Jesus Defends Himself Before the Jerusalen Church Part 3 of 3

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?

It is interesting that Peter had to go all the way back to Pentecost to find an example of what happened in the home of Cornelius! This suggests that a dramatic “baptism of the Spirit” (v. 16), accompanied by speaking in tongues, was not an everyday occurrence in the early church. The purpose of the tongues, however, was to give evidence to Simon Peter that the Holy Spirit had actually “fallen on them.” How else would he have known they had been baptized by the Holy Spirit which placed them into the body of believers? Peter could not use the experience of the Samaritans as his example, because the Samaritans received the Spirit through the laying on of the apostles' hands (8:14-17). Cornelius and his household received the Spirit the moment they trusted Christ. This is the pattern for today.

Peter’s defense did not rest on what he himself had done, but on what God did. God had made no distinction between Jew and Gentile. “What was I, that I could withstand God?” asked Peter; and to this question, the legalists had no answer. From beginning to end, the conversion of the Gentiles was God’s gracious work. He gave them the gift of repentance and the gift of salvation when they believed. In later years, God would use the letters of Paul to explain the “one body,” how believing Jews and believing Gentiles are united in Christ (Eph. 2:11-3:12). But at that time, this “mystery” was still hidden; so we must not be too hard on those saints, who were uneasy about the place of the Gentiles in the church.

18 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

The wisdom and graciousness of the Jerusalem brethren were revealed in the fact that when Peter had finished speaking, they held their peace: their opposition to Peter was over. They could not deny the immanent activity of God Himself, by which the Spirit had been poured upon these Gentiles; and therefore, they could no longer argue for difference or distinction or discrimination. “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” is one of the most shocking admissions in Jewish history, but an event that the Old Testament had prophesied (Isa. 49:1, 6{11]). This response had two subsequent and significant results. First, it preserved the unity of the body of Christ, the church. Second, it drove a huge wedge between church-age believers and temple-worshippers in Jerusalem. Before this the common Jewish people looked on Christians with favor (2:47{7]; 5:13, 26), but soon thereafter the Jews opposed the church. This antagonism is attested by Israel’s response to the execution of James (12:2-3, 11{8]). Perhaps this meeting with Gentiles was a starting point of the Jewish opposition.

Christians are to receive one another and not argue over cultural differences or minor matters of personal conviction (Rom. 14-15). Some of the Jewish Christians in the early church wanted the Gentiles to become Jews, and some of the Gentile believers wanted the Jews to stop being Jews and become Gentiles! This attitude can create serious divisions in the church even today, so it is important that we follow the example of Acts 11:18 and the admonition of Romans 14:1{5], and receive these whom God has already received.

Peter did a good job of describing his experience in Caesarea, and this little group that had protested Peter’s contact with Gentiles, were willing now to receive Gentiles into the Christian church. They “glorified God (praising God for His great works; 21:20{9]), saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” At this point, their opposition to the baptism of the Gentiles would amount to opposition to God, for God’s leading of Peter and of Cornelius proved beyond doubt His intention to include them in his people. There was not much the circumcision group could say now. God was clearly in it. Who could object? Silence soon gave way to praise of God in His triumphant advance of the gospel. God had granted “repentance unto life” to the Gentiles

Not all the problems were solved, however. Not all the Jewish Christians were satisfied with taking in Gentiles without them being circumcised. In all probability, they viewed the incident as an isolated case and not as a basis for yielding their contention that Gentiles must accept circumcision in order to get into the church. It certainly was not a test case which settled future relations with the Gentiles who believed. This issue and others would surface once more for a final showdown in the Jerusalem conference of chapter 15.

This was a great day—the door had been opened to the Gentiles! We see now that the stage is being set for the gospel to move out to the ends of the earth.

Isn’t God good!

scripture reference and special notes.

{1] (Gal 3:26-28)So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians—you are one in Christ Jesus.

{2] (Acts 6:7) God's message was preached in ever-widening circles. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

{3] (Gal. 1:6) I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who in his love and mercy called you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ. You are already following a different way.

{4] (Acts 10:14)"Never, Lord," Peter declared. "I have never in all my life eaten anything forbidden by our Jewish laws.”

{5] (Romans 14:1) Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.

{6] (1 Cor. 5:11)What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even eat with such people…

{7] (Acts 2:47) all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.

{8] (12:2-3, 11)He had the apostle James (John's brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish leaders, he arrested Peter during the Passover celebration. Peter finally realized what had happened. "It's really true!" he said to himself. "The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jews were hoping to do to me!"

{9] (Acts 21:20) After hearing this, they praised God. But then they said, "You know, dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all take the law of Moses very seriously.

{10] This may well have been the same group mentioned in 15:5: “But then some of the men who had been Pharisees before their conversion stood up and declared that all Gentile converts must be circumcised and be required to follow the law of Moses.” They were Pharisees who required Gentiles to be circumcised and to live by the Mosaic Law. Their perspective was understandable given that at this point Christianity was still seen as a movement within Judaism. It followed that if Gentiles became Christians they also became Jews, and should thus undergo the normal procedure for converts to Judaism.

{11] (Isa. 49:1, 6) Listen to me, all of you in far-off lands! The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb, he called me by name. He says, "You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

{12] (Gal. 2:11-12) But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who don't bother with circumcision. But afterward, when some Jewish friends of James came, Peter wouldn't eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say.

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