The Church’s Disquiet at Peter’s Action
11:1-3 – Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received God’s message. So when Peter next visited Jerusalem the circumcision-party were full of criticism, saying to him, “You actually went in and shared a meal with uncircumcised men!”
11:4 – But Peter began to explain how the situation had actually arisen.
11:5-17 – “I was in the city of Joppa praying,” he said, “and while completely unconscious of my surroundings I saw a vision – something like a great sheet coming down towards me, let down from heaven by its four corners. It came right down to me and when I looked at it closely I saw animals and wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Never, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has ever passed my lips.’ But the voice from Heaven spoke a second time and said, ‘You must not call what God has cleansed common.’ This happened three times, and then the whole thing was drawn up again into heaven. The extraordinary thing is that at that very moment three men arrived at the house where we were staying, sent to me personally from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to go with these men without any misgiving. And these six of our brothers accompanied me and we went into the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, surnamed Peter. He will give you a message which will save both you and your whole household.’ While I was beginning to tell them this message the Holy spirit fell upon them just as on us at the beginning. There came into my mind the words of our Lord when he said, ‘John indeed baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them exactly the same gift as he gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could hinder the working of God?”
The Flexibility of the Young Church
11:18 – When they heard this they had no further objection to raise. And they praised God, saying, “Then obviously God has given to the Gentiles as well the gift of repentance which leads to life.”
Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit
While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners. Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on gentiles too, since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God. Peter himself then said, ‘Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ He then gave orders for them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterwards they begged him to stay on for some days.
Then Peter addressed them, ‘I now really understand’, he said, ‘that God has no favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. ‘God sent his word to the people of Israel, and it was to them that the good news of peace was brought by Jesus Christ — he is the Lord of all. You know what happened all over Judaea, how Jesus of Nazareth began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. Now we are witnesses to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet on the third day God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses that God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses — we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to bear witness that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.’
God speaks to a good-living Gentile
10:1-3 – There was a man in Caesarea by the name of Cornelius, a centurion in what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a deeply religious man who reverenced God, as did all his household. He made many charitable gifts to the people and was a real man of prayer. About three o’clock one afternoon he saw perfectly clearly in a dream an angel of God coming into his room, approaching him, and saying, “Cornelius!”
10:4a – He stared at the angel in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?”
10:4b-6 – The angel replied, “Your prayers and your deeds of charity have gone up to Heaven and are remembered before God. Now send men to Joppa for a man called Simon, who is also known as Peter. He is staying as a guest with another Simon, a tanner, whose house is down by the sea.”
10:7-8 – When the angel who had spoken to him had gone, Cornelius called out for two of his house-servants and a devout soldier, who was one of his personal attendants. He told them the whole story and then sent them off to Joppa.
Peter’s startling vision
10:9-13 – Next day, while these men were still on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up about mid-day on to the flat roof of the house to pray. He became very hungry and longed for something to eat. But while the meal was being prepared he fell into a trance and saw the heavens open and something like a great sheet descending upon the earth, let down by its four corners. In it were all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. Then came a voice which said to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”
10:14 – But Peter said, “Never, Lord! For not once in my life have I ever eaten anything common or unclean.”
10:15 – Then the voice spoke to him a second time, “You must not call what God has cleansed common.”
10:16 – This happened three times, and then the thing was gone, taken back into heaven.
The meaning of the vision becomes apparent
10:17-20 – While Peter was still puzzling about the meaning of the vision which he had just seen, the men sent by Cornelius had arrived asking for the house of Simon. They were in fact standing at the very doorway of the house calling out to enquire if Simon, surnamed Peter, were lodging there. Peter was still thinking deeply about the vision when the Spirit said to him, “Three men are here looking for you. Get up and go downstairs. Go with them without any misgivings, for I myself have sent them.”
10:21 – So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the man you are looking for; what brings you here?”
10:22 – They replied, “Cornelius the centurion, a good-living and God-fearing man, whose character can be vouched for by the whole Jewish people, was commanded by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to listen to your message.”
10:23a -Then Peter invited them in and entertained them.
Peter, obeying the Spirit, disobeys Jewish law
10:23b-26 – On the next day he got up and set out with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa, arriving at Caesarea on the day after that. Cornelius was expecting them and had invited together all his relations and intimate friends. As Peter entered the house Cornelius met him by falling on his knees before him and worshipping him. But Peter roused him with the words, “Stand up, I am a human being too!”
10:27-29 – Then Peter went right into the house in deep conversation with Cornelius and found that a large number of people had assembled. Then he spoke to them, “You all know that it is forbidden for a man who is a Jew to associate with, or even visit, a man of another nation. But God has shown me plainly that no man must be called ‘common’ or ‘unclean’. That is why I came here when I was sent for without raising any objection. Now I want to know what made you send for me.”
10:30-33 – Then Cornelius replied, “Three days ago, about this time, I was observing the afternoon hour of prayer in my house, when suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your charitable gifts have been remembered before God. Now you must send to Joppa and invite here a man called Simon whose surname is Peter. He is staying in the house of a tanner by the name of Simon, down by the sea.’ So I sent to you without delay and you have been most kind in coming. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything that the Lord has commanded you to say.”
When I saw the name Aeneas I started to cast about for potential symbolic resonances. I mean this may very well be just a story of Peter healing some dude in the town of Lydda. It likely happened often enough.
But Aeneas is the hero of Vergil’s Aeneid. Vergil wrote this epic poem between 29 and 19 BCE. The poem extolled the glory of Rome and gave Julius and Augustus Caesars divine ancestry. Aeneas and his band of stalwart’s who escaped the sack of Troy eventually settled in Latium and became the ancestor of Romulus and Remus who in turn founded Rome.
So in some sense it is Aeneas and Rome itself that lay paralyzed for eight years in Lydda. Lydda itself seems to be one of those places Jewish zealots and Roman centurions battled over — one decade revolutionaries hold it — the next Rome beats it into the sand and enslaves its peoples. Lydda was founded as a town by the tribe of Benjamin.
As for Tabitha, the gazelle, it hearkens back to Jesus raising of the daughter of Jairius. If I’m wrong about Aeneas — and I probably am — we can at least see this story affirming that Peter acted with Jesus authority — raising the daughter of a local official.
32-35 Peter went off on a mission to visit all the churches. In the course of his travels he arrived in Lydda and met with the believers there. He came across a man — his name was Aeneas — who had been in bed eight years paralyzed. Peter said, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed!” And he did it—jumped right out of bed. Everybody who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him walking around and woke up to the fact that God was alive and active among them.
36-37 Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, “Gazelle” in our language. She was well-known for doing good and helping out. During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died. Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.
38-40 Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over. Peter got right up and went with them. They took him into the room where Tabitha’s body was laid out. Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning. They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them. Peter put the widows all out of the room. He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body: “Tabitha, get up.”
40-41 She opened her eyes. When she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive.
Saul in Jerusalem
26 When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
27 But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.
28 So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
29 He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him.
30 When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
David made a very apt comparison between these two events, both described by Luke. They also provide types of the most common encounter between the unconverted and those who become Christians. My own experience falls neatly into place, although Jesus did not actually appear to me; I suppose today that is increasingly rare.
Nevertheless when the spirit of God becomes an over riding internal event in someone’s life that is well described as the appearence of Jesus. Both of these examples describe an initial state of confusion; mine did as well. Jesus pointed me to the Heavenly Father, not to himself; that came months (or years) later. Praise the Lord.
I wish everyone could take the freedom to describe his own life changing experience.
This story by Luke about Paul reminds me of Luke’s other story about meeting Jesus on the road.
And behold, that very day two of [the disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, [which is] about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things that had occurred. And while they were conversing and discussing together, Jesus Himself caught up with them and was already accompanying them. But their eyes were held, so that they did not recognize Him.
And He said to them, What is this discussion that you are exchanging ([a]throwing back and forth) between yourselves as you walk along? And they stood still, looking sad and downcast. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered Him, Do you alone dwell as a stranger in Jerusalem and not know the things that have occurred there in these days? And He said to them, What [kind of ] things? And they said to Him, About Jesus of Nazareth, Who was a Prophet mighty in work and word before God and all the people–And how our chief priests and rulers gave Him up to be sentenced to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He Who would redeem and set Israel free. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things occurred. And moreover, some women of our company astounded us and [b]drove us out of our senses. They were at the tomb early [in the morning] But did not find His body; and they returned saying that they had [even] seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive! So some of those [who were] with us went to the tomb and they found it just as the women had said, but Him they did not see. And [Jesus] said to them, O foolish ones [sluggish in mind, dull of perception] and slow of heart to believe (adhere to and trust in and rely on) everything that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary and [c]essentially fitting that the Christ (the Messiah) should suffer all these things before entering into His glory (His majesty and splendor)? Then beginning with Moses and [throughout] all the Prophets, He went on explaining and interpreting to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning and referring to Himself.
Then they drew near the village to which they were going, and He acted as if He would go further. But they urged and insisted, saying to Him, Remain with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is now far spent. So He went in to stay with them. And it occurred that as He reclined at table with them, He took [a loaf of] bread and praised [God] and gave thanks and asked a blessing, and then broke it and was giving it to them When their eyes were [instantly] opened and they [clearly] recognized Him, and He vanished ([d]departed invisibly).
It seems to me there are parallels. Both times the resurrected Jesus meets people on the road shortly after a death (by execution) — on the way to Emmaus it was Jesus who was killed; on the way to Damascus it was Stephen. In each case Jesus is initially unrecognized by the people or persons met. For the disciples Jesus is recognized in the breaking of bread in Paul’s case Jesus tells him outright who he is and gets further affirmation/confirmation from the Christian prophet who visits with him — so in each case the role of community life in understanding extraordinary events (like resurrection appearances) is affirmed.
The disciples literally turn back — they turn from their path and return to Jerusalem to witness to what they have seen. In Paul’s case he continues his physical journey but with a different intent — and he too witnesses to the resurrection when he arrives at Damascus.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.
After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
For reference consider also:
Galatians 1:15-17: But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
2 Corinthians 11:31-33: The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.