Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
The news about what happened at Cornelius’ home traveled fast. The news went all over Judea. Gentiles had received the Gospel. The phrase “word of God” is another way of saying, “the Gospel.”
Luke introduces a new group, “the circumcision party.” They were committed to keeping the Mosaic law and traditions. They continue to appear throughout the New Testament.
What was their reaction? Was it joy? No. Their reaction was Peter went inside a Gentile’s home. Peter ate with Gentile dogs. Peter stayed with Gentiles. In their home! Peter, do you know what you did? Peter, what were you thinking? Peter, you are now unclean!
Rather than praising Peter, they attacked him. It is not uncommon for obstinacy to accompany error. Since there is only one God, it only makes sense all men should be joined to Him. But they only saw the external form. They saw the Mosaic law broken. They thought Jews and Gentile did not go together.
Here is the scene in Jerusalem as I picture it in my mind. Peter walked into the house in Jerusalem with all the believers. He was excited about what God had done. He couldn’t wait to tell them about what God had done. But as soon as he entered, chaos broke out. Those of the circumcision party verbally assaulted him. But Peter remained calm. He knew he followed God’s instructions.
They could have confronted Peter in private conversation. They could have demanded the reason of his actions. Instead, they criticized him in public. Their statement of fact was correct. Peter had eaten with uncircumcised men. But they knew only half of the truth. They knew the law so they assumed they knew what God had commanded.
Eating and associating with Gentiles was not forbidden by God’s law. It was a tradition. And yet, Peter did not object on that ground.
I believe there is a lesson we can learn from how Peter reacted.
First Peter understood he was one of the flock. He did not rule but he submitted himself to the judgment of the Church. It is a reminder that the doctrine of “me and my bible” is unsound. We must allow ourselves to be held accountable by the church. If the Pope is Peter’s successor, why is not he bound by the same law? Instead, Rome has made the Pope the judge of the whole world.
Second, notice what Peter did not say. He did not say, “Well, I believe it is okay. I believe God wants to save Gentile too. I don’t think it is that big of a deal.”
Just as he had done with Cornelius, Peter stayed with the facts. Peter knew his personal beliefs and feelings were unimportant. What mattered were objective facts. Peter’s subjective feelings were inconsequential.
He recounted all that occurred. He recounted his vision in detail. This showed the event’s importance. Peter pointed to the witness of what happened at Cornelius’ home. There were six witnesses this was three times more witnesses than required by law.
Peter also pointed out God’s command was confirmed by His instructions to Cornelius. So Peter’s understanding was not a subjective understanding. God’s grace extended not only to Cornelius. But it extended to Cornelius’ whole family. In other words, this was not a one-off exception.
Peter told them he recalled Jesus’ command. “You will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” So Peter baptized Cornelius’ household. We must not confuse this with a misunderstanding that Peter brought the Holy Spirit in them. Man only has the sign. It is Christ alone who waters and regenerates. There is a difference between Christ and the ministers of the Church. The ministers give the external sign of water. But Christ performs the effect of the sign by the power of His Spirit.
Peter recognized his place. If God had given the Holy Spirit to Gentiles who was Peter to deny or withhold baptism. He sees here another example of humility not found in the Pope. According to Rome’s doctrine the church i.e., the Pope, can withhold salvation.
The result of Peter’s explanation was they went silent. All the malice, all the anger, all the indignation disappeared. The church recognized the work of God. The church accepted Gentiles into the church. Praise God for His mercy to us.