I want to compare and contrast 2 visions, one given to Peter and the other given to Paul.
Peter’s vision is recorded in Acts 10:9-15. It involves God dealing with Peter’s prejudice against the Gentiles and his perception that they are unclean and therefore unworthy of receiving the gospel.
In some ways, you can’t blame him for thinking this. Ever since the Old Testament, God’s plan seemed to be calling out Abraham and eventually calling out a people, the Israelites, from among the other nations and turning them into a people of God. And then Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and he even said in his own words that he came for only the lost sheep of Israel. On top of that, all of his core disciples were Jewish. So this is Peter’s limited worldview.
Of course, we know that God’s intent was that through Israel, he would be able to reach the entire world as they live as God’s servant testifying to the other nations who God is. But the OT shows Israel’s failure after failure to fulfill this task and so God sends His own Son to be THE Suffering Servant and what did the world do, and specifically in this case, the Jews? They not only rejected Jesus but even conspired to have him killed, and therefore, God’s judgment is upon them. And just like Christ and his disciples would shake the dust off their feet when a town rejected their message, you can see that in a way, God is doing the same thing with Israel on a world stage. Since you guys don’t want to be saved, the gospel message is going to shift to the Gentiles.
And the person who is going to help in that transition is Paul.
Not surprisingly, Peter is slow to accept this shift. He is stuck in his old way of thinking. So God comes to him through a vision. If that is not enough, as he is praying, God sends people to Peter who knock on his door and it happens to be men sent by Cornelius. Cornelius is a Gentile but this guy is a bona fide seeker of the one true God.
And Peter gets it, for a moment. He realizes that the gospel is for all people and he shares this realization with the other church members, esp. to the Jewish believers. And there is a momentary acceptance by Jewish believers that Gentiles should receive the gospel, too.
But Peter, we read later, had to be confronted by Paul in Galatians 2:11-16 in Antioch for falling back into his old pattern of thinking and behavior because apparently he was beginning to withdraw from the Gentile believers. I guess old habits are hard to break.
So it appears from reading the Bible that the spotlight moved from Peter, the numero uno disciple, to Paul. We don’t hear much from Peter and the rest of the New Testament is all Paul.
That’s Peter. On the other hand, Paul also had a vision but he responded totally differently.
Acts 16:9-10 – this is when Paul received the Macedonian call.
And unlike Peter, Paul obeyed right away fully and re-routed his entire missionary strategy. And because he obeyed fully, there was immediate fruit in his ministry.
Acts 16:11-40 – at Philippi, there were the conversions of Lydia through a her rationale, a demon-possessed slave girl through a power encounter and a Roman jailer through the testimony of a changed life.
Paul offers some commentary on these events, again in Gal 2.
Gal 2:6-10 – He sums it up simply — Peter is called to minister to the Jews and Paul is called for the Gentiles. And if God’s bandwagon is salvation for the world, and this includes both Jews and Gentiles, then you could say that the mantle of leadership was being passed from Peter to Paul.
We’ll come back to this issue of God’s spotlight and favoring of one believer over another next time, but I think based on Peter/Paul and their response to God’s vision, we can draw one straightforward lesson.
Our prejudices, our limited ways of thinking, our boiling down of Christian life into a list of regulations or a formula, our putting God into a box — all of these are ways in which we limit and constrain what God can do in and through our lives. I believe it could have been Peter and Paul as a powerful duo on the missionary journeys, but Peter fades to the background because God spoke and he wasn’t ready to listen all the way.
When God speaks to you through a message or as you read the Bible on your own, certain verses just pop out. A verse that speaks to you may not speak to me, and vice versa. Because Christianity is about a relationship and God speaks to each of us through His word, personally and individually.
For Peter, God spoke about being accepting of Gentile converts. For Paul, God spoke about doing mission work in Macedonia.
And I believe God speaks to us in much the same ways to us today. It could be a tiny, small voice as we pray. It can be just an impression that a verse or a passage from the Bible leaves with us. A thought that nags at us that just doesn’t go away. And we may respond to it momentarily, but many times we revert back and we deafen our ears. And without realizing it, God may pass us by because we are not listening anymore to what He says.
Paul, on the other hand, responded wholeheartedly, all the way, and this caused a major disturbance in the direction of his life. Has God been speaking to you? Have you been obeying all the way, even to the point where your life is radically adjusted because of it?