Peter and Saul Meet
Peter was in the upper room at Jerusalem discussing church matters with James, pastor of the congregation. A few members were present, but none of the other apostles. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Peter asked him, Were you expecting anyone?
Only Barnabas, James replied, and he wouldnt knock.
Peter cautiously opened the door, and was shocked! Before him stood the smaller man with the gazing eyes he had seen more than six years earlier in the courtroom of the Sanhedrin. This time his eyes were not full of hate, but sparkled with newfound faith. Peter could not believe it. He had heard rumors about Sauls conversion, and now here he was, face-to-face with the most feared persecutor of the church. He hoped Saul had truly become a believer and didnt want to think about the consequences if he wasnt.
Just then, Barnabas came in. He was one of the early disciples who had sold his only piece of property in Cyprus and donated the money to the congregation. The Cypriot showed the same generosity toward all his friends and greeted Saul warmly, My friend, it is good to see you again. Then he turned to Peter, whose heart was still beating rapidly, and said Its alright, I can vouch for him; he truly is one of us.
Faithful to his name, Son of Encouragement, Barnabas took Saul in and introduced him to Peter, James, and the other believers in the room. He described how the former persecutor had seen the Lord and heard his voice, and afterwards how he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus at Damascus.
With all eyes watching, Saul made his apology, I have seen the Light and completely changed my way of thinking, now wholeheartedly serving our Lord and Savior. I devastated the church in ignorance. God has forgiven me, and I hope you will forgive all the harm I have done to you. I have been personally commissioned by Jesus to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, and before I begin my ministry, I want to be reconciled to my fellow believers.
No one said anything while they were attempting to overcome the shock of seeing him there.
Barnabas broke the silence and informed Saul of the government changes, You already know Pilate, Caiaphas, and Annas are gone; and just recently, Herod Antipas was exiled by Emperor Caligula. Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, is now king of Galilee and Trachonitis. He is against us, but we have not given him any cause to go after the church. There is no Roman procurator, and we have been able to quietly continue our work with minimal harassment.
The evening meal was ready and Peter invited the new apostle to eat with them. Except for Barnabas, the rest of the disciples still stood where they were, not sure of what he would do next. Was he another Judas Iscariot or really one of them?
Barnabas called to them, Come join us and get to know our new brother in the Lord. Realizing that Saul was not a spy, one by one they came forward and sat down at the table, gradually accepting him into their fellowship.
Saul stayed with Peter for fifteen days so they could get acquainted and share their knowledge. Many times they talked far into the night. If only one could have listened in on those conversations! The Lord brought the unlearned fisherman and brilliant scholar together at this particular time for an important reason. These two pillars of the church complimented one another. They both had something to offer that other didnt have. Both needed each others knowledge to make an entire picture. Peter shared his experience and teachings from his three years with Christ on earth, Paul shared his knowledge about the Holy Spirit from his three years with Christ in the heavenly realm. Each others knowledge made both apostles complete, and this was essential to their ministries. God had accomplished his purpose and they were ready to proclaim the good news to the whole world.
Stirring up Trouble
Saul moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly and openly in the name of the Lord, talking and debating with the Greek-speaking Jews. But all too soon he had stirred up a hornets nest in the same synagogue where Stephen preached, and achieved the same reaction.
One day when Saul was praying in the Temple, the Lord appeared to him in a vision, Hurry, leave Jerusalemnow! I will send you far away to the Gentiles. An angry mob was waiting outside one of the gates to capture him, but he escaped through another gate. The brethren quickly escorted him away to Caesarea and sent him safely away in a ship headed for Tarsus.
Still less than thirty years old, the zealous apostle needed more time in Gods seminary to be schooled not in theology, but in wisdom and diplomacy. He spent the next six to nine years at Tarsus, earning a living as a tentmaker and preaching in Syria and Cilicia. Later, when he went on his first missionary journey to primarily Greek-speaking people, Saul changed his Jewish name to his Greek name Paul.
With Saul gone, believers throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria built up strength and worshipped the Lord in peace. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the churches stayed on course and increased in numbers. Peter felt they were secure enough for him to travel to other congregations that had been established in outlaying areas.
Aeneas Healed of Paralysis
Another of the Greek-speaking deacons of the early church, Philip the Evangelist, had done a fine job establishing churches in Samaria, Azotus (Ashdod), Lydda, Joppa, Antipatris, and cities along the coast up to Caesarea, where he now lived. Somewhat following in the footsteps of Philip, Peter began his official tour throughout the region, and first went down to visit Gods people at Lydda (Lod), about two-thirds of the way from Jerusalem to the seaport city of Joppa.
He walked a Roman road that came down from the hills to the rolling plain lying just inland from sandy dunes of the seacoast. There were groves of almonds, pomegranates, olives, apricots, mulberry and sycamores, with an ample water supply from numerous wells. The whole area was like a garden and was a place of peace, completely opposite of what he left behind.
When he reached Lydda, Peter found a man named Aeneas who had been bedridden with paralysis for eight years. He commanded him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ cures you; get up and make your bed! Immediately the paralyzed man stood up. When all who lived in the area saw how Aeneas was healed, they turned and worshipped the Lord. Word of the apostles presence and the miracle in Lydda spread rapidly. Large numbers of people flocked to hear him speak, many of them turning to the new faith.
Peter Raises Tabitha
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (Greek: Dorcas, meaning Gazelle), who filled her days with acts of kindness and charity. At that time she fell ill and died; and they washed her body and laid it in a room upstairs, but did not bury it. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples who had heard that Peter was there sent two men to him with the urgent request, Please come over to us without delay. Tabithas grief-stricken friends had faith that Peter could do something.
Immediately the apostle went with them and the ten mile journey was accomplished swiftly. When he arrived, he was taken up to the room. All the widows came and stood around him in tears, displaying the tunics and coats that Tabitha had made while she was with them. She had loved the Lord so much that she sacrificed herself in the service of others.
Peter sent them all outside, then knelt down and prayed. This was an important step of faith for him. Many times he had seen Jesus bring people back to life, and he had the power to do it; but the leader of the church had not yet raised anyone from the dead. His prayer was to know Gods will. After the Lord confirmed what he should do, he turned towards the lifeless body and spoke with a voice of authority, Tabitha, get up!
She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. Tabitha was alive! He could not help being awed by it, but hid his feelings. He gave her his hand and helped her to her feet, gently comforting her and explaining what had happened. Then he called the church members and widows who were outside the door and told them to come in. Their beloved gazelle had been raised from the dead. Tears of sorrow immediately turned to joy and they all rushed to embrace her. News of this great miracle spread all over Joppa, and many more came to believe in the Lord.
Peter stayed in Joppa for some time at the seaside home of Simon the leatherworker (tanner), who was a believer. He quickly came to love the city, and Simon became his friend. Vast reaches of the Mediterranean Sea spread endlessly westward. It was much different from the much smaller lake where he had grown up, but it held much of the same lure for him. At night on Simons rooftop, the former fisherman could lie on his sleeping pallet and watch the bobbing torches of the boats fishing far out into the seajust as he and Andrew had so often done on the Sea of Galilee. During the day, most of his time was occupied with the ever-increasing affairs of the rapidly growing church at Joppa. How much greater was fishing for people in the power of the Holy Spirit!
Ten years earlier on the day before Passover Sabbath A.D. 30, Cornelius had become a believer at the foot of the Saviors cross. When the festival was over, he had returned with Pilate and his wife Claudia Procula to military headquarters in Caesarea. But the governor couldnt help noticing that his wife and the centurion had become devout followers of the Nazarene he had crucified. Because of guilt feelings, he did not harass Claudia and Cornelius, and both believers had grown steadily in the faith.
Then in A.D. 36, everything changed for the centurion when Pilate was recalled to Rome by Tiberius to face charges of misconduct. Cornelius remained in charge of the elite Italian Cohort in Caesarea, and the only king to be found in Palestine was Herod Agrippa. The nephew of Herod Antipas was against the church, but there was nothing he could do to a Roman centurion. Cornelius no longer had to conceal his faith, and he gave generously to charity and regularly prayed to God. His entire family also believed.
While Peter was staying in Joppa, one day at three in the afternoon, the centurion had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God come into his room. The angel called to him, Cornelius!
He stared in terror but was able to speak, What is it, sir?
Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been recorded in heaven as an offering to God, the angel replied. Now send some men down to Joppa to find a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with another Simon, a leatherworker who lives near the shore. Ask him to come visit you in Caesarea.
As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. He told them what had happened and sent them off on a thirty-two mile journey to Joppa.
The next day about noon, while the men were still on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He grew hungry and wanted something to eat; but while they were getting it ready, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven open, and something coming down that looked like a great sheet of sailcloth. It was slung by the four corners and was being lowered to the earth by unseen hands. When the cloth came near he saw that it contained creatures of every kind: four-footed beasts, reptiles, and birdsincluding pigs and other living things which a devout Jew could not touch under penalty of defilement according to the Law.
A voice came to him, Get up, Peter; kill and eat.
Peter naturally recoiled from the sheet and its forbidden contents. He cried in horror, No, Lord! I have never eaten anything profane or unclean.
A second time the voice came, and now its accents were like thunder, It is not for you to call profane what God counts clean.
Three times this extraordinary vision was repeated, each time with the final admonition, It is not for you to call profane what God counts clean. Then the sailcloth was drawn up into heaven, which closed after it.
While Peter was still puzzling over the meaning of the vision he had seen, the messengers from Cornelius had been asking the way to Simons house, and now arrived at the entrance. They called out, Is Simon Peter lodging there?
Peter looked down from the roof to see who called him, and the Spirit whispered, These three men are here looking for you; get up and go downstairs. You may go with them without any misgiving, for it was I who sent them.
The apostle came down to the messengers and asked, You are looking for me? I am Simon Peter. What brings you here?
We are from the centurion Cornelius, they replied, a good and religious man, well respected by the whole Jewish nation. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house in Caesarea so he can hear what you have to say.
Peter invited the messengers inside and gave them a nights lodging. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had told him how Cornelius had become a believer and had gone back to Caesarea; and that some who had escaped from Sauls persecution had been befriended by the Roman officer. The apostle knew he would not be in danger there, but the two had never met.
It was only after the evening meal that he connected his vision that afternoon with the coming of the men from Caesarea. He awoke in the middle of the night, greatly troubled. Deep in his heart he sensed what it was, but everything in his life as a Jew who obeyed the Law rebelled against such an interpretation and its implications. He had no trouble accepting proselytes (non-Jews who had converted to Judaism); but when it came to admitting Gentiles (heathens), even the advice of the Master to go and teach all nations and Sauls commission as Apostle to the Gentiles could not immediately overcome his reluctance to break Jewish laws that had been obeyed for more than a thousand years and had kept the Jews pure as a separate people.
Accompanied by six members of the church at Joppa, Peter left the following morning, reaching the Roman district capital late on the afternoon of the second day of travel.
Cornelius Meets Peter
The centurion was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter arrived, Cornelius came outside to meet him in the cool atrium of the Roman dwelling and knelt to the ground in deep reverence.
But Peter raised him to his feet and said, Stand up; I am only a man like you.
Cornelius had something to tell the church leader before they went inside, I have been a follower of Jesus of Nazareth since the day he was crucified. I was on duty when he was arrested and taken before Pontius Pilate. When Jesus died, I felt his love flow through me, and it caused me to shout at the foot of his cross, Truly this was the Son of God. At the time, I did not know what it all meant. Only when my friends Nicodemus and Joseph told me I was forgiven did I dare hope that he might be my Savior, too. I hope you will forgive me as well.
Yes, I do forgive you! Peter exclaimed with a spasm of pain on his face. Now I have a confession to make to you. I was not at the foot of our Lords cross with his faithful followers because I was hiding away in fear and shame. I denied knowing him three times and then deserted him. I, too, needed forgiveness and Jesus forgave me. Can I do any less?
As they were conversing like old friends, the Jew and the Roman went into the room where a large group gathered. God had performed a miracle, using two supernatural communications to arrange it.
Cornelius and the men from Joppa sat down next to Peter, who stood in front of all the people who were ready to receive the truth. The apostle turned to the centurion, May I ask why you sent for me?
The Roman told him about his vision, Three days previously, just about this time, I was here in the house saying the afternoon prayers, when suddenly a man in shining robes stood before me. He said: Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your acts of charity have spoken for you before God. Send to Simon Peter at Joppa, and ask him to come; he is lodging in the house of Simon the tanner, by the sea. I sent for you at once, and you have been good enough to come. Now we are all waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has instructed you to say.
Gentiles Receive Holy Spirit
Under Jewish Law, all the people listening were considered Gentiles; but Peter knew none of them would have been there if they had not already shown an interest in the teachings of Jesus. When he saw their eager faces uplifted to him, he finally understood what he should say, I need not tell you that a Jew is forbidden by his religion to visit or associate with anyone of another race. But God has shown me clearly that I must not call anyone profane or unclean; that is why I came here without hesitation when you sent for me. I now understand how true it is that God has no favorites; that in every nation, those who are god-fearing and do what is right are acceptable to him.
He sent his word to the Israelites and gave the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all creation. All of you have heard what has happened lately in the land of the Jews, starting from Galilee after the baptism proclaimed by John. You know how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Because God was with him, he went about doing good works and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.
We can bear witness to all the miracles that he did in the Jewish countryside and in Jerusalem. For that reason the Jewish leaders put him to death, hanging him on a cross. But God raised him to life on the third day, and allowed him to be clearly seen, not by the whole people, but by witnesses whom God had chosen in advanceby us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Before he ascended into heaven, he commanded us to proclaim him to the people, and affirm that he is the only one designated by God as judge of the living and the dead. It is to him that all the prophets testify, declaring that everyone who trusts in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Peters final words were all but drowned out by something that was already familiar to himthough until a few days ago, he would have sworn it could never happen in a gathering of Gentiles. Once again he heard the familiar rushing sound like a great wind blowing through the room and saw his listeners indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as he and the others had been on the Day of Pentecost!
The disciples of Jewish birth who had come with Peter were eyewitnesses of this astonishing eventconfirming forever that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on Gentiles; for they could hear them speaking in tongues of ecstasy and acclaiming the greatness of God. There was no mistaking it or its significance.
Then the apostle spoke, Is anyone prepared to withhold the water of baptism from these persons, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did? The believers from Joppa were silent. Peter ordered all the new disciples in the room to be baptized in the name of Jesus the Christ, a symbolic rite of what had just happened in their souls.
The six church members returned to Joppa the next day with the account of the Holy Spirits outpouring; and the new congregation in Cornelius home asked Peter to stay on with them for a time and instruct them in the faith.
In the weeks that followed, Christs apostle went about the beautiful city of Caesarea, speaking to anyone who would listen, whether Jew or Gentile, pagan or worshipper of the Most High. Philip the Evangelist joined him, and together they preached the Gospel and healed the sick. Many joined the new faith and were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter was totally convinced that there were no barriers; no respecter of persons, or social status, or religion. The door to the Kingdom of God was thrown open to anyone in the far reaches of the earth who had faith in the Light of Life!