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The Perfecting of Peter (Acts 9:32-10:48)

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32 Now as Peter was traveling around from place to place, he also came down to the saints who lived in Lydda. 33 He found there a man named Aeneas who had been confined to a mattress for eight years because he was paralyzed. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Get up and make your own bed!” And immediately he got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which in translation means Dorcas). She was continually doing good deeds and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became sick and died. When they had washed her body, they placed it in an upstairs room. 38 Because Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them, and when he arrived they brought him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him, crying and showing him the tunics and other clothing Dorcas used to make while she was with them. 40 But Peter sent them all outside, knelt down, and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her get up. Then he called the saints and widows and presented her alive. 42 This became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 So Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a man named Simon, a tanner.

1 Now there was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort. 2 He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was all his household; he did many acts of charity for the people and prayed to God regularly. 3 About three o’clock one afternoon he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, “Cornelius.” 4 Staring at him and becoming greatly afraid, Cornelius replied, “What is it, Lord?” The angel said to him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have gone up as a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa and summon a man named Simon, who is called Peter. 6 This man is staying as a guest with a man named Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who had spoken to him departed, Cornelius called two of his personal servants and a devout soldier from among those who served him, 8 and when he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

9 About noon the next day, while they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing the meal, a trance came over him. 11 He saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and wild birds. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; slaughter and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled and ritually unclean!” 15 The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven.

17 Now while Peter was puzzling over what the vision he had seen could signify, the men sent by Cornelius had learned where Simon’s house was and approached the gate. 18 They called out to ask if Simon, known as Peter, was staying there as a guest. 19 While Peter was still thinking seriously about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look! Three men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go down, and accompany them without hesitation, because I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “Here I am, the person you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius the centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man, well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to summon you to his house and to hear a message from you.” 23 So Peter invited them in and entertained them as guests. On the next day he got up and set out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

24 The following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting anxiously for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 So when Peter came in, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. 26 But Peter helped him up, saying, “Stand up. I too am a mere mortal.” 27 Peter continued talking with him as he went in, and he found many people gathered together. 28 He said to them, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, yet God has shown me that I should call no person defiled or ritually unclean. 29 Therefore when you sent for me, I came without any objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” 30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock in the afternoon, I was praying in my house, and suddenly a man in shining clothing stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your acts of charity have been remembered before God. 32 Therefore send to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter. This man is staying as a guest in the house of Simon the tanner, by the sea.’ 33 Therefore I sent for you at once, and you were kind enough to come. So now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to say to us.” 34 Then Peter started speaking: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him.1

Introduction2

Matthew and Luke have already introduced us to a centurion. Luke’s account particularly serves as a backdrop to our text in the Book of Acts:

1 After Jesus had finished teaching all this to the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave who was highly regarded, but who was sick and at the point of death. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they urged him earnestly, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 because he loves our nation, and even built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not presume to come to you. Instead, say the word, and my servant must be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him. He turned and said to the crowd that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith!” 10 So when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well” (Luke 7:1-10; see also Matthew 8:5-13).

Luke’s earlier text is relevant to our passage in Acts in several ways. Here, Jesus deals with a devout centurion, a centurion much like Cornelius. The descriptions of these two centurions are quite similar, in that both men are pious and are well regarded by the Jews. In Luke’s Gospel, the centurion urges Jesus not to come to his house, while in Acts, Cornelius does invite Peter into his home (just as Peter had invited his servants into the home in which he was staying). Finally, Jesus commends the faith of the centurion (Luke 7:9). Matthew goes into greater detail:

5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help: 6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” 7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “ I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! 11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour (Matthew 8:5-13, emphasis mine).

In other words, Jesus says that because of his faith, this Gentile centurion will enter into the blessings of the kingdom of heaven, while many Jews will be cast into outer darkness (hell). The significance of these observations will become clear as we study our text in Acts.

I have chosen to end this message at Acts 10:35 because the focus of this lesson is on Peter. It is Peter who is being perfected in our text, and thus it is Peter who becomes a “fulfilled Jew” in this passage. In our next lesson, we will consider the impact of Peter’s visit on Cornelius and on those Gentiles gathered with him, as well as upon the Jews. I believe the lesson God teaches Peter in Acts 10 and 11 is one of the most prominent and one of the most crucial theological truths in the Book of Acts. These chapters are the “high water mark” of Acts, theologically speaking. Therefore, we must be sure to get the message God was teaching Peter.

Peter Heals Aeneas at Lydda
Acts 9:32-35

32 Now as Peter was traveling around from place to place, he also came down to the saints who lived in Lydda. 33 He found there a man named Aeneas who had been confined to a mattress for eight years because he was paralyzed. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Get up and make your own bed!” And immediately he got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord (Acts 9:32-35).

Peter has boldly proclaimed the gospel in Jerusalem. In Acts 8, Peter and John went down to Samaria when they heard that many had trusted in Jesus. It was not until these two apostles arrived and laid their hands on the new believers that the Spirit came upon them in power. After departing from Samaria, Peter visited a number of Israelite cities to which the saints in Jerusalem had scattered (see Acts 8:1, 4ff.). In our text, Peter first visits Lydda, then Joppa, and finally Caesarea.3

There are a group of believers in Lydda (Acts 9:32). Aeneas may well have been one of these believers, though we cannot say for sure. Nevertheless, Peter encounters Aeneas, a man whose paralysis had confined him to a bed for eight years (Acts 9:33). Seeing his condition, Peter spoke up, telling this man that Jesus the Christ had healed him (Acts 8:34). Furthermore, Peter instructed Aeneas to get up and take his bed with him. Aeneas did get up and walk and presumably took his bed with him, which inspired many others to trust in Jesus for salvation.

What is of particular interest to me is that this healing is similar to the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5:4

18 Just then some men showed up, carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher. They were trying to bring him in and place him before Jesus. 19 But since they found no way to carry him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down on the stretcher through the roof tiles right in front of Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 21 Then the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to think to themselves, “Who is this man who is uttering blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their hostile thoughts, he said to them, “Why are you raising objections within yourselves? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 24 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralyzed man – “ I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up before them, picked up the stretcher he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. 26 Then astonishment seized them all, and they glorified God. They were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen incredible things today” (Luke 5:18-26, emphasis mine)

Two similarities are evident. First, the condition of the man in Luke’s Gospel is similar to that of the lame man in Acts 9:32-35. Both men were paralyzed. Second, the words Peter spoke to Aeneas are similar to those spoken by Jesus:

“. . . stand up, take your stretcher and go home” (Luke 5:24).

“Get up and make your own bed!” (Acts 9:34)

We will see more about this similarity later in the lesson.

Peter and the Raising of Dorcas at Joppa
Acts 9:36-43

36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which in translation means Dorcas). She was continually doing good deeds and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became sick and died. When they had washed her body, they placed it in an upstairs room. 38 Because Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them, and when he arrived they brought him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him, crying and showing him the tunics and other clothing Dorcas used to make while she was with them. 40 But Peter sent them all outside, knelt down, and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “ Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her get up. Then he called the saints and widows and presented her alive. 42 This became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 So Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a man named Simon, a tanner (Acts 9:36-43, emphasis mine).

Peter was some distance away, and thus Dorcas would have been dead for a considerable period of time before he arrived – long enough that raising her to life would have been a substantial miracle (similar to the raising of Lazarus in John 11). This is the first record of Peter (or any other apostle) raising someone from the dead. The power of the Lord was clearly upon Peter.

What is most striking about this miracle is its similarity to the raising of the daughter of Jairus as recorded in Mark 5:5

35 While he was still speaking, people came from the synagogue ruler’s house saying, “Your daughter has died. Why trouble the teacher any longer?” 36 But Jesus, paying no attention to what was said, told the synagogue ruler, “Do not be afraid; just believe.” 37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the synagogue ruler where he saw noisy confusion and people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he entered he said to them, “Why are you distressed and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 And they began making fun of him. But he put them all outside and he took the child’s father and mother and his own companions and went into the room where the child was. 41 Then, gently taking the child by the hand, he said to her, “ Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” 42 The girl got up at once and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). They were completely astonished at this. 43 He strictly ordered that no one should know about this, and told them to give her something to eat (Mark 5:35-43, emphasis mine).

Peter not only does what Jesus has done; he does so speaking similar words.

Double Vision
Acts 10:1-16

1 Now there was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort. 2 He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was all his household; he did many acts of charity for the people and prayed to God regularly. 3 About three o’clock one afternoon he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, “Cornelius.” 4 Staring at him and becoming greatly afraid, Cornelius replied, “What is it, Lord?” The angel said to him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have gone up as a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa and summon a man named Simon, who is called Peter. 6 This man is staying as a guest with a man named Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who had spoken to him departed, Cornelius called two of his personal servants and a devout soldier from among those who served him, 8 and when he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa (Acts 10:1-8).

Luke introduces us to a centurion named Cornelius. Luke’s description of Cornelius is similar to that of the centurion Luke has described in Luke 7:1-10. Both are devout, God-fearing men. Both are known for their prayers and for their acts of charity. Cornelius seems to have communicated his faith to those in his household because they appear to share his faith. The vision Cornelius received came at three o’clock in the afternoon, the normal time for Jewish prayers in the afternoon (see Acts 3:1; 10:30). After his angelic visitation, Cornelius explained everything to his servants and the devout soldier he sent to Peter’s residence.

When the angel appears to Cornelius, it is not because this man lacks faith, but because he (like the centurion in Luke 7) would not have even considered asking a Jew to his home. Thus, God had to prepare both Cornelius and Peter for this breech of tradition. When the angel appeared, Cornelius responded in a way that revealed his faith: “What is it Lord?” (verse 4). I am reminded of Samuel’s response to the divine call in 1 Samuel 3:

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).

Cornelius is a most remarkable man.

9 About noon the next day, while they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing the meal, a trance came over him. 11 He saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and wild birds. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; slaughter and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled and ritually unclean!” 15 The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven (Acts 10:9-16).

At just the right moment in time, God spoke to Peter in a vision. This vision, like that of Cornelius, came at a time when the recipient of the vision was in prayer. It was lunch time, and Peter was hungry. I can almost hear Peter say, “I’m hungry enough to eat a horse!” What came next would cause Peter to lose his appetite. The meal was still being prepared and so Peter used this time to pray. In his vision, Peter was instructed to kill and eat various kinds of animal life, some of which would have clearly been unclean according to Jewish food laws. Some of these unclean animals (such as the “reptiles”) were also totally unappealing as food.

Peter’s response to the Lord’s instruction in this vision is interesting when compared to the earlier responses of Saul and Cornelius:

Saul: “Who are you Lord?” (Acts 9:5)

Cornelius: “What is it Lord?” (Acts 10:4)

Peter: “Certainly not, Lord!” (Acts 10:14)

The vision is repeated two more times, so it is very clear to Peter that God is revealing something of great importance.6 Peter had no idea at that moment what the dream meant, or how it was to be applied, but that would soon become clear.

Cornelius’ Messengers Arrive From Caesarea
Acts 10:17-23

17 Now while Peter was puzzling over what the vision he had seen could signify, the men sent by Cornelius had learned where Simon’s house was and approached the gate. 18 They called out to ask if Simon, known as Peter, was staying there as a guest. 19 While Peter was still thinking seriously about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look! Three men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go down, and accompany them without hesitation, because I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “Here I am, the person you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius the centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man, well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to summon you to his house and to hear a message from you.” 23 So Peter invited them in and entertained them as guests. On the next day he got up and set out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him (Acts 10:17-23).

You can imagine Peter’s bewilderment as a result of his noontime vision. What did it mean? What was he supposed to do about it? Just then the messengers from Cornelius arrived at the door of Simon the tanner’s home. These men had been told to go to Joppa and find a man named Simon Peter, who was staying at the home of a tanner named Simon, whose house was by the sea. This was not the same as being given an address, which meant that the messengers had to stop and ask for directions7 (something men are not found doing very often). I believe this detail is supplied because it indicates that these Gentile messengers did not arrive secretly. They must have asked directions on more than one occasion, drawing attention to themselves and to their arrival. Add to this the fact that they stood outside Simon’s house, calling out to ask if this was where Simon Peter was staying. This had to attract a good deal of attention and arouse considerable curiosity.

It was at this moment that the Spirit gave Peter some very clear instruction. He informed Peter that three men were looking for him and told him to go downstairs and accompany them without hesitation, because He had sent them. So far as we are told, the Spirit did not mention that these three men were Gentiles, though this would become apparent all too soon. Peter went downstairs and identified himself and then asked the reason for their coming. They told Peter about Cornelius and then repeated the story of how the angel had instructed Cornelius to send for him because he had a message for them.

Peter invited these men into the house where they spent the night (and no doubt were also fed). I cannot help but think that it was a whole lot easier for Peter to invite these men into Simon’s home in Joppa than it would have been to invite these Gentiles into a Jewish home in Jerusalem. The fact that Peter was able to stay with a tanner, an occupation that may well have rendered him unclean, may have indicated that Peter had already become less meticulous about some of the Jewish distinctions between clean and unclean.

Peter Gets the Message
Acts 10:24-35

24 The following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting anxiously for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 So when Peter came in, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. 26 But Peter helped him up, saying, “Stand up. I too am a mere mortal.” 27 Peter continued talking with him as he went in, and he found many people gathered together. 28 He said to them, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, yet God has shown me that I should call no person defiled or ritually unclean. 29 Therefore when you sent for me, I came without any objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” 30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock in the afternoon, I was praying in my house, and suddenly a man in shining clothing stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your acts of charity have been remembered before God. 32 Therefore send to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter. This man is staying as a guest in the house of Simon the tanner, by the sea.’ 33 Therefore I sent for you at once, and you were kind enough to come. So now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to say to us.” 34 Then Peter started speaking: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him (Acts 10:24-35).

When the centurion pled with Jesus to heal his servant (Luke 7:1-10), Jesus set out on his way to this man’s home. When Jesus was not far from his house, the centurion sent some of his servants to persuade Jesus not to come any further, but simply to heal his servant from a distance. Now why would anyone not want Jesus to be a guest in their home? The centurion knew all too well that Jews did not defile themselves by entering a Gentile home (compare John 18:28), so he made it easy for Jesus not to come any further. And in so doing, he demonstrated his great faith. He believed that Jesus could heal from a distance, because of His great authority.

Cornelius was well aware of this matter of defilement as well, but he had been divinely instructed to invite Peter to his home. It was thus with a great sense of expectation that Cornelius waited for Peter’s arrival, along with those friends and relatives he had summoned as well. When Peter arrived, Cornelius prostrated himself at the feet of Peter. Most translations indicate that Cornelius “worshipped” Peter. I am inclined to agree with the NIV, which says that he “fell at his feet in reverence.” I don’t believe that Cornelius worshipped Peter as though he were God. I think he showed reverence for Peter as God’s spokesman, as an apostle.

I do find Peter’s response to this reverential response most informative. Peter refuses to receive worship, and rightly so. When Paul healed the lame man at Lystra, the people attempted to worship him, along with Barnabas. These two apostles fervently sought to put an end to such worship (see Acts 14:8-18). Herod received worship and seemed to enjoy it, and he died a terrible death as a result (Acts 12:20-23). Peter made it clear to Cornelius that he was but a mere man, and as such, Cornelius’ act of reverence was not only uncalled for, but inappropriate. Those who would give men too much glory and reverence should listen carefully to the words of Peter.

Going inside the house, Peter discovered that many had gathered in anticipation of his arrival. Peter began by explaining how it was that he was divinely directed to enter this Gentile home, in spite of his predisposition not to do so. Peter’s words are both interesting and significant:

28 He said to them, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, yet God has shown me that I should call no person defiled or ritually unclean. 29 Therefore when you sent for me, I came without any objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” (Acts 10:28-29)

I find it interesting that Peter believes it is unlawful for him to associate with or visit a Gentile (verse 28). As I read these words, I asked myself this question: “Just where does it say in the Old Testament Law that a Jew cannot associate with a Gentile by entering his home?” I then came upon this statement by A. T. Robertson:

But there is no O.T. regulation forbidding such social contact with Gentiles, though the rabbis had added it and had made it binding by custom. There is nothing more binding on the average person than social custom.8

I am therefore inclined to say that having social contact with a Gentile was not contrary to Old Testament law, but rather was a violation of Jewish tradition. One might be defiled by eating foods that were unclean, but we must remember that our Lord Jesus nullified these food laws:

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand. 15 There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him.” 17 Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” ( This means all foods are clean.) 20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 23 All these evils come from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:14-23, emphasis mine).

Another thing that fascinates me is that Peter is now somehow able to grasp not only the principle, but also its application. I am reminded of the “old Peter” we find in Matthew. In chapter 14, Jesus feeds the 5,000, even though the disciples didn’t see how it was possible. In chapter 15, the disciples (which surely included Peter) could not seem to figure out how God could feed the 4,000, even after the feeding of the 5,000. In chapter 16, Jesus warned of the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6), and all the disciples could think about was literal bread. Only the Canaanite woman understood that bread was a symbol, and she grasped the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ words (Matthew 15:21-28).

Now, Peter seems able to leap beyond the literal message conveyed in his dream (don’t call food unclean that God has made clean) to the deeper meaning – don’t call people unclean whom God has made clean:

He said to them, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, yet God has shown me that I should call no person defiled or ritually unclean” (Acts 10:28).

But it went even beyond this. Peter was just now beginning to understand that God does not show partiality among those whom He saves:

34 Then Peter started speaking: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him (Acts 10:34-35).

God broke down the old barriers that separated Jews and Gentiles, making one new man, one new entity, the church, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles. This was accomplished through the saving work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary:

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh – who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands – 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).

This truth was a mystery, revealed but not understood by Old Testament saints; it was a mystery God chose to unveil through the ministry of Paul and others:

1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that by revelation the divine secret was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly. 4 When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. 5 Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. 7 I became a servant of this gospel according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the exercise of his power. 8 To me – less than the least of all the saints – this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan – a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. 10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness (Ephesians 3:1-12).

Peter now asks why Cornelius has sent for him. Cornelius repeats the story of how he received instructions from an angel to summon Peter. He tells Peter that they now eagerly await the word which he was commanded to bring to them. Peter begins his message by telling them what God has just taught him: God does not show partiality, but He saves both Jews and Gentiles by grace, through faith in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

Conclusion

I have chosen to conclude this lesson here, because the focus has been on Peter and Cornelius. In the verses that follow, Peter will proclaim the gospel, Cornelius and those gathered will believe, the Spirit will baptize them, and then Peter’s Jewish colleagues in Jerusalem will object. That is another lesson. But for now, let us conclude by focusing on the lessons that we should learn from our text.

First, we should observe from our text that it is God who prepares and changes men’s hearts. In Acts 9, God prepared Saul for conversion in some rather dramatic ways. He also prepared the heart of Ananias for the task He had for him. Objections were divinely overcome; they were not set aside by debate or human efforts. In our text, we see God’s preparation of both Peter (the reluctant believer) and Cornelius. Peter was reluctant to associate with Gentiles, much less to take the gospel to them. God’s preparatory work in Peter’s heart was done just as the messengers sent by Cornelius arrived. Cornelius was reluctant to ask a Jew to enter his house (just as the centurion in Luke 7:1-10 had been), but God prepared him to obey and send for Peter, just as He prepared all in his house to believe the gospel Peter would proclaim.

Our friend, Colin McDougall of Church of the Open Door, has rightly contended that we need to spend much more time in prayer for evangelism, asking God to prepare those for the gospel whom He will send our way. We should ask God to prepare our hearts so that we might perceive open hearts and proclaim Jesus. But we should also ask God to work in the hearts of those to whom we desire to speak. Prepared hearts respond to God’s Word.

Note, too, the perfection of God’s timing in preparing hearts. God’s perfect timing is evident in the conversion of the Ethiopian in chapter 8, of Saul in chapter 9, and of Cornelius and his guests in chapter 10. God’s timing is frequently not ours, but His timing is perfect. When He sets out to do something, He prepares the way for it to happen, and He orchestrates every detail perfectly. Have you questioned God’s timing, or God’s ability to save? If so, I suggest that you meditate on these conversion accounts in Acts.

Second, we should learn that prayer is a two-way conversation. The Book of Acts has great lessons for us on the subject of prayer. When men and women pray in Acts, great things happen. What I see in our text is that God speaks to men when they are in prayer. Prayer is not just men and women speaking to God; prayer is God speaking to those who are listening to Him when they pray. In chapter 9, Paul’s vision is apparently associated with Paul’s prayer (see Acts 9:11-12). In chapter 10, Cornelius was in prayer when God spoke to him about sending for Peter.9 Many of us spend all of our time talking to God, rather than listening for God to speak to us in some way. In my life, this is usually through thoughts that come to my mind. Sometimes it is insight into a passage that I’m thinking about, or praying about. Sometimes it is a thought about how to respond to a difficult situation. I have found that having a pencil and paper nearby is helpful when praying. Prayer is a two-way conversation.

Third, we should observe that Peter has become a fulfilled Jew. Consider how the argument of our text develops. First, we read about how God used Peter to heal Aeneas (Acts 9:32-35), and there is the account of the raising of Dorcas, who had died (Acts 9:35-43). In these two accounts, we see Peter performing miracles that remind us of miracles Jesus had performed. We even find a similarity in the words Peter employed and those Jesus used. In other words, Peter is acting and talking like Jesus.

Years ago, I was preaching a sermon, and I said the word “God.” As this word came out of my mouth, I realized that I had pronounced it just like one of my heroes, Dr. S. Lewis Johnson. Without even thinking about it, I had imitated Dr. Johnson. That is a compliment to Dr. Johnson. In our text, Peter was beginning to act and to talk like Jesus. This is exactly the way it should be.

It is not until Acts chapter 10, however, that Peter really begins to think like Jesus. Peter and his fellow-apostles had some distorted ideas about the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. He could only think of Gentiles coming to faith by becoming Jews – that is, they could only enter into the blessings of God’s covenant by converting to Judaism as a proselyte. When Jesus commenced His earthly ministry, He made it very clear that He had come to save both Jews and Gentiles:

21 Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.” 22 All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” 23 Jesus said to them, “No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’” 24 And he added, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great famine over all the land. 26 Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way (Luke 4:21-30).

When Jesus healed the centurion’s servant, He marveled at this man’s faith and made it very clear that many like Cornelius would enter into the kingdom of heaven, while many Jews would not:

10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! 11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour (Matthew 8:10-13).

It is not until Peter’s vision and his encounter with Cornelius that this apostle finally began to grasp what God had purposed from eternity to accomplish through the church. The Abrahamic Covenant had been distorted and abused by many of the Jews for centuries. Listen, once again, to what God promised Abram:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3, NASB).

Abraham and his sons were not only to receive God’s blessing; they were to become a source of blessing to the world. Those who blessed him would be blessed; those who cursed him God would curse. Abraham’s seed would become a blessing to the world. His “seed,” according to Paul was the Lord Jesus, Israel’s Messiah:

15 Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ (Galatians 3:15-16).

God’s promised blessings came through Abraham’s “seed,” the Lord Jesus. Those who bless Him (believe in His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary) will be blessed; those who curse Him (by rejecting His saving work at Calvary) will be cursed.

Being a son of Abraham is not about one’s physical ancestry; it is about one’s relationship to Jesus, the Messiah, by faith:

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel, 7 nor are all the children Abraham’s true descendants; rather “through Isaac will your descendants be counted.” 8 This means it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God; rather, the children of promise are counted as descendants. 9 For this is what the promise declared: “About a year from now I will return and Sarah will have a son” (Romans 9:6-9).

14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants – not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed – the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do (Romans 4:14-17).

As I understand the Scriptures, a “fulfilled Jew” is not merely a Jew who has come to trust in Jesus at the Messiah; a “fulfilled Jew” is a Jew who has trusted in Jesus as the Promised Messiah, and who is now sharing the good news with Jews and Gentiles alike. God would not allow Peter and his Jewish colleagues to restrict the gospel to Jews alone. Thanks to Cornelius, Peter became a completed Jew. Praise God.

Let me quickly add that Gentiles are “fulfilled” in a similar way. They are fulfilled by being fruitful. They not only accept the gospel for themselves, but they seek to share it with all who are lost, Jews and Gentiles alike.

If salvation is not by works, but is rather a result of God’s grace, received by faith alone, then no one gets to heaven based upon their race, or upon their worthiness. Everyone who gets to heaven gets there by God’s grace. Thus, God does not show favoritism to Jews. He saves Jews and Gentiles alike, by faith. Therefore Peter has no grounds for considering Gentiles to be unclean and unworthy of salvation because all men, Jew or Gentile, are sinful and unworthy, and thus all those who are saved are saved by grace, apart from any merit of their own:

9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10 just as it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one, 11 there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.” 13 “Their throats are open graves, they deceive with their tongues, the poison of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 ruin and misery are in their paths, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded! By what principle? Of works? No, but by the principle of faith! 28 For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too! 30 Since God is one, he will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith (Romans 3:9-30).

What Peter does in our text in the Book of Acts is a watershed event. Its importance can hardly be overemphasized. It opens the door to a whole new era – one might even say a whole new dispensation. Remember our Lord’s response to Peter’s great confession:

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven” (Matthew 16:15-19).

Our Lord’s response to Peter’s great confession was a promise to give Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Scholars are not entirely agreed as to what this means, but many contend that this is perhaps Peter’s most important use of the “keys” our Lord promised him. In Acts 2, it was Peter who declared that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Peter held his Jewish audience responsible for the death of Jesus and declared that Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that all who believed in Him would be saved. Thus, Peter “opened the door” for the Jews who had rejected Jesus. Next, Peter opened the door for the Samaritans who had trusted in Jesus as their Messiah (Acts 8:14-25). Now, at last, Peter has opened the door of salvation for Gentiles who believe in Jesus. Gentiles no longer need to become Jewish proselytes to enjoy fellowship with God, or with their Jewish fellow believers.

And so I will end with this question, “Have you received the gift of salvation by faith in Jesus that God has offered to Jews and Gentiles alike, without favoritism or partiality?” This is a great truth, but it will do you no good unless you have received God’s offer of salvation by trusting in His death, burial, and resurrection.


1

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 15 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on February 26, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.

3 Caesarea is north and west of the city of Jerusalem, on the Mediterranean coast. Joppa is approximately 35 miles south of Caesarea, still on the Mediterranean coast. Lydda is inland, about 11 miles southeast of Joppa.

4 See also Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:3-12.

5 See also Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 8:49-56.

6 I am reminded of Pharaoh’s two-fold dream and Joseph’s grasp of what this repetition meant: “The dream was repeated to Pharaoh because the matter has been decreed by God, and God will make it happen soon” (Genesis 41:32).

7 Our text indicates the messengers “had learned where Simon’s house was . . .” (verse 17). I prefer the NASB rendering: “. . . the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house. . . .”

8 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931). Electronic version, as part of BibleWorks.

9 We know that Cornelius was a man of prayer (Acts 10:4, 31). We also know that his vision of the angel took place at three o’clock in the afternoon (Acts 10:3). This was the normal afternoon time of prayer (Acts 3:1).

Related Topics: Spiritual Life