When we left off in Acts 9, Peter had been called to Joppa, where he raised a woman from the dead.
The last verse of chapter nine tells us that Peter was staying with a tanner named Simon. A tanner is a guy who makes animal hides into leather. They are constantly dealing with dead animals, as well as dung or brains, which are used to rub the tannin into penetrating the leather. As such, they are always "unclean" in the eyes of the Jews, and are generally despised. The law dictated that a tanner must perform his work a certain distance from the city.
Peter was following was was told to him by Jesus:
Matt. 10:11-13 "And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. As you enter the house, give it your greeting. If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace."
Peter was reaching out to Jews at every level of society.
About 32 miles north of Peter, in the city of Caesarea, there was a Roman centurion. He wasn't a Jew, but he worshipped the God of the Jews. Although Jews hated the Roman occupiers, he prayed to God and gave charitable money to Jews.
Cornelius received a vision of an angel who told him to send men to get Peter in Joppa.
The next day at noon, Peter was praying and got pretty hungry. While lunch was being made, Peter also had a vision. This one was of a sheet filled with every kind of animal, and God told him to kill and eat. Peter, being an observant Jew, saw that there were unclean animals, and refused. He had never knowingly broken the dietary rules in the Law of Moses. But God told Peter that He'd cleansed all animals to eat.
When had this happened? Back in Mark 7, Jesus said,
Mark 7:18-19 "...Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
But still, God had to go through this routine with Peter three times. And still he didn't understand what was going on.
Peter was still up on the roof trying to figure out what this vision meant when Cornelius' three men showed up at the house.
The Lord told Peter what was happening and that he needed to go downstairs. The message the men gave was the same thing the Lord had already told him: Cornelius was calling Peter to give a message.
God was confirming the visions from both ends. Establishing a matter with two or three witnesses is often essential for insuring that you're really hearing from God.
Now, we've talked about the Jews despising tanners and Roman soldiers. But more than anything, Jews hated Gentiles. And even the Jewish people who'd become Christians had only ventured as far as preaching to Hellenized Jews and the Samaritans.
But now, God was directing Peter to a Gentile's house. And many Gentiles were inside. And they said, "We're here to listen to all that God has told you."
So many of us long for opportunities to share the gospel. For having just the right "opening line" to get a chance to evangelize. Imagine a roomful of people saying, "Tell us everything God has shown you!"
Peter starts out by saying that they are all eligible to receive the grace of God. He told them about Jesus' life and death and resurrection. He told them that people can only be forgiven through faith in Him.
So often we're afraid we don't know enough to witness. This is a very simple message that someone with only rudimentary knowledge of the gospel could communicate.
The people believed what Peter was saying. And as they had faith, God not only sealed them with the Spirit, but baptized them with the Spirit as well. We talked about the difference between these two works in our study of chapter two. It is quite possible that this is why Luke uses the word "fell" ("ep-ee-PIP-to," "to fall upon") to describe this, rather than "come upon" (Acts 1:8), "filled" (Acts 2:4; 4:31; 9:17), "poured forth" (Acts 2:17), "received the gift" (Acts 2:38), or "received" (Acts 8:17).
When the Spirit fell upon them, the gift of the Spirit was poured out on them. They began to speak in tongues. As we discussed in our study of chapter two, tongues are spoken to God, not man (1Cor. 14:2). And that's what they're doing - exalting God.
In the book of Acts, new believers are frequently mentioned as being baptized right after they come to faith (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12; 8:38; 9:18).
Word of Gentile salvation spread throughout the churches. And when Peter went back to Jerusalem, he was immediately hassled by some Christians who believed that strict adherence to the Law was required.
Acts 11:4 But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence...
Peter had already been in at least two situations where he was defending his actions to the Jewish council. He had to say,
Acts 4:19-20 ..."Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 5:29 ..."We must obey God rather than men."
But now, he's having to defend his actions to other Christians.
What do you do when your Christian actions are attacked by other Christians? All you can do is explain in orderly sequence how God directed you down this path. In this case, when the opposers realized that it was clearly God Who'd caused this, all they could do was quiet down and give praise.
It's not always that easy, and this certainly will not be the last we hear about the controversy surrounding Gentiles being saved right where they're at...