Dreams and Visions
“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me.”
(Peter in Acts 11:5, NRSV)
In the 1992 movie Leap of Faith, Steve Martin plays the role of Jonas Nightengale. Nightengale is a con man posing as a faith healer. He sets up his revival tent in a farming community that is in the midst of a drought. He intends to use people’s desire for faith (and rain!) as a means of getting their money.
Not everybody in town is “bought in” to Nightengale’s unique abilities. The sheriff doubts Nightengale’s credibility and vows to keep an eye on him. Still, Nightengale, with the help of his staff, creates the illusion of miracles and, as a result, rakes in large amounts of money for his shameless operation. Even though it’s an old movie, I won’t spoil the ending in case you haven’t seen it. I will let on that the slyest of foxes can’t outfox God. God always has the last word!
The apostle Peter found himself in a dilemma. He was preaching the gospel, and the Gentiles who heard it were responding with faith in Jesus Christ. Christianity in the 1st Century was a sect of Judaism. Allowing Gentiles into the fold without their first converting to Judaism was problematic for many of the Early Christians. What was Peter to do? He sought God’s guidance through prayer, and what happens next is what we read about in verse 5 above. While he was praying, he falls into a trance and has a vision. In the vision, God communicates with Peter that it’s okay for the Gentiles to be incorporated into the Christian faith.
Words like “trance” set off a “Jonas Nightengale” type of alarm in me. The supernatural feels too weird. Surely there must be some reasonable explanation for what really happened to Peter. Maybe it was a stress-induced blackout? Perhaps it was food poisoning? Or was it actually the Spirit of God?
Here’s what I believe. God’s purposes can never be thwarted. Did Peter really fall into a trance? I don’t know. That was his experience, not mine. I do know that God’s purpose of carrying the gospel to the Gentiles was accomplished through whatever happened to Peter. My faith is in Peter’s God, not Peter’s trance.
Join us Sunday as we explore visions and other supernatural occurrences in the Book of Acts in our new series, “Beyond Belief.” This series will challenge your sensibilities and hopefully, grow your faith! ~Dale Cohen