THURSDAY, MAY 3
Our challenge is to change how we regard people who are not like us
The context of this short passage is the longer story of how Peter came to enter a house of Gentiles and see God’s glory fall on them. First, Peter had a rooftop vision of different animals and hearing the audible voice of God telling him not to call anything impure that God had made clean. Immediately after, three men sent by Cornelius the Centurion asked him to go to the Roman officer’s house with them and speak to the household. The Jews hated the occupying Romans and didn’t associate with Gentiles, so Peter was challenged to his core. But he entered the house with a generous spirit and gave the message of how God had anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and He had done many good things, only to be killed on a cross. However, Peter explained, God had raised Him from the dead on the third day and the resurrected Jesus then commanded the disciples to proclaim to all the people, that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness through His name.
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.
The early Jewish Christians had been told through the Scriptures in many places and explicitly by Jesus, that the Good News was for Gentiles as well as Jews, but just couldn’t grasp that all would now share equally in the gift of redemption – until they saw it for themselves.
46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
The experience of the disciples at Pentecost and other disciples at Ephesus, Acts 2:4,11 and Acts 19:1, 6.
Then Peter said,
47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
48 So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
“Baptised with water” – the external sign of their spiritual salvation.
“Received… just as we have” – The Gentile believers had received the same gift as the Jewish ones, Acts 11:17, and were given an unlearned prayer and praise language just as the Jewish Christians had been at Pentecost, v.46 and note above. This was strong evidence for treating the Gentile believers the same.
The essence of this story is that Peter and his friends were challenged to do something which all their upbringing and experience told them was just plain wrong. Jews didn’t have anything to do with Romans, who were not just Gentiles but oppressors. A Roman governor and a Roman execution squad had put their Lord to a cruel and lingering death. Jews were God’s own people, set apart to Him as descendants of Abraham and followers of the law that Moses has instituted. And then the Holy Spirit fell, unmistakably, as these ungodly people received the gift of a praise language just as they had.
God is always doing a new thing. Jesus, in His words of commission recorded at the end of each of the gospels, told them it would all be different: they were to go beyond their own nation and into the world. They would be fishermen, but ones that broke with the custom and practice of fishing.
We get set in our ways and especially our religious preferences. We prefer to keep our ‘club membership’ for people like us, but Jesus won’t have any of this. He challenges us to be open-hearted to those He wants to reach, who may be different… quite a lot different. And we, who like to think we are following the ‘right’ way get a reality check as we see how God works.
For reflection and discussion
How do you think God would have us reach our world for Jesus differently?
What changes could we make now that would make church more relevant to seekers?
Also published on Medium.