Peter’s encounter with three people in Acts 9-10 was the focus of my message last week (listen here), and it produced a number of questions from a variety of angles. So let’s probe Peter’s situations further, providing some insight into four specific inquiries.
Q: “Was the Caesarea assignment more difficult than the Samaria situation?” My opinion? Yes. Granted — Samaria may have held more of an emotional aspect for the Jews (and the apostles) considering the long-standing division between the two, as well as the way the division was ignited — in the split of the two kingdoms after Solomon. Yet, the Samaritans were partly Jewish, and to see the Gospel spread there would not have been so much a theological issue (the larger leap for any Jew) but rather a cultural and personal one. Hard, yes; but not as hard, I don’t think, as seeing Gentiles be accepted by God on the same basis and with the same result as the Jews.
Consider this objective textual evidence for my opinion as well — Peter’s interaction with Cornelius 1) is one of the most repeated stories in Acts (three times), 2) is one of the longest stories in Acts, and 3) was the basis for the Jerusalem Council. To me, those factors, included by Luke in his writing, indicate the depth of the struggle the early church had with Gentile inclusion, a struggle much more intense than when the Gospel reached Samaria.
Q: “Is it possible there were healings of ‘believers,’ by Jesus or the apostles, that were just not documented?” Your question stems from my comment that Aeneas, in my opinion, was probably an unbeliever because we have no recorded healings of believers in the Gospels by Jesus. (Believers were raised to life on several occasions, but no recorded “non-resurrection” healing of believers.)
So does this mandate that no believers were ever healed? No. And to answer your question — sure, it’s possible. In fact, John 20:25 states clearly there were lots of other miracles Jesus did that were not recorded. But when we preach and teach, we proclaim doctrine, call for action, and form opinions on what is recorded, not on what isn’t recorded. And this is just my opinion based on what is recorded. Could Aeneas have been a disciple like Tabitha? Quite possibly. Am I confident he was an unbeliever? No. But based on what I see in the immediate text and as a pattern in other texts, I tend to think Aeneas was a lost man who was healed (then probably converted to Christianity).
Q: “How do we know that Peter’s trance is normative regarding meat? Jesus did not unclean meat, and the Old Testament regularly teaches about unclean meat.” Probably because, though Jesus did not eat unclean meat himself, he did verbally nullify food laws in Mark 7:14-23. Furthermore, Jesus came to fulfill the Law, which he did upon uttering the words, “It is finished.” In so doing he visibly completed the law, thus rendering the Old Testament law’s demands for perfection, in effect, null and void. This would apply no doubt to the ceremonial aspect of clean or unclean food as a requirement for approaching God.
Additionally, Paul, in both 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, indicates there is no “off limits” meat unless it is eaten with an unclean conscience (one that is not full of faith regarding that issue). Together, these other scenarios and Scriptures help solidify that what God told Peter — “do not call unclean what I have called clean” — is now standard operating procedure.
Q: “Did Cornelius seek God first, or did God seek Cornelius first?” The Bible is clear: No one seeks after God naturally. The Psalmist declared this twice (Psalm 14 and 53), and Paul affirmed it in Romans 3. So what’s going on in Acts 10?
In a nutshell, this is the convicting work of God the Holy Spirit on full display. Think about it — why would Cornelius be trying to “appease” this God of the Jews (praying, giving alms, and offering sacrifices) had he not been convinced, to some degree, of his need to? This is precisely what is happening here — God was drawing Cornelius to himself, and conviction is the first step in that process. In fact, Jesus even told the disciples this would be one of the roles of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8).
A modern parallel would be someone sensing, upon reviewing his or ler life at a given point, that “I ought to start going to church” or “I should start reading the Bible.” Where does that thought come from? Not our sin nature, but God’s Holy Spirit! It is his convicting work, and is one of the steps in the process of God drawing men and women to himself in salvation. He is the seeker, we are the sought; he is the finder; we are the found!
NOTE: For more about this aspect of conviction in the process of salvation, see my book “Different, Not Just Better.” You can download a free copy here.