Last week in our blog we began to look at the response of the religious leadership in Jerusalem to Peter’s decision to go to Caesarea and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the home of Cornelius, the Gentile centurion as described in Acts 10. We saw that Peter faced a great deal of criticism on his return and we started to look at his response to that criticism. What we have in Acts 11 is one of the most profoundly significant responses to the Holy Spirit that the early Jewish leadership had to make. Luke writes in verse 4, “Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it happened,” (Acts 11 NIV). We won’t go into detail on his explanation of breaking through his prejudice against Gentiles, as we have looked very closely at this over the last month in considering how the early Jews were able to overcome the prejudice and racial hatred of the Gentiles through the power of the Holy Spirit. I want to pick up with Peter’s explanation in verse 16 where we read, “Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life,” (Acts 11 NIV). Jesus had demonstrated clearly that His message was for all of humanity. Remember that He had preached in Samaria to the woman at the well and then to the people of that town (John 4) and then He had gone over to the region of Gerasenes and ministered and preached in an area populated mostly by a Greek population. Jesus even had the boldness to heal the servant of a Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10).
Peter states, “I remembered”, as he was in the household of Cornelius, he remembered the teaching and example of the Lord Jesus Christ regarding the salvation of the Gentiles. This memory was in sharp contrast to Peter’s past resentment and prejudice towards Gentiles. When we allow God to speak into the very core of our beings, He is the one who can so profoundly change our hearts and lives. Peter realized that if he was not obedient to what God had called him to do, he would in fact the hindering the work of God. All of this was his reflection at the moment he was living through in the home of Cornelius. His statement, “who am I that I could oppose God?” reflects his realization that it was God who directed him into the home of Cornelius to bring the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. Peter was only a feeble creature, whereas God is the Almighty Creator and has the right to do according to the counsel of His own will. When we realize that God desires us to reach across boundaries to minister to people who are not like us and to cross racial barriers and divides there is a great and amazing blessing that comes into our hearts and lives.
Peter’s answer to the accusations against him in sharing his testimony and witness is a great stroke in his explanation as these facts made an unanswerable defense. By Peter’s statements, he implicitly claimed that the Gentiles were full members of the church, therefore circumcision and keeping of the law were unnecessary for salvation. The Scriptures record the response of the early leaders, “when they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God”, (Acts 11:18a NIV). The Greek language in this section hints at a reluctant acceptance. They could not argue with Peter about what had happened because it was clearly of God. It would be nice to read in the following chapters of the book of Acts that the Jewish leadership entered zealously into its mission to the Gentiles. That would be nice to read, however, that’s not what we read in the following chapters of Acts. Their statements, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance on the life,” (Acts 11:18b NIV), is a statement of momentous importance and yet it seems to have had very little impact on the leadership of the church in Jerusalem. Nowhere in the book of Acts do we read of the city of Jerusalem becoming a hotbed for Gentile evangelism. That will eventually happen, but it’s going to begin in Antioch and not in Jerusalem.
The Jewish leaders recognized that a genuine heart’s repentance is a grace gift that brings salvation, but they seemed very hesitant to embrace the people who were receiving that gift. I believe if we are to overcome bigotry, narrowmindedness, and all kinds of prejudice that this process begins with a recognition of the problem. It also requires a genuine change of heart and an acknowledging of who we are going to be spending eternity with. Being together in eternity will in fact have nothing to do with the color of a person’s skin or the political party they are associated with, or what church or their religious organization they associate with. It will all be about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Being able to share that in the here and now is such an important component of helping us to break through barriers and change hearts and lives. Let us seek God’s guidance as to how He wants to use us to overcome the division and hate that so fills our world today and let us be models of what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ.
In the King’s Service,
Pastor Rich Sivo