During the time of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Greg L. was asked to give a “missions minute” at a large evangelical church on the East Coast. Since he had only one minute to speak, he decided to ask them only two questions. The first one was, “How many of you are praying for the 52 Americans hostages being held in Iran?” 4000 hands went straight up and he said, “Praise the Lord!
Now, put your hands down and let me ask you another question. How many of you are praying for the 42 million Iranians being held hostage to Islam?” four hands went up. He said, “What are you guys? Americans first and Christians second? I thought this was a Bible-believing church!” (Mission Frontiers, May – June 1994)
This rebuke by Greg L. served as a wake up call to the church and helped Mission minded Christians see the need to pray for Muslims. This mission minute was used in a dramatic way to lead to what has been called by mission experts as “the ‘decade of Muslims’ in praying Christians hearts.” (The Commission April 2000 p. 12)
There are times when God uses a rebuke to make significant impact in keeping his people focused on His purposes. One of the clear examples of this in Scripture is when Paul rebuked Peter to his face. Not only Peter, but the other important church leaders like Barnabus and James had lost sight of God’s purpose for all Nations.
Read: Galatians 2: 11-14
11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.
12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabus was led astray.
14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ” You are a Jew, yet you live like a gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
I) The mistakes of Peter
Jesus has told us that he hates the lukewarm Christian. This attitude of being neither hot nor cold would never describe Peter. He was passionate and spoke his mind. Maybe it was the fisherman in him that made him so intense. Whatever the reason it made for Peter being mentioned more times in the Gospels than anyone else, besides Jesus.
When you think about Peters life, you probably remember a lot of mistakes. It is not necessarily a kind thing to do to Peter, but lets just take a moment to remember some of the very colorful mistakes Peter made.
When Peter steps out of the boat on the raging sea of Galilee, he takes his eyes off Jesus to see the wind and the waves. Peter looks at his circumstances and sinks in the water. Jesus words for Peter are, “you of little faith” and “why did you doubt”? ( Matthew 14:28)
Even when Peter asked Jesus a question, he has the ability to put his foot in his mouth. “We left everything to follow you Lord”, He said to Jesus. Then Peter asks, “What will there be for us? (Matthew 19:27) Not only does Peter misunderstand the nature of Jesus ministry, there is a selfish aspect to his question.
This lack of Peter’s understanding of Jesus and his purposes was epitomized after Jesus spoke to the disciples about his coming death. Following Jesus’ disturbing disclosure, Peter took Jesus aside to forbid him to go to the cross. Peter managed to get the strongest of possible rebukes for this bad idea. Jesus scolds Peter with, “get behind me Satan.” (Matthew 16:22-23)
Peter blew it again when the Lord washed the disciples feet. “Never shall you wash my feet Lord,” Peter said. When the Lord corrects him Peter goes overboard in the other direction. He requests Jesus to wash his hands and head as well. He just was not tuned in to the purposes of Jesus. (John 13:8) When Peter asked Jesus to explain the parable of the clean and the unclean Jesus asked, “are you still so dull? (Matthew 15:15-16)
Peter slept after the Lord told him to watch and pray in the Garden of Gathsemene. Then the impulsive Peter cuts off the servant’s ear when the temple guards come to arrest his Lord. Jesus commanded Peter, “put the Sword away!” (John 18:11) Again Peter was not understanding the purpose of Christ despite the fact Jesus spoke to his disciples concerning his death.
The mistake or rather the complete failure that Peter is most famous for is his denial of Christ. This is what caused Peter to weep bitterly when Jesus looked straight at him. Peter remembered the words the Lord had spoken to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times”. (Luke 22: 61-62)
II) The Heroics of Peter
If we would plot Peters life on a seismograph to measure the highs and lows the needle would move all over the charts. Yes, Peter had his failures and they were tragic ones. But as for the greatness of Peter his high points were phenomenal.
We normally think of Peter’s greatness after Jesus resurrection, and especially following Pentecost. We can however, see glimpses of Peters greatness in the Gospels. Peter was in insider to Jesus. Peter was not only one of Jesus chosen twelve, but he was part of the inside three to Jesus.
At times Jesus called Peter dull, but at other moments his perception of Christ was unparalleled. Jesus asked his disciples, the crowds left, will you too depart? Peter answered, “where would we go, You have the Words of Eternal Life”. (John 6:68) Peter made one of the most significant statements of all times in what we now call the Great Confession (Matt 16:16). “You are the Christ, son of the living God”.
Peters heroics at and following Pentecost are numerous. His preaching is filled with brilliant insight into the purposes of God in the Cross. It was incredible insight when just forty days ago he was still thinking Jesus had come to establish an earthly kingdom. Look at Acts 2:39, he preached of all those “far off.” The response to this sermon set the stage for the advance of the early church. People were cut to the heart and 3,000 were saved and baptized that day.
Peter seems to underscore his understanding in his second sermon, (Acts 3:25-26) He said, “Jesus was sent first to the Jews”. Peter took for granted that Jesus was sent next to the Gentiles. (Perspectives, Stott, A-15) Peter continued to preach boldly and many miracles came through him. Peter told the lame beggar, “silver and Gold have I none, get up, in the name of Jesus walk.” When the man leaped to his feet the onlookers were astonished. They released this miracle came by the power of God.
People were brought to Peter so that even his shadow might fall on some as they passed by. (Acts 5:15) His bold theme was “we must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Peter prayed for Dorcus after her death and commanded her to get up. She did get up and many people believed in the Lord as a result.
Peter is the one who was sent to Samaria when news came the Gospel had reached these despised people. (Acts 6:1-5) Through the ministry of Peter the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:17) Peter is great! Who else walked on water and raised the dead? Except for our Lord, Peter is the only one.
III) The Sheet Experience
The early church began with one people group, the Jews (there were more than a dozen sub-groups of Diaspora Jews baptized at Pentecost). God’s purposes for all the peoples was in the process of becoming reality. Following the Gospel reaching the Samaritans comes the account of the Gospel to the first Gentiles. A gentile, Cornelius, an officer of the Roman army, respected by all Jewish people, was about to become the first Gentile recorded in the New Testament to know the saving grace in Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:22)
Cornelius was a devout God fearing and generous Italian. The Lord gave him a vision where he was told to send for Peter. At the same time the Lord gave Peter the sheet visions. A vision intended to get Gods purposes for all people groups through to Peter. Peter had the sheet vision, once then a second vision and even a third time. The purpose was for Peter to understand what he should have already known. He in fact had already been preaching this truth, that the Gospel is for all communities (people groups).
The vision of the sheet came to Peter three times. When you take into account the vision that Cornelius had, there were a total of four visions to underscore the purpose of God. It came to Peter as an, Aha moment, and is expressed in Acts 10:34. “Now I realize that God accepts men from every nation” (people group). This was followed by another experience among the gentiles of what happened at Pentecost among the Jews. (Acts 10:45-46)
Peter should have known already what God impressed on him in this vision. When Peter preached at Pentecost he articulated the very idea that was intended in this vision, that salvation in Jesus Christ is for all People. Everyone who calls on the name of our Lord will be saved.
Jews from 15 different regions, Jews of Diaspora, spoke Aramaic or Hebrew. These Diaspora Jews also knew the gentile languages. They came to Jerusalem to worship in Hebrew. The Acts 2 event with the Holy Spirit coming and all hearing the Gospel in there own language was a symbolic reversal of what happened at Babel, immediately preceding Abram’s call to be a blessing to all the families (people groups) of the earth. (Gen. 12:1-3)
IV) Peter Now Defends the Gospel for all people groups
What a wonderful moment in world history when Peter shared Jesus with Cornelius and the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Gentiles. God’s purpose in Jesus Christ for the nations (people groups) was underway. This was not, however, such a joyous thought to everyone. As a matter of fact, the first century Christians did not like to see people groups outside there own community come to Christ. When the Christians heard the Gospel went to the Gentiles they criticized Peter for even associating with these Italian people. They took up issue with Peter about this (Acts 11:1-3)
Peter explained the whole situation of the vision and how the Gospel went to the Gentiles. Now even the first century church gets it! The Gospel is for the Gentiles. (Vs 11:18) No further objections. At least not until a church of Gentiles was organized at Antioch.
The Jewish church in Jerusalem sent Barnabus to look into this Gentile congregation at Antioch. Barnabas encouraged them. This is when Barnabas goes off to find Paul, who by now this “Jew of Jews” had been called as an apostle to the Gentiles (people groups). This group of Gentile Christians took up an offering for the needs of the Jewish Christians as a result of a famine. The other great ministry Antioch performs is to send out Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey to reach other Gentiles.
Paul and Barnabas went out from Antioch turning the world upside down. God opened the door to more Gentiles. At this time there was trouble back in Antioch. In Acts Chapter 15 we find Christian Jews from Judea went to Antioch teaching them that one must first become a Jew to become a Christian. This resulted in Paul and Barnabas having a sharp dispute. This time not with each other, but with the men of Judea.
We read in Acts 15 (during what is known as the Jerusalem Council) that Paul and Barnabas reported the ministry among the gentiles. At first this was accepted and then some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees argued the case that a gentile must first become a Jew. It was Peter who was the hero of the hour. Peter convinced the council that salvation is by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be it Jew or Gentile. This was confirmed when James convinced by Peters argument, quoted Amos and Isaiah that the Gospel is for Gentiles. (Act 15:16-18) Hurray for Peter and his role in seeing the purpose of God to all the families of the earth be carried out!
VI) Wake up call
Isn’t this the end story, a resolved issue, regarding the Gospel to the Gentiles? No! Even though it was essentially laid out by Jesus in the Great Commission and numerous other times there was further confirmation needed for the early church to really accept and carry this out.
Sometimes Peter understood Christ’s Mission with insight that could only come from the Heavenly Father. Sometimes he was dull. A wave of dullness washed over Peter, even after all that had transpired. It took a vision, three times, for Peter to understand what should have already been so clear.
Could Peter have blown it on the Gospel for the Gentiles after he was so used by God at the Jerusalem council? Yes, there is one last big goof in Peter’s life. This is the reason Paul rebuked Peter to his face.
“We are not told when the confrontation between Paul and Peter took place. The book of Acts makes no mention of it. Some interpreters feel this incident took place soon after the Jerusalem conference. It seems unlikely however that the circumcision party could have recouped its forces and increased its influence so soon.” (Curtis Vaughan, Bible Study Commentary, Galatians p 47)
Why did Paul have to rebuke Peter to his face? Peter completely forgot what he had said in Acts 10:34. If anybody should have been a “Great Commission Christian”, taking the Gospel to all people groups, Peter should have been the one.
A “Great Commission Christian” is a person who’s mission is missions. A person who takes the commission of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 to make disciples of all nations (people groups). Peter is slow to understand the mission of Christ. Again!
This was Peters great mistake. When Peter pulled away from the Gentiles in Antioch, he forgot the Gospel is for all people groups. When he denied Christ, the Holy Spirit had not come. But this time his mistake was made after preaching Pentecost, raising the dead, calling the lame to walk and after his sheet vision.
When Peter separated himself from the Gentile Christians at Antioch (Gal 2:12) it was a tragic mistake. Peter was as Paul said, “clearly in the wrong.” This mistake came after he shared the Gospel to gentiles and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit followed. This mistake came after Peter convinced the Jerusalem council leaders that the Gospel is for the Gentiles (people groups).
If Peter can get off track regarding God’s purposes for the peoples, then we also should be on the alert, lest we get derailed. If we are not doing our strategic thinking in ministry based on God’s purposes for all peoples (The Ta Ethne factor) it will mean missing God’s best for our lives.
The church sometimes, like Peter, is needing a correction and a call back to God’s Great Commission purpose. William Carey was a man who gave a wake up call to the church in his day. His talk of Missions was countered with, “Sit down young man, if God wants to reach the Heathen, He will do it without your help or mine ” Carey did not stay quiet. He rebuked the church much like Paul rebuked Peter. William Carey preached his “broad tent sermon” from where we get “Expect Great things from God. Attempt Great things for God.” He accomplished great things and woke up his denomination, the Baptists in England, along with it, the entire Christian community.
Fast forward from William Carey by 190 years to 1979, the Missions Minute of Greg L. during the Iranian hostage crises. The Lord used that challenge to give a wake up call for the Gospel to the Muslim world. “More Muslims in Iran have come to Christ since 1980 than in all the previous 1,000 years combined.” (Blessed to Be a Blessing, Mission Frontiers, India p. 13)
Today we may again need a wake up call. This time we must wake up and see the challenge in taking the Gospel to the Hindu world. This block of peoples contain over half the worlds languages (1,700 of 3,500). This part of the world contains over fifty percent of the worlds least evangelized peoples. (The Commission, April 2000. Page 12)
When we returned to the USA my wife’s Aunt Rebecca’s told us of her dream. She believed God gave her the dream. In her dream she saw a map of the world. She saw a hand reach out and point to India. The only words in the dream were, “here, here.” When she awoke she thought about her niece and family in India. She thought we may be in some kind of trouble so she prayed for us.
My wife and I both looked at each other when she told us of this dream. We thought the same thing. It is not out of the realm of possibilities that we were in some kind of trouble and God wanted her to pray. But, we thought that if this dream was from God, it more likely was a message that it is God saying this is His time for the Hindu of India to know Him.
Some mission experts now believe that, as the 1990’s was the decade for the Muslims for praying Christians, this will be the decade for the Hindu. (The Commission April 2000, p 12) India and the Hindu peoples is the great need to fulfill the Great Commission. There are thousands of Hindu people groups according to the Anthropological survey of India.
From the life of Peter we can see how we can so easily get off track for Missions. Today let us wake-up and pray for the Hindu world to know the love of Christ. “Only One life will soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”