Our last conversation with Peter, in Acts 9, has him in the town of Joppa discipling new converts. Due to the persecution by the Jewish authorities, the relatively small sect of Jerusalem based Christ followers dispersed to the regions around Judea, and spread the gospel to other Jews. Because of this, the Apostles went on the first mission trips to lay the foundations the faith in the new converts. Peter, traveled to Lydda, where he healed a man who had been paralyzed for 8 years, and then to Joppa where he raised a woman from the dead. Chapter 10 opens with Peter still in Jerusalem and it is here that GOD rocks Peter’s world and literally gives him a new vision and focus for ministry. It’s a ministry that Peter will begin, but Paul will take to another level, but it is Peter that GOD reveals the vision to reach the Gentiles (non Jews) and to begin to differentiate Christianity from Judaism. Let’s take a deeper look.
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
The above map gives you a bit of context of the area we’re talking about. Peter begins his journey in Jerusalem and travels north-west to Lydda, then pushes further west to Joppa. It is here that Chapter 10 begins. We read that in Ceaserea, there was Roman Centurion who loved and feared GOD. He followed Jewish custom to the point that he prayed at the same time Jews traditionally prayed. It was during his daily prayer time, he has a vision and GOD tells him to go to Joppa, find Peter, bring him to Ceaserea and learn from him. Pretty straight forward, personally speaking, like the centurion, I would be scared to death if I had a vision like his and, even though it was a reassuring message, it was probably because of this fear, that he acted as quickly as he did. Now, this next part is what I think is so cool about GOD. You see as Cornelius was having his vision, GOD was preparing Peter. The text says that Cornelius’s vision happened a full day before Peter himself has his own vision. Why is that so cool you’re probably wondering, well for me it means that GOD is at work even though we don’t realize, long before we even have the vision for something. GOD is preparing the ground long before HE gives you the vision. HE is also preparing the people HE is sending you to. At this time, Peter has no idea who Cornelius is, and Cornelius probably has no idea who Peter is, he may have heard of Jesus only because he is a Roman official and he’s heard reports, but he has no idea about the true message of JESUS. This excites me because it shows GOD is continually at work behind the scenes before we even know or understand what GOD is sending us to.
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along.
Here is where we see GOD preparing Peter. Cornelius had his vision a full 24 hours ahead of Peter. The account shows that it’s the next day, probably around lunch time, maybe a little later, and Paul is hungry and while the meal is being prepared, he goes up on the roof to pray, and then has his own vision. Now, what’s interesting is that the vision includes all the animals that according to Jewish law were considered unclean to eat. This happens three times for Peter, and, if you’ve been paying attention, 3 is pretty consistent number for Peter. (If you don’t understand why, then message me and I’ll explain it) and so As Peter is thinking about the meaning, his visitors arrive. Now, let’s take a step back to the part about the animals being unclean to eat. Up until now, the Apostles probably were still adhering to Jewish laws and customs concerning diet, and they were definitely still adhering to the prohibition of associating with non Jews, even though there were exceptions, I believe that they thought they were trying to reform Judaism, and not creating a new faith. As he is thinking about the vision, the three (that number again) men sent by Cornelius show up and GOD instructs Peter to go with them, and so the next day he begins a journey that will literally change the world.
I’m not going to copy and paste all 24 verses, but I’ll focus on one or two that are exceptional and go from there, but by all means, I encourage you to read the chapter so understand the whole context. Peter starts off with a statement and a question:
“27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
Peter basically, just outright states that he shouldn’t be there. As a Jew, it’s against their law for him to associate with Gentiles, but Peter has finally understood the meaning of his vision, and it’s ground breaking. GOD doesn’t differentiate between clean and unclean. In simpler terms, GOD DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND, RACE, FAULTS, HANGUPS, ETC!!! Peter confirms this in verses 34 and 35:
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right
Do you see it in vs 34? GOD DOES NOT SHOW FAVORITISM!!!! How absolutely rocking is that?!? GOD accepts everyone who fears HIM and Does what is right. The rest of the chapter is Peter’s message which is a testimony of CHRIST’s life and message. What comes next is truly amazing:
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[a] and praising God.
The HOLY SPIRIT came on all of those who heard, which absolutely blew away those that came with Peter. This was unprecedented, but GOD is in the business of doing unprecedented things and completely amazing believers. Three days before, Cornelius had a vision that freaked him out, two days ago, Peter had a vision that puzzled him, now, at this point, GOD moved in an unprecedented way among GENTILES and now Peter was going to baptize them. Before this, the apostles had focused primarily on JEWS, now GOD had given Peter a different focus, a new mission; but he needed to prepare the “ground” and the hearts of the key players first. HE did that by dispersing the disciples, pushing Peter out of his comfort zone of Jerusalem, and then placing Peter in the proximity of Ceaserea, and then having a Roman Centurion who was open to the gospel stationed there. WHEW, that’s a lot of moving pieces once you think about it, but it’s exciting at the same time because it shows that GOD is working in the long term and the persecution that was definitely stressful and painful, had a silver lining that only GOD knew about. The plans that Satan uses to destroy us, often makes us stronger, if we remain open and obedient to the movement of GOD. I have no doubt there were believers among the dispersed that thought it was unfair and that life sucked at the moment because of the persecution, but when GOD settled them, they each had a part in the greater plan of GOD to spread the message to the GENTILES. Each of the dispersed had a hand in Peter’s message by virtue of their obedience to allowing GOD to move them and by being a witness in their communities. Now, to be completely honest, this wasn’t exactly a popular change for the existing believers in Jerusalem. They get a bit….well, I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s another conversation for another day.