“WHEN DID GOD PREACH TO A PREACHER?”

Some thoughts about Peter from Acts 10:9-16 – by Mike Benson

SCRIPTURE IS CHOCK full of sermons in both Testaments.  God told prophets, priests, and evangelists to WHOM to preach, WHEN to preach, exactly WHAT to preach, and sometimes even WHERE to preach.  But in Acts 10, it was God who was doing the preaching Himself.  Consider:

1.  God preached a pictorial SHEET1 SERMON.  “Heaven opened and an object like a great sheet (emphasis mine, mb) bound at the four corner, descending to him and let down to the earth.  In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air…” (Acts 10:11, 16).

2.  God preached that SAME sheet sermon OVER AND OVER.  “This was done three times…” (Acts 11:10).

3.  God preached that same sheet sermon three times to ONLY ONE INDIVIDUAL (Acts 10:9, 13: 11:5).  Ironically, the one-man assembly was a preacher himself (cf. 2:14ff; 3:11ff; 4:2, 8ff, 20, et. al)!

4.  God preached a meaty, Scripturally solid (cf. Heb. 5:12-13) homily three times to the same preacher WHO INITIALLY REJECTED THE SERMON because he was only able to consume spiritual milk at the time.2  Peter said, “Not so Lord!  For I have never eaten anything common or unclean…” (Acts 10:14; cf. 11:8).  Read and study Hebrews 5:12-13 for further consideration. 

5.  Peter didn’t grasp the spiritual depth and significance of God’s sermon until he MULLED IT OVER IN HIS MIND AND THOUGHT ABOUT IT the following day.  When Peter wondered within himself what [the] vision which he had seen meant (v. 17), he finally realized that God had shown him that he should not call any man common or unclean (v. 28; cf. vv. 34-35, 43, 11:9).  Like the sermon-parables delivered by His Son (cf. Psm. 78:2; 49:4), God the Father wasn’t talking so much about food or fleshly matters, but about spiritual matters (cf. Mat. 13:16-17) and the fact that the gospel wasn’t just for the Jews, but it was also for the Gentiles (cf. Acts 11:4ff; 6, 15-18; cf. Eph. 2:11-15; Rom. 9:6, 8; 11:11; Acts 15:7-11; Gal. 3:28-29).

6.  Oddly enough, Peter had actually PREACHED PART OF THIS VERY SAME SERMON some nine years earlier back at Pentecost.  He’d taught, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off (emphasis mine—mb), as many as the Lord our God will call” (2:39).

7.  Luke’s inspired record of the delivery of God’s sermon was LONGER THAT THE SERMON ITSELF.  In the English, the message comprised only four words:  “Rise, kill and eat” (v. 13b), while the explanation of the sermon was nine words in length (v. 15). 

8.  God had actually been talking about this truth (e.g., the gospel was for Jews and Gentiles) FOR CENTURIES in the OLD TESTAMENT (Gen. 17:4; 22:18; Psm. 2:8; Isa. 43:1, 6; 49:6. cf. Acts 10: 43; 15:7b-9; Rom. 11:1ff; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:11ff).

9.  There was a strong relationship between what Peter BELIEVED and what he HAD AND HAD NOT PRACTICED—at least prior to Acts 10.  He told God that he never had eaten unclean food, nor could he ever do so in the future (cf. Acts 10:14; 11:8).

10.  When Peter later preached in Acts 11 the same sermon that God had preached to Him back in Acts 10, those who heard his message ENDORSED AND ACCEPTED IT.  “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (11:18). I find this almost humorous. When the preacher first heard God’s sheet sermon in Acts 10, he rejected it, but then when he turned around and preached the sermon that was preached to him, those in the “assembly” received and approved of it.

OBSERVATIONS FOR REFLECTION: 

  • God preached the same sermon three times to just one preacher (i.e., Peter), and yet the preacher didn’t “get it” at first (cf. Acts 10:28, 34, 43). 
  • The weakness wasn’t in Jehovah’s preaching, but in the mind, heart, and prejudices of the “man in the pew” up on the roof of the house. 
  • God combined words and visual aids to communicate truth to Peter. 
  • It’s not possible to believe error, but then simultaneously practice truth (cf. Acts 10:14).
  • Even though Peter was an inspired penman and apostle, he still hadn’t put the ideas of Jews and Gentiles united in Christ until Acts 10. 
  • If Peter had to think about and ponder God’s message in Acts 10, I shouldn’t be surprised when good brethren today need some time to chew on the Word of God (cf. Josh. 1:8; Ezra 7:10; Psm. 119:15-16, 47-48, 96-98) just as he did.    
  • If God had to preach the same sermon three times to Peter, I shouldn’t be discouraged when I preach the same ideas over and over and folks don’t immediately “catch on.” 
  • Peter preached that the gospel was for the Gentiles in Acts 2, had to be re-taught it again in Acts 10 (some nine years later), and then evidently forgot it several years later in Galatians 2 (cf. 2:11ff).
  • Peter needed time (another 8-10 years) to grow in his knowledge, understanding and practice (2 Pet. 3:18). 

1 Gospel preachers in the early-mid twentieth century often delivered large visual-aid “sheet sermons” which they had created on bed covers with paint and/or markers, etc.  The sheets would be hung on the wall, usually behind the preacher, and he would use it to guide the assembly to the Truth via the passages, notes and diagrams thereon. 

2 Even though Peter had been preaching for nine-plus years, he was still consuming spiritual milk in the context of the Gentiles. 

What About those Mutations?

We all ‘read’ messages through our past hurt, our present circumstances and our prejudged expectations…

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When I preach I am often shocked at the disconnection that occurs between the words and that I speak and the words that are heard.

I have often had a discussion with a member of a congregation after church service who is convinced that I said something that I didn’t say.

When the video, tape or other people are consulted and it becomes clear what was actually said, the individual sometimes becomes intransigent: ‘Well, I know what I heard, and it’s not what you say that you said!’

What we are seeing here is a problem of decoding.

The same communication problem operates in the field of genetics.  Information is passed from one generation to another via a genetic code.  Sometimes, however, in the process of exchange some sort of mutation or change takes place that causes the process to go awry.  The information received is not the same as that passed down.

The principle that we must be aware of if we are to receive the exact messages that are sent is that we all ‘read’ messages through our past hurt, our present circumstances and our prejudged expectations.  In other words, we screen or decode messages through a filter, and occasionally that filter is not always clean (emphasis mine–mb).

For instance, when I teach on the subject of relationships, occasionally I have read out a list of common words and asked the audience to write down their immediate feelings when I mentioned them.  I then compare answers.  If I use the word ‘father’, for example, the feelings swing from ‘love’ and ‘security’ to ‘hatred’ and ‘pain.’  Their recorded emotions reflect their past.

What I am attempting to illustrate to them is the difference between denotation and connotation.  If we look up the word ‘father’ in the dictionary, it has a literal meaning or denotation, yet it may, as we have seen, have a completely different specific meaning or connotation to each of us. So if I use the phrase ‘God is our Father’ without explanation from the pulpit, I am in danger of being misinterpreted since everyone will decode the phrase differently.  On top of the problem of connotation, people tend to add their feelings of rejection, their poisoned perceptions and their ill-informed expectations (Robert Fergusson, “A Plank Across a Stream,” Making Connections That Work, 166-167).

“Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5:17).

“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike