9:43 So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.
The Apostle Peter has become the person of interest in chapter 9 of Acts. He had been traveling in the province of Judea, westward from Jerusalem, visiting small church groups that had recently formed after the big church in Jerusalem was viciously attacked, causing the believers to scatter everywhere.
One of the towns that is singled out is Lydda. There, Peter came in contact with a man who, for eight years, had been bed-ridden. Peter healed the man. A revival broke out in the town. Next, believers over on the sea-coast to the west heard that Peter was nearby and sent a request for him to come to Joppa. He agreed and went. Once there he discovered that the small church was in mourning over the loss of their beloved Tabitha (also known as Dorcas).
Peter raised her back to life. Another revival spread through the town of Joppa.
The small church in Joppa is growing rapidly. It was very convenient for them to have ‘an apostle’ right there to help them get set up properly.
As we read at the end of chapter 9, So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner. 9:43
How long is ‘many days’? Your guess is as good as mine, but maybe we are thinking months?
During this time, God is working specifically with a person in the town of Caesarea.
Let’s read about it. 10:1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.
From this description, we do not know very much, really. We discover that he is a non-Jew, a gentile. We discover he is a good person. We discover that he was generous toward others' needs, that he ‘prayed’ a lot and that all of the ones living in his household believed as he did.
Well, that is quite a bit, isn’t it? But what we really might want to know is, to which God is he praying? Has he heard of the God of the Jews? And, assuming that he had, is he a child of God or not? Prior to Jesus dying on the cross, Jews became children of God through faith, that is, through believing in the One God, Jehovah, and believing in the coming Messiah.
Had Cornelius heard of Jehovah? Had he heard the Jewish teaching of the coming Messiah? Actually that is very likely. The Jews had a biblical practice of ‘outreach’ to the gentiles. The process was called proselytizing. This process involved allowing gentiles to attend certain synagogues in order to learn more of the Jewish faith. Another method involved some kind of an outreach program. Jesus hints at it in the following verse.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Matthew 23:15
So according to Jesus, there was some travel and outreach going on. This would be their ‘evangelism’ so to speak. Jesus’ words regarding this are pretty harsh. He is not condemning their efforts. He is making it clear that to become a convert, a child of God, involves faith. The Jews that Jesus was criticizing, the Pharisees, emphasized adopting Jewish rules and practices to become a Jew. Faith was being left out entirely. It had become all about works.
Cornelius likely was a believer in God. A man of faith. But God was about to do something huge in his life, and this thing would change the focus and history of the church.
We read on, 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.
The time was 3 in the afternoon. Very likely Cornelius had been praying when he was totally surprised by the appearance of an angel.
We understand from this verse that God has been very interested in Cornelius' spiritual life.
From what we already know about God’s pattern and will for the lives of all believers, we know what needs to come next. We know that God has moved on from reaching the world via Judaism, to reaching the world through his church. Cornelius needs to become a baptized believer and become part of a local church.
But therein is a huge problem. God’s church, up to that point, was made up mainly of converted Jews. These early disciples had no problem with all the teachings of Moses. The main thing that the disciples had against the other Jews is that they did recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior. All the rest of Judaism had not been called into question … therefore the early Christians still believed all of it.
What kind of things in particular might need looking at? Well, they would have to relook at which things taught by Moses were all ‘shadows’. Shadows represented something real which was to come. And the ‘real’ that came and replaced all the shadows, was Jesus.
At this point in the history of the church, the Christians with Jewish background …( basically all of them), had had no reason to examine or reexamine shadows. They would in time. And what is about to happen to Peter is exactly that. Peter is going to be faced with examining a practice … realize it was a shadow … and then realize what it now means, now that Christ has come.
Realizing what was only a shadow and not a doctrine would be intensely traumatic to Peter and to the rest of the Apostles as well.
At this point in our scripture we are seeing God working on both ends at once. He is speaking to Cornelius as He says, 5 “Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 “He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.”
These words are straightforward. The surprised Cornelius complies without any hesitation. 7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually.
8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Caesarea to Joppa was about 45 miles. That is one good day’s walk.
But now God has to prepare Peter for doing the impossible.
9 ¶ The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.
10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance
11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth.
12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.
13 And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
As we have just read Peter is upstairs praying and waiting to be called down to lunch. And he has a bad dream. This is an unbelievably bad nightmare. He was hungry, but to ‘dream’ about butchering anything ‘unclean’? He would rather starve first. And he says so!
14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”
15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”
Can you imagine the questions racing through Peter’s mind? You ‘cleaned’ these animals? How? They don’t look any different than any that I have seen before. When did you clean them, just now?
There were no answers, but 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.
Three times. This would have been very interesting for Peter. Whether God was going along with Jewish superstition about the number 3, or whether God is basing this on His own words, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established”, the ‘3’ aspect would hit home for him. He was left sitting there deep in thought.
Peter was an avid ‘hand-washer’. He stayed away from germs if at all possible. And all gentiles were riddled with germs. They were filthy in their person. The Rabbis had taught them, “Don’t even touch one of them. If you do, you must scrub down and… you yourself cannot approach God for a whole day.” And gentiles were filthy in their language and behavior. The foods they ate were totally forbidden by Jews.
Around and around his thoughts were spinning. And we read, 17 Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. 18 And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.
Perfect timing. The men arrive at noon. They must have started out the day before and had to ‘take a motel’ somewhere.
19 ¶ While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you.
20 “Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”
Peter goes downstairs, and meets three filthy gentiles … right after being told by God “Don’t call something that I have cleaned … unclean!”
21 Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?”
22 And they said, “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.”
The request is somewhat general. Words. What words? I am sure that Peter’s mind was in a bit of turmoil. First the vision of a huge sack full of unclean animals that he is told, God has ‘cleaned’. And that is in direct connection with being told by God that three men are knocking on the door. God said he was to go with them … no questions asked.
23 Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
Peter was given the keys to the kingdom. What does this mean? What is the kingdom of God? It can be a bit confusing. In the Lord’s prayer we say, Thy kingdom come. For what are we asking? Actually there are two aspects to the kingdom of God. One aspect is the kingdom that will take authority over all the nations of the earth and will be ruled by Jesus Himself.
This happens at the ‘blowing’ of the seventh and final trumpet at the end of the tribulation period. Re 11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” This would be the beginning of the millennial kingdom.
In heaven, this sets off a time of praise and rejoicing. Re Rev 11:17 saying: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
This aspect of the kingdom affects everyone on earth and the effects are felt literally and physically.
The kingdom, with Jesus ruling over the nations of the earth is not the aspect of the kingdom that is alluded to in the Lord’s prayer..
The spiritual aspect of the kingdom of God, is referred to as the kingdom of light. The kingdom of Satan is called the kingdom of darkness. The church is the kingdom of light. It is our job to go into the kingdom of darkness, covertly as it were, and make the citizens of the kingdom of darkness aware that they are condemned unless they will heed your warning and get out of there.
At one point it was the nation of Israel who was known as God’s kingdom of light. The privilege and responsibility of bearing the light to those in darkness was taken from the Jews and given to the church … by Jesus himself.
Mt 21:43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.
The church is that ‘nation’ that now carries the commission of breaking into the kingdom of darkness and bringing some of them to Jesus, the light, and incorporating them into his kingdom, the church.
So, what does this say about the theory that we, the church, have been grafted into Israel? This entirely refutes it. The kingdom was torn out of the hands of the Jews and given to the church that Jesus founded during his personal ministry.
Put another way, in Romans Paul states that Israel, as branches, were broken off. And gentiles believers, as branches, were grafted in. Not grafted into Israel …, they are lying scattered on the ground. But the church was grafted into the kingdom authority that the Jews once had … and that authority is Jesus. Jesus is the ‘kingdom authority’, and the Jews had it … and then lost it. The kingdom authority is now given to the church. And Peter held the keys.
Mt 16:19 “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
So Peter uses the keys and Cornelius, his friends, and now all gentiles, can become a part of the kingdom of light, not by becoming a Jew, but by becoming a part of the kingdom of light, the church.
God has shown Peter that in the new kingdom of light there is no difference between any of the races. When people of any race come to God for forgiveness of their sin … they are adopted into the kingdom of light.
For Peter this was mind boggling. Peter has not yet learned that Christ abolished Moses’ law by dying on the cross and fulfilling all of the shadows. He had still been trying to live under the law of Moses, even though he had been with Christ for over three years.
Earlier we read that Peter was used to heal Aneaus from a six year period of confinement in bed. Then we read about Peter raising Tabitha back to life. That was an even bigger miracle. But now Peter has used ‘the key’ to open the door for gentile believers to be part of the kingdom of light. This is even bigger. This is more than physical … it is eternal in its effect on mankind.
Aeneas might enjoy good health until the end of his days. Tabitha would experience death a second time. But the effects of Peter opening the door to the Gentiles will ripple around the world and bring countless people into an eternal relationship with Jesus.
The group of three men from Caesarea and several men from the Joppa church and Peter set out the next morning.
24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends.
25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.
This gives us some idea of the heart of Cornelius. He feels so incredibly honored to have been spoken to by God, and have God arrange for one of His special Jewish servants to make this out-of-the-way trip.
Peter quickly makes a statement that shows he is starting to get the picture. His statement is saying, Jews are not on a pedestal with God. He is saying it, but it will take some time for this to totally sink in.
26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.”
As Peter begins to share ‘words’ with the group, he starts out by sharing what he is just learning.
27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together.
28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
29 “Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”
Cornelius promptly answers Peter. 30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,
31 “and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God.
32 ‘Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’
33 “So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”
And here is what Peter has just learned.
34 ¶ Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.
35 “But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.
Peter has no idea what Cornelius knows concerning Christ, the gospel … the giving of the Spirit to Jewish Christians on the Pentecost, so he starts out by sharing the gospel story.
36 “The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ — He is Lord of all —
37 “that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached:
38 “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
39 “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.
40 “Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 “not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
42 “And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.
43 “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
There it is! The whole gospel message in just a few words. And he ends the ‘Jesus story’ by giving a short invitation …whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
What is the result of this short talk? Do people come forward for salvation? Not quite.
44 ¶ While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.
45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
Peter, and those who had accompanied him from Joppa were ‘astonished’. What prompted this amazement? The fact that Gentiles could be saved? That is not what the scripture indicates. We read that they were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been given to gentiles.
What just took place was ‘Pentecost Part Three’. But from the sounds of things, neither Peter nor his friends expected this. We might wonder about that. After all, Jesus had said, You shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
They had been a part of Pentecost, Stage one. That was for the believing Jews of Jerusalem and Judea. They had been a part of Pentecost, Stage two. That was inclusion into the church of Samaritans … half Jews. Why not expect the inclusion of the Gentiles?
I don’t have Peter here to answer that, so I will answer for him. It appears that including the untouchable, unclean gentiles was something too big to get his mind around. Here he was, preaching to the gentile group, believing that somehow God has orchestrated this whole thing … but to see them on EQUAL FOOTING with the rest of the church?!
Peter has been obedient. He has witnessed the work of God on behalf of the gentiles. He will just have to ‘go with it’.
46b …Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
What wonderful news! Bigger and more important than the healing Aeneas, bigger than raising Tabitha back to life. The church of the Lord Jesus, from that point onward, has been, and is, made up of all races of people. We will have much more to say about that in a coming chapter. And Peter will have more to say about this when he gets back home to Jerusalem. He will have to convince the other apostles that he did nothing wrong by baptizing gentile people.