Having spent time looking at Saul, what was going on with the young Christian church back in Jerusalem? We read in Acts 8:4 ‘Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.’
Read Acts 9:32-
Our attention now turns from Saul to the Apostle Peter. He too had changed, but it seems his change had brought maturity. No longer impulsive and to some extent unreliable, he was now eager to obey the Lord’s commands.
32 As Peter travelled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda.
He appears to have set out on a journey of encouragement amongst some of the small groups of Christians who had settled in the towns and villages west of Jerusalem.
Almost immediately it seems he faced a challenge:
33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralysed and had been bedridden for eight years.
Honestly, what would our reaction be?
Offer to pray for him?
Ask if there was any practical way we could help him to make his illness more bearable?
Or heal him?
Peter did not falter
34 ‘Aeneas,’ Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.’ Immediately Aeneas got up.
Peter had experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in his life in miraculous ways (Acts 2-
35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
A very brief statement: would someone like to expand on it for us?
News of this spread rapidly: Joppa was about ten miles from Lydda.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became ill and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, ‘Please come at once!’
Dorcas was unmistakeably dead, and had been for the best part of a day. (For her to be ‘washed and placed in an upstairs room’ and for men to travel ten miles, find Peter, and bring him back).
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood round him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
We can imagine the scene in that room – probably not a large room, and very noisy.
40a Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed.
What a contrast.
In the silence, Peter confidently prayed for her healing. Then, without moving, he turned towards Dorcas.
40b Turning towards the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41a He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.
We don’t know how long she had been in bed ill before she died. Not surprisingly she needed a hand now to stand up!
41bThen he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive.
Why ‘especially the widows’?
42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
As in verse 35, Peter would have been careful that the glory should go only to Jesus and many were converted as a result.
43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
Not everyone’s choice of residence – by the nature of his work, it would probably have been a very smelly place! But again, Peter’s actions probably spoke as loudly as his words.
Now we Move into Acts Chapter 10.
Read verses 1-
1 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-
(The title ‘Centurion’ suggests that he commanded 100 men but in reality he could command anything from 80 to 200 men or more.)
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!’
4a Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked.
Note that even for a Roman officer this was a frightening experience (4a). As in Saul’s conversion, the word ‘Lord’ really was only a word of respect – like ‘sir’. We are explicitly told that in this case it was an Angel, with a very specific message.
4b 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.’
Cornelius had been singled out because of his true piety and generosity. Now God himself had issued an order – and Cornelius certainly understood those! The instruction was very specific, containing Peter’s full name and address – but nothing more.
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.
Cornelius had to be careful who he told – only those who shared his belief would be likely to understand. It was not a detachment of soldiers that was sent, rather three men who could explain Cornelius’ request.
Although Cornelius was ‘devout and God-
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-
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.’
The commandments given to Moses were very clear: Leviticus chapter 11 and a more concise version in Deuteronomy chapter 14.
Particularly in Leviticus there is a refrain ‘they are unclean for you’ and ‘they are detestable’, and Peter could probably quote those passages from memory.
What could this vision possibly be telling him? Was the answer in the last four words of verse 15?
If God now chose to make clean something that traditionally had been regarded as unclean, could Peter argue against him?
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Peter was full of doubts, but when the vision was repeated a second time he knew he had to accept what God was saying.
When it was repeated the third time, Peter had no doubts – but he still didn’t understand its application.
Now read verses 17-
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 men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’
I love the details here. The three men were outside the gate – Gentiles not wanting to enter a Jewish house (see v28), but calling out to check if Peter was there.
Peter was out of earshot on the roof so the Spirit himself told Peter about them, told him to go down to them, and specifically not to hesitate and go with 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-
Now the penny dropped. Peter’s natural objections to the men had already been overruled, so
23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
We are not told what happened that evening, but there must have been much discussion! Other believers would have been told about the visit of the envoys, and some would have suggested that they might accompany Peter – perhaps for his own safety.
Now read verses 24-
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
Cornelius had a position to maintain and he had to be careful who got to hear about this meeting. At the same time an Angel had told him to send for Peter so the message he brought must be important enough to share.
25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, ‘I am only a man myself.’
Cornelius recognised peter as a messenger from God – which he was, but still only a man.
27a While talking with him, Peter went inside
I picture Peter introducing the members of his party, and Cornelius explaining that he has invited a few friends. They walked through into a larger room:
27b and found a large gathering of people.
Not perhaps what he was expecting; and Peter still needed a moment to grasp the full extent of the change in thinking that the Lord had asked of him.
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 had needed a miracle to get him to understand that the prejudice towards Gentiles that he had been taught from birth, was no longer to be part of his new life with Jesus. But what had moved Cornelius to summon him?
30 Cornelius answered: ‘Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, “Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.” 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.’
Peter could relax – it was not some kind of trick, rather it was directly of the Lord that he had been summoned here to preach the Gospel.
34 Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached –
Peter realised that these people would have heard many stories of all that Jesus had done during his life; much of which had been spent in the north around Galilee – an area not too far from Caesarea. Note ‘you know’ in verses 36 and 37, but just in case, he tells them again:
38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
Why was it important to state at the outset that ‘God anointed Jesus’ and ‘God was with him’?
These were ‘God fearing’, or at least well aware of the Jewish God, and Peter needed to confirm that that same God had commissioned Jesus for his work.
39 ‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
This is the heart of the gospel (v43): ‘everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ and for those who had been prepared it was all they needed to hear.
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
They too had a Pentecost conversion experience and Peter and his colleagues recognised it immediately.
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 and praising God.
Again, it was the fact that they were Gentiles that astonished the Jews – their whole culture had been that as Jews, God was their God, and so Jesus was their saviour.
Then Peter said, 47 ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ 48 So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
This was an important turning point in the life of the new churches as word began to spread that Gentiles too could become Christians.
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