Isn’t it funny (and sad) how we sometimes remember people for their failures and mistakes? Like poor Thomas. He’s forever remembered as “Doubting Thomas” for that whole I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it fiasco after Jesus’s death and resurrection. He travelled with Jesus, saw miracles happen, heard sermons straight from Jesus’s mouth, and the only mention of him is this one moment when he was down and didn’t dare believe. He was just as much a disciple as the rest, but he has a nickname to honor a very haunting moment.
I sort of feel like Peter is treated the same way but less harshly. We think of his temper and stubbornness. We think of him sinking when he lost focus on Jesus while walking on water. We think of him denying Jesus three times. Peter did a lot; his actions, unlike Thomas’s, are fairly well documented. But it seems that we often remember the worst of Peter first.
We see Peter mature quite a lot, especially after Jesus’s death. And I think that Acts 10 is one of Peter’s greatest moments.
Acts 10 begins with a devout man named Cornelius in Caesarea, who was a centurion in the Italian Regiment. One day an angel came to him, and he was scared (vs. 1-4). “So [the angel] said to him, ‘Your prayers and alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do'” (vs. 4-6, NKJV). Then the angel left, and Cornelius sent two servants and a soldier to Joppa (vs. 7-8).
The next day, Peter was on the roof praying, hungry while the food was being prepared. He had a vision of a large sheet bound at all four corners with all kinds of animals on it, including reptiles and birds, being brought down to earth from heaven. The voice of Jesus told Peter to kill and eat. Peter protested, saying he’d never eaten anything that was common or unclean (vs. 9-14). “And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again” (vs.15-16).
As Peter was pondering the vision, Cornelius’ men arrived, and the Holy Spirit told Peter of the three men and told him to go with them. Peter did just that. They arrived in Caesarea to meet with Cornelius, who had gathered his family and friends for the occasion. He fell down at Peter’s feet and worshipped him upon his entrance, but Peter stopped him and told him that he, too, was just a man (vs. 17-26).
“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. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?'” (vs. 27-29)
Cornelius told him what the angel said, and Peter preached to them about the impartiality of God and the words and sacrifice of Jesus. As Peter preached, the Holy Spirit fell upon everyone who heard. Those who came with Peter were amazed that the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles. Then they were baptized, and they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days (vs. 30-48).
I know this is a lot of scripture– the entire chapter, in fact– but I don’t want to skip much of this because it’s all so important.
I applaud Peter to no end for the faith he demonstrated to go to the house of a Gentile military man knowing how illegal it was and after such an intense period of persecution.
Until Peter’s vision, as far as we know, the only one who knew of the gospel eventually being brought to the Gentiles was Ananias in chapter 9. When Peter has his vision, he doesn’t get angry at being confused. He doesn’t get upset when he figures out that salvation isn’t exclusive to just the Jewish people. This was big, but you’d never know it from how well Peter kept his composure and followed God’s will.
I wish I could say that this is all a thing of the past, that we as members of the Church aren’t still tempted to only speak of God’s grace to those we like. The truth is, each of us tend to be very selective in who we think God’s infinite grace should be extended to, forgetting that none are worthy and all are valued by God. We act like bouncers at the altar, only wanting the ones we approve of to come into the kingdom of God. And Peter’s actions in Acts 10 show us just how wrong we are.
This is an obvious extension of Jesus’s message and actions. He was the one who met the woman at the well and gave the parable of the Good Samaritan. He touched the chronically ill and performed miracles on the Sabbath. He dined with tax collectors and defended prostitutes. Jesus’s love is boundless, not confined by any law or social norm. It makes perfect sense that the salvation He provides is the same.
Luke wrote the book of Acts, and the theme of Acts in general, and chapter 10 specifically, match the overarching theme of Jesus coming for all men as the Son of God found in Luke’s Gospel. Peter takes secure, bold steps to throw open heavy and huge doors for the Church by extending the gospel and offer of God’s grace to the Gentiles. The result of this is expansion and growth beyond measure. God made us all and loves us all, and thanks to every event in Acts 10, we can all come to have a relationship with God.
By Carrie Prevette