Breaking down barriers

One of the obstacles that prevented the gospel from spreading outside the borders of Jerusalem was the prejudices that existed between Jews and Gentiles. Centuries of isolation caused the Jews to view the nations around them as a threat to their identity and God-centered way of living. Several years after Jesus commanded his disciples to take the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19), the farthest anyone had traveled from Jerusalem to do so was about 30 miles (Philip’s and Peter’s Missionary Journeys, p. 1570). The Apostle Peter’s view of the outside world seemed to be skewed by a reluctance to accept the freedom from rituals that Jesus’ salvation by grace afforded him. Peter clung tightly to the rigorous rules of the Mosaic Law in spite of his experience of living in close fellowship with Jesus during his three-year ministry on Earth. In order to break down the racial barriers that were preventing the gospel from spreading further, God orchestrated a mission that caused Peter to step outside of his comfort zone and preach the gospel to a group of Gentiles.

Peter’s adventure began with a visit to the city of Joppa where he raised a woman from the dead (Acts 9:40). Afterward, Peter decided to stay in Joppa, the main seaport of Judea, which was located about 38 miles west of Jerusalem (Acts 9:43 and note on Acts 9:36). While Peter was there, a man named Cornelius, who was identified by Luke as a Roman centurion, had a vision in which an angel of God spoke to him these words, “Cornelius, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose¬† house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:3, 5-6). Cornelius’ home town of Cesarea was located 30 miles north of Joppa (note on Acts 10:1). In obedience to the message he received, Cornelius sent two of his household servants, and a devout soldier to Joppa, to bring Peter back to his home (Acts 10:7-8). Luke tells us:

On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the house to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)

Luke’s account of Peter’s experience suggests that he was in an altered state of consciousness. The phrase “fell into a trance” (Acts 10:10) describes “A state of mind God produced and used to communicate with Peter. It was not merely imagination or a dream. Peter’s consciousness was heightened to receive the vision from God” (note on Acts 10:10). Luke went on to say:

Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate, and called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee: arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.

Apparently, the supernatural vision Peter had while he was in a trance was used by God to overcome his resistance to interacting with Gentiles. Afterward, when Peter received instruction from the Holy Spirit to go with the men that Cornelius had sent to get him, Peter went away with them (Acts 10:23).

 

Walking on water (part 2)

Mark’s account of Jesus walking on water showed that he did not intend for his disciples to know what he was doing. Mark said, “about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them” (Mark 6:48). It appears that Jesus’ intention was only to get to the other side of the sea ahead of his disciples. “But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: for they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:49-50). Apparently, Jesus had transformed himself into a form that may have been somewhat ghostlike or transparent. A clue as to what this form was like can be found in John 6:19 where it states the disciples saw Jesus “walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.” The Greek term translated drawing, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means “to cause to be (generate) that is (reflexively) to become (come into being)” (1096). What may have happened was that Jesus transformed himself back into a physical state because his disciples were fearful he was dead when they saw him walking across the sea as a spirit.

Whether or not Jesus walked across the sea of Galilee in a spiritual or physical state is not completely clear, but it is evident that at the time when Jesus arrived at the boat in which his disciples were traveling, he appeared to be normal as he stood upon the water talking to them. His salutation, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50) suggested that Jesus was calming the disciples and making them aware that everything was fine. It was at this point that Peter spoke up and said, “If it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Essentially, Peter’s remark was a confession of faith. Another way of stating what Peter said would be, “because it is you, bid me come unto thee on the water.” In other words, Peter wanted to do what he saw Jesus was able to. Perhaps, Peter thought it would be cool to walk on the water, or he may have been trying to impress Jesus with his exuberant act of faith, but Matthew said, when Peter “saw the wind boysterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). The difference between Jesus walking on water and Peter walking on water was that Peter didn’t have authority over the wind as Jesus did. Peter’s disadvantage was that he couldn’t keep the wind from knocking him around; and he was most likely fearful because once he was out of the boat, he realized the wind’s powerful force could cause him to crash into the water like a tomato on a hardwood floor. Matthew tells us that Peter began to sink and cried out to Jesus, saying, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30), meaning, he acknowledged Jesus’ deity and his ability to do more than Peter was able to.

Walking on water

It was obvious from the miracles Jesus performed that he had supernatural ability to do things that no one had ever seen done before. What was less obvious, but just as true, was that Jesus’ disciples had the same supernatural ability. When Jesus was about to send his disciples out to preach the gospel, it says in Luke 9:1, “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.” The Greek word translated power, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) specifically refers to miraculous power (1411), but the Greek word dunamis is derived from, dunamai (doo’-nam-ahee) suggests that the twelve apostles had limitless power, the ability to do everything that Jesus was able to. An example of this is found in Matthew’s gospel where it is recorded that Peter walked on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:29). After Peter was come down out of the ship, Matthew said, “he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:29-30). Jesus reached out and grabbed Peter by the hand in order to keep him from sinking, and then rebuked him stating, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt” (Matthew 14:31).

The problem with Peter’s faith was that it lacked confidence. The term Jesus used to describe it, “little faith” could also be translated “puny argument” (3641/3982). In other words, Peter’s demonstration of his faith was unconvincing. Even though he got out of the boat, Peter wasn’t certain he wanted to walk across the sea as Jesus had just done (Matthew 14:25). Jesus pointed out that the reason Peter began to sink was because he doubted (Matthew 14:31) or mentally wavered from his original conviction (1365) about the possibility that he could do what Jesus had commanded him to, “come” to him on the water (Matthew 14:29). Matthew said the cause of Peter’s mental wavering was fear. He explained, “But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). Although Peter may have been overcome by fear, it was not his fear that caused him to doubt. The Greek word translated doubt, distazo (dis-tad’-zo) means to duplicate (1365), the word distazo is derived from, dis (dece) which means twice (1364) or duo (doo’-o) to have two of something. At the moment when he began to doubt, it is likely that Peter thought twice about what he was doing and realized that walking on water was humanly impossible; but what is even more likely than that, is that at the moment his doubt got the better of him, Peter realized that he and Jesus were doing the same thing and that meant that, if Peter continued, he would no longer be able to excuse himself from doing whatever God commanded him to.