The Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit Part 2 of 4

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

30 And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,

31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
32 Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.

This is now the third time we have encountered this narrative. It is virtually a summary of verses 3-8 with slight variations, such as the remark that it was now four days since the vision occurred and the fact that he spoke of a man in shining clothes rather than an angel. A man in shining clothes{7], of course, was an angel, so it is merely a variation in expression. Even Peter’s location in Joppa is repeated in detail. The emphasis and reason for the repetition is to underscore the importance of the divine direction that led to this scene. Peter was not yet fully certain why he was at Cornelius’ house.

33 Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.

Everyone there, was certain of one thing: God had brought them together. Cornelius also knew that God brought Peter to him to share something important. That is why he assembled family and friends. All were now waiting to hear the Lord’s message from Peter. They were not interested Gentiles asking for a lecture on Jewish religion. They were lost sinners begging to hear how to be saved. God had led him to Cornelius house. But Peter had a message, the message, the Word of life. It was now clear to him why God had led him there. He was to witness the gospel before this gathering of gentiles.

34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

Peter’s sermon is somewhat unique among the speeches in Acts. Since it was addressed to Gentiles, one would expect it to differ somewhat from the other sermons of Peter, all of which were directed to Jews. Still, it is quite different from Paul’s sermons addressed to the Gentiles of Lystra (14:15-18) and Athens (17:22-31).

Cornelius and his family were already worshippers of God, and therefore, had some preparation for the gospel. Peter probably assumed such knowledge on their part and did not begin with the basic monotheistic message of faith in God as he did when preaching to pagan gentiles. Peter’s sermon at Cornelius’ home basically followed the pattern of his prior sermons to the Jews but with several significant differences. One is found at the very beginning, where he stressed that God shows no favoritism, accepts people from every nation, and that “Jesus is Lord of all.” This emphasis on the universal gospel is particularly suited to a message to Gentiles. Peter’s vision had led him to this basic insight that God does not discriminate between persons, that there are no divisions between “clean and unclean” people from the divine perspective. The Greek word used for favoritism is constructed on a Hebrew expression meaning to lift a face. Peter saw that God does not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnic background, looking up to some and down on others. But God does discriminate between those whose behavior is acceptable and those whose attitude is not acceptable. Those who reverence God and practice what is right are acceptable to him (v. 35; Lk. 8:21{8]).

Peter was basing this statement specifically on Cornelius. Throughout the narrative his piety had been stressed—his constant prayers, his deeds of charity. This raises the problem of faith and works. Was God responding to Cornelius’ works, “rewarding” him, so to speak, by bringing Peter with the saving gospel and granting him his gift of the Spirit? One must be careful not to introduce Paul’s theology into a context that is not dealing with the same issues, but one should also note that even Paul was capable of describing the impartial justice of God as being based on one’s good and evil works (Rom. 2:9-11{9]). The early church struggled with the question of faith and works in Cornelius, and perhaps Augustine’s view offers as good an answer as any. Cornelius, like Abraham, showed himself to be a man of faith and trust in God. God was already working His grace in him, and it manifested itself in his good deeds. Now God would show him His greatest grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Spirit. The stress on both Cornelius’s

devoutness and his works is perhaps, then, a good corrective to an abused doctrine of grace with no implication for behavior and a reminder of James’ pronouncement that faith and works are inseparable; good works flow from a heart of faith.

Acts 10:35 does not teach that we are saved by works, otherwise Peter would be contradicting himself when he said: “whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (v. 43). “He that feareth him, and worketh righteousness,” is a description of the Christian life. To fear God is to reverence and trust Him (Micah 6:8{30]). The evidence of this faith is a righteous walk.

36 The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)

Just as with Peter’s other sermons in acts, considerable stress is placed on God’s redemptive act in Jesus Christ. This theme is introduced here in verse 36, where Peter stressed the good news which came through Jesus Christ. There is an interesting interplay in the verse between the limited nature of the gospel’s meager beginning and its ultimate scope. God sent the gospel message to His people, “the children of Israel.” But its content was peace, the peace Christ brings, who is “Lord of all.” From the very founding of the nation of Israel, God made it clear that the blessing would be from Israel to the whole world (Ge. 12:1-3{31]). If he is truly Lord of all, then the gospel message and Christ’s peace is for all people, not just the people of Israel. Verse 36 echoes Isaiah 52:7{10] and 57:19{11]. In Ephesians 2:17{12], Paul employed the latter passage to argue the universal gospel and the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in Christ. Peter had also come to see that it is a natural consequence that there shall be no barriers between those who confess Christ as “Lord of all.” He could not allow such nonessentials as restrictive Jewish food laws to separate him from Gentiles like Cornelius who were, like him, those for whom Christ died. Where Christ is “Lord of all,” a worldwide witness and a worldwide fellowship of believers free of all cultural prejudice are absolutely essential.

37 That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;
38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.

Verse 37 begins the explicit treatment of Jesus’ life, which continues through verse 42. The public at large knew about Christ’s life, ministry, and death, but only the apostles and a limited number of other believers were witnesses of his resurrection. Did you know that there is not a single sermon preached which is recorded in the Book of Acts that does not mention the resurrection of Jesus Christ? That is the very heart of the gospel. Until that is preached, the gospel has not been preached. Jesus Christ died, He was buried, and He rose again from the dead. Those are the historical facts. Your relationship to a risen Savior determines your eternal destiny. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was raised again for our justification (Rom. 4:25{33]).

This section is unique among the speeches of Acts in the amount of attention it gives to the ministry of Jesus. The other speeches of Peter emphasize the death and resurrection of Jesus as does this speech (vs. 39-40). Only the sermon in Cornelius house, however, provides an outline of Jesus’ ministry (vs. 37-38). In fact, these verses are almost a summary of the outline of Jesus’ life, as presented in Mark’s Gospel: the baptism of John, the Galilean period with its extensive healing ministry, the death and resurrection. That Peter began the summary of Jesus’ career with “you know” (v. 37) is interesting. He could perhaps have assumed that Cornelius, living in Caesarea, would have heard some prior report of John baptizing and Jesus’ reputation for miracles. Paul later made a similar assumption that these events could not have escaped King Agrippa’s knowledge because they “did not happen in a corner” (26:26{13]). His reference to Jesus being anointed with the Spirit (v. 38) most likely refers to the descent of the Spirit on Jesus at His baptism (Lk. 3:22{14]), where God declared Him to be the Messiah. In turn, the anointing with the Spirit is closely tied to Jesus’ miracles in Luke’s gospel, as it is here (Lk. 4:18{15]), citing Isaiah 61:1{16].

Peter in his speech, emphasized Jesus’ miracles and mighty works, especially His healing of those who were “oppressed of the devil.” Jesus’ triumph over demonic power was never more evident than when, at the return of the seventy, after hearing the report of their cures in His name, Jesus cries out, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

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