Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea.12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 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?”18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” –Acts 11:1-18
My friend and seminary classmate is a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is exceptionally intelligent, genuinely humble, graciously faithful, keenly insightful, and extraordinarily patient. At a pastors conference he was presenting some of the results of his work in the gospel of Matthew and the Last Days. One young pastor (just a few years out of the seminary) challenged my friend, and a conversation ensued. Did I say he was extraordinarily patient? He was. He took a very patient and long-suffering time to answer the questions of this young and somewhat presumptuous pastor. I wouldn’t have been so patient, I don’t think – or at least not as kind and gentle as he.
I am reminded of this as I read this account of Peter taking the news of the Gentile conversion back to the church leaders in Jerusalem. True to form, the hard-core Jewish legalists (I told you I would not be as patient and gentle as my friend!) immediately launched into a challenge of Peter: “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (v. 3). I would be tempted to reply, “And your point?!?”
But not even Peter – impetuous as he could be – gave into such a quick and dismissive response. There is much at stake here, and the Holy Spirit surely must have put into the heart of Peter an alien restraint, patience, and gentleness befitting the gravity of the situation and the grace of God. If the questions, concerns, and accusations of the members of the circumcision party had not been answered, the spread of the Good News of Jesus to the Gentile world would have been stopped short. So Peter, moved, guided, and quieted by the Holy Spirit will offer this account of the events of this new breakthrough.
The Gospel has moved into the Gentile community. This will change the world. In the coming days the Jewish leaders will remark that the disciples had “turned the world upside down with their teaching” of Jesus (cf. Acts 17:6). Indeed.
Unfortunately the world is still upside down. We argue too quickly and heatedly about who might be in our outside of the rule and reign of Jesus. We hawk the church and the gospel as though we’re trying to sell something to a leery customer. We fail to realize how much of a blessing it is to call Jesus “Lord,” and count ourselves among his followers.
Isn’t it good that Jesus rules and reigns not even the best-intentioned of us. Even the most patient, intelligent, faithful, and humble of us would make a total mess of things if we were running the church. But as God’s servants – repentant, humble, faithful, yet sinners, judgmental, fearful, and impetuous as we may be – we are part of a work that spans nations, tribes, peoples, tongues, and parties.
Thanks be to God! Let your work continue in and through us all – for Jesus’ sake!