Over the past few weeks my church has been studying the book of Galatians—specifically, Paul’s rather fiery rhetoric against the group of Jewish Christians who were demanding that Gentle converts to Christianity be circumcised. Exploring the context of this account has led us back to the story of Peter bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles in the book of Acts.
If it’s been a while since you’ve read about Peter’s experience, it’s well worth revisiting. Peter’s vision and subsequent meeting with Cornelius mark a pivotal moment in the story of the Gospel.
The story is found in Acts 10. Let’s look at it in the (new to Bible Gateway!) J.B. Phillips New Testament. It begins with Cornelius receiving a message from an angel of God:
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!”
He stared at the angel in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?”
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.”
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.
Next, we get Peter’s side of the story. While praying, Peter receives a vision from God three times:
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!”
But Peter said, “Never, Lord! For not once in my life have I ever eaten anything common or unclean.”
Then the voice spoke to him a second time, “You must not call what God has cleansed common.”
Cornelius’ men find Peter and invite him to come to Cornelius’ house, where the two meet and share their visions. Then Peter delivers the Good News to the Gentiles:
Then Peter began to speak, “In solemn truth I can see now that God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation the man who reverences him and does what is right is acceptable to him! He has sent his message to the sons of Israel by giving us the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—he is the Lord of us all. You must know the story of Jesus of Nazareth—why, it has spread through the whole of Judea, beginning with Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed. You must have heard how God anointed him with the power of the Holy Spirit, of how he went about doing good and healing all who suffered from the devil’s power—because God was with him. Now we are eye-witnesses of everything that he did, both in the Judean country and in Jerusalem itself, and yet they murdered him by hanging him on a cross. But on the third day God raised that same Jesus and let him be clearly seen, not indeed by the whole people, but by witnesses whom God had previously chosen. We are those witnesses, we who ate and drank with him after he had risen from the dead! Moreover, we are the men whom he commanded to preach to the people and bear fearless witness to the fact that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of both the living and the dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear witness, that every man who believes in him may receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still speaking these words the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to his message. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were absolutely amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was being poured out on Gentiles also; for they heard them speaking in foreign tongues and glorifying God.
Then Peter exclaimed, “Could anyone refuse water or object to these men being baptised—men who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did ourselves?”
And he gave orders for them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterwards they asked him to stay with them for some days.
Imagine hearing for the first time that you were one of God’s chosen. It would be an incredible moment. Take a few minutes to read the entire account in Acts 10 and the rest of the apostles reactions to the story in Acts 11.