Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” … When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:1-3,18)
Accepting The Grace Of God With Joy
The relationship between Jews and Gentiles during the early church period was a volatile and caustic feeling of distrust and prejudice. It was forbidden by law for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. Eating with someone outside the Hebrew covenant was unheard of. No self-respecting Jew would consider going into the home of a Gentile and sitting down to a meal to enjoy their company. It was not done. Jesus spoke to a woman at a well in Samaria, and she was shocked. He would talk to her, a woman, and that a Jew would have anything to do with a Samaritan. When the kingdom of God began at Pentecost, three thousand devout Jews became the first Christians. It would be more than five years before the door of the kingdom would be open for non-Jews. Peter was promised that he would receive the keys of the kingdom by Jesus. The first lock was turned at Pentecost in Jerusalem, and the second lock was opened in a home in Caesarea.
Peter was staying in Joppa with a friend named Simon, who lived by the sea and was a tanner. Thirty miles north of Joppa was the city of Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea. Caesarea was also the seat of the governors or procurators and the headquarters of the Roman troops. The Roman centurion of the garrison was a man named Cornelius. He was a devout, God-fearing man who gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. By the grace of God, Cornelius was instructed by an angel to send for Peter. Cornelius was a religious man, but he was not a saved man. The angel told the centurion that when Peter came, he would tell him words by which he and all his household would be saved. Obeying the heavenly command, Cornelius sends for Peter. A few days later, Peter came to the house of Cornelius. It was an awkward meeting at first. Cornelius met Peter and bowed down at his feet, and worshiped him. Peter forbade Cornelius telling him God had revealed that there was no partiality among men in salvation.
When Peter left Joppa, he took with him six men to accompany him. Peter reminded Cornelius that a Jewish man was not to keep company with someone from another nation. However, God had shown the apostle that all men must come to the gospel, including the Gentiles. After Peter preached the word to those in the household, they were baptized for the remission of their sins. What a remarkable experience for Peter to baptize Cornelius and his household – Jews are baptizing Gentiles. After the baptism, Peter and his company stayed for a few days. That would have also been awkward as Peter and his companions experienced eating and sleeping in the house of a Gentile. The spiritual discussions must have been rich.
Hearing of what Peter did in Caesarea, the apostles and brethren in Jerusalem were upset and concerned. When Peter came up to Jerusalem, his fellow Jews contended with him about what he had done in Caesarea. The Christian Jews were very upset at Peter and demanded an explanation. They criticized him for going into the home of a Gentile. There was no small dispute about the matter as they disagreed with any Jew going into the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Peter found himself before a disagreeable audience who could not fathom the incredulous actions of a man like the apostle Peter. The anger was palpable. Peter was in a great deal of trouble as the Jewish brethren demanded an explanation of why he went into uncircumcised men and ate with them. The one question that was not asked was about the baptism of Cornelius and his household. Because of their prejudice, the apostles and brethren could only see Peter eating with Gentiles.
Peter explained how the vision had come to him in Joppa. Three men came from the house of Cornelius, imploring him to go with them. He could have refused, but the Holy Spirit assured Peter the Lord wanted him to accompany the soldier and two servants of Cornelius, and he obeyed. Peter related how the baptism of the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household, as with the twelve apostles at Pentecost. He could not argue with the divine plan of God. Seeing this as divine approval from the Lord, Peter baptized Cornelius and his household in water. When the brethren heard of how Peter had come to the house of the Roman centurion, they did not argue with Peter or condemn him. Some brethren could lay a charge of hypocrisy against Peter for his actions. The anger of the brethren could have continued to fuel the flames of controversy. But none of those things happened. What happened next was as remarkable as the baptism of the Gentiles.
Hearing the story as told by Peter, the brethren who began the inquiry with disbelief and anger rejoiced and glorified God that the gospel was to be taken to the Gentiles. They did not respond with controversy and did not argue any fine points of law about whether it was lawful to preach the gospel to the uncircumcised. The acceptance of the Gentile was an incredible leap for the Jewish Christians who had remained separate from those of the uncircumcised all their lives. Now the church of Christ would be filled with Jews and Gentiles sitting next to one another singing, praying, taking the same bread and fruit of the vine, and growing in Christ together. What a joy in the spirit of unity when brethren come together under the same canopy of God’s grace.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not just for a particular group of people based on ethnicity, skin color, language, nationality, gender, or economic status. Peter opened the door for all men to come to know the saving grace of God. It does not matter if they have rings in their noses and tattoos on their body or if they come from another nation. The Muslim needs the gospel of Christ. A Jew needs the true Messiah. The religious neighbors who follow churches established by men need Christ. Prostitutes, homosexuals, murderers, and criminals of all types need the gospel. Jesus died for all men to bring all men to Christ – even Cornelius and his household of Gentiles. Look around. Everyone needs Christ. Rejoice when a sinner is turned to the Lord.