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.”
Imagine your parents have just introduced a known gangster and drug dealer as your newly adopted brother. This guy, who loved to harass and cheat your family, now has equal standing with you—and didn’t even have to shower first! Now it’s your job to tell your siblings about the new addition. Will your news be welcomed?
Gentiles, once rejected and unclean by the Law’s standards, were now welcomed into the family of God, causing some of the Jewish brothers to object. After all, the Lord had told them, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 14:2).
Rome was a self-glorifying people that oppressed Israel. They were tolerant of Israel’s worship of the one God as long as it didn’t interfere with the worship and obedience to Caesar.
To be sure, the addition of the Gentiles to the family of God was shocking: not only was God reconciling himself to the “unclean,” he was reconciling two groups of people divided by hostility. Peter was now faced with the difficult task of defending the new brothers to the Jews.
- Why did Peter go to Jerusalem?
- Who criticized Peter and why?
- How did Peter respond? What additional information do we learn from this passage compared with the same story in Acts 10?
- What question does he end with, and what is the response?
God had changed Peter’s own heart from repulsion to acceptance. He described how God moved to bring about this controversial change through the preaching of the gospel and then the ultimate proof: the gift and indwelling of the Holy Spirit that mirrored Pentecost. It meant that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, would extend salvation to everyone, even a Gentile. It is not the Jewish cultural and ritual identity that legitimizes spiritual standing before God. Only through Jesus’ perfection alone can anyone be deemed clean.
- Was Peter easily convinced to accept the Gentiles?
- Why is it significant that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit the same way the Jews did at Pentecost?
- After Paul finished his story, a hush fell on the crowd. This was a point of decision for the Jewish listeners. Would they “stand in the way” of God’s plan and reject the Gentiles, or accept what the Spirit was doing and continue to follow Jesus? Why was the Jewish followers’ approval important?
- Read Romans 11:1–24. God uses the metaphor of his people being an olive tree. Gentiles are the wild olive shoots that have been grafted in. God has been cultivating his “olive tree” nation born through Abraham, and now because of their rejection of his salvation through Jesus, the whole world is offered his salvation. With whom is God severe? To whom is he kind? Why?
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). It is hard for some of the Christian Jews to accept that anyone who believes could be acceptable to God without becoming Jewish first. But the Holy Spirit is at work, and they respond by worshiping God, their Father. All have sinned and are unclean, both Jew and Gentile (Rom. 3:23). We cannot make ourselves clean. Jesus is the only one who lived a perfect life and died in our place to pay for our sin. John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9). He has made a way for us all to be clean in God’s eyes.
- How are you “standing in the way” of what God is doing? Why? What change does this account inspire in you?
- How has God’s sovereign plan gone differently from what you expected, and how have you responded?
- Are your past sins causing you to see yourself as unclean or dirty? What lies have you believed? What truth will you now believe?
- From what do you gain your worth, identity, or righteousness instead of Jesus? Do you expect more from people than God?
This devotion is adapted from the Acts Study Guide: Chapter 6–11. Pick up a copy today for only $9.99. The Study Guide includes an 11-week curriculum with small group studies, group inductive studies, as well as 55 daily devotions for your personal or family worship.