 35 but in every nation he who fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him. 36 The word which he sent to the children of Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ—

 

Peter went on to share the Gospel of Christ

with the crowd of non-Jews gathered at Cornelius’s home.

 

This was the first time the Gospel message

was preached to non-Jewish people.

 

Did that mean that God was opening Church membership

to Gentiles of all nationalities,

so that the Church would no longer be made up

of just Jewish followers of Jesus?

 

What happened next answered that question

in a way that could not be denied. 

 

We read,

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. 45 They of the circumcision who believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was also poured out on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and magnifying God.

Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just like us.” 48 He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay some days.

 

So, this was a momentous event.

 

Through Peter, God opened the door to heaven

to people of all nationalities.

 

The Church was following Jesus’ parting command

to preach the Gospel to all nations.

 

And the Christian Church that was initially

a Messianic Jewish congregation,

would soon be filled with Italians, Greeks,

Portuguese, French, English,

Africans, Asians—

all the families of mankind under heaven—

just as we see today.

 

Peter’s divinely-arranged visit to Cornelius

was a huge turning point for the Church.

 

The Kingdom of heaven was now open

for all of mankind—Jews and non-Jews alike.

 

Peter had used all the Keys of the Kingdom.

 

Way back at Matthew 16, Jesus had told Peter,

beginning at Matthew 16:18,

18 "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

 

Remember that it was Peter

who spoke to the crowds on Pentecost,

when thousands of Jews entered the Kingdom

as believers in Christ.

 

That was Peter using

the keys of the kingdom of heaven

to let the Jews in.

 

And now, during this visit to Cornelius,

Peter again used

the keys of the kingdom of heaven

to let the non-Jews in.

 

This is what the Keys of the Kingdom really mean.

 

So, we should not be deceived

when the Roman Catholic Church

tries to claim special authority for their Pope

based on the Keys of the Kingdom.

 

According to the Roman Catholic Catechism

the Keys Jesus gave to Peter

were passed on to their popes,

and give the Pope of Rome

authority to rule over the Church

and authority to

absolve people of their sins,

or leave them to suffer the penalties of sin.

 

But that’s a false teaching.

 

The Pope of Rome has no such authority or power.

 

Peter used the Keys of the Kingdom

to open the door to the Kingdom of heaven,

first to the Jews,

and then to the non-Jews.

 

That covers everyone,

and didn’t leave any other keys

for Peter to pass on to the Pope or anyone else.

 

Peter used the keys Jesus gave him

to open the Kingdom of Heaven

to all mankind.

 

And we now have the privilege of inviting

whoever will listen

to come into the Kingdom of Heaven

by accepting the Gospel of Christ.

 

The door to the Kingdom of Heaven is open,

but the time is fast approaching,

when the door will be shut.

 

Christ will come again, and take us all home to heaven—

all who belong to him—

no matter what our nationality.

 

Now is the time for us to make use of

our privilege to invite everyone who will listen

into the Kingdom of Heaven

while there is still time to do so.