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Bible Gemz 1568 - The Eyewitness Accounts Compared (Acts 11:4-17)

February 17, 2019

What Happened to Cornelius

One afternoon about three o'clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. "Cornelius!" the angel said. 

Cornelius stared at him in terror. "What is it, sir?" he asked the angel. And the angel replied, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering

Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 

He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore." 

As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. 

He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa. (Acts 10:3-8)  

 

Cornelius’s Testimony

Cornelius replied, "Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o'clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 

He told me, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 

Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.' 

So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.” (Acts 10:30-33) 

 

The Messengers Summary

They said, "We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.” (Acts 10:22)  

 

 

What Happened to Peter

The next day as Cornelius's messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, 

and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance

He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. 

In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. 

Then a voice said to him, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat them." 

"No, Lord," Peter declared. "I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean. " 

But the voice spoke again: "Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean." 

The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.  (Acts 10:9-16) 

 

Peter’s Interpretation

Then Peter replied, "I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 

In every nation He accepts those who fear Him and do what is right. 

This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all

You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 

And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 

"And we apostles are witnesses of all He did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross, 

but God raised Him to life on the third day. Then God allowed Him to appear, 

not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be His witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead

And He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the One appointed by God to be the Judge of all—the living and the dead. 

He is the One all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”  (Acts 10:34-43) 

 

Peter’s Testimony

Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. 

"I was in the town of Joppa," he said, "and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a visionSomething like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me

When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of small animalswild animals, reptiles, and birds. 

And I heard a voice say, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.' 

"'No, Lord,' I replied. 'I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean. ' 

"But the voice from heaven spoke again: 'Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.' 

This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven

"Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 

The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. 

He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, 'Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 

He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!' 

"As I began to speak," Peter continued, "the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as He fell on us at the beginning. 

Then I thought of the Lord's words when He said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 

And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God's way?” (Acts 11:4-17) [NLT] 

 

 

 

When we compare these accounts one with another it becomes very clear that what Luke has written for us is in line with pure eyewitness account. None of this has the high degree of correlation that we see in the Synoptic Gospels. What we have here is typical of an individual's recounting of an event that is written from a personal point of view and has variation between each telling. It is not in a form where it is word for word the same as we have in a lot of the Gospels. It hasn’t become a standardised account which is what happens with oral tradition when it has become set in a particular form and assumes a set way of telling the story. This account is still in its raw form and filled with little personal touches and rather vivid ways of telling what actually happened. Compare the personal nature of “and it came right down to me. When I looked inside the sheet I saw . . . “ with the rather canned and colourless version "in which were” (10:12). Look back through what we have here and you will see how each person who has experienced the event firsthand adds little details that are not present in the summary account of others. All are telling the story from their own perspective. 

 

You could take this further and make a thorough comparison of all speeches here. That’s right all of these accounts fit in with the speeches of Acts that I told you about in Gemz 1336, 1337 and 1490. Luke uses the speeches or the direct recorded accounts of what happened told by eyewitnesses to assemble his material. Furthermore we know from the beginning of his Gospel that he has undertaken to provide an ordered and thoroughly researched account of what happened for Theophilus (God Lover). It is clear therefore that Luke has spent time interviewing or talking with the major players in order to get their stories clear before telling us what happened. That is very helpful. Notice too that there are little details included in the story that are done in very natural ways, not in the normal way that comes from summarised accounts. Like I have said already, it is all told in the very personal way that an individual tells his story but which incorporates the facts along the way. For instance Peter tells us “these six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us”. It is very clear that the six brothers from Joppa accompanied him further on the journey and were present at the recounting of the story before the ones who were criticising him. It is little touches like that which make us realise this is firsthand experience told for us as it came straight from the horses mouth. It speaks volumes of Luke’s integrity in the way he gathered his data. 

 

L:et’s start with the account of what Peter told the Circumcision Party. Here in the NLT we have the words, “then Peter told them exactly what happened”. The Literal Version has for us, "But beginning, Peter set out to them in order, saying . . .” Peter was very methodical in his recounting of the events for these men. Peter starts from the beginning and gives them a deliberate, detailed account of what happened, carefully selecting the points he felt he needed to make to them along the way. This account is more vivid than what we were given in 10:11-12. He starts with an emphatic “I”, almost like "I on my part” I.e. Here is what happened from my point of view. Peter told them that he was in a trance and while in that state he saw a vision. So both of those things happened to him to further add to the understanding we were given in earlier accounts. Notice the mixture of vagueness and yet specificity in his statement, "Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky.” Like any of us, his words “something like” are an attempt to capture exactly what it was that he saw in vision, yet he adds for us that it was lowered down to him from the sky. Inference . . . from heaven. Notice too the three verbs here. (A little like Julius Caesar’s I came, I saw, I conquered) Peter says “I looked intently, I considered and I saw”. You can almost feel like you are right there with him in this account. The verbs are arranged first using the point of the moment tense (aorist) then the durative on-going imperfect tense and lastly again the point of the moment tense (aorist). Suddenly it appears and Peter gazes intently at it for a moment, what he realises he is seeing stays with him as he ponders it and then he looks inside the sheet and sees the critters in the sheet in a flash. I guess it must have revolted him as a Jew. 

 

At the same time he gets the flash of recognition of what he was looking at, he hears the voice of the LORD tell him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat them.” He describes carefully that his reaction was typically Jewish. He was not acting in a way contrary to his culture. He has the same reaction they would have had. Peter makes his typically Jewish response – "No Lord, I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”   No way. To which we have the reply from heaven, 'Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ I will explore this with you in a later Gemz but suffice for now for us to note that response Peter gained from the Lord. It is the Lord who set the food prohibitions at the beginning. It is perfectly appropriate for Him to change them now. Notice how this is linked with the concluding statement "who was I to stand in God's way?” This is matched with the emphatic nature of Peter’s opening that I drew attention to earlier. "As for me on my part . . .”. If the Lord Himself should tell me this who am I to argue? 

 

Notice then what Peter told them. "This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven.” This leaves us with the question, What happened three times? Is it that the sheet was lowered and raised again three times but the dialogue from heaven happened once? Or it is that the whole scenario was played out three times? I.e. The sheet was lowered three times, Peter gazed intently and considered what he was looking at three times. Instruction came from the Lord three times. He gave his response three times and the voice from heaven spoke three times. That’s an awful lot of repetition but it seems to be what Peter is saying in his account. All of the action from the sheet initially coming down, the conversation with the Lord and the sheet being taken up all happened three times until finally it was whisked back up to heaven and stayed there. Now you have to admit that would have been a rather unsettling experience but that seems to be what Peter was saying happened.  I personally think it would have taken something like that to change Peter’s entrenched Jewish cultural perspective on all of this. 

 

I am going to stop at this point and leave you to gaze and ponder much like Peter had to do. I have come to the end of the standard repeated things (the green section) that Peter and others have told by way of the standard version each time they tell their story. This Gemz has already grown to the point where I need to call a halt for today. But what we now have before us is the yellow section. The additional things that Peter told the Circumcision Party specifically tailored to them. Take the time to examine the detail in this section before I move on to look at that in the following Gemz. 

 

 

Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, but today is a gift… that’s why it’s called the present. Alice Morse Earle

 

Sometimes the things that shock me the most are that which arrests my attention and stays with me forever. Ian

 

Those things that God wants us to remember He repeats until we have got it. Go back and look through your past at the messages God has been giving you. Ian

 

 When you feel like quitting, think about why you started. William Shakespeare (King Lear)

 

 

 

 

 

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