The Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit Part 3 of 4

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:

40 Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;
41 Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
42 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.

In verse 39 Peter turned to his role as apostolic witness to the entire ministry of Jesus (1:22{16]) and above all to His death and resurrection. One of the qualifications of an apostle was that they must have been with Jesus and saw the miracles and heard him speak. As in Acts 5:30{17], Jesus’ crucifixion is described as “hanging Him on a tree.” As always in Peter’s sermons, the crucifixion is attributed to the residents of Jerusalem. In verse 40 the familiar down-to-earth formula occurs: they killed Him, but God raised Him up on the third day. Particularly striking and unique to this sermon is Peter’s stress on Jesus’ appearance to the apostles after His resurrection, even His eating, and drinking with them. This emphasis would have been particularly important in preaching to Gentiles like Cornelius for whom the idea of a bodily resurrection was a new concept (17:18{18]). Peter concluded his treatment of the apostolic witness by referring to Jesus’ command for them to preach the Word (1:8{19]) and especially to testify that Jesus is the one anointed by God as eschatological{20] judge (v. 42). The role is that of Danielic Son of Man, and Peter perhaps was interpreting the title in terms that would have been comprehensible to a Gentile.

In verse 41 the reference to Jesus eating and drinking was no doubt meant to counter the objection that He was merely a ghost (Lk. 24:39{26])

One characteristic element of other sermons by Peter as to this point has been lacking in this one—the proofs of the Old Testament Scriptures. Peter seems to have been moving in this direction when he referred to the witness of the prophets to Jesus (v. 43), and he connected this closely with repentance and forgiveness of sins. Perhaps Peter’s line of thought was related to Jesus’ words to the apostles after the resurrection, where Scriptures that predict Christ’s suffering and resurrection are also closely tied to repentance and forgiveness in His name (Lk. 24:46-48{21]). In any event, Peter seems to be moving toward his appeal with reference to the coming judgment and to repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name. He was, however, cut short. The miracle of repentance and forgiveness occurred before he could even extend the invitation, and the Spirit sealed the event.

Peter wanted his hearers to know that Jesus “was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead,” that is, to undertake the supreme function traditionally delegated to Him as the “Son of Man”: “But just remember that they will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead” (1 Pe. 4:5); and, “And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus—who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:1).

43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

Forgiveness of sins (v. 43) is an idea greatly emphasized in Acts. Peters speech in Acts 2:38{27] claims that the messianic promises are fulfilled by the gift of the Spirit and the forgiveness of sins; and in Paul’s speeches, the climax to which everything leads up is the forgiveness of sins: “Brothers, listen! In this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins” (Acts 13:38).

As they listened to Peter’s words about forgiveness (the gospel message) for everyone who believes in Christ his congregation believed and the Holy Spirit suddenly descended on all the Gentiles assembled in Cornelius house (v. 44) and interrupted the meeting (11:15). I find it interesting that God the Father interrupted Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:4-5), and God the Son interrupted him in the matter of the temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27). Now, God the Spirit interrupted him—and Peter never was able to finish his sermon.

If only preachers today would be interrupted in this manner. They began to speak in tongues and to praise God (v. 46). It was an audible, visible, understandable objective demonstration of the Spirit’s coming upon them (There is no reference to a different language.). Peter and the Jewish Christian brothers from Joppa witnessed the event and were astounded that God had given the gift of the Spirit to the Gentiles (v. 44). It has often been described as the “Gentile Pentecost,” and that designation is appropriate. In verse 47 Peter practically gave it that designation when he described the Gentiles as having received the Holy Spirit “just as we have.” Like the Pentecost of Acts, it was a unique unrepeatable event. It was barely practical. The sequence, for one, was most unusual, with the Spirit coming before their baptism. The pattern of a group demonstration of the Spirit invariably accompanies a new breakthrough in mission in Acts. We see it in the initial empowering of Pentecost, the establishment of the Samaritan mission (8:17-18{22]), the reaching of former disciples of John the Baptist (19:6{23]), and the foundation of the Gentile mission and the legitimation for the Jerusalem church.

Always the demonstration of the Spirit serves a single purpose—to show that the increase in witness comes directly from God, is totally due to divine leading. This was especially important in this instance. Peter had already shown his hesitancy to reach out to Gentiles. More conservative elements in Jerusalem would be even more reticent. Only an undeniable demonstration of divine power could overrule all objections, and God provided exactly that in Cornelius’s house. Surely the Spirit had already moved among the Gentiles gathered there in a more inward experience of repentance and faith. Luke hinted at this. The very last words in the Greek text of Peter’s sermon before the Spirit descended are “everyone who believes in Him.” The faith of the Gentiles is even more fully revealed in Peter’s report to Jerusalem, where he compared his own experience of belief in Christ and receipt of the Spirit with the experience of Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles (11:17{24]).

Peter called for the baptism of the Gentiles (v. 47) in language that is highly reminiscent of the Ethiopian eunuch’s request for baptism (8:36{25]). As with the eunuch, there was now no barrier, no way anyone could hinder the baptism of these Gentiles and their full inclusion into the Christian community. These Gentiles were not saved because they were baptized but because they gave evidence of being saved. The experience of Cornelius and his household make it very clear that baptism is not required for salvation. From now on the order will be, hear the Word, believe on Christ, and receive the Spirit, and then be baptized and unite with other believers in the church to worship and serve God.

Another obstacle had been overcome in the ever-widening scope of Christian mission, the barrier of national and racial particularism and separatism, the barrier of prejudice that looks down on others as “unclean.” It is interesting that Peter gave orders for them to be baptized. Evidently, he did not baptize them himself but committed it to some of them who had accompanied him from Joppa. This is further evidence that the early Christian leaders put no premium on who administered the rite. Also, Paul said, “For Christ didn't send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News” (1 Co. 1:17). Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord,” which was the earliest method (8:19{28]; 19:5{29]), and was later replaced by the Trinitarian formula: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

There are three supreme lessons that this story teaches:
1. Peter said, “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (v. 28).
2. And he also said, “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (v. 34b-35).
3. The Holy Spirit coming upon Gentiles even though the apostles had not laid hands on them, and without them having already been baptized.
These are striking revelations for a man like Peter who may have recited one of the prayers from the Talmud every day: “Oh God, I thank thee that I am not a Gentile, that I am not a slave, that I am not a woman.”

The narrative concludes with the note that Peter spent several days with his new Christian brothers and sisters in Caesarea (v. 48b). This inevitably involved table fellowship, but that now presented no problem for Peter. It would, however, constitute a major difficulty for more conservative Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem.

This entire experience is an illustration of the commission of Matthew 28:19-20. Peter went where God sent him and made disciples (“teach”) of the Gentiles. Then he baptized them and taught them the Word.

That same commission applies to the church today. Are we fulfilling it as we should?

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