In the last part of our study, we saw disciples of Christ sending Saul (Paul) from Jerusalem to Tarsus for his safety. That led to a time of peace for the believers throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria. “And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” (Acts 9:31)
Luke, the human author of Acts, then turned his attention to the ministry of the Apostle Peter. Most of the people I’ve spoken with who believe Paul was a fraud look to Peter as one of the true apostles of Christ. That’s helpful to know because God used Peter in a special way to prepare the apostles and Jewish disciples to acknowledge and accept the special call Jesus had for the ministry of Paul.
“Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda.” (Acts 9:32) Lydda is a town about 30 miles northwest of Jerusalem and about 11 miles southeast of Tel Aviv. It was known in ancient times as Lod, reportedly built by men from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chronicles 8:12). Following the exile to Babylon in the early part of the 6th century BC, some of the Jews who returned to land in many years later settled in Lod (Ezra 2:33). By the time we get to the 1st century AD the town is known as Lydda. It was near the Plain of Sharon and Christianity had a strong presence in Lydda and Sharon by the 2nd century AD, most likely because of Peter’s ministry.
When Peter arrived in Lydda he found a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. Peter spoke to Aeneas and said, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.” (Acts 9:34) Aeneas got up immediately and walked. Many in Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas, heard how he was healed and turned to the Lord Jesus.
Peter moved on from Lydda to Joppa (now the southern part of the city of Tel Aviv). Joppa, located on the Mediterranean coast, became an important city for Israel. It became the property of the Tribe of Dan after Joshua and the army of Israel conquered the land of Canaan. King Solomon used Joppa as a port to bring giant cedar logs from Lebanon to Jerusalem to build the first Temple.
The reason Peter traveled from Lydda to Joppa was because some disciples of Christ in Joppa heard that Peter was in Lydda. They knew his reputation for healing people, so they traveled to Lydda to get him and bring him to Joppa. A disciple named Tabitha (translated Dorcas), who was well known for her good works and charitable deeds, became sick and died. The disciples took Peter to the upper room where the body of Tabitha lay. The people who were in the room mourning the death of Tabitha showed Peter the tunics and garments she had made while she was alive. Peter asked them all to leave the upper room so he could be alone with the dead woman. Peter knelt down, prayed, turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive.” (Acts 9:40-41) You can imagine the people’s reaction to this miracle. “And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord.” (Acts 9:42) Peter stayed in Joppa with Simon, a tanner, for many days.
Everything was in place for God to reveal something He had kept hidden from the apostles. An angel of God visited a Roman centurion named Cornelius in a vision. Cornelius served in Caesarea, almost 40 miles north of Joppa. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household. Cornelius gave alms generously to the people and prayed to God often.
The angel in the vision called to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” (Acts 10:4-6) After the angel departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, told them about the vision, and sent them to Joppa to find Peter.
The next day, while the servants and soldiers from Cornelius were making their trip to Joppa, Peter went up on the housetop to pray. He became very hungry and wanted to eat, but fell into a trance first. Peter saw heaven opened “and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’ And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.” (Acts 10:11-16)
Keep in mind that this was something new to Peter. He had never had a vision like this before. In fact, Peter refused to do it based on the Levitical Law concerning clean and unclean animals. Interestingly, the angel explained this to Peter three times (three seems to have been a number of importance in Peter’s life). After the third time, the object was taken up into Heaven again.
Peter woke up and while he was considering what the vision meant, the men from Cornelius arrived at Simon’s house and asked to see Peter. The Holy Spirit spoke to Peter and said, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” (Acts 10:19-20)
Peter went down to meet with the men from Cornelius. They told him about the vision Cornelius had from the angel. “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” (Acts 10:22) Peter invited them to lodge with him for the night, then they headed off to Caesarea the next day, along with some of the disciples from Joppa.
They arrived in Caesarea the following day and Cornelius was waiting for them. He had already called together his relatives and close friends. Cornelius was so taken with Peter’s presence that he fell down at the apostle’s feet and worshiped him. Peter quickly lifted him up and said, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:26)
This next part is VERY important to understand because it became a major shift in how God dealt with Gentiles. Theological aspects of preaching the Gospel began to change right there. As you read, watch how Peter dealt with this as he spoke to Cornelius and his family and friends. You might also compare Peter’s first message to Jews in Acts 2 and his first message to Gentiles in Acts 10. There are some big differences.
One of the first things to notice is that Peter addressed the issue of how it was against Jewish law for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to someone from another nation. Peter is aware of the law. He was also aware that God had shown him something new — that he should not call any man common or unclean. Because of that, Peter said he came without objection as soon as he was asked. It’s clear from the context of Peter’s response to the angel that he would have objected if God had not given him the vision. It was the vision and the direction of the Holy Spirit that changed Peter’s view concerning preaching the Gospel to Gentiles.
One of the major differences between his first sermon to Gentiles in Acts 10 and first sermon to Jews in Acts 2 is that Peter didn’t blame the Gentiles for the crucifixion of Christ, but did blame the Jews. ”And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree.” Compare that with what Peter preached to Jews in Acts 2: “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death … Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:23, 36)
Another difference is that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles before Peter finished speaking, possibly a sign from God that He approved of Gentiles coming to faith. That would be important in the future as Peter explained to the other apostles what happened in Caesarea.
Peter was convinced. He saw the vision with the angel about the animals, heard the words of the Holy Spirit telling him to go and meet with Cornelius, then saw the evidences of the Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles. The Jewish disciples from Joppa who were with Peter were astonished, but Peter asked if anyone could forbid water baptism for the Gentiles seeing clearly that the Holy Spirit had chosen to fall on the Gentiles.
Question now is this: how would the rest of the apostles react to what Peter had done preaching to Gentiles and baptizing them? We’ll see next time as our investigation continues into whether Paul was an apostle or a fraud.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”