On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached that, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:21).
It was a powerful message—thousands of people put their faith in Christ when they heard the good news that Peter preached, the good news that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” But it was a message that would take the preacher, Peter, a while to fully comprehend.
It was not really his fault—when legalism has chained a man’s soul, it is difficult for him to allow grace to set him free. From a young age, Peter was trained to keep the Law. He knew that the Jews were God’s chosen people, knew that he was not supposed to eat certain kinds of “unclean” animals, knew the Law inside and out, and kept it as best as he could.
It was in the city of Joppa that Peter received the revelation that the Gentiles (non-Jewish people) could be saved. (Joppa was the city that the Old Testament prophet Jonah had fled from when God told him to go preach salvation to the evil Gentiles who lived in Nineveh.) It was noon and Peter went up on a rooftop to pray. While he was praying, he fell into a trace and saw a vision.
In his vision, he saw heaven open and a massive sheet lowered down. In the sheet were many different kinds of wild animals, insects, and birds. The sheet was full of pigs, lobsters, rabbits, and snakes. All the animals had one thing in common: they were all “unclean”—meaning that according to the Law, Peter was forbidden to eat them.
A voice came from heaven, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”
Peter recognized the voice of God, but he could not believe what he was hearing. The command to eat these animals was against everything he had ever been taught. He told God, “No way am I going to eat these animals. I have never eaten anything common and unclean.”
The voice said, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” Peter saw this same vision three times over. Then as he woke, there was a knock at the door. Three men had come from Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. Cornelius was a Gentile. He was “unclean.” He was not a keeper of the Law. Under normal circumstances, Peter would never have had anything to do with such a man. But what God had cleansed, Peter was not to call unclean. When the men asked him to go with them to the house of Cornelius, Peter went with them.
Peter told Cornelius and his household about Jesus, and to his surprise, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. When some of the Christians back in Jerusalem heard what had happened, they were upset with Peter for eating with a man who was uncircumcised. Peter explained to them what had happened, arguing, “If God gave them the same gift He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
This silenced Peter’s critics, and the believers began to rejoice that even Gentiles could receive the grace of God.