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Story of the Bible by  Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
Table of Contents


 

 

WHAT PETER SAW BY THE SEA

Acts ix: 32, to xi: 18.

[695]

A S the church was now planted in many cities throughout the land of the Jews, Peter, who was a leader among the apostles, went from place to place visiting the believers in Christ and preaching the gospel. At one time Peter went down to the plain beside the Great Sea, and came to a city called Lydda. There Peter found a man named Aeneas, who had the palsy, and could not walk, and had been lying on his bed eight years. Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ makes you well; rise up and roll up your bed."

Then at once Aeneas arose, and was well; and he took up the roll of matting on which he had been lying so long, and laid it away. All the people in Lydda and in Sharon heard of this great work, and many turned to the Lord.

There had been living at Joppa, not far from Lydda, a very good woman, whom everybody loved. She was called "The Gazelle," which is the name of a beautiful animal, like a deer. For her name in Hebrew was Tabitha, and in Greek was Dorcas, words which mean "Gazelle." Tabitha, or Dorcas, was a believer in Christ, and like her Lord, she loved the poor and helped them. By her work and by her gifts.


[Illustration]

DORCAS HELPING THE POOR

While Peter was at Lydda, Dorcas was taken ill and died. They laid her body in an upper room, and then they sent two men to Lydda for Peter, begging him to come without delay. Peter went to Joppa at once; and when he came to the house where the body of Dorcas was lying he found the room filled with widows and poor women, who were weeping, and showing the garments which Dorcas had made for them.

But Peter sent them all out of the room; and when he was alone with the body of Dorcas, he knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, arise!"


[Illustration]

LYDDA AS SEEN TO-DAY

[696] And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter she sat up. Peter took her by the hand, and raised her up; then he called into the room the widows and the believers in Christ, and showed Dorcas to them, alive and well. The news of this wonderful work, of life given to the dead, amazed all the city of Joppa, and led many to believe in Christ. Peter stayed many days in Joppa, at the house of a man named Simon, who was a tanner, and lived near the sea.


[Illustration]

THE HOUSE OF SIMON THE TANNER IN JOPPA AS IT NOW IS

At that time an officer of the Roman army was at Caesarea, about thirty miles north of Joppa, beside the Great Sea. His name was Cornelius; and he was the commander of a company of a hundred soldiers. We would call such an officer "a captain" but in the Roman army he was called "a centurion." The centurion Cornelius was not a Jew, but a Gentile, which was the name that the Jews gave to all people except themselves. Yet Cornelius did not worship idols, as did most of the Gentiles. He prayed always to the God of Israel, and feared God, and gave to the poor; and he taught his family to worship the Lord.

One day, in the afternoon, Cornelius was praying in his house, when an angel came to him and called him by name, "Cornelius!" Cornelius looked at this strange and shining being, and he was filled with fear, but he said, "What is it, Lord?"

And the angel said to him, "Cornelius, the Lord has seen your gifts to the people and has heard all your prayers. Now send men to Joppa, and let them bring to you a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the house of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea."

Then the angel passed out of sight, and Cornelius called two servants and a soldier who worshipped the Lord. He told them what the angel had said, and sent them to Joppa for Peter. These men travelled all night, following the road southward by the Great Sea, and about noon of the next day they drew near to Joppa.

On that day, just before these men came to Joppa at noon, Peter went up to the roof of the house to pray. He became very hungry, and wished for food; but while they were making ready the dinner he fell into a strange sleep, and a vision came to him. In his vision he saw what seemed to be a great sheet let down by its four corners from above. In it he saw all kinds of beasts, and birds, and creeping things. Some of these were animals and birds that the Jews were allowed to eat; but many others were of kinds that [697] the old law forbade the Jews to eat; and such as were forbidden, the Jews called "common" and "unclean." Peter saw in this great sheet many beasts, and birds, and creeping things that in his sight were common and unclean. As he looked, he heard a voice saying to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."

Peter had always been very strict in keeping the Jewish rules about food, and he answered, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything common or unclean."

Then he hear the voice saying to him, "What God has made clean, do not thou make common or unclean."

Three times Peter heard these words spoken, and then the great sheet with all the living creatures in it was lifted up to heaven and passed out of his sight. Peter knew at once that the vision and the words which he had heard must have a great meaning; but as he thought upon it he could not see what the meaning was. While he was thinking of the vision and wondering at it, the Spirit of the Lord spoke to him, saying, "Peter, three men are looking for you. Go down to the door and meet them; and go with them, without doubting, for I have sent them."

Just at that moment, the three men from Caesarea knocked at [698] the door, and asked for Simon Peter. Peter met them, and said to them, "I am here, the man whom you are looking for. For what reason have you come to me?"

And they said, "Cornelius, a centurion at Caesarea, a good man, one that fears God, and is well spoken of by all the Jews, was yesterday commanded by a holy angel to send for you, and to listen to words from you.

Then Peter called the men into the house and heard all their story, and kept them there that night. On the next morning he went with them, and some of the believers from the church of Joppa went with the party. On the next day they came to Caesarea, and entered into the house of Cornelius. There they found Cornelius waiting for them, and with him a number of his family and his friends. As Peter came into the room, Cornelius fell down at his feet, and was about to worship him; but Peter raised him up, saying, "Stand up; I myself, also, am a man, and not God."

And as Peter looked around he saw many people that had met together; and they were all Gentiles, men who were not Jews. And Peter said, "You know that it is against the law of the Jews for a man that is a Jew to come into the house with one of another nation, or to meet with him. But God has showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. For this reason I came at once when I was sent for. Now I ask for what purpose you have sent for me."

Then Cornelius said, "Four days ago I was praying, at three o'clock in the afternoon, when a man stood by me, clad in shining garments, and he said to me, 'Cornelius, your prayer is heard, and your good deeds are known to God. Send now to Joppa, and send for Simon who is called Peter.' I sent at once for you, and you have done well to come so soon. Now we are all here before God, to hear whatever God has given to you to speak to us."

Then Peter opened his mouth, and began to speak; for he saw now what the vision meant which he had seen on the housetop. He said, "I see now that God cares for all men alike, not for the people of one nation only; but that in every nation those that fear God and do right are pleasing to him." Then Peter began to tell the story of Jesus; how he lived, how he did good works, how he died, how he rose again, and how in Jesus Christ every one who believes may have his sins forgiven.

[699] While Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit fell on all who were in the room. And the Jews who were with Peter were amazed as they saw the Spirit of God given to Gentiles, men who were not Jews. Then Peter said, "Can any man forbid that these should be baptized with water, upon whom the Spirit has come, as he came upon us?"

Then by Peter's command these Gentile believers with Cornelius were baptized as members of Christ's Church. And Peter stayed with them a few days, living with Cornelius, and eating at his table, though he was a Gentile, something which Peter would never before have thought it right for him to do. Soon the news went through all the churches in Judea that Gentiles had heard the word, and had been baptized. At first the Jewish believers could not believe that this should be allowed; but when Peter had told them all the story of Cornelius and the angel, of his own vision of the great sheet full of animals, and of the Spirit coming upon the Gentiles, then they all praised God, and said, "So to the Gentiles, as well as to the Jews, God has given to turn from their sins, and to be saved in Jesus Christ, and to have everlasting life."


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