The Unexpected. (Acts 11:1-18)

My last blog covered the sermon, recorded in Acts 2, that Peter preached after the Holy Spirit had fallen on the one hundred and twenty, resulting in over three thousand being saved on that day, and the beginning of the growth of the church. Acts 2: 37 to 39 records:

Now when they (the Jews visiting Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost) heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself”

Peter was in for a bigger surprise than he expected, he clearly did not grasp the immensity of God’s plan! We join him again in Jerusalem, where he returned to report back to the church of an unexpected and astounding occurrence in Caesarea. Peter had been staying in Joppa, a town on the Mediterranean coast, sharing the good news of Jesus with the local Jews. Meanwhile in Caesarea, another town about 30 miles up the coast, lived a God-fearing Roman soldier named Cornelius, ie a Gentile! While he was praying he had a vision of an angel who told him to send to Joppa for one Simon who was called Peter, who was lodging with Simon, a tanner who lived by the sea.

Cornelius’ servants set off and duly found the house – I doubt they had much trouble as the tanner’s pit would have stunk, maybe that is why he lived by the sea, in the hope the sea breezes would waft away some of the stink!

As they approached the city of Joppa Peter himself fell into a trance and had a vision (there is lots of Holy Spirit activity in this story!) He was waiting for something to eat as he was hungry, but in his trance, saw something like a sheet being lowered. It was full of creatures that God had forbidden Jews to eat. Nevertheless Peter heard the voice of the Lord telling him to kill and eat the creatures. Peter as a good Jew said, “By no means Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean”.  And the Lord replied, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This was repeated twice more – the Lord knew Peter really needed this apparent change of tack emphasised and confirmed!

While Peter was trying to work out what all this meant Cornelius’ servants arrived. The Holy Spirit told him clearly to go with them, which he did, even though it was against Jewish law for him to visit Gentiles. He preached the good news of Jesus to Cornelius and his household – even whilst he was still speaking the Holy Spirit fell on them all, and they spoke in tongues and praised God! All this is recounted in Acts 10.

In Acts 11 we find Peter countering criticism from the church in Jerusalem for associating with unclean Gentiles, by retelling the story of how God told him not to call unclean what God had made clean. It is recorded in Acts 11:15 – 17 that Peter told them,

“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 baptised with water, but you will be baptised 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?”

The church leaders’ response was “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life”.

And I am so grateful for that! I am so grateful that I am included amongst “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself”, and that offer is open to people of every nation and tribe and tongue. Peter and the other Jews thought this was a change of tack, but in fact this had always been God’s plan. When He called Abram He told him that “...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3). In Isaiah 56: 7 it is recorded that the Lord says “…for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” , it is a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament if we have eyes to see it. God’s commission for Paul, as revealed to Ananias, was that he was a chosen instrument to carry God’s name before the Gentiles.

As I write this I am challenged by the thought that maybe there are others whom I consider unclean, and beyond God’s reach – the homeless, abusers, adulterers, bullies, those who hurt those whom we love, people who do not make any effort – maybe you could add your own “unclean” people to this list.

The truth is that we are all, Jew and Gentile alike, unclean until we let God make us clean, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor. 6:11b

Thank you Father God, thank you Jesus, thank you Holy Spirit!