1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
In today’s reading, we work back through the story of the events leading up to Peter’s surprising conclusion that Jesus is Lord of all including the Gentiles. The news has spread that he has been hanging out with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble with that Gentile gang, so he finds himself back in the principal’s office in Jerusalem trying to explain himself.
Peter does explain himself to his fellow Jewish believers, but this time through the story he points to the surprising fact that before he even got to the punchline of his sermon, “the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Peter’s defense is essentially, “It wasn’t my fault, the Spirit did it!” Or, another way of saying it is that when Peter got there, the Holy Spirit had already arrived and begun the work. And if you look back at Cornelius’ open heart and open home and his readiness to hear the gospel (Acts 10:33), you do see the Spirit’s fingerprints all over this event.
In this case, Peter was no rebel with a cause or a maverick bucking the system. Peter still seems as surprised as they are that the Spirit chose to do this kind of work amongst the Gentiles. But this is how it goes in God’s mission. The church, throughout the narrative of Acts, is constantly playing catch up and is being pushed and pulled (sometimes kicking and screaming) to new areas and new opportunities of mission where the Spirit is at work. But that was also good news to them and to us: wherever God calls us to, the Spirit has gone ahead of us. There need be no fear in saying yes to this call, because we are not alone. Our often slow, stumbling, never enough effort, when joined with the Spirit’s prior work, is multiplied to advance God’s kingdom and bless God’s world.
Where has the Spirit gone ahead of you and begun a new work?
Where are you being pushed and prodded into new areas of opportunity to partner with the work the Spirit has already begun in your life?
Now, Lord, enable your servants through the empowerment of your Spirit to speak your word with great boldness. (taken from Acts 4:29)
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.