Acts 9:43 And Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon.
Luke is the guy who wrote the book of Acts. He was a doctor by trade and was probably led to Christ by Paul. Being a doctor, he is highly educated, and gives lots of details that scholars have appreciated for years. The above is one of those verses that seem like a simple fact to help us further give depth to the story. Well, It does that, and much more!
The context of this chapter gives two miraculous accounts done through Peter. One where he heals a paralyzed man, and the other is when he raises a dead woman. Both are very significant miracles. Peter is a celebrity at this time. People are coming to him asking him to do incredible things. If it were me, I would be feeling pretty important, and would likely let it go to my head. I would probably send out a press release telling people that I raised a dead person last week. “Come to Genesis Church and see what will happen next…” “Miracles in the Spokane Valley…” I suppose Peter has learned some important lessons because it appears that he is rather humble about the whole thing. How do I know? Look where he chooses to stay.
He stays with Simon, who is a tanner by the sea. This is not the sea of Galilee, but rather the Mediterranean sea. It’s in a town called Joppa, the same place Jonah fled to when God told him to go to Nineveh. I am sure Peter, the former fisherman, likes being on the beach (and likes the guy’s name), but the reason Simon lives on the beach is not because he runs a deep sea fishing outfit, or owns a Margaritaville resort. Simon’s occupation is that of a tanner. Tanners make leather out of animal skins. It is notoriously known for being a smelly job. The rotting carcass’ and the chemicals used produced a pungent aroma that most wanted nothing to do with. The reason he lives by the sea is probably because the sea breeze will blow the stench away from the house and shop.
If I was Peter, the famous #1 disciple of Christ, the only other person who has walked on water (yeah, that would be on my business card…), the one who is able to do these kind of miracles, I would have likely booked a 5-star hotel, and played the VIP card. Peter, however, chooses to stay with a guy who happens to be the most stinky guy in the region, and has one of the most disgusting jobs around. Not only that, but staying there would likely render him unclean. Jews had very strict laws about cleanliness. If a Jew were to touch an animal carcass, then he would be ceremonially unclean until evening – not a huge deal, but he had to bathe and could not take part in various aspects of Judaism. So, Simon the tanner and his family were perpetually unclean, and also alone. Even today in more primitive cultures, the workshops and homes of tanners are required to be outside of town because the stench is so strong. Pharisees would have had a field day with a disciple living in that kind of a setting, but Peter doesn’t seem to care. Why not? Probably because he had learned from Christ how much it didn’t matter what other people thought. If the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus hanging around prostitutes and known thieves, who cares? Peter was also learning that lesson, and chose to stay with an unpopular family.
But why? Why stay there? It is noble to be kind to people who are considered…undesirable. Isn’t that enough? Why take it to the next level, and choose to live with someone like that, especially when you don’t have to? Was it to keep the Pharisee’s away? To keep the crowds down, or to just escape and try to catch some fish?
I have to speculate, but I think it’s because no matter how big Peter gets, he is still humbled by the fact that Jesus chose him, and he would still rather be around other humble people. It doesn’t seem like he is all that interested in impressing anyone at this point, and knows full well that God is not impressed by pretenses. Peter will struggle with this again later, but for now he seems to get it. God is impressed by people who will love the unloved, and show compassion to the undesirables and lonely people of the world.
We don’t know anything more about Simon the Tanner, except that he lived by the sea. Oh yeah, it just so happened to be at his house where God chose to reveal to Peter that he was done with this whole unclean thing – forever!
One day while Peter was on top of Simon’s roof praying, God gave him the vision of all the unclean animals that he could now consume, and that he can go spread the gospel to Gentiles as well as Jews. It took three statements from Christ to convince Peter that he could now do this. This revelation was huge, it was a change in what God had told Moses himself! The instructions given would have massive ramifications to the followers of God. That encounter now gives us the freedom to have some bacon, shrimp, or even a camel burger if we were so inclined. I think God chose to give him that revelation at that time because of his faithfulness to follow Christ’s pattern of love for the unloved.
Not only does God notice our hearts when we do things for Him, he greatly rewards a heart that is so much more concerned about his thoughts than anyone else’s.