Author: Charles Hegwood
Why are there so many resources on discipleship? I think the reason is because God has placed within the very DNA of believers the drive to make more disciples. One of the ways we worship God is to bring as many people as we can to Jesus. Discipleship is one of my greatest passions. I hope it is yours too. I want to look at Acts chapter 10 and peek into how Peter leads Cornelius to Christ and disciples him. We will see that through the blood of Christ, all that come to Jesus will be made clean. They will be made whole. As disciples, we are to be faithful to go and tell people the great news of the Gospel.
Setting the Scene
Let’s set the scene, we are introduced to Cornelius, a Roman soldier and God-fearer. He is charitable and always praying. This is a man who is seeking to know God. Let us learn from Cornelius that God answers those who seek Him. After all, here was a man, a Roman, and by that distinction alone would disqualify him from the love of God especially if you were Jewish. You would have hated this man. He was an enemy and a leader in an oppressive regime. Yet he sought God and God answered.
God called Peter to share the gospel with this Roman soldier. For Peter this was uncomfortable. Decades of cultural education taught him that going to the house of a Gentile, moreover, a Roman soldier, would make him unclean. Even after walking with Jesus for three years, he heard the cultural echoes of “unclean”, “unworthy”. There were some Gentile believers, but at this time the burgeoning church did not know exactly how to incorporate them. Would the blood of Christ extend to these ‘unclean’ people? These would have been the thoughts rattling around the head and heart of Peter during this story. God however, has another message for Peter, for the growing church, and for us today.
Preparing the moment: Prayer
Prayer is essential for discipleship. We see that Peter had a habit of praying in Acts 10:9. He went up to the roof but soon became hungry. God uses Peter’s hunger during his prayer time to teach him an invaluable lesson about making disciples. If we have no prayer life, we will struggle to make disciples. We must have a habit of prayer built into our lives.
We must pray for opportunities to make disciples as well. We must approach prayer as a time to meet with God. The result of spending quality time with God in prayer is that we will be ready to make disciples in our daily lives. Making a habit of meeting with God in prayer is the first step in biblical discipleship.
Tilling the Field: Having the Right Heart
Verses 9-15 capture a very strange vision Peter had during his prayer. He saw a sheet with all kinds of unclean animals on it. We may be tempted to read this and assume we should never pray on an empty stomach. All kidding aside, many times we read this story and miss the point. We may be tempted to conclude that God is telling Peter that all foods are clean. However, the context does not support this interpretation. There are other verses to argue all foods being clean. The context of this story is a story about Cornelius, an ‘unclean’ gentile, becoming a follower of Jesus. It is about crossing cultural and ritual boundaries for the gospel.
The theological emphasis is not on the food but on the words ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. The food here merely serves as an object lesson for Peter’s heart. The issue was not what Peter thought about eating certain foods, but instead what he thought about talking to certain people that were “unclean”. Acts 10:15 is the key verse to understanding this story and what God is trying to tell us today. “What God has made clean, do not call impure.” Soon Peter understood in full what God was trying to tell him. We see Peter demonstrate verse 15 as he talks to Cornelius and leads him and his family to Christ. The point here is that we too need to make our hearts right.
Before we go and talk to people, let us first pray and make our hearts right before the Lord. This is what Peter needed so that he could go to Cornelius. As we look at Peter putting the proverbial rubber to the road, let us see the need for a prepared heart in our discipleship ventures.
Reaping the Harvest: Go and Tell
Back to our story, Cornelius sent men to Peter. In God’s providence they arrived as Peter was praying and perplexed by what he saw. He went with these men to the house of Cornelius. We see that while Cornelius had been waiting to hear from Peter he had also been gathering more people to hear Peter’s words. Verse 28 undoubtedly shows that Peter now understands the vision. Here is Cornelius and friends; gentiles, unclean, and forbidden. Peter saw that the vision had prepared him to not see people as clean or unclean, worthy or unworthy. Instead, God wanted Peter to tell this Roman soldier about Jesus and disciple him as someone who was clean. God may be wanting you to go to someone you think of as ‘unclean’. Hear this message loud and clear. No one is unclean that God has made clean. Cornelius believes and so do those who were with him. The visible presence of the Holy Spirit only further confirms that this was the will of God. So go and tell. Make disciples!
Disciple who? Everyone God puts in your path. What about mean people, people who don’t think the same as me, poor people, rich people, or uncool people and so on? Go and tell. Read your context. Who is it that you perceive as impure and unworthy of your time or the gospel? Understand that through the blood of Jesus what was unclean has become clean. His blood washes away our impurity and our sin. This is good news! So as you go and engage in discipleship; pray, prepare your heart, and go and tell everyone as God leads you to them. The Biblical model for discipleship has no place for favoritism. Discipleship has no place for thinking of anyone as unworthy of the gospel. Go with this in mind, “What God has called pure do not call impure,” no matter who it is or where they are from. Now, go and make disciples of all nations.