Acts 11: 1 – 18 Peter explains his actions
The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’
Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 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. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
‘I replied, “Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure of unclean has ever entered my mouth.”
‘The voice spoke from heaven a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
‘Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 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. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, “Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”
‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” 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?’
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.’
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Peter went up to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was at the very heart of Judaism, and waiting there for Peter were the apostles and believers. All the men among them were circumcised. Circumcision was the physical sign of their Jewish identity. It symbolised that they were set apart from other nations. God had given this as a covenant to Abraham, saying: ‘This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.’ (Genesis 17: 10)
So, in the holy city of Jerusalem, men who were indisputably followers of Judaism, called Peter to account: Why had he gone into the house of a Gentile and eaten with Gentiles?
Peter related what had happened. He told of praying, and of the vision of the large sheet filled with animals, and how God had said: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” He told of how, right then, three men from Caesarea arrived and how the Holy Spirit told him to have no hesitation about going with them. He described how when he arrived in Caesarea he was told by Cornelius that an angel had appeared to him and told him to send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He told how, even while he was speaking, the Holy Spirit came on the household “as he had come on us at the beginning”. He puts this in the context of Jesus’ teaching: Then I remembered what the Lord had said: “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”
He sums up by saying: ‘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?’
Luke records that the believers in Jerusalem were completely convinced by the account Peter gave: 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.’
This was an extremely important moment in the life of the early church. It was no longer a Jewish sect; it was Christianity.
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This passage has some important lessons for us today.
The episode started with prayer. Peter was praying. What was he praying about? Well, we don’t know, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he was asking for guidance as to what God wanted him to do next.
As a church, are we praying regularly for guidance as to our future actions? How many of our people pray regularly that our church community should receive guidance from God? Are we listening for answers?
Peter had experienced the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He knew what the experience was like, and he was receptive to what the Holy Spirit had to say to him and to show him. He paid attention even though at first he didn’t understand the message.
As a church, are we aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Do we pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is telling us?
When the Holy Spirit prompted Peter to go with the visitors, Peter was obedient. Likewise, Cornelius was obedient when he sent people to Peter.
It is essential that we act when we recognise what the Holy Spirit is saying to us. If we are not obedient, we oppose God’s plan.
The Holy Spirit validated the whole experience, firstly by the way his guidance made sense of God’s plan – all the actions were appropriate and at the right time – and secondly by the miraculous confirmation that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the Gentiles.
If we, as a church, look for the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, his validation will teach us how to recognise when he is speaking to us.
Peter testified to the apostles and believers about his experience. This broadened the outlook of the believers, and was a vital step in the growth of the Christian church.
How often do we as a church give testimonies about the work of God in our midst?
St Luke reported this event in the Acts of the Apostles, and we’re reading it today, and being encouraged.
Do we keep a written record in our church of the work of God in our midst?
Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit. Please help me to listen more carefully, to act on what I hear, and to be ready to share my experience of your work in my life.
In Jesus’ name, Amen