Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 27
TRANCE ON A HOUSETOP
“Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” Thus spake a thousand years of tradition fighting for its life. Peter did not deny that God had spoken to him. He well understood the command. He just did not want to do what God commanded. His reason for refusing this particular command was a potent one indeed. He had never done anything like this before. At least he was honest enough to state the reason for his disobedience. “I have never,” is one of the strongest deterrents men know, but most men look for a more glamorous reason. It is hard to buck tradition and it is not always wise but we need to realize that there is something greater than our dearest traditions and that is the will of God.
God’s Will Versus Tradition
You are familiar with the story I am sure. Peter had gone up to the housetop of Simon the Tanner in Joppa. It was noon and would have been very hot. No doubt Peter was up there searching for a bit of breeze. The house was obviously one of those flat roofed affairs so common in that country. Peter had come up for prayer but fell into a trance. A great sheet was let down from heaven with all manner of four- footed beasts of the earth and wild beasts and creeping things and fowls of the air. Then the voice of the Lord commanded him to kill and eat. Peter refused. The fare offered him was ceremonially unclean to an orthodox Jew. But God told Peter not to call anything God had cleansed common or unclean.
Peter awoke knowing full well there was a deeper meaning to his trance than simply a matter of what food he should or should not eat. The scriptures indicate that he gave the matter deep thought. To us the meaning seems quite clear and we are prone to think that Peter is just a little slow in catching on. But then it was not our traditions and prejudices that were under attack. I am convinced that many times God has sent men and circumstances into our lives to point out the folly of our prejudices and we have been willfully blind. The meaning of the trance seems obvious when it is followed immediately by a summons from a Gentile. Peter is fighting some of the most rigid opinions he has. All his life he has heard the faithful Rabbis thank God daily that they were not Gentiles. The nature of a Gentile had never been a subject for debate. Every good Jew knew that a Gentile was on about the same level as a dog. He had no covenant with God. He was a hopeless outcast and a thing to be spurned and held in utter contempt. Conquered by Gentile armies the Jews had held to their ancient prejudice with an even fiercer pride. A good man must love his brethren, but he was under no obligation to love Gentiles. Indeed it was his duty to hate them. Whatever punishment they might eventually suffer was no more than their just due. They were indeed common and unclean.
Peter Breaks With Tradition
The personality of Jesus Christ had charmed Peter away from his fishing boat but it had not broken through this tradition of prejudice. The teachings of Jesus had opened his eyes to many things but not all Jesus had said on this subject (and He said a great deal) had ever registered. The Holy Spirit had changed Peter’s life but not even God within him had yet brought down this deeply rooted bias. Is it so very strange then that men today should cling to foolish traditions and wicked prejudices in spite of repeated efforts to teach them better? Can we not show a little more understanding for such men when we consider how hard it was for even this great, Spirit filled Apostle to give up his honored prejudices?
Let it be put down to Peter’s credit however that he did go. When the men who came from Cornelius the Gentile asked for Peter and the Spirit told him to go, he went. It was probably the hardest thing he ever did but he went. He was risking his reputation not only with all fellow Jews but even with his Christian brethren. He was taking an awful chance. But he went. Thank God that he went. For right here is where you and I break into the picture. Cornelius is our forefather. Cornelius is the great break in the dyke of Jewish exclusionism that let the flood of the Gospel pour through to the Gentile world.
Of course if Peter had not gone to Cornelius God would have found some other way but think of the loss to Peter. So it may be with your prejudices that keep you from complete accord with the will of God. God will still accomplish his purposes whether you can overcome your “I have never” or not, but think of the difference to you.
Cornelius Breaks With Paganism
But Peter was not the only man God spoke to in Acts 10. Cornelius had also been in touch with God. It was three o’clock in the afternoon on a day before Peter’s trance that the angel of God appeared to Cornelius in a vision and told him to send for Peter. Let us consider the fact that Cornelius had some prejudices to fight too. God told him to send for a Jew, one of a conquered nation. Cornelius well knew of the bigotry and prejudice of the Jews. He could hardly help but be aware of the possibility of Peter’s refusal to come. He was no doubt acquainted with the play-acting and hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. He was a far better man than most of them and surely must have realized it. What right did God have to make a man of his accomplishments and reputation sit at the feet of an uneducated Jewish ex-fisherman? Here is a great and good man who has broken with the paganism of his own people to seek the living God. Let the angel who stands before him tell him of the will of God. Why bring one of those hairsplitting, bigoted, arrogant Jews into it? Yes, Cornelius had his battle to fight too. But Cornelius was a great man and like all truly great men he was a humble man. He not only sends for Peter as directed but upon Peter’s arrival even kneels to him. Imagine an officer of the conquering army kneeling to a peasant fisherman of the conquered people. Yet this is exactly what happened. I think we have a great deal to learn from Cornelius. No wonder God chose this man as the gate to the Gentile world. While I thank God for an Apostle like Peter may I also slip in a note of thanks for a forefather like Cornelius. Would to God that his present day posterity were more like him.