When I was pastoring in central Michigan, I was very involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Through my involvement with FCA, I developed a friendship with the star running back for Central Michigan University by the name of Brian Pruitt. Not only was Brian a committed Christian, but he was an amazing football talent, and his hope and expectation were to be drafted into the NFL. I was actually at a game his senior year when he rushed for over 300 yards, probably a school record that still stands. In Brian’s last game of his senior year, he was injured and so when Central Michigan made a bowl game at the end of the season (I believe it was the Las Vegas bowl), Brian was unable to play. Because of his injury, Brian dropped completely off the NFL’s draft board. After the draft however he was offered a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons. The contract was contingent on him passing a physical, as all such contracts would be. As the results of this extensive physical, it was discovered that Brian was missing vertebrae in his neck, a condition that would completely eliminate him from being able to play professional football for his livelihood. We had scheduled Brian to be a guest speaker at our men’s monthly fellowship breakfast and Bible study before all of this had unfolded in his life. When he came he shared his story and how when he was in training for football his coach always encouraged the athletes to “keep chopping away”, no matter what happens you have to “keep chopping away”. Brian’s life had been completely rerouted by the things that happened, but he planned on continuing to “chop away”, doing what was necessary to find God’s will for his life.
When Peter returned from his amazing experience in Caesarea (Acts 10) he must have been filled with a profound sense of elation and joy over having seen Cornelius and his whole household come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But if Peter was expecting the brethren in Jerusalem to be rejoicing and patting him on the back for the great success of his journey, boy was he going to be in for a surprise. We read what happened next in Acts 11, “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”. Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened,” (Acts11:1-4 NIV). God had dealt directly with Peter’s prejudice against Gentiles and directing him to go into the home of Cornelius and minister the gospel of Cornelius’s family and friends. God had demonstrated that the Gentiles stood at the foot of the cross equally, without the rituals of the law, by the Holy Spirit’s powerful intervention into the hearts and lives of Cornelius and those who were present there with him. Peter had no doubt that God was in his actions, now God was about to use him to break down the religious and racial prejudice of the circumcised believers in Jerusalem.
It’s interesting that verse one states that the religious leaders in Jerusalem had heard that the Gentiles “had received the word of God”. The preaching of the gospel to Cornelius was a thing that we as poor sinners of the Gentile race have great reason to reflect upon with delight and joyful thanksgiving. It was not however received that way in all other religious circles. Peter’s return from certainly a strenuous journey was not greeted with a warm, embracing love for his obvious boldness in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. The words in verse 2, “criticized him”, are in the imperfect tense, which in the Greek language conveys a repeated action in the past and means that over and over again they contended with him over his actions. The question to them was not whether the Gentiles had been converted, but whether they had been circumcised, not whether they had been baptized, but had they received the mark of the Mosaic covenant. This legalistic group did not understand the relationship between law and grace, Jews and Gentiles, Israel, and the church and they needed Peter to challenge the worldview of the system they were coming out of. Legalism always places externals above spirituality and those zealous and courageous in the service of Christ must expect to be censured by those who are cold and indifferent to the things of the Lord.
Consider their points of contention with Peter, “you went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them,”(v.3). Earlier in our study, we had seen Peter contending with God when the Holy Spirit instructed him to eat all the food on the sheet that God had dropped before him. We also said that this was the background for Peter being invited into the home of a Gentile, which God had made very clear to him that he should go. I find it most interesting here to find Peter on the defensive trying to defend his actions, in light of how God had used him to touch the hearts of Cornelius and his family. I’m pretty certain when Peter was in Cornelius’s home and the Holy Spirit have moved and worked that he wasn’t too concerned about eating a kosher diet, but it certainly seems to be something the Jewish Christians were very concerned about. Peter certainly had to keep chopping along if he was the help his brethren to break through their prejudice and racism. This is an issue that was of paramount importance in the early life of the church of Jesus Christ (did Gentiles have to become Jews before becoming Christians?) and really does not get resolved until Acts 15 during the Jerusalem Council. In the meantime, Peter had to keep chopping along, allowing God to use him and looking for avenues to help his brothers see that God was doing something new in their day. Overcoming prejudice and religious discrimination is never an easy thing. But if the Holy Spirit is working in people’s hearts and lives, God can do some very amazing things. Each of us should have our hearts open to what God is doing in our lives and in the world around us. If our hearts are open to the Lord’s leading, we might end up discovering God showing up in some pretty awesome ways and using us toward different ends that we have never considered.
All for Christ,
Pastor Rich Sivo