Apostle Peter was given the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heavens” by the Lord Jesus Christ, when he (Peter) acknowledged that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, through the Revelation given to him (Peter) by God the Father (Matthew 16:15-19). Peter, with the “Key” opened the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 2); then in God’s time, Peter was used by God to “open” the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles (Acts 10).
The “Opening” of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Gentile, involves the Supernatural Vision (Acts 10), – involving Peter, the Jew with Cornelius, the Gentile, the Roman Centurion, a devout man and one who feared (Reverence) God, who has a visitation from God. Cornelius was asked to seek out Peter, who was residing in Joppa (Acts 10:1-8).
How can God bring them together, when they were separated by such a religious, national, and cultural divide – especially, Peter, the Jew, ministering to Cornelius who is not only a Gentile but also a Centurion of the Roman; the Roman was hated by the Jews, in the time of Christ. God chose to minister the supernatural vision to Peter, the Jew, to unlock the national prejudice of the Jews against the Gentile, let alone, the Roman Centurion.
Peter was given a vision of a sheet lowered from Heaven, holding a variety full of edible animals, birds, and creeping things of which the Jew considered, unclean; he (Peter) was asked to kill and eat (Acts 10:9-13). Peter, first reaction, as a Jew, was his refusal, due to his (Peter’s) Jewish dietary laws (Acts 10:14). God spoke to Peter the second time, rebuking him (Peter) that what God has cleansed, must not be considered as common and unclean (Acts 10:15). It happened three times, and then, the objects were taken up into Heaven (Acts 10:16), leaving Peter totally bewildered about the Vision (Acts 10:17a).
What did the Vision mean? Peter has no interpretation for the Vision, but while he (Peter) was thinking about the Vision, God’s Spirit revealed the Purpose of the Prophetic Vision – Acts 10:19-20 “While Peter thought about the Vision, the Spirit said to him (Peter), ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing for I have sent them.” Peter went with the men to Cornelius’ house, preached the Gospel, and watched as the Holy Spirit fell on those people in Cornelius’ house, and he (Peter) saw the Gentiles added to the Church of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:21-48) – of Jews (Acts 2) and Gentiles (Acts 10). From this episode, Nine General Principles could be learned:
Change is unpleasant but necessary because change is part of God’s Plan for the Individual, and the Church. The role of the Church Leader is to be an Agent of change and to manage it. Change is inherent in the Leadership of the Church. God modelled some Powerful Principles when he gave the “Keys of the Kingdom” (Matthew 16:19a) to Peter for the inclusion of Gentiles in His (God’s) Church (Acts 1:8), as recorded in Acts chapter 10. God led Peter from being an Opponent of Change, because to his Jewish heritage, to be a Champion of Change.
2. Value and Conviction
God addressed Peter’s Values and Convictions, as Peter was a Jew – Acts 10:9-16 (NIV) “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city. Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, get up, Peter kills and eat. Surely not, Lord, Peter replied. I have never eaten anything impure or unclean. The voice spoke to him a second time. Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.” A Wise Church Leader takes time to understand his People who must adapt to the Change. The Church Leader demonstrates that he is not out to violate their Values and Convictions, but rather to Convince and Convict his People that Change is necessary.
3. Plan Challenged
God allowed Peter to challenge His Plan – Acts 10:14-15 (NIV) “Surely not, Lord, Peter replied. I have never eaten anything impure or unclean. The voice spoke to him a second time. Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” If People’s Objections are not addressed in a forthright and honest manner, the People will not “buy-in.” The Church Leader may wrongly perceive the People’s concerns as antagonism.
4. Worked Through Resistance
God allowed Peter to work through his (Peter’s) resistance – Acts 16-17 (NIV) “This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate.” Adaption to change takes time. The Wise Church Leader allows the People the time needed to work through their Reservations.
5. Controlled Situation
God allowed Peter to manage change in a controlled situation before thrusting him into major change. He allowed Peter to “try on” the change under controlled circumstances – Acts 10:18-23 (NIV) “They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them. Peter went down and said to the men, I am the one you are looking for. Why have you come? The men replied, we have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say. Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.” A Wise Church Leader allows his People to experience the process of change in order that the People may begin to experience progressively the change’s effect.
God prepares the People who are involved in change: (1) Cornelius, a Gentile and a Roman Centurion (Acts 10:1-8); (2) Peter, a Jew (Acts 10:19-23, 30-33): Cornelius – God Commended Cornelius’ Attitudes and Actions by the Angelic Visitation. Cornelius was commanded to look for Simon Peter and to bring him to his house (Acts 10:1-8). Peter – God moved Peter’s heart through the Heavenly Vision (Acts 10:34) and the Visitation of Cornelius’ Servants. God anticipated Peter’s Jewish background and objections. God addressed Peter’s fear and concern. When introducing change, a Wise Church Leader must be prepared to address the concern of the People and the questions that might arise.
God did not ask Peter to change. He invited Peter to participate and become Agent of change – Acts 34 (NIV) “Then Peter began to speak: I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.” God showed forth the undeniable proof by the out pouring of the Holy Spirit – Acts 10:44-46a (NIV) “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers (Jews) who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” Abandoning the comfort of the status quo (Peter, a Jew) can feel the threat. A Wise Church Leader helps his People to assimilate and adjust to the change.
8. Key Leader
God usually convicts the Key Leader (in this instant, Peter) and allowed that Leader himself to champion the change. The Key Leader needs to explain the Vision and Strategies (or Actions) – Acts 11:1-18 (NIV) “The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised Believers (Jews) criticised him and said, you went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them. Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened……..When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, so then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” Individuals are easier to work with than a Group. Change needs the support of other Leaders for it to be wide-spread and successful. Peter had the Apostles and brothers in Jerusalem for his support (Acts 11:18). These Leaders will then help to galvanise (“fire up”) Others to reconcile themselves to the New Change. Peter was given the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19) – Peter was the Key Leader in the Opening up of the Gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) and the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48).
9. Core Values
Change is important, but it must not undermine the core values of the Church. Peter experienced that tension, and God helped him facilitate change while not abandoning his Jewish Core Values. Core Values should form as the Rock-Solid Foundation, while Practices and Procedure can be changed to enable the Church to face the future. Peter’s Core Values are: Peter was an Apostle (Matthew 10:1-2a) with the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19) – Matthew 10:1-2a, Matthew 16:19 (NIV) “He (Jesus) called His twelve disciples to Him…….These are the names of the twelve apostles……I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” And his (Peter’s) Jewish Heritage (Acts 10:9-17).