Acts: For the Cause of Christ #17
Title: Peter’s Travelling Ministry
“O Lord. Show me Yourself within Your Word. Show me myself and show me my Savior, and make the book live to me.”
- 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.
- 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).”
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?
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?