Devotional # 51. 9/9/13. Peter’s vision: Gentiles are OK!
This week’s Reading: Acts 10:1-48.
Introduction. Last week we talked about Saul’s conversion to Christianity. We discussed why humility was important to a Christian. And how Jesus sent two men on journeys but the ease of doing God’s will depends on how submitted you are to His will in the first place. This week we’ll read about Peter getting over social stigmas, religious traditions and personal racism.
vv. 1-8. We are introduced to Cornelius who was a captain (“centurion”) of soldiers and probably Italian because he belonged to the “Italian Regiment” which were the most loyal Roman fighters (Source 1). Interestingly Cornelius “feared God” which in the Greek is a “technical term” for someone who believes and keeps the Old Testament except they’re not circumcised (Source 2). So Cornelius has a vision around 3pm (“ninth hour”) where an angel tells him to send some men to find the apostle Peter. Peter was staying with a man named “Simon the tanner.”
vv. 9-16. Cornelius’ men leave on their journey the next day and around noon (“sixth hour”) Peter goes up to the roof of the house where he was staying. This was a common practice to go up on the roof (which was flattened) and hang out. Peter goes up to pray but gets very hungry and has a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with all kinds of animals on it. I know how Peter feels (about getting hungry not the vision of the animals!) I often have distractions like hunger or any little thing while I am praying. But God uses Peter’s hunger distraction to help him pay more attention that he didn’t have to hold to the dietary laws given to Israel in Leviticus 11:25-16 anymore. Peter is shocked and says he has never eaten anything unholy (“common”) or defiled (“unclean”). God tells Peter that if God has made it then it is not unholy. We quickly look at Peter and say “jeez, he had a bad habit of telling God, ‘no’.” This is true and was something he needed to work on but I also view it as Peter held to what he believed. If he was convicted of something he didn’t let it go easily.
vv. 17-23. The vision ends and Peter is left scratching his head. But at that exact time Cornelius’ servants came looking for Peter. I love that God’s forethought was a day in advance to match the timing up perfectly. So the Holy Spirit tells Peter to accept the men at the gate and their message and Peter invites them in. They stay with him that night and leave the next day to see Cornelius in Caesarea.
vv. 24-33. By my math it is the third day* since Cornelius had his vision which must have been difficult. Often we have to be patient to hear what God wants us to know. If you notice Peter didn’t get the answer to his vision right away either; God made him travel to it. So Cornelius is excited and has his family and “close friends” there. When Peter comes in Cornelius immediately drops to his knees, worshipping him. What an awkward meeting! Peter was expecting a hand-shake but end up being venerated. Peter tells Cornelius not to worship him, then points out how as an Israelite he should not be in Cornelius’ house but God has explained that all men are equal. Then Peter asks why Cornelius sent for him. Cornelius re-tells his vision which confirms Peters vision.
*three days: Cornelius has the vision on say, Monday and sends his servants to Peter that day but it’s 30 miles (Source 1) so they get there the next day, Tuesday and they stay with Peter. Then they all leave on Wednesday morning and arrive on Thursday (“the following day”, v. 24).
vv. 34-43. Peter is invited to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and does. He tells about Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecies and how he died on the cross for everyone’s sin. Peter explains the resurrection, which can be difficult to believe but is the thread that all Christianity hangs on and he was there to witness it (“showed Him openly…to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead”). The reason I say this is the thread that Christianity hangs on is because if someone can disprove that Jesus rose from the dead then there is no purpose in believing in him. All historians agree that there was a man named Jesus who was crucified and buried but they cannot extend the faith (even with the proof!) to say Jesus resurrected. Jesus has proved He has power over death by His life but also for our lives. This is the message Peter gave to the Gentiles gathered in Cornelius’ house.
vv. 44-48. Then Peter and his entourage of Israelites are amazed because the Holy Spirit comes down on the Gentile believers bringing the fulfillment of everyone involved. Peter then suggests baptism for all of the believers. As we’ll see this creates quite a stir in the early church among both Israeli’s and Gentiles which is interesting considering Jesus’ care for Gentiles (the Good Samaritan, the women at the well, the centurion’s child, etc.).
Conclusion. Time and again in the Bible, and very often in Acts, we see God working several things with multiple people that collide together to drive God’s will. We’re never given all the answers but when we trust God our piece of the puzzle fits into a greater whole and we gain understanding from it. God always gives confirmation and witnesses.
Think of Mary and Joseph having separate visits from angels, not just left alone with a message but they had confirmation. Or think of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch that we read about in Acts 8 (Devotional 49) how God had orchestrated two people to come together and confirmed his word. Nowadays the Holy Spirit will speak to us and God will send a Christian or non-Christian to say something that confirms what the Holy Spirit says. Or we’ll read the Bible and it will confirm something we were convicted of.
Source 1: David Guzik, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Act/Act_10.cfm?a=1028001
Source 2: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1652.