Acts 9:19–11:18 God Turned the Church Around By a Disturbing Dream.
Key Notes: Miracles are done at the hand of Peter. God actively intervenes to save an Italian family. The Holy Spirit fills Gentile believers. Angels are involved. Peter is compelled to go against his culture and training in rapid steps.
9:19–31 Saul was in Damascus for a few months, proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, confounding the Jews, and eventually infuriating them. He escaped at night, let down over the wall in a basket. (He never forgot the humiliation. IICor.11:33). In Jerusalem, he was not accepted by the Christians either, until Barnabas took charge. He told them of Saul's conversion, and soon Saul was disputing with the Hellenistic Jews. He was again so successful that he had to leave to save his life. The believers sent him back to Tarsus. Paul was good as an evangelist rather than a pastor.
What followed was a time of peace and growth of the Church.
9:32–43 Peter's ministry flourished. He visited the believers in Lydda and raised up Aeneas, in bed and paralyzed for eight years, perhaps from a stroke. His healing led to many conversions in Lydda and nearby Sharon.
In Joppa, a disciple named Tabitha / Dorcas / ”Gazelle” died, and the believers sent at once for Peter. He arrived quickly and was escorted to the upper room where her body lay and the widows were weeping, displaying the many articles of clothing which she had made. Peter sent them out. He kneeled at the bedside and prayed alone. Then he stood up and said "Tabitha qumi" ("Tabitha, arise"). [When Jesus had raised Jairus' daughter (Mk.5:41) He said "Talitha qumi" ("Little girl, arise").] Peter had changed only one letter. Tabitha looked up at Peter; he took her by the hand, and called all of her friends in. Many in Joppa believed because of this miracle.
Peter was staying in the house of a tanner of animal skins. A house by the sea may have been necessary to have salt water for processing hides as well as to dispose of animal waste. It would be a smelly place. Since any contact with dead animals made a Jew ceremonially unclean, Peter's stay seems to reflect a changing attitude toward the ceremonial law--or an evidence of his poverty.
10:1–48 Meanwhile, in Caesarea, up the coast, a centurion of the Italian regiment was intercepted by God. He sent an angel to Cornelius at 3PM, praising his prayer and alms-giving. He was ordered to send for Peter in Joppa. Cornelius sent two servants and a trusted soldier. Peter was not hard to find.
The day the escort arrived, Peter was dozing at noon on the rooftop, waiting for lunch. God gave him a lunch dream: a sheet full of all kinds of unclean animals--bugs, snakes, pig, crocodile, lobster--was let down from heaven. He was instructed to pick out one, kill it and eat. He said "No, Lord." (Those two words are incompatible.) The bad dream was repeated three times and three times Peter said "no" to The Lord.
But Peter was not dismissed from his errand. When he awoke, the Holy Spirit told him that he had visitors and that he was to go with them. Peter heard their story about Cornelius and invited them to stay overnight. His mind was beginning to move. The next day, he went with six (11:12) fellow believers. They walked 30 miles, and arrived at Cornelius' house. We can imagine Peter hesitating at the door. Cornelius worshipped Peter. Peter refused the worship: he was just a man. He went into the house with Cornelius, talking and thinking, and was surprised to find the place crowded with relatives and friends of Cornelius--Italians, pagans all.
He told them how God was changing his mind about people of other nations, and went on to preach Christ, much as he had at Pentecost. To the astonishment of Peter and his six Jewish witnesses, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius' household while Peter preached, and they spoke in tongues and praised God. They were promptly baptized. Peter stayed with them for a few days.
11;1–18 When Peter got back to Jerusalem, the devout Jewish believers attacked Peter for associating with Gentiles. Peter told them of his vision, the three messengers, the Spirit's voice, and the Holy Spirit's witness. There was grudging agreement: God had granted eternal life to Gentiles.
Peter's mental process:
10:14 No, Lord. Three times.
10:17 He was perplexed, wondering, at a loss. What does it mean?
10:17 He turned it over in his mind. Could it all be my stomach, a pang of hunger?
10:20 The Spirit told him not to doubt, dispute, or contend with Him.
10:23 Peter called the Gentile delegation into the house overnight. Quite a concession, and it wasn't his house!
10:29 He inquired of Cornelius why he had been summoned. Tell me again.
10:29 He said he came without argument.
10:34 "I perceive" that God shows no partiality. Now I get it.
11:17 Who was I to resist God?
By the bad dream and its wonderful sequel, God turned Peter and his six witnesses, and the Church, from being narrow and restrictive, to being open and inviting.
Cornelius was the perfect pagan. Imagine being told by God that your good works are a memorial before Him.? God had accepted a God-fearer, an Italian soldier, as one of His Own. There are devout Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists today who are like Cornelius. The World says we should leave them alone. Attempts at conversion are a kind of assault, cultural imperialism. God said Cornelius, as devout as he is, needed one thing more. He needed Jesus. And God says the same to devout Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists today. They may have a life of holiness, but they need Jesus. "Neither is there salvation in any other...." Acts 4:12
This is why missionaries go; God calls them. They may be unsure; their motives may be mixed; but they are there to do the will of God.
And God went to extraordinary lengths to assure the success of this mission. A vision for Peter, an angel to Cornelius, the Holy Spirit speaking to Peter, six Jewish witnesses, the Holy Spirit's audible gifts given to pagans, and turning the head of the Jerusalem Church. And note that this mission was for Peter, called in from 30 miles away, while Philip was already in Caesarea. It needed Peter's apostolic clout to convince the Jerusalem Church. A perfect job.
God cares much more for Cornelius and his friends than Peter does. These pagans would never be part of Peter's plan. He was not going out to build his congregation with Gentiles or add notches to his gun stock, or enhance his prestige as an evangelist. But God loves Italians and Ethiopians as well as Samaritans and Jews.
Be alert. Don’t try to decide who can be saved and who cannot. God may ask you to speak to an unlikely soul or do a very unusual task.