Peter is replying to a question raised by a group who were concerned about why he had allowed Gentiles into the church without the necessity of circumcision. First, we should note what Peter did not do. Peter did not say to the circumcision group, ‘Look, here. I am an apostle and you are only laypeople who don’t know very much. Who do you think you are, questioning me?’ Many leaders are tempted to respond in this way. Yet if he had responded in such a manner, no progress would have been made, and Jesus would not have been pleased.
What Peter did was convey to them accurate information about how Jesus had led him to take part in the unexpected meeting in Caesarea. He does not conceal anything but informs them that it all began as he was praying. Then he describes the vision that he saw of the sheet containing animals, he mentions his surprise at what God was telling him about his traditions, he points out the exactness of God’s timing concerning the arrival of the men from Caesarea, he states that the Holy Spirit informed him that he must go with them, and he closes by saying that the reason for his going there was to bring to them the message of salvation. So clearly Peter wanted them to have as much information as possible, which could be confirmed by the brothers who had accompanied him.
Are there other reasons why Peter rehearses the details? One is that he wants everyone in the Jerusalem church to understand that what happened had not been at his instigation. Indeed he reminds them that initially he was reluctant to take on board the message of the vision about clean and unclean animals. So he makes it very clear that what happened was brought about by the Lord’s counsel (the vision), the Lord’s commandments (go with the men) and the Lord’s control (the timing and the consequences when Peter preached). He understood the big picture.
Of course, it is easy to respond to Peter’s explanation by saying how wonderful the way was by which Jesus enabled his servant, who until then had not fully passed on what he had been taught by Jesus, to fulfil his instructions. We might say that we would be similarly stimulated if we also received a vision telling us what to do. Yet the fact is we do not need such a means of communication in order to find out what Jesus wants us to do. The reason why we do not need it is because he has already conveyed to us in writing what he wants his church to do. Through the teachings of the New Testament, which also enable us to apply correctly the Old Testament, Jesus has given us all the information we need.
I’m not sure that we fully realise the privileges and the responsibilities that come with the information that we have in the Bible. Peter and his friends in Jerusalem could never be the same again having received the message from heaven. The information changed them regarding their future behaviour as a church. And surely the same should be said about us.