The Approachable Apostle (Acts 11:1-18)
Introduction All of Jerusalem is in shock over the scandal. How could he have done it? Peter, changed by his time spent with Jesus and charged by the Spirit of Jesus, has become a legend. He spoke into the bewilderment of his brethren words of tremendous insight and hope and helped them to see the trustworthiness of God's word in the tragedy of Judas' treachery (Acts 1:15-26; 4:4). When he preached thousands made decisions to place their faith in Christ (Acts 2:40-41). When he extended the right hand of fellowship even people that could not walk were fully restored. Literally! E.g., there was a man that had been lame from birth. But when he was pulled to his feet by the big fisherman, the same man is later found walking, and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:4-10).
When Peter was in trouble for his faith in Jesus he was indomitable. Incarceration did not break him (Acts 4:3). Threats from high ranking officials did not scare him away from preaching in the temple. When put on trial for the trespass of teaching the resurrection he in turn put his judge and jury on trial for the murder of the Messiah and told them to their face that they have no hope of salvation except in the name they won't say - Jesus (Acts 4:8-13). And when he was whipped for proclaiming the truth he would not wail saying "Woe is me!" Instead he sang for the joy of being allowed to suffer in Jesus' name (Acts 5:40-41). In the power of the Holy Spirit the man formerly driven by fear to deny the Lord is now fearless in his new identity as a witness for Jesus.
But legend or not... he has taken things too far. Even though he is the most well known and popular among the apostles he has crossed the line. Check out the headline in The Jerusalem Journal
Pete Meets and Eats with Gentiles
Peter's meeting and eating with Gentiles is altogether unacceptable. He seems to think that he is above the Law. Every self respecting Jew knows that God has in one breath both called Israel both away from Gentile fellowship and Gentile food.
24 But I have said to you, “You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. 26 And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Leviticus 20:24-26)
Wait until he gets to Jerusalem. Apostle or not he is going to confronted and needs to answer for his actions.
People Perceive Problems in Peter (Acts 11:1-3) 1 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” The news of what has happened in Caesarea traveled fast. It was such an astonishing thing that the Jewish News Network (JNN) was carrying the matter as breaking news: Gentiles had also received the word of God (Acts 11:1). But not everyone is happy about it. There are some who see a more disturbing issue: Peter's rebellion overshadows Gentile repentance. There are some in the fellowship who are so incensed about Peter's transgression of fellowship and food restrictions that they cannot rejoice in the faith revival. They are so fixed on his failure to keep the Law they are fundamentally incapable of seeing in his actions the leading of the Lord. Who are they? In the passage they are referred to as those of the circumcision. They are a group within the new fellowship holding up the importance of the Old Covenant.
Here, however, “those of the circumcision” has a narrower sense, namely those who contended for circumcision as being necessary for membership in the Christian Church, the circumcision party. Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 438). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
What does Legalism do? It locks up the grace of God in man-made traditions, in religious rituals, and in the Law. According to the gospel of legalism you cannot see the Savior until you have seen the synagogue. You cannot meet Messiah until you have been properly introduced to Moses. And you cannot know Jesus as Lord until you have submitted to the Law (Acts 15:5).
But the relentless grace of God sends an evangelist into a deserted area to share His truth with one man who was physically disqualified from participating in the fullness of Judaism. The determined move of the Spirit sends Peter to preach salvation to the uncircumcised. And the uncanny counsel of the Godhead considered it wise to send a former Pharisee to make grace in Christ known among the nations.
The legalists take issue with Peter's behavior. But, lest we become their judges, we should bear in mind that their thinking is reasonable. Judaism and Christianity are still viewed by some as the same thing.
Evidently they represented a strongly Jewish Their perspective is understandable, given that at this point Christianity was still seen as a movement within Judaism. Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 266). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Moveover, the facts had not yet been brought forward. The decision to confront Peter should be viewed as an attempt to get an explanation. It is actually a good thing and reveals that Peter was approachable, people did not regard him as infallible, and their issues were not reduced to slander and gossip.
With refreshing openness [Peter] was taken to task for his conduct. Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 439). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
The Lord's Lesson on Being Loosed from the Law (Acts 11:4-10; Galatians 3:24-15; Romans 10:4; Leviticus 20:24-26) 4 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. 6 When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.
* 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ (Acts 11:9) * 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:24-25) * 1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. (Romans 7:1-4)
He did not argue in the least; he let the facts speak for others just as they had spoken for him. The imperfect ἐξετίθετο should receive more attention, “he proceeded to set out.” It continues the previous imperfect διεκρίνοντο. Both are descriptive, but both intend to hold the reader in suspense as to the final outcome which is recorded by the aorists in v. 18 after Peter has delivered his address. Here were these people contending with Peter, here was Peter telling his story. What was the result? Verse 18 tells us. Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 440). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
The wording of Peter’s refusal in verse 8 is closer even than that of 10:14 to Ezekiel’s protest when he was directed to eat “unclean” food: “abominable flesh has never entered into my mouth” (Ezek. 4:14). Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 221–222). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Clean Meat Means Clean Man? Some scholars feel that Peter’s vision dealt more with food laws than with interaction with Gentiles. This is to overlook the fact that the two are inextricably related. In Lev 20:24b–26 the laws of clean and unclean are linked precisely to Israel’s separation from the rest of the nations. The Jewish food laws presented a real problem for Jewish Christians in the outreach to the Gentiles. One simply could not dine in a Gentile’s home without inevitably transgressing those laws either by the consumption of unclean flesh or of flesh that had not been prepared in a kosher, i.e., ritually proper, fashion (cf. Acts 15:20). Jesus dealt with the problem of clean and unclean, insisting that external things like foods did not defile a person but the internals of heart and speech and thought render one truly unclean (Mark 7:14–23). In Mark 7:19b Mark added the parenthetical comment that Jesus’ saying ultimately declared all foods clean. This was precisely the point of Peter’s vision: God declared the unclean to be clean.86 In Mark 7 Jesus’ teaching on clean/unclean was immediately followed by his ministry to a Gentile woman (7:24–30), just as Peter’s vision regarding clean and unclean foods was followed by his witness to a Gentile. It is simply not possible to fully accept someone with whom you are unwilling to share in the intimacy of table fellowship. The early church had to solve the problem of kosher food laws in order to launch a mission to the Gentiles. Purity distinctions and human discrimination are of a single piece. Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 255). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
The Prevenient Grace and Gospel of God Goes Beyond My Boundaries (Acts 11:11-14) 11 At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’
The most significant difference from the earlier account is the additional detail that there were six Christians from Joppa who accompanied Peter to Caesarea (v. 12). More than that—it was “these” six whom Peter brought to Jerusalem as witnesses to what transpired in Cornelius’s home (cf. 10:45).117 Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 267). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Barriers Broken Down in Baptism (Acts 11:15-18; Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:3-4; John 1:26, 33) 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 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.’ 17 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?” 18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
The legalist would tell you it is necessary for you to help pay for your pardon and that you must garner God's grace through great effort. He will say that you must see the synagogue before you can see the Savior, that you must meet Moses before you can be properly introduced to Messiah, and that you must learned in the Law before you can know the Lord.
God evidently made no distinction between believing Gentiles and believing Jews; how could Peter maintain a barrier which God plainly ignored? To do so would be to oppose God. There is no express mention here (as there is in 10:47–48) of the baptism of the Gentiles, though it is perhaps implied in the language of verse 17. Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 222–223). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.