Reading: Acts 11-12
Summary: Peter’s visit to the house of a Gentile to preach would not go unchallenged. Jewish attitudes and biases were too deeply ingrained. Though some of his brethren were willing to accept the Gentiles right to receive the gospel, many Jews never did and so one of the greatest challenges in the church’s early years was set; one which Paul would fight throughout his life as a preacher of the gospel.
One of the church’s outside of Jerusalem that grew significantly was located in Antioch of Syria. It’s here that Barnabas and Saul (not yet called Paul) work together for a time prior to their missionary efforts. During this time the church in Jerusalem suffered some difficult times both through a famine that plagued the region as well as rekindled persecution that resulted in the death of James, the brother of John, as well as an attempt on Peter’s life.
The Trouble with Changing Your Mind
When is the last time you embraced as being true, something you previously had denied and even vehemently opposed? Been a while? It’s just not an easy thing to allow previously held truths to be overturned and set aside. Most of us are just stubborn and prideful enough that clear evidence can be easily overpowered by our long-held prejudices.
When Peter returned to Jerusalem from converting the household of Cornelius, news of the event beat him home. And, he was predictably challenged by his Jewish brethren about what he had done. That should be no surprise. Remember that Peter’s own change of heart and attitude had required divine intervention (see Acts 10:9-16).
Peter laid it all out for them; from his vision to the visitors from Caesarea, to the Holy Spirit falling on Cornelius and his household (Acts 11:4-17). Luke records, “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’” (Acts 11:18).
I’d like to think I would have been like these Jerusalem Christians and believed and accepted this new truth and reality (it was brand new to them). Obviously, not all the Jewish brethren were (see Acts 15). This issue became a major thorn in Paul’s side in regard to his evangelistic work as is evidenced by the amount of ink he devoted to it in his letters.
But notice this progression. These people expressed their concerns and misgivings to Peter when he arrived in Jerusalem. They allowed Peter ample opportunity to explain himself. Being confronted with this truth, they accepted the reality. They then “fell silent” and glorified God.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, but often it does not.
How willing am I, when a long-held belief or understanding is challenged, to set aside my prejudices and assumptions and to seriously consider it as honestly and objectively as possible? And if the evidence demands it, to turn loose of the old and embrace the new?