(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

This is the second of two expositions on Acts10v1to48. It deals with Peter's response to the challenge of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles and admitting them into the church. It is relevant today because it describes one man's struggle to adjust to change.

(B) Peter worried too much about his reputation.

Peter was proud of his reputation as a law-abiding, orthodox Jew. When he sees the vision of unclean beasts and is told to kill and eat Peter responds by saying: "Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." v14. He was unwilling to do anything that would sully his reputation amongst religious Jews. The New Testament records other instances of Peter acting to protect his good name.

One day there was a knock on the door of a house in Capernaum where Jesus and his disciples were staying. Peter opened the door. It was the collectors of the two-drachmas temple tax. They asked Peter, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" Mt17v24. The question was asked in a sniffy, almost accusatory, manner. Peter did not want Jesus or, by association, himself, ill-thought of and so he quickly replies, "Yes, he does." Jesus was not pleased with Peter. He tells him that there should be nothing legalistic about giving to God. His advice to go fish for the tax is heavy with irony.

Peter's reluctance to offend the legalists produced problems for the church in Antioch. Peter joined Paul and Barnabas in Antioch and shared in the ministry among the Gentiles there. Peter was quite happy to eat with Gentile converts to Christianity until members of the circumcision party of the Jerusalem church turned up. Then he stopped. Other local Jews, including Barnabas, followed his example. It was not long before two separate communion services were needed. Paul wrote to the Galatians: When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Gal2v11.

I believe Peter denied Jesus because he did not want to be identified with a loser. He could not accept the shame and so disassociated himself from the Master in his hour of need. Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. Pr29v25.

Jesus was just so different. He did not care what the po-faced, super-religious Pharisees thought about him. Jesus was the friend of publicans and sinners; he healed on the Sabbath; he and his disciples had fun together and enjoyed themselves. The disapproval of the Pharisees is summed up in this question to Jesus: "John's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking." Luke5v33. What a bunch of kill joys they were! They have their modern day equivalents! Jesus gave them short shrift. He just said, "Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?" v34.

We can be far too concerned about what people think of us. The story Edmund Goss told about his father is a good example of this folly. Baroness Young, former leader of the Conservative peers in the House of Lords, was mocked, even by members of her own party, because of the uncompromising stand she took on Christian values. They called her tin-knickers because of her views on sexual morality! It made no difference to her. She was prepared to be ridiculed for Christ's sake.

(C) Peter was quite conservative in his outlook.

Peter was not as radical as his Master. We read in Mt15v10 : Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' It is significant that the disciples were concerned because this statement offended the Pharisees. Peter couldn't take it in. He thought it was a parable rather than a simple statement of fact! Jesus said to him, "Are you still so dull?" v16. That was not very polite. It is like saying to an obtuse scholar, "You are really so thick!"

So, in spite of being so clearly taught that diet did not make a man clean or unclean in God's eyes Peter was very slow to abandon the old practices. He needed to see the vision of the large sheet and be told to kill and eat three times!

I deal with the danger of an acquired taste in my exposition on Luke5v39: "No man having drunk old wine straightway desireth new, for he saith, 'The old is better.'" AV. This human weakness has done much harm to the church. It held Jewish Christians back from breaking free from Judaism. They showed a persistent tendency to revert to the old ways. Today it is hard for older persons to convert to Christianity. They have developed such comfortable, familiar, routines. Sunday is the day for reading the Sunday Telegraph, a morning on the golf course, a few Sherries and a late lunch.

I find it hard to change. It is a weakness. I have a car that is old and costing me a lot of money to keep on the road. I should have changed it a year ago. I have had a bearing groaning in the vicinity of the back axle for 9 months. I have grown attached to my car and want to hold on to it. In the end I will be forced to part with it. Perhaps, my innate conservatism - as distinct from faithfulness - has contributed to my churches' decline.

(D) Peter would not accept the reverence of Cornelius.

Luke records: As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself." v25and26.

I do not feel it is appropriate to kneel to any man. It is certainly wrong to kneel in the presence of any religious leader. The Pope derives his authority from the claim that he is Peter's successor. It is a pity he does not say to those who kneel in his presence and kiss his ring, "Stand up, I am only a man myself." It is even worse to prostrate oneself to images of the saints - including Peter. Peter would still say, if he could, "Stand up, I am only a man myself."

It is wrong to idolise anyone. It is as wrong to idolise a charismatic church leader as it is to worship David Beckham! Personable pastors, admired to the point of idolatry, should remind their adoring fans that they are only men themselves. It is as well for all Christians to remember that their leaders are flawed, as they themselves are, to avoid unrealistic expectations.

When the women on the resurrection morn fell at Jesus feet he did not rebuke them. Jesus is the man to reverence and worship. John said in his gospel: We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John1v14. It is because Peter had seen the glory of Jesus Christ that he knew the reverence of men was not his entitlement. It is a tragedy that even Christians do not fully grasp the unsurpassing majesty of Jesus. If they did they would never worship any other but him. Paul writes to the Philippians: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Chist is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil2v9to11.

(E)Peter was prepared to change although he found it difficult.

Peter had probably begun to change his views before the vision. He was stopping with Simon the tanner. Religious Jews considered curing leather an unclean, or disreputable, occupation.

After the vision Peter changes his beliefs radically. He says to Cornelius and his people: "God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." v28. He goes on to say, "I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. v34. This change in outlook is reflected in Peter's actions.

The messengers from Cornelius did not knock at the door of Simon the tanner. They stopped at the gate and called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. v17. The Gentiles knew that they were not welcome in Jewish homes. However, God had spoken to Peter and he invited the men into the house to be his guests. v23. Whenever there is a genuine change of belief there is an accompanying change of behaviour.

A person who becomes a Christian is realigned. Instead of resisting God they submit to him. Instead of opposing Jesus they love him. Conversion is expressed in action: baptism, regular meetings with other Christians, prayer, financial and other support for fellow believers and a willingness to do the jobs that the church allocates.

(F) Peter was God's instrument.

Peter brought the gospel to the Gentiles. His impeccable reputation and towering authority legitimised the acceptance of Gentile believers into the church. There are times when an unimpeachable reputation amongst conservatives is useful!

Peter was present when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost; he was there when the Spirit was given to the Samaritans; he was a witness when the Spirit came on all the Gentiles who heard his message in the home of Cornelius. None could gainsay the authenticity of his testimony.

Peter was very prudent to involve other Jewish Christians in this first ministry to the Gentiles. He says later when making his report to the church in Jerusalem: "These six brothers also went with me." Acts11v12. They were able to corroborate his story.

It is often vital when proposing a radical change in direction to take some brothers along with us. Jesus, himself, who initiated the far-reaching changes to Judaism enlisted the support of 12 disciples! Loners rarely get much done. I should know - by circumstance and temperament I am something of a loner and have achieved little for God.

Peter showed good sense in getting his companions to baptise the Gentile Christians in Caesarea. Their conversion was not the work of Peter but of God's Spirit. They were not going to be baptised in the name of Peter but in the name of Jesus. Peter also ensured that his fellow Jewish believers were involved in the decision to accept the Gentiles into the church. A collective decision always carries more weight than an individual one - especially where controversy is likely to ensue.

A good church leader involves others in the ministry of the church. I have dealt with this important topic in my exposition on, 'Team Spirit.' A brilliant preacher or inspirational teacher is not necessarily a good church leader. A good leader combines insight into, and understanding of, human nature with excellent motivational skills. I am not much of a leader but I have one valuable asset. I trusted the teachers in my department at school and gave them lots of freedom. That has also been my policy within the church I serve. No leader worth his salt inhibits others from doing God's work the best way they know how.