April 17, Friday
News of Peter’s interaction with Gentiles reached the group in Jerusalem, and the Jewish believers took issue with it. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, they confronted him, charging, “We hear that you actually shared a meal with uncircumcised men!”
Peter proceeded to explain the situation. “I was in the city of Joppa, praying,” he said, “when in a trance I saw a vision — something like a great sheet coming down towards me, let down from heaven by its four corners. It came right down to me. When I looked at it closely, I saw animals and wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Never, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has ever passed my lips.’ Then the voice from Heaven spoke a second time and said, ‘You must not call unclean what God has cleansed.’ This happened to me three times, and then the whole thing was taken up again into heaven. The next instant, three men arrived at the house where we were staying, requesting that I return with them to Caesarea. The Spirit told me in no uncertain terms to go with these men and not to doubt His leading in this matter.
“These six brothers accompanied me and we went into the man’s house. He told us how an angel had appeared in his house, saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, surnamed Peter. He will give you a message which will save both you and your whole household.’ As I was beginning to tell them the Message, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He had on us at the beginning. Immediately I recalled that our Lord had told us, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ I figured that if God gave them exactly the same gift as He gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to get in the way of what God was doing?”
When they heard Peter’s story, they were convinced and they praised God, saying, “It’s obvious that God has given Gentiles the gift of repentance which leads to life!”
Because of the persecution which began following Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem, the Message spread out as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, though exclusively among the Jews. However, some of the men, natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, shared the Good News of the Lord Jesus with Greeks in Antioch. The Lord blessed their efforts, and a large number turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the Church in Jerusalem, so they sent Barnabas to check it out. When he arrived in Antioch and saw the amazing grace of God at work, he was thrilled. He encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord, for he was a good man who trusted God for everything and lived by the promptings and power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, even more people became followers of the Lord.
Barnabas recognized the need for mature believers to help in the work, so he went to Tarsus to find Saul. When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch where for the next year they taught the growing congregation. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first given the name of “Christians” (a derogatory term meaning “Little Christs”).
Around this same time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them by the name of Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great worldwide famine. So the disciples arranged to send relief to the brothers in Judea, each according to their resources. They asked Barnabas and Saul to take the contribution to the elders in Jerusalem.
It was around this same time that King Herod, in an attempt to please the Jewish leaders, arrested several believers. He had James, the brother of John, executed with a sword. During the feast of Unleavened Bread he put Peter in prison, intending to deal with him after the Passover celebration. Herod assigned four squads of soldiers, a total of sixteen men, to guard him. The church, meanwhile, prayed fervently for Peter.
On the night before Herod was planning to bring him out, Peter was asleep between two soldiers, chained with double chains, with guards standing watch in the doorway of the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and light filled the cell. He awakened Peter, tapping him on the side and said, “Quick! Get up!” The chains fell away and the angel said to him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” Peter did so. Then the angel told him, “Put on your coat now, and follow me.” Peter followed him out but thought it was all just a dream. They passed through the first and second guard-points and came to the iron gate that led out into the city. The gate opened for them automatically. When they got to the street, the angel disappeared.
By this point Peter realized he was very much awake and said to himself, “How about that! The Lord has sent His angel to rescue me from the power of Herod and from all that the people are expecting. Won’t they be surprised!” He made his way to the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother, where many had come together to pray. He knocked at the door, and a young maid named Rhoda came to answer it. As soon as she heard Peter’s voice, she got so excited that she ran back to tell everyone and left him standing outside. The group told her she was out of her mind, but she insisted that it was really him. They concluded that it must be his angel, an indication that he had died.
Meanwhile Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened it and let him in, they were shocked. Peter motioned to them to be quiet and explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of prison. Then he said, “Go and tell James and the other brothers what has happened.” After this he left them and went on to another place.
You can imagine the confusion and consternation at the prison the next morning. The soldiers couldn’t imagine what happened to Peter. Herod had a search put out for him without success. He cross-examined the guards and then ordered their execution. After that, Herod left Judea and went down to Caesarea and stayed there.
While Herod was at his summer palace, representatives from Tyre and Sidon came to win his favor because, in his anger, he had been withholding food supplies from them. After much effort they convinced his personal assistant, Blastus, to schedule a meeting with the king. On the appointed day they met in the Coliseum. When Herod arrived dressed in royal robes, he took his seat on the throne and addressed the crowd. The people, desperate to impress him, kept interrupting his speech with shouts of, “The voice of a god, the voice of a god, this is no mere man!” Herod relished the praise and didn’t contradict their flattery. Because he failed to give glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him with a terrible disease. He died a short time later, his insides eaten by worms.
But the Message of the Lord prospered and multiplied. Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch after taking the financial gift to Jerusalem, and they brought John Mark back with them.