“‘And I heard a voice saying to me, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But I said, “By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean as ever entered my mouth.” But the voice answered a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times.’” (Acts 11:7-10)
Peter had an interesting history. As one of the original twelve apostles, he became one of the major leaders in the early church after Jesus’ ascension. Though he had previously denied Jesus, he now let nothing dissuade him from proclaiming the good news of His salvation. He preached to everyone he saw, making sure he taught the truth of eternal life to everyone he met—everyone, that is, who was Jewish. Gentiles were another matter. There were a few Greeks in the early church, but they had all converted to Judaism at some point. Sharing the Gospel with pure, non-Jewish Gentiles was basically a form of heresy.
Then God decided to use Peter as the means to bring the Gospel to a group of Romans. He sent an angel to a Roman centurion named Cornelius, telling him to send for Peter. While Cornelius’ messengers were heading to fetch Peter, God was preparing this hard-headed man for the mission. He decided to use an object lesson about clean and unclean foods, showing Peter a vision of a sheet in which were a multitude of ritually unclean foods and telling Peter to eat them. Peter, good Jew that he was, refused to do so. But then God rebuked him, admonishing him to not call anything common that God had declared to be clean. This happened a second time, and apparently Peter refused to eat again, because it happened again a third time. Finally, Peter got the point, and applying it properly to the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, he willingly went to Cornelius and shared the Gospel with him and his family, the result being that Gentiles received the Holy Spirit for the first time.
Peter did finally understand what God was trying to tell him, but it took him a while. He was so caught up in rituals and laws that he missed what God wanted to teach him. And not only that, but he went so far as to argue with God Himself, insisting that He was telling him to do something outside the law. He chastised the One Who had written the law because the instructions clashed with his own interpretation of the law. Perhaps he could get a pass for the first time; after all, it could have been a test. But after he refused to eat, God told him that He was calling these things clean, and therefore Peter had no right to call them common. The second time, Peter ought to have eaten. But he still refused. The funny thing is, he knew perfectly well that it was God telling him all this; his reply was, “By no means, Lord”. But he was held back from doing what God was calling him to do by his own mistaken understanding of God’s Word.
So often, we are the same way. We read the Bible and think we understand what it means. But then, God may surprise us and tell us something that goes against the perfect principle we have constructed. Now, it is important to understand that God will never, ever contradict His Word. What He says once holds true for all eternity. But it is also true that we are imperfect, and we will often come up with ideas that are actually contrary to what God is trying to say. When God presents us with something different, our tendency is to argue with Him. We think we know better, and so we try to maintain our own ideas. But as Peter demonstrated, this is never the right course. God will just keep calling us until we obey. His Word dominates everything else, trampling our own mistaken convictions and ideals. When He calls us to something different, we ought to leap into obedience. Imagine what would have happened if Peter had still not acted on what God was teaching him. How do we know that what God is telling us to do won’t have similar ramifications?