Now the context for Peter’s vision we heard today was the Holy Spirit falling on gentiles as well as Jews which you will see there at the end of chapter 10. God breaking down barriers.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on the non Jews before they were baptised. In fact it was this fact that the Holy Spirit had been given to non Jews that lead Peter to exclaim “How can anyone withhold baptism from these people for they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have”
From this thrilling encounter with God who was demonstrating to Peter that He shows no partiality Peter then has to travel to Jerusalem and is forced to defend himself from the charge that he ate with non Jews. Most if not almost all Christians at that time were Jews and many still held on to these prohibitions. They hadn’t fully assimilated all the implications of the Jesus event.
So in his defence he then recounts this extraordinary vision given to him by God. With Peter too, Three times God had to tell him “Get up, kill and eat”, so ingrained were the Jewish food laws, including eating with outsiders so even God had to repeat himself three times before Peter understood that the old order was being turned over, and a new way, a new dawn was breaking.
People who were once separated were being brought together. Old Israel, the chosen people, were being replace by a new chosen people, a new Israel, constituted not by what race or creed you were born into, but constituted by the Holy Spirit who knows no partiality.
A new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, was near and the people who were to be members of this Kingdom were being gathered together as children of God. You see from this reading this morning that the church is truly Pentecostal in its nature. We are formed and bound by the Holy Spirit.
That same Spirit which confirmed Jesus as God’s beloved son and inspired his nature and character and gave us an example of how to live was passed onto us in Jesus’ life by his teaching and his very being, to us.
And in John’s version of the last supper we get a particularly poignant piece of his teaching. “A New Commandment I give to you, to love one another as I have loved you”
He gives this instruction the very night before he was going to demonstrate the supreme concrete living expression of what love in action looks like . Not soft, not sentimental but one of service. Love in Christ was not demonstrated by sending cards and presents, it was demonstrated by laying down his life for you.
It is a sobering thought that the greatest expression of love for Christians is a man hanging from a cross in agony as his life slowly ebbs away. Loving and sacrificial service even to the point of death is the love that Jesus wants us to show to each other. It is that love that he refers to when he says to us “Love one another as I have loved you”
That’s the depth of love that he is referring to in that phrase. Feeling not up to the task? No, nor me either. But that is still our goal and it is still what we should be working towards in our own journey of faith.
We have been set such a high standard we can reach out and try, and with God’s help we must have that as our standard even if we do fail for Love is the ultimate standard.
In order to keep us going, even when things might seem impossible we have the Spirit to strengthen us but also fantastic, Spirit inspired visions to inspire us and beckon us forwards
One such is the vision we heard today from the Revelation of John. As well as being our vision to inspire us we also receive instruction on the character traits that lie outside of the kingdom of God – things we are to turn our backs on from cowardice and faithlessness and sexual immorality through to lying and much else in between; You could say that all of them betray a lack of Love and such detestable things will be burned up for they can have no place in the life to come, for as the Apostle John says in one of his letters “God is Love” That is his nature so all that is contrary to his nature has no place in the order to come.
And the vision of the life to come is of a wonderful vision where heaven and earth pass away to be replaced by a future vision where God’s sphere – heaven – and our sphere (earth) are brought together and God will live in our midst.
I started by talking about God breaking down barriers between people and making them one. Here on the cosmic scale he breaks down the dividing wall between heaven and earth and makes them one. Our ultimate future is a resurrection body in a new creation. It is the return to Eden.
We yearn for this future and pray for it every time we pray “The kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven”
“Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God.” (4)