Acts: For the Cause of Christ #19

for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-actsActs: For the Cause of Christ #19

Title: Peter and Herod

Acts 12:1-25

Review of 11:1-30

Last time we saw how the church in Jerusalem was surprised and concerned about Peter going to the Gentiles, and how, after Peter’s explanation, they realized that God had been at work as was opening the door to the Gentiles as well. We then saw how the disciples that were scattered because of the previous persecution had made their way to Antioch and planted a new local church there. The Lord had allowed a few members to evangelize to Gentiles in the city and had blessed this work. Barnabas was sent to check on them. Barnabas then gets Saul from Tarsus to help in the teaching ministry of this new church. After some prophet of God arrive from Jerusalem, the church in Antioch are warned about a famine that will affect Jerusalem, so the church cares for their fellow believers by taking a special offering to be taken to Judea by Barnabas and Saul.

This week we see a new form of persecution from the King Herod Agrippa I and how the church responds.

1. James and Peter – vv 1-5

King Herod began a new round of persecution against members of the church. No, this is not the same King Herod who hunted for baby Jesus and killed thousands of infant boys in Bethlehem, that was Herod the Great. No, this is not the King Herod who beheaded John the Baptist or questioned Jesus before His crucifixion, that was Herod Antipas. This is Herod Agrippa I, nephew of Herod Antipas, and grandson of Herod the Great. Agrippa was raised in Rome after his father was executed in 7 BC. Agrippa befriended members of the Imperial Household while in Rome. Notably, he befriended two future emperors while he was in Rome, Gaius and Claudius, Gaius’ uncle. If you don’t recognize the name Gaius as a Roman Emperor, you may recognize the nickname he is most commonly known as, Caligula. Claudius we briefly mentioned last time, he is the current Emperor in the narrative of Acts. Agrippa’s friendship with these men allowed him to gain power and land. Gaius gave him two tetrarchies in southern Syria along with the title of “king”. Then Agrippa’s kingdom grew when Galilee was added, this was the tetrarchy of his uncle Antipas until Gaius banished him. Claudius began his rule after Gaius was assassinated in AD 41, he gave Agrippa the area of Judea as well, which until this time had been governed by Roman prefects. Agrippa was more popular with the Jewish populace than many of the others of the Herodian family, so he strove to win and keep their favor.

It is suggested that until this time, the Apostles had a degree of protection as the only members of the church the Jewish community were really persecuting was the Greek Speaking Jewish converts. Now it seems that Agrippa is singling out the Apostles, who may have lost favor with the Jewish people, but James the half-brother of Jesus, and others that may have been more intentional in keeping Jewish rites seem to be left alone.  The first taken and killed is James, the brother of John the son of Zebedee. We are told here that he was killed by the sword, and this pleased the Jews. James was the first Apostle to be martyred, and the only one recorded in Scripture. Here we see the fulfillment of not only his and John’s promise to Jesus, but Jesus’ promise to them. In Mark 10, and the parallel in Matthew 20, the brothers, by their mother, ask to sit on either hand of Jesus in the Kingdom, places of honor. Jesus asked them if they were able to drink the cup He did or be baptized with the same baptism He would be baptized with, in 10:39 is the response, “‘We are able,’ they told him. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.’” Jesus didn’t say or imply that the brothers would have the same experience, it is probable that John was the last of the Apostles to die.

After seeing that James’ death pleased the Jewish people and leaders, Agrippa arrested Peter during the week long Feast of Unleavened Bread. This Jewish feast immediately follows the Passover Celebration, and many times as here, the two are grouped together under the name Passover. Since Agrippa was smart enough not to pollute the festival week, he did not execute Peter right away, but decided to wait. Why Peter and James? What about the rest of the Twelve? We don’t know, Peter maybe because he was the one who started reaching out to the gentiles, maybe James and Peter were the only ones in Jerusalem at the time. Scripture is silent here. Peter was kept in prison during this time. It is suggested that he may have been held in the Antonia fortress near the temple, where Paul would later be held in chapter 21. Peter having been held twice already, and having been freed once already, Agrippa was not taking any chances and placed 4 squads of 4 men to guard Peter. Two where chained to either of his hands, and two probably guarded cell door. During this time the church used its best weapon, the church prayed fervently for Peter.

So far we’ve seen that public opinion is fickle. Whatever the cause the Apostles fall from public opinion was, we need to know that we shouldn’t be surprised when the unsaved culture around us behave fickle, as one moment they like what we say or do, but then they call us intolerant. At the same time we see here that even in the first century, politicians were swayed by public opinion, this why we the Church need to pray for the leaders raised up, we need to pray for God to raise up godly leaders so we can, as Paul put it in 1 Timothy 2, “…lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Though James was executed, and Peter was arrested again, the church used the best and only weapon at its disposal, prayer. How quick are we to turn to God in prayer? We can’t turn to God in prayer just when we are experiencing trials, though sometimes God uses those times to bring us to our knees before Him, but we need to have a constant life of prayer in good times and the bad. I need that reminder as much as anyone else, it is human nature not to pray. But prayer is part of the Christian’s relationship and devotion to God, it is part of being a disciple of Jesus.

We are also reminded that Jesus keeps His promises, He is faithful and will do what He has said. Though James was martyred, this was a fulfillment of Jesus’ words to him. James died for being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ, he gave his life for the Cause of Christ, as Stephen and others had done before him. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not about our safety or comfort. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is about imitating Christ’s humility, love, and sharing the gospel. Whatever the cost.

2. Peter Freed – vv 6-19

As the festival week drew to an end, Agrippa prepared for a public trial and probable execution of Peter. We see here how the guards were stationed around Peter. We are told that Peter is sleeping, so soundly that the angel had to strike Peter’s side to wake him up. I don’t know about you, but I might find it hard to sleep the night before my trial and possible execution. Peter I think was calmed by the Spirit, through his own prayers and the prayers of the church over the last week. He trusted in God to care for him no matter what. I think he was willing to die for the Cause of Christ, just as James had done a few days previous.

The Lord sends an angel to Peter. It is suggested whether this visitor was a divine messenger from God, or just a sympathetic human whom the Lord used to release Peter. From what I see in the passage and the other rescue from prison in chapter 5, I believe that God sent an angel. There are too many supernatural events in this section to make me think this was a human freeing Peter.

I wonder if Charles Wesley had this passage in mind when he wrote the 4th stanza of And Can It Be: “I woke; the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

Light fills the cell, after waking and removing the chains from Peter, the angel gives him a few simple commands. Get dressed, tie your sandals, put your cloak on, follow me. Peter was probably stripped down to the most basic tunic, so the angel told him to get ready for being outside. Put your belt on, tie your shoes, grab your coat. Peter obeys and they leave the cell. Peter probably in a state of half asleep, doesn’t quite realize what is happening is real. He thinks he is seeing a vision or is dreaming. Then as they get closer to the main gate of the prison, the gate opens for them on its own. After leading Peter down a street further away from the prison the angel vanishes and Peter left alone outside.

Once Peter realized what had happened and where he was, he went to a nearby house church. Since the Jerusalem church was so large they had no single location, so they met in homes of local Christians. So it is possible that Peter knew Mary’s home was nearby just because he knew his way around Jerusalem, or he went to Mary’s home because it was the home he may have been attended more regularly as we see that Rhoda recognized Peter’s voice, or both options are possible. We don’t know for sure why Peter went to the home of Mary and John Mark, but he did. Why did you go there before fleeing into hiding? Peter knew the church was praying for him, and he wanted to let them know he was safe and the Lord had rescued him. When Peter got the house, he knocked on the outer gate, Mary’s family must have been fairly wealthy to have a home large enough to have an outer gate and a servant in the house. Rhoda, the servant girl, came to answer it and hearing Peter’s voice, she becomes overjoyed and leaves him at the gate to tell the group that was meeting there to pray for Peter, that he was standing at the gate.

Rhoda announces that Peter is at the gate, and many reject her statement as one of madness. “You’re out of your mind”, “You’re crazy”. Be she is insistent, and some took her serious by saying it is his angel. “‘It is his angel’ (vs.15) may reflect a Jewish opinion that each person has a guardian angel who can assume the person’s own bodily shape and voice. Perhaps they [thought] that he had already been executed, and that his ‘ghost’ had appeared (Kent, Homer A. Jr., Jerusalem To Rome, © 1972, p 102).” However Luke used the word angelos, meaning angel or messenger, not phantasma meaning ghost. There’s a little humor in this. Peter on the run and probably concerned the alarm is going to sound any moment is stuck outside as those inside are trying to sort out what happened. Rhoda, either convinced them to come, or the thought that Peter’s angel was there may have brought someone or a few of them to come to the gate. Once he was inside Peter quieted them down to quickly explain what had happened. He told them to let “James and the brothers” know what had happened, then Peter fled. We don’t know where he went from here and we don’t see Peter in Acts again until he has returned to Jerusalem in Acts 15. Peter was, of course referring to James the half brother of Jesus. James seems to have become the leader for the Jerusalem church, and the “brothers” may refer to the rest of the Jerusalem church, or other elders that probably have included the Apostles and James. I tend to think it is the church at large. Peter knows he was being prayed for, he wants to let everyone know he is safe for the moment, but getting out town.

The next morning was not a good one for Agrippa or the soldiers guarding Peter. A search was carried out to find Peter. The guards were interrogated, then put to death for allowing Peter to escape, Agrippa may have thought it was inside job freeing Peter. These weren’t Roman soldiers, but Roman law stated that a guard who let a prisoner escape was responsible to face whatever punishment the prisoner would have faced. Scripture doesn’t specify, but I think this was not all 4 squads, but that single squad that was on duty when Peter was rescued. After this loss of face with the people of Jerusalem, Agrippa went to Caesarea for a time.

Proverbs 15:29 tells us that the Lord, “…hears the prayer of the righteous.” The church in Jerusalem was praying for Peter, probably for the Lord to have him released. The prayers of the church aligned with the will of God, and God sent an angel to free Peter from almost guaranteed martyrdom. Why God allowed James to be martyred and Peter spared, we don’t know. That is something only in the mind of God. He will do what He wills. But remember, that is His right as the Creator of the universe and of the human race, and who are we to question God?  

3. The Death of Herod Agrippa – vv 20-25

We change scenes now. There may have been some time between Peter’s release and this section, but we don’t know how much. We do know that, since Agrippa is a historical character, he died in 44 AD in Caesarea. History record he was in Caesarea for games that were in the honor of Emperor Claudius. While in Caesarea, Luke gives us this information. It is possible that the famine that was prophesied in chapter 11 is affecting the region now, because Agrippa’s territory supplied food to Tyre and Sidon and he had stopped sending the food to those cities because of however they had upset him.

The cities seek to reconcile with Agrippa to have this embargo against them lifted. Somehow they won over Blastus. My translation reads that Blastus, “was in charge of the king’s bedroom”. Other translations call him a “chamberlain”. A chamberlain was something like a chief of staff and sometimes entailed being chief of the guard as well. The idea is that Blastus is close to the king, and was able to get a reconciliation between Phoenicia and Agrippa’s territory. After this peace was brokered, Agrippa gives a public speech. Neither Luke or the Jewish historian Josephus tells us what Agrippa said in his speech, but there is agreement that after the speech the crowd responded and compared Agrippa to a god.

Luke tells us that God had an angel strike down Agrippa for accepting the glory and not directing it to the God of Heaven. In Josephus’ parallel account we are told that Agrippa had not reacted or rebuked the crowd for their comparing him to a god, so Agrippa suffered from a painful stomach condition that lasted for five days, before he died. Luke’s phrase “he was eaten by worms” or “consumed by worms”, essentially means Agrippa had a severe disease and suffered a painful death. We don’t know what he disease he died from, but it seems that Luke’s placing the event here is that Agrippa was also judged for persecuting the church.

We then receive a brief update on the church and Barnabas and Saul. Even after suffering the loss of a prominent Apostle in James, and the uncertain times for the church, the Word of God still flourishes and more people are coming Jesus Christ. The church continues to expands.

We don’t know if Barnabas and Saul have been in Jerusalem or Judea during these events or not. Or if Luke decided not to discuss what they were doing until they had completed their mission of bringing the relief funds to James and the other elders. But we see that they pick up John Mark, whom we surmise is the same Mark that is mentioned in Colossians 4 as Barnabas’ cousin, and return to Antioch.

We see in this section that God is still active as the church continues to expand. God judged Agrippa for allowing himself to be declared equal to God and for persecuting God’s appointed messengers. This section serves as a warning to rulers not to take their power to seriously. God calls rulers to serve the people and not bask in their own glory. We see that even in times of uncertainty the church is in fervent prayer, displaying a kind of faithfulness that lends itself to the expansion of the Gospel. Are we this faithful? Are you this faithful?

Conclusion:

So far we’ve seen that public opinion is fickle. We need to know that we shouldn’t be surprised when the unsaved culture around us behave fickle, as one moment they like what we say or do, but then they call us intolerant. Even in the first century, politicians were swayed by public opinion, this why we the Church need to pray for the leaders raised up, we need to pray for God to raise up godly leaders. How quick are we to turn to God in prayer? But prayer is part of the Christian’s relationship and devotion to God, it is part of being a disciple of Jesus.

We are also reminded that Jesus keeps His promises, He is faithful and will do what He has said. Though James was martyred, this was a fulfillment of Jesus’ words to him. James died for being a disciple of Jesus Christ, he gave his life for the Cause of Christ. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not about our safety or comfort. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is about imitating Christ’s humility, love, and sharing the gospel. Why God allowed James to be martyred and Peter spared, we don’t know. That is something only in the mind of God. He will do what He wills.

We see a warning to rulers not to take their power to seriously. God calls rulers to serve the people and not bask in their own glory.

 

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #18

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #18

Title: Changes in the Church

Acts 11:1-30

Last time we looked at Peter’s ministry as he traveled from town to town. We saw his faithfulness to the pocket churches in the region near Jerusalem, such as Lydda and Joppa. We looked at the miracles the Lord did through Peter to bring more people to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Then we looked at how the Lord used Peter to bring the gospel to the Gentiles by preparing both Peter and Cornelius for the encounter. This week as we continue in Acts, we see the reception of this new in Jerusalem and then the expansion of the gospel for the Gentiles as Barnabas and Saul return to the narrative.

1. Peter’s Explanation – vv 1-18

We don’t know how long Peter stayed with Cornelius, at the end of chapter 10 we are told he was asked to stay a few days, but we don’t know what that looked like. However long Peter stayed in Caesarea to help ground the new converts, word of Peter staying with Gentiles, and baptizing them had gotten back to Jerusalem and caused some concern within the church.

So when Peter returns, members of the church, that seem to be more traditional [let the word hang a second] or zealous for continuing to follow the Law wanted answers. How could Peter, a Jew and a leader of the Apostles, have socialized or baptized Gentiles? At least the Samaritans had some Jewish heritage so their conversion seemed somewhat natural. At the same time we get a glance into how the church in Jerusalem functioned, as those with questions did not hesitate to go to Peter to understand what he had done, and Peter, in turn, did not issue an authoritarian edict that he could do what he wanted simply because he was an Apostle.

Peter recounts what happened beginning with his vision in Joppa. Peter is making it clear that what happened wasn’t his idea, but God’s leading from start to finish. God sent Peter a vision, God sent and angel to Cornelius, and the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home just as He had done at Pentecost for the Jewish believers. Those questioning Peter could see that God had willed this to happen. They become silent, possibly in awe thinking of how everything they knew was now changing, then they glorified God realizing that God had given salvation to the Gentiles as well.

Later the Apostle Paul will write how Jews and Gentiles are each part of the unified church, the body of Christ (Eph 2:11-3:12), but right now in Acts 11, this “mystery”, as Paul put it, hadn’t been fully revealed yet. The church was concerned, some may say rightly so, after all “they’ve never done it that way before”. Peter had showed them that God was the one working the Gentiles into the church, Peter was just the servant God used to bring the Gentiles in.

Sometimes change is needed. Sometimes change is good. This was a change for the church, that no one in Jerusalem seemed to be expecting, but it is what the Lord had brought about. Are there things in your life that needed changing? We all need to ask ourselves are there things the Lord wants us to change in our daily walk with Him? Is there something in our church that needs to change? As I was thinking about this, the old joke about changing a light bulb came to mind, so I did some looking for it online and found several variations. One web page is here. My point is, if we are certain the Lord is leading us to make a change, and I’m not talking about light bulbs, then we had better make the change. Change can be difficult and painful. Our sister church in Rochester is changing the way somethings are being done, and their pastor admits it is kinda painful as they make these changes like his best friend he had in the church has left and won’t talk to him any longer; but their leadership feels these things need to change. We need to look at our lives, our church, and prayer that God directs us in a way that is clear.

2. The Church in Antioch – vv 19-30

Antioch vv19-21

Let’s take a minute to talk about Antioch. Luke is often very specific about cities and towns where the action is, and I think it is important for us to understand what the city was like and why the gospel’s impact was so profound. First you need to know that there are two cities named Antioch mention in Acts. The one we are looking at today is Antioch in Syria. This is no small town in the middle of nowhere of the Roman Empire. This city was considered the third largest in the Empire, after Alexandria in Egypt and Rome itself. Antioch was a commercial city as it was tied to a fertile plain and the river that ran through the city led to a port on the Mediterranean about fifteen miles away. Antioch was a cultural mixing pot as well as its population was filled with Greeks, Syrians, Phoenicians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Egyptians, and Indians. The city of Daphne which held temples for Artemis, Apollo, and Astarte and their immoral cultic worship was only five miles from Antioch, “and so the area was known for its moral laxity (Bock, Darrell L., BECNT:Acts © 2007, p 413)”. Other pagan temples known to be in Antioch were those to Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon, Adonis, and Tyche. The Jewish community was rather large and was really the only segment of the population with the monotheistic worship of the true God.

This was the culture that many believers entered when they fled Jerusalem because of the persecution in 8:1. These disciples had fled north, made it to the Phoenician area (Tyre and Sidon were the major cities), as well as the island of Cyprus and the metropolis of Antioch. These disciples were doing what they saw and did in Jerusalem, they started giving the gospel message to the Jewish community. Luke then tells us that some men, we do not have their names, change tactics and start reaching out to the Greeks (or Gentiles) in Antioch as well, and as we mentioned earlier, there was no shortage of Gentiles in the city. This was blessed by the Lord as Luke uses a the phrase, “The Lord’s hand was with them”. God’s hand represents God’s power, this phrase is found in the OT, such as Ex 9:3, 1 Sam 5:6; 6:9; 1 Chr 28:19 and others. The Lord enabled these disciples to preach and for their listeners to turn and believe. Verse 21, is the only verse to use both turn and believe to show a response in faith.

Barnabas vv22-26

News of the Gentiles coming to Christ in Antioch had reached Jerusalem. As the church had done with the Samaritans by sending Peter and John, they sent a delegate to investigate and confirm the reports. This time the church sent Barnabas. The news of Antioch probably came after Peter’s trip to Caesarea and his explanation. Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus originally, and could encourage the new believers and the growing church. Verse 24 gives us a reminder of his character of being a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and faith, this is probably part of the reason he was sent to Antioch. We see that he finds that God’s grace had been working on the Gentiles, so living true to his name again, he encouraged the church to remain true to the Lord. Remember this area is as bad as Corinth with its immoral behaviors and religions, so Barnabas’ encouragement was probably needed. The church in Antioch was still growing.

It is possible that Barnabas saw that the church needed more leadership to help ground it in the faith and doctrine. Barnabas goes to Tarsus to get Saul and bring him back to Antioch. As far as the time frame in history, it is thought this is between 42 and 43 AD. If Acts opens roughly in 30 AD, then Luke as covered 12-13 years between chapter 1 and the church in Antioch being established. We are told here in verse 26 that Barnabas and Saul teach large numbers for a full year. Then Luke drops a piece of trivia into the account here, the term Christian was first used to describe the disciples here in Antioch.

Famine Relief vv 27-30

The church in Antioch remains connected to the “mother church” in Jerusalem. From Jerusalem prophets came to Antioch. We are not told if they came under the influence of the Spirit, on their own, or sent by the Jerusalem Church. This is the first mention of NT prophets in Acts. Paul letters will discuss the gift of prophecy later on, but it seems to be similar to the gift of tongues as it was under the inspiration of God, except it appears that the gift uses the speaker’s known language. It also seems that the NT prophet had a two fold job of forth-telling as well as the occasional fore-telling as we see here. One of the prophets that came to Antioch was Agabus. This man will make another appearance to give Paul a personal prophecy in Acts 21:10. Right now Agabus is predicting, under the inspiration of the Spirit that a severe famine would go throughout the known Roman World. Luke remarks that this famine happened under the rule Emperor Claudius who rule from AD 41-54. History tells us that Claudius’ reign was plagued with successive droughts and bad harvests. Rome, Greece, Egypt and Judea all suffered as a result.

How the church in Antioch understood how the the famine would affect the Judean region is not known. We do, however, know that Judea suffered from a famine between AD 44-48. The Antioch Church decided to to organize some sort of relief fund for their follow Christians in Jerusalem. There is no record of an organized community of goods in Antioch as in the early days in Jerusalem, but we are told that each member decided to give an amount that they could. This seems to be similar to the instructions Paul gives the Corinthian church for a later relief fund for Jerusalem in 1 Cor 16:1-4. Once the fund was ready to be sent, the church selected Barnabas and Saul to carry the funds to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, the funds were given to the elders of the church. We are starting to see the less of the Apostles leadership in Judean churches and more of elders and leaders that seem to be selected from their members; it is also possible that the Apostles are inferred as part of these Elders, but we don’t know for sure. It is possible the Apostles are spending less time in Jerusalem by this time, going on itinerant travels as we saw Peter do in chapter 9. This is the first mention of Christian Elders in Acts, it is thought that since the dispersion from the persecution that the Elders are taking more responsibilities as the seven chosen in 6:5 are no longer in Jerusalem, so some sort of reorganization took place.  

In this section we saw how God used people to start another church in another city. For Acts, this is the furthering of the Gospel of Jesus Christ out to the world. The Gentiles have been grafted into God’s plan as the church expands beyond Judaism. God led people to establish a church in a major commercial hub and cosmopolitan center in the crossroads where east meets west. We saw how the right people are needed in churches to ensure that the doctrine is taught and to establish a strong faithful church, no matter where the church is planted. Barnabas knew he needed help, so he went for Saul who could teach in this new church. God sent prophets to the church to assist in the new church’s establishment.

We also saw how, though separated by distance, the church in Antioch knew they needed to assist the churches in Judea suffering from the prophesied famine. They showed their compassion and their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Conclusion:

So how are we doing? The church had to change and it may have been difficult, we will see that the changes will be difficult further in Acts. If changes happen how will we react? If the Lord is preparing us for changes are we are ready?

Changes come in different ways. Sometimes it is a matter of having the right people in the right place. Sometimes it is growing the church to get the right people. How are we doing? Compassion for other church members, other Christians is part of being a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Even in the midst of change, Christlike love is to be a part of our life and walk. Are we known by our love for one another?

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #17

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #17

Title: Peter’s Travelling Ministry

Acts 9:32-10:48

“O Lord. Show me Yourself within Your Word. Show me myself and show me my Savior, and make the book live to me.”

Introduction:

  1. Last time we looked at how God choose to save Saul of Tarsus. Saul was sure he was doing the will of God by persecuting the believers, the members of the early church, but he was acting against God. The Lord confronted him and humbled him, bringing him to salvation and converting Saul from his former glory in legalism and good works. After he had been doing exactly what the Lord had commissioned him to do, he had to escape in a basket over the wall like a criminal. That was the beginning of the sufferings for the sake of Christ, that Saul would face in his lifetime.  After his conversion, Saul constantly sought to find ways to be apart of the church body and to proclaim the gospel. He even debated the men that caused Stephen’s death in Jerusalem, risking his own life. We ended with Saul having to flee again, this time to Tarsus, and a report from Luke that church was at peace from persecution and that most of the palestinian region had heard the gospel and that there were many believers.
  2. Today we focus back on Peter, whom we haven’t seen since 8:25 when he was returning to Jerusalem from Samaria with John.

1. Peter in Lydda – vv 32-35

We pick up with Peter as he is on an itinerant journey of preaching and visitation. Perhaps he was visiting those who were scattered by the persecution, or he was reaching out to towns and cities that had not yet been reached. Perhaps Philip had already gone through these towns on his way Azotus to Caesarea. He don’t for sure, but we know that one such town Peter visits is Lydda. Today this town is called Lod and is a suburb of the Israeli metropolis Tel Aviv. It was on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa. It was at the center of one of ten administrative districts in Judea and predominantly Jewish with a mixed population. “The region was partly Gentile, as Sharon comprised the coastal plain extending from Joppa to Carmel and to Caesarea (Bock, Darrell F., BECNT: Acts © 2007, p 377).”

While in Lydda, Peter finds a man named Aeneas. Luke only tells us his name, and that he has been bedridden for eight years do to some paralysis. The wording is such that we should understand that this was not a lifelong ailment as is the case of the beggar at the Temple in chapter 3. Luke doesn’t say outright if Aeneas is part of the church or not, but if he hasn’t yet believed on the Lord, there is no record of his conversion in verse 35 as Luke remarks about others in the town. Peter address him and simply tells him he is healed. “[Peter] already knows what the Lord has done and tells Aeneas the good news (Bock, p 377)”.  

Peter tells Aeneas to make his bed. The idea here is that without the miracle, he was powerless. He could never have rolled up his bedroll. He was helpless, he was a burden to himself and to others around him, now he was able to care for himself. As a result of this miracle, as elsewhere in Acts, many turned to Lord in faith. We shouldn’t read verse 35 as if every single person in the town or plain of Sharon came to the Lord, it “is a Lukan hyperbole for a significant number coming to the Lord (Bock, p 377)”.

I believe that Peter did more in Lydda than just heal Aeneas. Since this miracle spurred another round of conversions, Peter more than likely, spent time teaching the new believers, helping and encouraging the established believers and helped to establish them all in their faith. “Jesus had commissioned Peter to care for the sheep (John 21:15-17), and Peter was faithful to that commission (Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Dynamic © 1987, p122).”
Application:

Peter was still being faithful to his witness for Jesus. He was still doing what the Lord had commissioned him to do. Are we as a church being faithful to our calling? Are you Christian being faithful in your witness?

2. Peter in Joppa – vv 36-43

Dorcas – vv 36-39

Luke now changes scenes. He shifts over to the port city of Joppa and introduces another disciple, a lady named Tabitha. The name Tabitha is Aramaic meaning “gazelle”,  in 2 Kings 12:1 we see the Hebrew variation with a lady named Zibiah, and it’s Greek equivalent is Dorcas. Joppa, also known as Jaffa, is on the coast of the Mediterranean about ten to eleven miles from Lydda. This city is now part of that metropolis we mentioned earlier, Tel Aviv. in fact if you were to search for it on Google Maps, it is labeled “Tel Aviv-Yafo”. If you know your Bible history, you’ll recognize Joppa as the city from which Jonah used to run from God’s calling to preach to Gentiles, but Peter will receive God’s call to go to Gentiles while in Joppa. What a contrast!

Dorcas, we are told, was a disciple. We are also told that she did good works and acts of charity, probably to widows in the town as we will see in verse 39. It is possible that Dorcas, herself or her family, was wealthy and generous. We are then told that Dorcas becomes ill and dies. “It seemed so tragic that a useful and beloved saint like Docas should die when she was greatly needed by the church. This often happens in local churches and it is a hard blow to take. …yet, all we can say is, ‘The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’ (Job 1:21b, Wiersbe, p123).”  After she had died, the family or church family takes care of her by washing and anointing with spices as was the custom at the time, but what was unusual was placing her in a upstairs room as tradition called for burial before sunset.

It was known that Peter was still in Lydda at the time, so he was sent for. To this point in Acts there is no record of any Apostle raising someone from the dead, and perhaps the placing of Dorcas in the upper room was an expression of faith and hope of such a miracle. The messengers urge Peter to come immediately. The statement is actually quite formal, and I believe simple respect to Peter.

When Peter arrives and enters the room, he meets the widows mourning Dorcas, and is shown the tunics and clothes she had made. It is possible that what is meant is that they were showing him the clothes they were wearing, and it is suggested that these widows only own what they were wearing and showing Peter.

Resuscitation – vv 40-43

Peter then behaves in a manner that reflects what the Lord did to raise Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5. He asks everybody else to leave the room, as Jesus had done. But then Peter, knowing that he can only this by Jesus’ power, prays. It may have been that he did not know the Lord’s will, so he prayed. After praying he calls her back to life with a command to rise that is very similar to the Lord’s word in Mark 5:41. There Jesus and said “talitha cumi: little girl, get up”. Here Peter’s words were “Tabitha cumi: Tabitha, get up”.  “She opened her eyes, saw Peter and sat up (9:40b)”.

Peter then presents Dorcas alive to those in the house, including the widows. Whether these widows are fellow believers or not is unclear. Either way, Dorcas was important to the widows that were there to mourn her, and now join in the celebration of life. As in Lydda with Aeneas’ healing, the news of Dorcas being raised from the dead spreads through Joppa and many believe in the Lord. No doubt as in Lydda, Peter took time in Joppa to train “new believers in the truth of the Word, for faith built on miracles alone is not substantial (Wiersbe, p124)”.

Peter stayed with a tanner named Simon while he stayed at Joppa. More than likely Simon’s home was outside town near the water, as tanners lots of water for the work. This is somewhat significant, as a tanner was considered unclean in Judaism as these workers had to deal with the skins of unclean animals, and therefore would be ceremonially unclean themselves. Could Peter himself be broadening his outlook as he disregards this Jewish issue, or is the Lord bringing him along step by step from Jewish legalism to the freedom of His grace?

Application:

Again, we see Peter as the faithful servant. He faithfully goes around preaching and teaching and, as the Lord wills, heals those he can. “These miracles frame the important events to follow. God uses an authenticated, trustworthy minister to take the gospel to the Gentiles, an action that will prove to be controversial (Bock, p379).”

Peter is given as an example in ministry, but so is Dorcas. She is an example of one ministering to needs, showing mercy and hospitality to others around her.

Which are you? Are you a Dorcas or a Peter? However you minister, whatever gifts God has given you for the edification of the church are you using them and are you faithful?

3. Peter in Caesarea – 10

Exposition:

Cornelius – vv 1-8

Why Caesarea? This was the Provincial capital. Caesarea is where the Roman Governor resided in Judea. Who was Cornelius? Luke tells us enough information to get an image of what he looked liked. He was a centurion of the cohort known as the Italian Cohort. What’s a cohort? A Roman legion was divided into 10 cohorts, each comprised of 600 men, divided in groups of 100 men called a century, hence the term centurion. Often provinces, such as Judea, would have an auxiliary force, not a full legion so those numbers could be different. Cornelius was then in charge of what we would call a company and would roughly be a captain in our modern army. But Luke tells us more about Cornelius other than he was career soldier for Rome. He was a God-fearer. Well what does that mean? This isn’t a technical term, but useful. It implies that Cornelius worshipped the God of Israel, but to a limited extent. God-fearers “attended synagogue worship, acknowledged the God of Israel, and compiled with some Jewish customs. They were not circumcised, however, and thus were regarded by the Jews as not full ‘proselytes of righteousness’ (Kent Jr., Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome © 1972, p 90)”. Cornelius was evidently following some Jewish customs as he he see he was praying at one of the prescribed times, 3 in the afternoon, and we are told of his acts of charity to the people of Israel, we might say he was as Jewish as he could get without taking the step of circumcision to properly enter Judaism.

This was the man, we find praying at 3 in the afternoon, and to whom God sends a vision of an angel. The angel startles him, wouldn’t it startle you? But he responds, “what is it Lord?” The angel tells him that all he has done, his prayers, and his charity to the Jewish people had not gone unnoticed by God. One can infer levitical language of sacrifices and offerings here from the angel, not that any of these works were saving him, but Cornelius had gone as far his paganism as he could, without salvation. He is instructed to send men to Joppa, to Simon the tanner’s house to find Simons Peter and have him brought back to Caesarea. When the vision ended, Cornelius didn’t hesitate, he called to of his household servants and soldier he trusted, we don’t know, but these men may have been God-fearers as well. If these men left right away, they probably travelled a good way into the night to reach Joppa, 30 miles south, by noon the next day.

Peter’s vision – vv 9-15

Luke changes scenes back to Peter in Joppa. We know this the day after Cornelius had his vision, and that his men were nearing Joppa. It was near noon, we are told Peter was hungry and that some food was being prepared. He went up to the roof, to pray, remember the houses in this area and at that time were normally built with flat roofs, where people could spend time. Here again the Lord sends a vision. Peter falls into a trance and sees an object like a large sheet falling from heaven. The first thing i pictured in my head was the sheet with the corners brought in like a toy parachute. The rest of the description seems to indicate that it was falling and the corners were pointed upward. Then Peter sees what is in the sheet, “’In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky.” Leviticus 11 specifies the unclean animals, sea creatures, reptiles, and birds, while naming a few clean four-footed animals. Luke seems to imply that there are representatives of every creature, clean and unclean here.

Peter then hears a voice telling him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” The passage doesn’t specify, I think we can safely assume it is God speaking, whether it was Jesus or  God the Father, Scripture does not specify. If your Bible is a Red Letter edition, it is probable that these words are in red, suggesting that it is the Lord Jesus speaking to Peter. Peter’s first reaction, I would say is not surprising. He reacts out of his ancient Jewish roots. Everything he had ever known made him say “No Lord”. He says he has never eaten anything unlcean or something clean that had been defiled before and had no intention of starting now. The Lord corrects him by telling him, “what God has made clean, do not call impure.” Perhaps evidence that this is the Lord Jesus’ voice speaking to him is that this conversation was had three times. Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus restored him by asking if Peter loved Him three times, and now Peter is told three times that God has made clean the unclean animals of Judaism. After the third time, the sheet and the animals were taken back up to heaven. Though the implications of the dietary laws were evident to Peter, he would soon understand the broader implications of his vision.

Peter visits Cornelius – vv 17-33

Almost immediately after his vision had ended, while he was thinking about it trying understand what all it could have meant, the men Cornelius had sent had found their way to the house of Simon the tanner and were asking if Simon Peter was there. I think Cornelius was prudent in sending one soldier and some servants instead of several soldiers. Even then, imagine what was going through the minds of the other people in the house when a Roman soldier is at the door. It would be like opening the door and having a police officer standing there, that immediate reaction of surprise, maybe fear or worry.

Peter was still on the rooftop considering his vision, when the Holy Spirit somehow informed him that three men were looking for him, and that he should have no doubts about these Genitles as the Spirit had sent them to Peter. Peter went ad greeted them and asked why they were looking for him. The told him they were from a centurion named Cornelius, and about his vision to hear a message from Peter. Peter may have been starting to understand what the Lord meant by his vision. If the dietary rituals were no longer valid, then neither was socializing with genitles. Peter invited them and gave them room to spend the night.

The following morning, Peter went with these men to Caesarea and brought along some the disciples from Joppa. Their trip took a full day. Verse 24 tells that the day after they left Joppa they entered Caesarea. So if chapter 10 started on Monday afternoon, it was now Thursday, and we see a few verses on that it was 3 in the afternoon again. Cornelius meets Peter and immediately falls at Peter’s feet as to worship him. Peter stops him, lifts him up and tells Cornelius that he is a man just like Cornelius. They then entered a larger room where Peter finds that Cornelius had invited close friends and family to hear Peter. Peter reminds Cornelius that as a Jew he shouldn’t be visiting or socializing with gentiles, but says that God had shown him that man shouldn’t call any person unclean or impure. Peter must have realised that the vision of clean and unclean food was analogy for interactions with non-Jews as well. Peter then asks what all this is about, and Cornelius recounts his vision four days previous.

Gospel for the Gentiles – vv 34-43

Peter then address Cornelius and the whole crowd. He starts by stating the he understands that God doesn’t show favoritism to people based on race or appearance. Peter may have recalled Jesus’ words of John 10:16, “But I have other sheep that are not from this sheep pen; I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Now we shouldn’t misunderstand verse 35 as Peter calling good works accepted by God and saved as equal, Peter means that God was not interested in Israel and Jews only. Peter goes on recounting the life and death of Jesus, presupposing his listeners had heard of the events in Jerusalem, not long ago. Peter makes sure he mentions all the parts of the gospel, Jesus was crucified, God raised him from the dead on the third day. He references the resurrection appearances of Christ, and that he and the others were commanded to be witness of Jesus. Then at verse 43 Peter says, “All the prophets testify about him that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.”

Gentile Converts – vv 44-48

That was all they needed to hear. “The Spirit’s coming was not dependent upon public confession or an interval of time after accepting Christ. The Holy Spirit was not prayed for. His coming did not follow water baptism not the laying on of anyone’s hands. He came upon these gentiles as they listened with receptive hearts to the message of Peter. When he spoke of the forgiveness of sins as being available to those who believe in Christ, their immediate response must have been to believe, and on that basis the Holy Spirit came (Kent, Jr., p94).” As Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came upon his audience. Peter has now been interrupted by all three members of the Godhead. God the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration in John 17, the Jesus interrupted him about the temple tax later in the same chapter, both those times Peter had been speaking when he shouldn’t have, but here, I think, the Spirit was showing him that the Spirit act when He needs to. The Jewish believers Peter had brought with him were amazed that the Spirit had been poured out on Gentiles as well. They heard the Gentiles speaking in other tongues and giving praise to God.  We should understand, “gift of the Holy Spirit” as the “the Holy Spirit is the gift”. This is the Gentile counterpart for Pentecost and we should remember that this event shows both the baptism and the filling of the Spirit, and that the speaking in tongues was a result of the filling of the Spirit as it was in chapter 2.

Peter realized that salvation was now open to the Gentiles as well. He commands that water baptism be given, whether or not he did any of the baptizing we don’t know. He then stayed with these new believers a few days as he had done in Lydda, and Joppa to ground them in the truth of the Word.

Application:

This chapter shows us how the gospel had come from the Jewish nation to a band of disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, to spreading throughout the region of Judea and Samaria. Now the Lord had used Peter to open the door to the gospel for the Gentiles, preparing for the gospel to go to the uttermost parts of the world.

We should also remember that even though Cornelius and members of his family were religious and did good deeds for God’s people of Israel, this was not enough to keep them from needing a savior. Good works are not enough. Salvation if by the grace of God through our faith on Jesus Christ.

Conclusion:

  1. The Lord has brought the church from Jerusalem throughout the Jewish homeland and most of the surrounding region, now the gospel has been brought to a gentile, in the gentile capital of the province. From here, the Lord, and his witnesses, can take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the uttermost part of the world.
  2. Everything we looked at today, from Peter in Lydda to Caesarea, is an example of the commission given in Matthew 28. Peter went where the Lord had lead him, he taught making disciples, even of Gentiles, then he baptized them and taught them the Word. This same commission applies to us today. Every local church, every born again believer, is responsible to this commission. How are we doing? How are you doing?