The passage can be read here.
Charles Blondin was a tightrope walker in the nineteenth century who came to fame by crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope.in 1859. He crossed with a wheel barrow and apparently asked the crowd if they thought he could do it again. Of course they all believed he could. So Blondin asked for a volunteer to sit in the wheel barrow. At that point, the crowd became a little less certain. It’s an illustration used by preachers to explain what faith is. It isn’t just believing in God it’s investing our lives in him or getting in the wheel barrow. In today’s passage, Peter is in the wheel barrow.
As Peter made clear, this was new ground. There were no rules because they were in uncharted territory. It was against Jewish law for a Jew to associate with gentiles. As is often the case in similar situations, there was an understandable awkwardness. Cornelius fell at the feet of Peter, Peter told him to get up, he said; ‘I’m only a man myself’. Notice he did not say; ‘I’m only a man like you’, because as far as Peter was concerned, they were not the same, he was a Jew and Cornelius was a gentile. But contact was made. The strange thing is, we remember those first awkward steps. I remember the first time I walked in to Ebenezer and I can remember who came to speak to me.
Peter and Cornelius compared notes. Peter explained that God had spoken to him and he had received the message. He had come a long way from the disciple who thought it was ok to argue with Jesus about going to the cross. Now he had learnt, it’s always better to agree with God. As Cornelius recounted his side of the events of the last few days, Peter must have realised God was doing something very significant for a gentile to have an angel visit him with instructions and all of this dovetailing to neatly into Peter’s own vision.
Peter was presented with a problem but thankfully he knew the solution – the Gospel. His themes are by now very familiar; He is Lord of all, they killed him, God raised him, we are witnesses and he brings forgiveness of sins. It was a courageous thing to do; he would have to explain his actions to his fellow Christians never mind the reaction of the Jewish authorities. There was a danger that he could be going out on a limb but God was in it and that was really all that mattered. I wonder if we are ever more concerned with the views of fellow Christians than with the leading of the Spirit? For those listening, it must have been absolutely wonderful. Imagine being in that first group of gentiles to hear the Gospel preached. It must have been like a shower of rain falling on a dry and parched garden.
Great God of wonders! all thy ways
Display the attributes divine;
But countless acts of pardoning grace
Beyond thine other wonders shine:
Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free? (Charles Wesley)