Acts 10:1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.
Cornelius was a high-ranking soldier who worshipped God, but was neither Jewish nor Christian. One afternoon he had a vision of an angel telling him to send for Peter, who was staying in the city of Joppa, about thirty miles away. So he sent some men to get him.
Acts 10:9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.
Peter was staying at the home of Simon the tanner (Acts 10:6), and went up on his flat roof porch to pray. There he fell into a trance, and 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 10:11-16).
Some of the creatures in the sheet were forbidden in the Old Testament to be eaten as food. You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten (Leviticus 11:47), wrote Moses.
Peter may have thought his faith was being tested, so he resisted at first. But the men from Cornelius soon arrived, and the Spirit told Peter to go with them. He did so, along with some other believers.
When he arrived at the home of Cornelius, Peter found a large gathering of people. He 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 (Acts 10:28).
Peter’s vision convinced him that the food laws were no longer binding, and Gentiles were not to be called unclean. This was a departure from the old covenant which had become obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), because it was replaced by the new covenant under Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:31, Luke 22:20).
Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak.
He recounted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. While he was speaking, the Spirit came on those who were listening, and they spoke in tongues. Then they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This was similar to when the Spirit came on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. They also spoke in tongues, Peter preached, and many were baptized (Acts 2:1-41). God used Peter to reach the Jews, then to reach the Gentiles.
An important point of this story is that God was taking the initiative to get the gospel out. Peter didn’t plan the day of Pentecost—God did. And Peter didn’t plan to take the gospel to the Gentiles—God did. Throughout the book of Acts, God is the one who takes the initiative. He uses people, of course, but he is the primary worker.
The book of Acts records some extraordinary ways God spread his word in the first few decades of the church. He continues to spread his word in extraordinary ways, but he also has an ordinary way: the faithful ministry of local churches.
It is through the ordinary ministry of teaching and preaching that most people come to faith, and are spiritually nurtured throughout their lives. We should thank God for his extraordinary ways of working, but never despise his ordinary way, since that is how he normally cares for us.
Acts 12:1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.
King Herod Agrippa the First ruled Palestine for seven years, from AD 37 to AD 44. He was a powerful king who could administer the death sentence without a trial. He was the grandson of Herod the Great, who slaughtered the babies of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-18). He was also related to Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist. Wickedness and righteousness often run in families because children learn from their parents. Herod is a negative example, but there are positive ones.
Jonathan Edwards was an American preacher from the seventeen hundreds who was a model of godliness. His descendants include thirteen college presidents, sixty-five professors, one hundred lawyers, one hundred missionaries, thirty judges, sixty-six physicians, three senators, three governors and one vice-president of the United States. Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6), says Proverbs.
Acts 12:2 [Herod] had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.
James was the brother of the Apostle John, and the first apostle to be martyred. This was a serious development for at least two reasons. First, Herod may have planned to stop Christianity by killing all the apostles. If they had died before the New Testament was written, the results would have been disastrous. Second, persecution had previously come from within Judaism, but now it was coming from the Roman government. Whenever a government becomes involved in persecution, the devastation can be extreme.
At various times, Christians have been declared enemies of the state, and forced to sign documents renouncing their faith. Their homes have been confiscated, and they have been thrown into prison, brutally tortured and killed. This is why we should [pray] for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives (1 Timothy 2:2), wrote Paul. The devil hates the church, and will turn the world against it whenever he can.
Acts 12:3 When [Herod] saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.
Things were going badly, and the church was in serious trouble. But Peter did not seem troubled at all. [He] was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance (Acts 12:6).
Peter was in maximum security, and might be killed in the morning, but he slept like a baby that night. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8), wrote David. Peter knew that his life was not in the hands of an earthly tyrant, but in the hands of his heavenly king. This is what gave him peace.
This idea is also stated in the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism. What is your only comfort in life and in death? Answer: That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. If this is what we truly believe, we can always have peace.
Acts 12:7 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.
Peter followed the angel out of prison, past two sets of guards, and through an iron gate which opened by itself (Acts 12:10). Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14), says Hebrews. The Bible does not teach that every Christian has an angel, but the idea is not ruled out (Acts 12:14, Matthew 18:10). The ministry of angels is real, and this should be a comfort to all who believe.
Reflection and Review
Why is the ordinary work of faithful churches important?
Why should we pray for political leaders?
Why was Peter able to sleep while he was in danger?