The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them …”
(Later) … when they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (verses 1-3, 18)
We have just experienced the wonder-working grace of God in Acts 10, drawing even Gentiles (completely outside the circle) into the full embrace of salvation in Jesus Christ. What Joy! What marvel! What wonder!
And then, at the beginning of Acts 11, we run into the hard-edge of human criticism and judgement. “You, Peter, went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
I’ve been involved in the church long enough to see this happen time and again. What is received by one as blessing, raises the hackles of condemnation for others. If I’m honest, I’ve found myself on both sides of this equation at different moments. Ouch.
These “circumcised believers” launch straight-away into accusation of Peter. Couldn’t they first have asked some questions, heard the story, listened with discernment?
Yet Peter doesn’t respond in kind but rather takes the opportunity to simply recount what God has done.
Luke, writing the story, clearly knows this is a milestone moment, for he repeats again the whole story of Peter’s vision, leaving nothing out, telling about the sheet and the animals and the divine voice speaking out the words of command, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” He lets us know that the “circumcised believers” heard it in full. Clearly, he wants us not to miss it either.
After the account of the angelic visitation to Cornelius and the obvious outpouring on the Holy Spirit on these uncircumcised pagans, the objectors embrace the wonder. “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life,” they say.
“So then.” What a wonderful statement both of insight and humility. Insight from examining the fingerprints of God’s workings. Humility in being open to that examination in the first place.
I am instructed by both Peter and these converted believers. Peter shows me how to respond when I, too, encounter unbelieving kick-back regarding new initiatives from the Lord’s hand. He simply retells the story, highlighting what God has done, allowing the Lord’s purposes to be seen. He, of course, has the advantage that this is a truly remarkable incident. Often, in my experience, opposition arises over less consequential things. But nonetheless, Peter inspires, simply recounting the sightings of Jesus at work, letting him open eyes once again.
Likewise, these circumcised believers instruct me when I find myself on the opposite side of the fence. They held deeply-felt, long-term, scripture-rooted convictions about the importance of keeping the ceremonial law. Indeed, their convictions led to prejudice against outsiders. So, they jumped to conclusions when they initially heard where Peter had been. But remarkably, they are willing to listen to the story, not just with their ears but with their hearts. They perceive the remarkable signs of God working in completely unexpected ways. And they embrace it, with both humility and wonder.
May I, too, show such grace. As Peter. As the surprised believers.
Lord Jesus, keep my eyes ever open to what you are doing. Let me not be put off by my own preconceptions of what you might do and whom you might use. Preserve in me the joy of discovering your fingerprints, wherever they appear.
Reflect: Currently, are you seeing resistance to what the Lord himself seems to be doing? Either in yourself or in others? How do the examples in this chapter instruct your response?