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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cornelius, Peter, and the Holy Spirit, Conclusion

So, thus far in our story from Acts Chapter Ten, the new Gentile believers have been baptized in water, having first been baptized with the Holy Spirit when Peter was telling them about Jesus. What wonderful confusion that caused the Jewish Believers who had come with Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile military leader. How can it be that the Gentiles have received what the Jewish God had given to them, His Chosen People? It was simply undeniable that God had not considered these folks who faithfully worshipped Him and generously gave to the poor, unclean gentiles. It was the most natural thing for Peter to baptize them with water and welcome them into the new Body of Believers, the Church.

In fact, everywhere the disciples went, following the dispersion caused by the persecution in Jerusalem, the Jewish Believers in Jesus found not only Jewish folks, but also Gentiles, interested in hearing the Gospel message. Word was spreading fast and the Church was growing daily.

Great rejoicing was going on in all of the fellowships, as the news of the Holy Spirit being given to the Gentiles reached them. This was true of the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem too, but there was one not-so-small glitch in their celebration. We read about it at the beginning of Acts Chapter Eleven:

Verses 1-3: The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

So that’s what the problem was! The issue over circumcision and uncircumcision. God had commanded the Jewish people to have all of their male family members and servants circumcised and it as forbidden for them to associate with, or eat at the tables of, any men who were not circumcised. Okay, so Peter’s preaching had power and God used him mightily, but what about the law? He should never have been in that house in the first place. Couldn’t Peter have taken the men to a synagogue or something outside of the home of Cornelius? And, Peter actually ate with those Gentiles while he was there for those days! How could Peter do such a thing?

Well, Peter certainly understood their position; he had held such a position for his entire life. But, as he was eager to tell them, this was different. Not to do it would have been against God, though that made no sense at all to Peter any more than it would to his friends. Still, Peter wanted them to understand under what circumstances he had, indeed, done such things that caused them concern.

Verses 4-16: Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

No doubt those listening to Peter had been stunned by this first-hand account of such an extraordinary happening in a Gentile home. Peter’s conclusion really hit the bull’s eye of each man’s heart. It’s the bottom line of everything Peter said, as well as the rumors the others had heard.

Verse 17: “So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

At last, the others got it!

Verse 18: When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Bottom line… God makes the rules! If God sees that a Gentile has his heart committed to Almighty God, God will respond and draw near to Him… Jewish or not, such a one will receive from God just as the Jewish, Chosen People, do.

Later on in Acts, we see the issue over circumcision is not finished. As other Gentile men have been welcomed into the Body of Believers in Jesus, some of those of the Jewish faith are calling for the new believers to be circumcised. You might have guessed just which group was the most outspoken, the Pharisees who had made a decision to believe in Jesus! Just as they had been the strict enforcers of the law and resisted the Gospel message the hardest, now they resisted the truth of being saved by grace and not works. They insisted that the new Believers must be circumcised before they can be saved, though God never said that. Circumcision had to do with a specific Covenant God had with the Jewish People, not the salvation Jesus brought by His life and death on a cross. The Pharisees just couldn’t get that and demanded the Believers undergo circumcision.

Acts Chapter Fifteen, Verses 5-11: Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the Law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Then Paul and Barnabas stood up to give testimony to what they had seen on their journey as they shared the Gospel message with the Gentiles.

Verse 12: The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.

Next James took the floor, finishing off the discussion with a possible solution. The Lord had given Ten Commandments and the law of the Jewish People had added another six hundred to that. So, which of those many laws should they expect the new Gentile Believers to follow? James had an idea. Circumcision was not necessary as God had planned for the Gentiles to be grafted in all along but wanted the brothers to consider his suggestion.

Verses 13-19: When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon
(Peter) has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

“‘After this I will return
    and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
    and I will restore it,
that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
    even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’— things known from long ago.

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

James was having mercy and showing his compassion on the new Believers. He did have a few things he believed that God would have them conform to from the Jewish laws. Probably one of the greatest miracles was that all of the Jewish men agreed!

The Church sent out a delegation with a letter from the leaders. The letter would be read in every fellowship and there would be no longer an issue of circumcision or any other law from the Jewish faith, except those listed in the letter.
Here is the letter that the men delivered to the Churches outside of Jerusalem:

Verses 23-29: The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.  So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Okay, issue settled! Gentile Believers were accepted among the Jewish fellowships all over the area. Of course, other conflicts would arise, as we are so like that as humans, aren’t we? But, the main thing is this: God did not exclude anyone who wanted to surrender their lives to Him from being able to do so, regardless of national or religious birthright. People from every nation, from every walk of life, from every generation for all time may receive the wonderful salvation that comes only through Jesus and the powerful Gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and direct
as the Holy Spirit teaches us to follow God’s Word.

****Cornelius, Peter, and the Holy Spirit, Q and A… Next Post

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