Peterís shake-up before the Gentile Church was started.
In Acts 10, Peter goes to Cornelius. First of all the Holy Spirit shows Peter the vision of the unclean things and says to kill and eat. Do I have to say much more? Can you see that the Holy Spirit is shaking Peterís preconceived ideas? Indeed, Peter might not have even gone into Corneliusí home without the vision (Acts 10:28), but that was not the shakeup. What happens next when he gets to Corneliusí house? Before Peter has even got into full preaching mode, the Holy Spirit rocks up. But the book says Öfirst preach, then repent, then get baptised, and then lay on hands for the Holy Spirit, and, if youíre a Pharisee, slash off any foreskin you come across. Notice that Peterís precedent did not come until later in Acts 11:16 when he recalls Jesus words to him about baptising with the Holy Spirit.
This particular incident with Cornelius is one of the most important issues raised in Scripture by the Apostles. It occurs in Act 10. It is repeated in detail again in Acts 11 when Peter is being criticised. Again it is brought up in Acts 15:7, this time in defence of Paul. Now even though Peter had been with Jesus for 3 years and had the Holy Spirit, he still needed a shakeup but some of the elders in Jerusalem, who were still identified as Pharisees, (Act 15:5), were still in need of a shakeup.
Here is a sort of and aside. Iím not sure where to put it, but here seems best. We see that James had believers who still identified themselves as Pharisees, even amongst the elders in Jerusalem. James was not in the boat when Jesus warned the disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees. We see Peter and Paul both criticised by this group. In Acts 15 the Holy Spirit influences James and there is a great victory for the Gentile believers. But later in Galatians 2:11 it seems that the Pharisees finally win and cause Peter to withdraw from fellowship meals with Gentiles. But it gets worse in Acts 21:20. Paul is making his last trip to Jerusalem. The elders glorify God for what they hear God is doing through Paul. But then they testify of what has been happening in Jerusalem; that is, what they have been doing. They point to the thousands of converts all zealous forÖ Jesus, no; the power of the Holy Spirit, no. They were zealous for the law. I must have read that Scripture many times until I saw it. Jesus died to set us free from the law (Acts 13:39, Acts 15:5-11).
If you want to look earlier in Acts you can see the problem coming. Peter would seem to be the leader of the believers according to the commission Jesus gave him. But he is too busy travelling around doing what he is called to do. The Church in Jerusalem needs a full time, resident leader. So who to appoint? In Acts 1:21 they wanted someone who had been full time with Jesus as a replacement for Judas. But James did not fit that bill. (John 7:5) However, in a worldly sense, James was the half-brother of Jesus and since the King left no heir, the brother is the successor. How hard it must have been for James, who was clearly hearing the Holy Spirit, to live in the Pharisee capital of the world, that is, Jerusalem.
Pharisees are just like all unbelievers. When they first believe they change from un-forgiven sinners to forgiven sinners. You pretty quickly figure out the big obvious doníts ...donít murder, lie, steal etc. But how long does it take for the Holy Spirit to get deep down and shake your personal philosophy. Acts has some great stuff and great warnings also. Have a look at Forgiven Sinners because it is very hard for a Pharisee to give up his own righteousness to accept the gift of righteousness from God.
In Acts 6, widows of Grecian Jews are being overlooked. The twelve meet and decided that this was a menial task which they donít have time for. Iím certain they were being run off their feet going house to house to bring all the new believers up to speed on what Jesus had said and I can understand their passion for prayer. But this was the beginning of Jewish pride exalting itself over Gentile believers. It needed to be dealt with but the twelve only saw it as waiting on tables.
How long ago had it been since Jesus washed their feet and told them that they would be blessed if they did the same? Couldnít they have rostered just one or two of the apostles on this task each day as well as the seven? So the twelve isolated themselves from daily affairs and could not see what was happening. But the people need leaders to deal with daily issues. Is this where they start to look away from Peter as leader and adopt James?
What do we see immediately after Stephen, one of the seven, is selected? It is Stephen who is performing the wonders. It is Stephen who is out there defending the faith against Jews who had come from foreign cities. These Jews were probably the most arrogant because they had been born in Gentile cities but in their zeal, they had moved to Jerusalem. Stephenís special attention to the Grecian widows obviously brought him face to face with this group of foreign Jews. Ultimately, Stephen was given the honour of being the first martyr.
So what do we learn? Leaders need to be passionate about the word and prayer and also humbly serving.
The topics in this article have remained important to me over the years. In December 2015, they were expanded with considerably more detail and background in the article ďWhat went wrong in ActsĒ.