To the End of the Earth: Pork – the other white meat!

Sermon by Derek Thomas on November 15, 2006

Acts 10:9-23

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Wednesday Evening

November 15,
2006

Acts 10:9-23

To the Ends of
the Earth
Pork — the Other White Meat

Dr. Derek W. H.
Thomas

Now turn with me once again to The Acts of the
Apostles, or The Acts of Jesus Christ, or even The Acts of the Holy Spirit. Turn
with me to chapter ten, and we’re going to read together verses 9-23.

Now I know that those of you who are astute will be
able to point out that we haven’t done verses 1-8. I hope there are a few who
can point that out to me! And the reason is because of the way Luke so often
tells a story in The Acts of the Apostles — he envelopes stories…stories
within stories — and the story of Cornelius is in two parts: at the beginning of
Acts 10 and at the end of Acts 10, and in the middle is this story about Peter.
But both of these stories are actually going on at the same time, and for the
purposes more of logic than anything else, I want us to look at this section
tonight, and then next Tuesday we’ll be looking at the beginning and end of Acts
10.

Now with that in mind…and it is so very
significant that these scholars (and some of whom are students of mine) from the
FORTS network that we support here at First Presbyterian Church…it’s so very,
very relevant that they should be here tonight, because in many respects this is
what this section is all about. It’s about the gospel going into all the world.
It’s about the calling of Gentiles into union and communion, along with
believing Jews, into the church of Jesus Christ.

Now let’s pray together as we read this passage.

Father, again we thank You for the Scriptures. We
thank You that holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy
Spirit. Help us again tonight to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Now hear with me the word of God:

“On the next day, as they were on their way…”

[Now, I need to explain there are three men on their way from Caesarea up to
Joppa, coming from the house of a man called Cornelius]…

“On the next day as they were on their way and approaching the city,
Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became
hungry, and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he
fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great
sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it
all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds
of the air. A voice came to him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ But Peter said,
‘By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.’ Again a
voice came to him a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider
unholy.’ This happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into
the sky.

“Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision
which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius,
having asked direction for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out,
they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there.
While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three
men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs, and accompany them without
misgivings; for I have sent them Myself.’ Peter went down to the men and said,
‘Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have
come?’ They said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man, well
spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy
angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.’ So he
invited them in and gave them lodging.”

Amen. And may God add His blessing.

I have vivid memories of my grandfather on my
father’s side. He died when I was in my late teens. He lived on a farm. It was
part of the same farm that we lived on. It had been divided into two; my father
had been given a section of my grandfather’s farm. And for most of the time that
I knew him, he was riddled with arthritis…wasn’t able to bend from the hips
downwards, walked with two sticks. Lived on his own (my grandmother had died),
and had a smallish farm. Kept some chickens and a cow or two, but especially (in
the point of the story) he always had one pig. He slaughtered this pig just
before Christmas — did it all himself — and then…. He had no refrigeration.
There was no fridge of any description in the house. He barely had electricity.
And he would salt this pork, the whole side of the pig would be salted, and it
would be hung on a hook in the larder in the kitchen. And when I would visit, he
would go in there with a very sharp knife which he kept in a sort of pouch on
the side of his hips. He would slice some of this bacon (actually it was just
fat!) and he would just slice several chucks of this fat and fry it in lard
(more fat!) and with bread that would be my dinner. (Now I have to tell you that
my grandfather lived until he was 95 years old, and never once was in hospital!)

But tonight’s passage is about food, and it’s about
pork — “the other white meat.” It’s about the food laws, the kosher laws of the
Old Testament, the laws that Ligon went through not so long ago in the Book of
Leviticus, in chapter 11 and again a parallel account, almost, in Deuteronomy
14, as Moses is giving instruction now to the people of God on the plains of
Moab, just before they cross over the River Jordan and into the promised land.
Strict culinary restrictions about Israel’s eating habits: animals that chewed
the cud were OK, and so long as their hooves were cloven or split; and certain
birds, winged creatures outlawed were storks and owls and bats. But it was OK to
eat locusts. And you call them “katydids”? however you pronounce that here in
the South…

It’s tempting, and I’ve read many an account over
the years that the reason why God introduced, for example, a ban on eating pork
or bacon was for hygiene reasons prior to refrigeration. I don’t believe a word
of it. It wasn’t anything to do, I think, with hygiene. It was to do with
separating the people of God, or separating Israel from the Canaanites. It was
separating Israel from the surrounding nations. Nothing would do that with
greater force than food. It separates you.

I had a flat tire not so long ago, and the seminary
had this little relationship with a garage in Clinton so I drove there and asked
them to fix this puncture that I had in my tire. And there was a man there. He’s
an African-American; he’s probably in his 60’s. It was hard to tell. He was
sitting on a couple of tires, and on his lap was a plate — a plastic plate with
something hot and steaming. And I said to him (it looked absolutely
revolting!)…I said to him, “What is that?” And he said, “Oh, that there be
chittlin’s,” he said. Now, I had heard the word before. I wasn’t sure how to
spell it, but I’d heard the word before. I never want to eat it! Whatever it was
and I’ve been told what it was…. I have no aspirations whatsoever to eat it.
Food will divide you!

If you go to Sam’s on a Friday evening and take your
little cart around, you’ll see in a certain section pickled pig’s lips in a jar.
I don’t eat that, either! Food divides. And it certainly divided Israel from the
surrounding nations. Imagine how difficult it would be to invite folk to eat.

My wife…one time, a Jewish missionary — a friend
of mine, I thought — who had food issues…and he made it known to me as I was
inviting him for a meal at my home that he was a vegetarian. “Fine,” I said. Ask
no questions for conscience sake; God alone is Lord of the conscience…left it
free from the doctrines and commandments of men and all that…. And I said to
Rosemary, “We’re going to have to prepare a vegetarian meal.” And my wife went
to extraordinary lengths. Do you know how difficult it is to prepare a
vegetarian meal if you’re not in the habit of preparing one? And she went to
extraordinary lengths. Took her all day. She got some recipes from friends and
members of my family who are strict vegetarians, and served this delightful meal
— recipes I’d never eaten before, but they were absolutely wonderful and
delightful. And just as we were sitting down, he said, “This dish….” and it
was a kind of soup, a vegetarian broth, you know? Warm, hot, with vegetables…I
thought it did the trick. It was vegetarian. And he said, “How did you make this
broth?” and I saw trouble coming immediately, and I wouldn’t have answered the
question! But my wife answered the question and she said, “I used a vegetable
stock cube.” “Ah!” he said. “Let me see the box.” I knew trouble was coming now.
And he looked at the box, and sure enough on the box there was something with a
number, an “E” number. I have no idea what it was, but he wouldn’t eat it. And
that was it. And you know, he was a friend and still is sort of a friend, but I
can tell you my wife was not fast pleased. It took several days to calm her down
from this debacle over food. Food will divide you.

Peter is on the roof of a house in Joppa. It’s by
the Mediterranean, and he’s in the house of Simon the tanner, and we’re told
that the house is right by the sea, on the coast. He’s on the roof at mid-day,
and he’s praying. It’s not usual to pray at mid-day — Daniel prayed three times
a day, but mid-day was not one of them. Peter is praying for perhaps
extraordinary reasons. He’s on the roof maybe because it’s private on the roof,
but maybe because at mid-day there are those wonderful Mediterranean Sea
breezes. Maybe there’s an awning to keep the sun away.

And three men have been sent to Peter. We’ll hear
more of that part of the story next Tuesday. These two things are going on
simultaneously. God has been speaking to a man called Cornelius. We’ll also talk
about Cornelius next Tuesday. But three men, three soldiers, or two soldiers and
a friend, perhaps, of Cornelius have been sent…the journey…that would take
them maybe three or four hours to make the journey from Caesarea to Joppa. And
Peter is on the roof of the house, and he’s fallen into a trance, and he’s
hungry. And food is being prepared. And as he falls into this trance, he sees a
vision of some kind, and a sheet, or the Greek seems to suggest a container —
even the sail of a sailboat, is lowered down from its four corners. And the idea
of four corners is somewhat suggestive of the largeness of this vision — the
four corners of the earth. It’s somewhat apocalyptic, this description of what
Peter actually sees. And inside are…it’s “Animal Planet!” It’s all kinds of
animals and birds and reptiles and creeping things — clean animals and unclean
animals, including presumably a hog or two.

The Jews had made several wrong conclusions about
the food laws. One conclusion that they had drawn was that because they didn’t
eat pork, they were better than other people. Yes, I’ve met vegetarians like
that, too. They also — and Jesus picks this up in Mark 7 — they also confused
the outward and the inward. They believed that simply refraining from eating
certain things made them holy, and do you remember what Jesus says? It’s what
comes out of a man, not what goes into a man that makes you holy, that defines
you as holy.

And Peter is being asked to go to (a) a Gentile
home; and, (b) to have dinner with him. He’s been invited to dinner in Caesarea
in the house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, a Gentile — a God-fearer, to be
sure — but a Gentile, nevertheless. Not circumcised, didn’t obey kosher laws…
not just the food itself, but the food preparation…you know, the hands that
have gone into making this food. And he protests. And he protests violently.
Three times God says to him, and three times he protests.

What’s this all about? Let me suggest just about
four things.

Let me suggest first of all
it’s about vegetarianism.
Let me have a go at that. I have dear
friends I have family members who are card-carrying vegetarians, and I know what
I’m talking about here …vegetarians who insist that the eating of meat — red
meat, white meat, any kind of meat — is ethically wrong; who suggest that the
real fall is man’s domination over creation rather than his empathy with it. The
same kind of philosophy that governs the Wicca nature religion, or the Druids.
It’s Dionysian.

Some of you, on another score, may have come across
the name of Professor Andrew Lindsey. Professor Andrew Lindsey teaches at
Mansfield College in Oxford. He received a D.D. — not “Doubly Destitute,” as C.
H. Spurgeon said D.D. stood for, but a Doctor of Divinity. And he received it
from the former Archbishop of Canterbury (or a former Archbishop of
Canterbury, George somebody or other, whose name I can’t remember..). Andrew
Lindsey has written a book. It’s a best-seller. It’s been translated into
Japanese and Italian, and I think Portuguese and Spanish, and it’s called
Animal Theology
. It’s a great read. It’s got a wonderful cover. Basically
his view is that God created all things equal — animals as well as human beings,
and that part of our reflection of the image of God is to treat animals on a par
with human beings.

The answer to that is I have no qualms with people
who are vegetarians for their own sake, if that’s the choice that they make. I
have no qualms about that whatsoever. But the imposition of that on the
conscience of others, I do have problems with, because it imposes something on
the conscience of Jesus, because Jesus ate the Passover — roast lamb, as you
will recall. And one of the last things that’s recorded of Jesus in His
resurrection body is that He ate fish with the disciples on the edge of the Sea
of Galilee. It’s about vegetarianism, and how wrong it is as an imposition on
the conscience of others.

Secondly, it’s about
hospitality.
I won’t spend too much time on this. It’s the fact,
first of all, that Peter is in the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa, and then
he invites the three friends who come from Caesarea into the house, and they
spend the night there before the next day they head down to Caesarea. It’s all
about hospitality. What a wonderful thing to draw from this story of how Peter,
from Jerusalem, is given hospitality in Joppa; and himself gives and provides
hospitality, and who will later write in his epistle, “Show hospitality to one
another without grumbling.” What a wonderful thing it would be if we would draw
a very simple lesson tonight, and maybe invite some of these friends of our
FORTS scholars into our homes over Thanksgiving or over Christmas, and share a
meal with them. That would be a wonderful lesson to draw from this passage.

A third lesson is more
difficult and more sensitive.
What exactly is Peter being asked to
do? You see, one of the things that had developed because of the kosher laws
among the Jews… now, we’re familiar with anti-Semitism in our time, of
Gentiles hating Jews, but actually the reverse was true in Peter’s time, because
the Jews as a race had developed an opinion that they were better than
others…better than the Gentiles. They called Gentiles “dogs,” after all. It
was a reverse discrimination to the one that we presently see. And Peter is
being asked as a Jew, and a circumcised Jew and a kosher-abiding Jew, to go to
the home of Cornelius, a Gentile, a Roman soldier, and have a meal with him. It
would be like somebody asking me to go and eat chittlin’s with this man! It
would be on a par with that.

I went on a trip one time to India, and on another
occasion went on another trip to Pakistan to visit some missionaries. I ate some
things that I don’t even want to think about in Pakistan. In India, it all
tasted of curry so it all tasted the same; I just didn’t want to look at what it
was I was eating. But I was given very strict instructions on more than one
occasion: Do not refuse this food. Do not, under any circumstances, spit it out.
Do not say some disparaging remarks about not liking X, Y, or Z. Because in one
instance the meal that had been prepared for me had cost this family an entire
week’s worth of wages, and I ate it, asking no questions for conscience sake. I
was glad to get home, and I did spend several days in hospital when I got home
from Pakistan, but I ate it.

There’s a lesson here, friends, about racism. Yes,
there is. Because Peter is being asked to show the same hospitality to a Gentile
as he would to a fellow Jew, and it wasn’t easy for Peter; and he will stumble
at this again in Antioch. And Paul recounts the incident in Galatians 2, when
his brothers from Jerusalem come up to Antioch and he’s been eating with the
Gentiles…pork sandwiches for lunch — but when his friends, his Jewish
Christian friends from Jerusalem, come up, all of a sudden he’s not eating pork
sandwiches any more, and he’s not eating at the same table as the Gentiles any
more. He’s just eating with the Jewish Christians. And Paul withstood him to the
face.

Now that was something you’d want to see – the
encounter between Paul and Peter — because there’s a movie in it. Yes. This,
according to Mark Dever, of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, in his second volume on
the New Testament, he says this is the most important chapter in the Bible. Now
I have to tell you, when I first read that I thought, “Mark! Come on!” But
actually I think he’s right. This is the most important chapter in the Bible
because this is the moment when the gospel is now going to spread to the end of
the world: from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth.

It’s one thing to have nice little theories about
the gospel and its relationship to Gentiles when you’re in Jerusalem; it’s
another thing now to actually go to the house of a Gentile and eat his food. And
that’s what Peter is being asked to do, and that’s why he’s protesting so much.
Because it’s been underlined that the gospel is for black and white, for
Caucasian and African American, and whoever they are. And our dear friends from
Mexico and Zambia and Kenya and Korea and — who have I left out? — Malawi, and
Pickens and wherever else you’re from. It’s for the whole world, because as Paul
tells us in Ephesians 2 that dividing wall of partition between Jew and Gentile
has been broken down as a consequence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There
is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, born Scythian or whatever, because
we are all one in Jesus Christ, and there is only one way of salvation: through
faith alone in Jesus Christ alone; and whoever that person is and what ever
their ethnicity may be, we’re all one in Jesus Christ. That was a hard lesson,
my friends. That was a hard, hard lesson for Peter and it’s a hard lesson for
us. But it’s a lesson for the sake of Christ and the gospel we have to take into
our hearts.

But you know, there’s one
more thing . Because do you notice on a more personal level that Peter has a
terrible habit
. Now I have habits…I’m
not going to tell you what they are, because then you’ll always point them out
to me…but my wife knows what my habits are. But I have habits, and Peter has a
habit. He has a habit of saying “Lord” and “no” in the same breath. Do you
remember at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus began openly to say that He would be
taken to Jerusalem and there would be put to death by those scribes and
Pharisees, and so on? And remember what Peter said? “This will never be.” Do you
remember later, in the Garden of Gethsemane he cites from Zachariah 13 and says
you’ll all be scattered tonight…and you remember what Peter says? “They may
all be scattered, but not me, Lord.” And he’s doing it again here. He’s calling
Him “Lord” and he’s saying “no.” How can you do that? How can you say “Lord”
and “no” in the same breath?

But isn’t there a bit of Peter in all of us? We want
to call Him Lord, and we do love Him, and we want to obey Him, and we want to
follow Him with all of our hearts; and yet there’s another spirit within us that
says “no” or “not yet” or “not now” or “not in this way.” So that the good that
we would, we do not; and the evil that we would not, that we find that we do.

A new world order is dawning here in Acts 10, from
old covenant to new covenant. May these lessons be applied to our hearts.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank You for this extraordinary
passage, and we pray that these lessons…that we might learn them and keep
them, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please stand. Let’s sing together once again “The
Doxology” and I’ll pronounce the benediction.

[Congregation sings.]

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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