By: Sally Lombardo
“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.” This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 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.’” (Acts 11:4–12)
Peter was in the city of Joppa, praying. Joppa was a busy ancient city situated on a trade route, so he may have been praying on a house rooftop, a usual place for prayer. What was Peter asking God while he prayed? As a seacoast town, Joppa would have drawn people from many different regions and cities. It was a perfect city for God to begin answering Peter’s desire to be part of God’s plan. God had recently answered Peter’s prayer to heal Tabitha and raise her to life. Maybe Peter was thanking God and confessing, “I love being part of your work, Lord! I want to know you better. How can I?”
So God sent a group of Gentiles, probably military men, from Caesarea to Joppa to find this healer named Peter and bring him back to Cornelius. While Peter was beseeching God to know him better and play a bigger part in his work, the Lord was preparing Cornelius for Peter’s visit. I’m so grateful that God often answers our prayers in tandem with his answers to others who seek him in prayer. Peter says, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us” (11:12 NRSV). Think of what this meant to Peter, a Jewish man—this command to not distinguish between himself and a Gentile centurion.
God’s answer to Peter’s prayer was not to give him a more respected leadership position, but a more loving heart. The rest of Peter’s vision shows him how God had changed the rules about what was unholy or unclean. Peter wrestled with God to understand. How could he have things in his life that were formerly considered impure? Slowly Peter’s eyes saw that God’s command would prevent him from showing partiality within the body of Christ. God was preparing Cornelius’s household to receive Jesus and be baptized, and God was preparing Peter’s heart to obey. God is preparing work for us to do as well, if we are willing to understand his Word and submit our lives to his will.
Reflection: Have you ever drawn unnecessary lines of distinction? Ask God for opportunities to redraw old boundary lines. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments?
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a "gift" who will guide us, lead us, and empower us. Yet many believers don't experience the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This unique Christian small group Bible study provides a space in which we can explore what it truly means to "walk in the Spirit" on a daily basis. The Spirit-Filled Life small group curriculum centers on a 6-part video teaching series examining the life-giving and creative work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Begin to experience the gift today!
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