Tuesday of Easter V – Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

I knew a fellow who wanted to be a missionary. In fact, he was called to be a missionary right out of the seminary in 1960. He had served a vicarage in a bilingual congregation. He thought he was ready. He was sent to Hong Kong with his new bride, and they diligently started learning Chinese. Have you ever tried to learn Chinese? It did not go well. He intended to invite some people to have tea with him but ended asking them to eat small pieces of paper. After working very hard at this for some time, he finally had to admit, he just could not learn a tonal language like Chinese.

At the same time, he started to notice that there were many English-speaking expatriates in Hong Kong. At the time, it was still a British colony. Perhaps God was calling to him to be a missionary to folks who, like him, were not fluent in Chinese. He went on to found the Church of All Nations in Hong Kong and its school, Hong Kong International School, which today is one of the largest Lutheran schools in the world.

Peter was pretty sure he knew what God wanted. He thought that God was calling people to observe the Torah and believe in Jesus. Real Christians, he imagined, did not eat ham sandwiches, work on the Sabbath, or have anything to do with unclean gentiles. Gentiles were OK with Peter, but they had to keep the Torah. In order to benefit from Jesus, they had to do this. That made them clean gentiles. In chapter 10 and 11 God thoroughly disabuses him of this notion through an encounter with Cornelius the Roman Centurion, a man who was emphatically not a Torah-keeping gentile. Yet, God poured out His Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household. I think verse 17 is the lynchpin here. Peter saw what God was doing and decided to get on board with that. Who was he to tell God what to do? Pray today that God give his people open eyes, minds, and hearts to see what God is doing, even if that means we have to abandon what we thought we should be doing and what we thought He would bless.

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