A Christian Guide to Acts by R. David Pogge

Chapter 6

The Ministry of Peter

Acts 9:32 - 12

The Ministry of Peter is described in Acts chapters 9 through 12. Except for four verses in Acts 15 (in which Peter reminds the Council at Jerusalem that God sent him to minister to Gentiles) there is no mention of Peter after Acts Chapter 12.

Section 6.1 - Peter’s Power

Peter was preaching and healing near the Mediterranean Sea in the cites of Lydda and Joppa (see the map in Section 4.6).

As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, …

Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. … This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon. [Acts 9:32-37, 40 ,42-43]

As we saw back in Section 3.2, Peter got the attention and respect of the people by performing miracles. He used this to his advantage when preaching—but Peter wasn’t divine. He didn’t do it through his own power. Peter was an ordinary person who was extraordinarily filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are as filled with the Holy Spirit as Peter was, we can do whatever God wants us to do.

I don’t have the power to heal or raise people from the dead. That’s not evidence that my faith is lacking. It is simply because God has other plans for me. My mission is to explain the Scriptures, not to heal diseases or raise the dead. Teaching certainly isn’t as impressive as raising people from the dead; but it is what God has given me to do, so God has given me the power, motive, and opportunity to do it in real life, on the radio, and on the Internet.

God has a mission for you, too, and He will give you the power to do it.

Section 6.2 - An Unpalatable Mission

God wanted Peter to preach to non-Jews, which was distasteful to Jews in general, and Peter in particular. God had to do something dramatic to get Peter to preach to a Gentile. He used a sheet load of unclean animals to do it.

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa. [Acts 10:1-8]

God had a plan. He knew what kind of man Cornelius was, He knew where Peter was staying, and He knew that Caesarea is a good distance north of Joppa (as you can see from the map), so He planned his visions so that they would get to Joppa at just the right time (when Peter was praying).

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. [Acts 10:9 – 16]

It is widely taught in Christian churches today that Jesus abolished the law against eating unclean meats. If that were true, this vision would make no sense. Peter would have been eating ham sandwiches for 10 years, and would not have hesitated to kill and eat any of the unclean animals on the sheet. The vision depends upon the fact that Peter knew the animals were unclean and must not be eaten. Peter knew God had not made them clean. It puzzled Peter.

While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.

While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” [Acts 10:17-20]

Peter didn’t have to wonder about what God had made clean because at that exact moment Gentiles invited Peter to come to their home and preach to them. Peter invited the "unclean" Gentiles into the house.

Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. … He [Peter] said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” [Acts 10:23-24, 28-29]

Peter obeyed the command God gave him in vision by going to the home of a Gentile—not by eating a ham sandwich. If Jesus had nailed the prohibition against eating unclean animals to the cross more than 10 years earlier, Peter would not have hesitated to eat them.

Some people claim that, although Jesus didn’t do it, this vision abolished the kosher food laws from that moment on. If the designation between “clean” and “unclean” had been abolished when Luke wrote Acts, Luke would not have referred to them as “unclean.” There would have been no such thing as an “unclean” animal when he wrote Acts. Luke would have called them, “formerly unclean.” Furthermore, the vision would have made no sense to Luke's readers if they thought the dietary restrictions had previously been abolished.

Luke didn’t know that someday the Catholic Church would not only drop God’s dietary restrictions, but would encourage eating ham on Easter (and change the day of worship) for anti-Semitic reasons, so he didn’t specifically say, “This vision doesn’t mean unclean animals are now clean.” But he did specifically say,

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.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. … Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. … 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.” [Acts 11:2-5, 11-12, 18]

In the Garden of Eden, God gave mankind a simple test of obedience by designating one fruit as being forbidden. After an angel was posted at the entrance to the Garden of Eden (making it impossible to sin by eating the forbidden fruit if anyone even wanted to) God designated certain other foods as being forbidden—and they are still forbidden today. It is a sin to eat them.

For background on the Jewish dietary laws, see Appendix D.

Section 6.3 - It’s Not Fair!

Acts Chapter 12 begins by telling how an angel helped Peter escape from prison.

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. 1

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. …

In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. [Acts 12:1-10, 18-19]

Herod executed James. Herod had previously executed John the Baptist and given John’s head to his daughter on a platter. 2 Since an angel rescued Peter, an angel certainly could also have rescued James and John—but they weren’t rescued. In light of John’s unflinching faith, compared to Peter’s occasional denials, it would be difficult to argue that Peter deserved to be rescued more than John did. Obviously, miraculous release from prison is not merit-based, which isn’t fair.

The Bible never promises fairness. In fact, Jesus told a parable about workers in a field who all got paid the same, even though some worked longer than others. Clearly, it wasn’t fair. The moral of that parable is,

“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” [Matthew 20:15]

Jesus wasn’t obligated to release Peter, James, or John from prison. Jesus was simply more generous to Peter than he was to James or John.

Unfortunately, it is human nature to judge God and tell Him what He should have done. Recognizing this, Paul told the Romans,

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? [Romans 9:20-21]

It isn’t fair that some pots are special, and some are ordinary. Some pots get to raise people from the dead, and other pots just get to explain the scriptures. Pots should not complain about the purpose the potter gave them.

Different gifts are given to different people. Some gifts are more prestigious than others, but all are necessary.

And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. [1 Corinthians 12:28]

Jesus told a parable about a man who gave three different amounts of money to three servants for them to invest.3 That wasn’t fair.

When Peter asked Jesus if John would be alive when Jesus returned,

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” [John 21:22]

We must accept the job God gives us, trust that God knows what is best, and rely on the power God gives us to do the job. It should not matter to you what God gives others, or what God asks of others. It isn’t fair—but that’s life.

If the unfairness of life still bothers you, consider this: the ultimate example of unfairness is the fact that Jesus died on the cross for your sins.

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Footnotes:

1 The King James Version inexplicably translates "Passover" as "Easter," in Acts 12:4, which makes no sense. It is the only time the word “Easter” appears anywhere in any English translation of the Bible. All the manuscripts used by the King James translators say "Passover," not "Easter." Neither the Christians nor the Jews celebrated that pagan fertility festival at that time. The Roman Catholic Church didn't replace the celebration of Passover with Easter until the 4th century when she substituted Sunday for the “Jewish” Sabbath (for anti-Semitic reasons).
2 Matthew 14:1-12
3 Matthew 25:14-30