I remember on several occasions hearing my mother say, “Can you explain to me why you did what you did?” I am not proud that my mom asked me this on many occasions, because it usually followed on the heels of a transgression. My mother had certain expectations of how we should act. Most moms do. When I acted outside of those expectations, she would challenge me.
Once in particular, I stayed out past curfew. I was a teenager then, and I figured the rules no longer applied; but my mother was quick to remind me that it was still my responsibility to act in accordance with her expectations. I listened to quite a lecture when I got back…all because of expectations that weren’t met. We see Peter in a very similar situation as his behaviors clash with established expectations in Acts 11:1-18. Let’s join him as he receives his lecture…
Conflict: This Isn’t How We Always Have Done Things! (vv. 1-3)
The conflict comes in the first three verses. The apostles and brethren in Judea confront Peter when he arrived in Jerusalem because they had heard he was fraternizing with Gentiles. The ones who confronted him were referred to as the “circumcision,” which is clearly a reference to God’s covenant and His chosen people. Peter, as a good Jew, would not be permitted to eat with Gentiles because of the dietary laws of the covenant. He would not socialize among Gentiles if he wanted to honor his traditions.
This is not how things always have been done. This is the beginning of the conflict.
Change often brings conflict. If people aren’t comfortable how they are, then people are different. Therefore, change is intrinsically uncomfortable. How will we handle change?
Explanation: But This Is How God Currently Is Working (vv. 4-15)
Peter had an explanation for his actions. This explanation recounted what happened in Acts 10. Shortly after the healing of Tabitha in Acts 9, God began working to bring Peter together with a man named Cornelius, who was a centurion in the Italian Regiment. Through a dream, God told Cornelius to send a delegation of three men to seek out Peter in Joppa and invite him back to Caesarea.
God also sent Peter a vision while he was praying, a vision involving an object descending from heaven, a great sheet full of all kinds of animals, creeping things and birds of the air. In the vision, God said, “Rise Peter; kill and eat.” This happened three times. Peter refused because he always had tried to keep the laws of the covenant that governed clean and unclean animals. God answered Peter by saying, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” Peter rightly interpreted this vision as being representative of the three men of Cornelius’ delegation who had just arrived. Peter took this as a sign from the Spirit of God to go with these men back to Caesarea, where he preached the gospel.
God moved among those Gentiles, saved them and sent the Spirit of God to them evidenced by speaking in tongues…an identical experience to what Peter had experienced at Pentecost. This may not be the way it always had been done, but it was how God was working then.
Communication is important when addressing concerns. Peter wasn’t defensive, but he provided a defense or explanation for what had transpired. Never be afraid to explain when you are following the Lord!
Resolution: How Can I Possibly Stand Against God (vv. 16-17)?
Peter’s final answer on the matter came in verses 16-17. He said, “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
Choose God’s will over your own or those around you. God may speak to you through His Word and compel you to do something that is new and uncomfortable. What will you do? How will you respond? Once we know the will of God, how can we withstand it?
Conclusion: If It Comes from God, It’s Good Enough for Us (v. 18)!
What about the chastisers? How will the apostles and brethren react to Peter’s account of recent events? Scripture says, “When they heard these things, they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God also has granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’”
Their response was to glorify God for extending salvation to the Gentiles. The people of God no longer are defined by an ethnic/physical boundary. God has extended His Spirit to Jew and gentile alike!
Once we know that something comes from God, we must glorify Him and get on board. God’s revealed will requires us to come under His authority!
I was disobedient to my mom because I felt the rules shouldn’t apply to me. This is pride. Peter was not being prideful. It wasn’t that Peter felt the rules no longer applied to him. He wasn’t trying to transgress God’s rules. God chose to change the rules. God chose to distribute His grace to the Gentiles. He sent the same Spirit to them as at Pentecost. In this particular instance, God’s expectations shifted, and Peter simply responded to God’s will. Salvation is available to whosoever will. To God be the glory!
Jeffrey C. Campbell is the W.A. Criswell Assistant Professor of Preaching at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas.