We are looking out our 6th floor window in Tel Aviv toward Joppa. That “steeple” you see is the bell tower of St. Peter’s church in the modern city of Joppa (Jaffa). Simon the Tanner’s house is located very near to the church. That’s where Peter stayed while in Joppa (Acts 9), and where he received the messengers from the Roman centurion named Cornelius.
While he was staying in Joppa, Peter had a vision of a great sheet filled with animals, many of which were ritually unclean according to the law of Moses. A voice from heaven commanded Peter to “rise, Slaughter, and eat,” (Acts 10:13). Peter resisted at first, but the voice told him that God had declared that which had previously been unclean to now be clean. The same vision repeated itself three times.
While Peter was puzzling over what the vision might signify, the messengers from the house of Cornelius – a gentile, and so, unclean to the Jews – arrived with a request from their master for Peter to come to him. But Cornelius was more than a mere Gentile. He was a Roman centurion. The Romans were the enemies of the Jews. They had occupied Israel, had imprisoned the Jews. And they had presided over the death of Jesus Himself. Peter had every reason in the world to refuse their request.
And yet, to his credit, Peter went with those messengers, convinced that God had shown him in the vision that he should “…consider no person to be defiled or ritually unclean,” (Acts 10:28). As a result, Cornelius and his household believed in the Lord, were saved, filled with the Holy Spirit and were baptized.
So, Joppa is a hinge city – a place where the message of salvation and life in Jesus Christ was officially made available to the Gentiles.
An interesting thing about Joppa – it’s this city to which Jonah fled when running from the Lord. Why was he running? Because he didn’t want to carry the message of God’s forgiveness and compassion to the Ninevites, who were Israel’s enemies. Gentiles. The Lord compelled Jonah to go against his will. The result was that the Ninevites repented and were spared the judgement of God.
Tonight I will portray Peter here in Tel Aviv. I’ll be within sight of Simon the Tanner’s house where Peter received his vision to carry the word of life to the Gentiles. Most of the people in my audience tonight will be Gentile. We will have just eaten food, some of which would have been considered unclean in the law.
But the Lord has proclaimed our food, and us clean in Christ.
We have a lot to be thankful for.