I confess it is difficult to get into the sandals of first century Bible characters, but let’s try to do it. Yesterday’s reading told the story of Peter going to the home of Cornelius with the result that the Gospel message spread beyond the confines of Jewish people and Proselytes.
News travels fast, and the mother church in Jerusalem heard about it. And it was surprising beyond any capacity to imagine or believe. Central to the suspicious feeling was the word that Peter – yes, PETER! – not only went into the home of a Gentile, but he also stayed there and ate with them!
So, you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Well, Jews just didn’t do such things. You may remember the prophets of the Old Testament warning the children of Israel over and over about not becoming like the nations around them, else they fall into similar idolatry and sins. The people did not listen, they associated too closely, and two captivities later (to Assyria and Babylon), the returning remnants determined to not have the same fate befall them. And so, for the past 400+ years, the Jews were very strict about whom they would fellowship with beyond necessary business communications.
So Peter is “called on the carpet” about his actions. And as it says in verse 5 today, Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story. And what does he essentially do? He blames God! He really does – explaining how it was all by divine initiative and sovereignly-orchestrated circumstances that he did all that transpired. The result was that the same Spirit baptism (the work of God that identifies a person with the body of Christ) that came upon the first Jewish believers also fell upon these Gentiles. And Peter concludes, So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?
That was a good question about which the answer was an obvious one! As we wrote yesterday, this marked the proof of a new era of God’s grace abounding. It was not just a next chapter of God’s work specifically through the nation of Israel; no, this was an entirely new program of God’s activity to reach all people of all nations. It was indeed the day that grace hit the fan – to be spread wide and far beyond the confines of the Jewish world.
Don’t fail to read the final paragraph, for here we see that these folks were not just traditionalists and obstructionists. They did not dig in and defend their roots, but rather they praised God for this incredible new breeze of expansion of God’s work through Jesus Christ.
Not every issue was immediately solved … sticking points like the role of circumcision, the value and place of the Law of Moses, the matter of fellowshipping together with people from vastly differing cultures and traditions – all these issues had to be pounded out over time. We’ll be talking about them in subsequent chapters. But today, there is the great joy that the good news is for all men. Since around TSF we are 99% or better from Gentile backgrounds, we should today when reading this have an extra profound sense of God’s grace extending to all of us! Thank God it hit the fan!
Peter Explains His Actions – Acts 11:1-18
11 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”