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Accused for Doing Right

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 11:1–18

Peter’s willingness to listen to the Lord, change his thinking accordingly, and act in obedience assured that the church would not be limited to a single ethnic group but encompass all who will trust and follow Jesus Christ. The gospel is for everyone.


As you study the New Testament, true spiritual conflict becomes evident. In fact, following Christ does not keep you out of the action; it invites action. And that is because there is no such thing as opportunities without opposition. To follow the Lord is to make yourself a target of those who misunderstand your actions and those who hate Christ. Even if you are trying to do the right thing, you often end up paying a price for it. Like that old saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

But let me tell you, even if you suffer for doing the right thing, God is pleased, and that is all that really matters.

You might remember how Peter went to the home of Cornelius. He presented the gospel, and Cornelius and his household believed in Christ. Now Peter ate with him and fellowshipped with this family. Who knows? Peter might have had his first pork barbecue sandwich—maybe with baked beans on the side.

Well, it does not take long before the news gets out that a Jewish apostle hobnobbed with unclean Gentiles. With that, Acts chapter 11 opens:

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (verses 1-3)

You will notice in these verses that Peter’s critics do not begin by asking questions. They do not ask for his point of view; they do not argue their case from Scripture. Instead, they go right for the jugular. While Peter had been away, the jury had already met, heard the evidence, and brought in the verdict: Peter had stepped over the line—he had sinned!

Now to us today, this kind of fraternizing between Jews and Gentiles seems trivial. So let me give you a little backstory that reveals just how explosive the situation was at this time.

Peter’s trip to Caesarea probably took place around AD 40-41. During that time, the political situation in Jerusalem was incredibly tense. The Roman emperor was Caligula, who by all accounts was a psychopath—literally insane. He killed family members and others he considered rivals to his power. He found entertainment in executing people; he eventually declared himself a god and had temples built and sacrifices offered to him. At one point, Caligula installed a man named Petronius to take a large force into Judea with orders to set up a statue of the emperor in the temple, using whatever force was necessary to do so.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, recorded that when Petronius reached the shore of Galilee, tens of thousands of Jews met him and begged him not to place the emperor’s statue in the temple. They succeeded in getting Petronius to write Caligula and ask for the command to be rescinded. A few months later, the potential catastrophe was averted when Caligula was assassinated.[1]

I tell you all that so you can understand more fully the context of Peter’s actions and the response to it. Not only has Peter been eating dinner with and hanging around Gentiles, which is bad enough; he is now attempting to bring into the church a Roman centurion! Cornelius was a ranking officer in the Roman army, which, perhaps at that very moment, was moving toward Jerusalem, under order to desecrate the temple and spill Jewish blood if necessary.

Emotions are running high. Some prominent leaders in the Jerusalem church are convinced Peter has violated the law of Moses, if not acted unfaithfully toward the nation of Israel.

These are serious accusations, and Peter is about to defend his actions. As we look at Peter’s response, I want you to notice his patience with his accusers.

You might expect verse 4 to begin with the words, “And Peter began yelling at them for making such unfounded accusations.” No, instead we are told that Peter began to explain to them everything in a calm, orderly manner.

Even though his accusers just “unloaded their guns” on Peter, and they were dead wrong—and Peter knows it—he graciously begins to explain how it all came to pass here in verses 5-15. He recounts the vision of the sheet with animals on it, God’s command to eat non-kosher food, the command from God to visit Cornelius, the evidence of faith in Cornelius and the Gentiles with him, and the work of the Holy Spirit in duplicating the sign of tongues through them.

Peter does not yell, point fingers, and stomp his feet. In fact, his respectful, gracious spirit disarms his accusers; there are no more accusations and no name-calling here at all.

Let me also point out that Peter is accountable to the church. Do not miss this; Peter does not say, “I’m not going to answer any charge you have brought against me because I’m Simon Peter, the spokesman of the apostles.” Peter is never shown as superior to the church leaders, or even to the church assembly. He is never presented as infallible—he is not the first pope, so to speak; in fact, later on, the apostle Paul will have to correct Peter for hypocrisy over in Galatians 2.

As Peter recounts to the church all that happened with Cornelius, he adds one detail in verse 14 that is not recorded back in chapter 10: The angel who came in a vision to Cornelius told him that Peter would declare to him and his household how to be saved. And this is exactly what Peter did.

Verse 16 also reveals something new: Peter tells the church what he thought when the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles. He says, “I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” He connected the dots between that promise of the Holy Spirit and what happened in the home of Cornelius.

This was the promised baptism of the Spirit, and it proved that Gentile believers and Jewish believers make up one body of Christ—one universal church. They had all received the same Holy Spirit. Peter explains the implications of that in verse 17:

“If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?”

Peter is basically laying this challenge out to the church in Jerusalem: “Are you going to stand in God’s way?”

This is a defining moment. I can imagine the Jewish believers and the church leaders looking around at each other, looking at Peter, looking at the six witnesses who had come along from the home of Cornelius. You could probably hear a pin drop at this moment.

What they had just heard from Peter was incredible, surprising, and challenging. It changed everything they had assumed about what the church was going to look like and be like. As they ponder this moment, I am happy to say that the red flush of blood recedes from their faces, and their anger subsides and their hearts begin to beat in unison.

Luke, the author of the book of Acts covers decades of ministry in this book, but he devotes nearly two chapters to this one event. This is incredibly important.

There is no rebuttal at all. No argument surfaces. We are just given this wonderful report in verse 18:

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.”

In other words, “Let’s extend the hand of fellowship to our Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a new day.”

This is not going to solve all their problems; other issues between Gentiles and Jews will surface at times. But they have crossed this significant bridge at this moment. The church has avoided the snare of Satan and stood strong together, as they bring glory to God.

[1] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.8.

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