November 28, 2015.
Daily Reading: Acts 10-12.
Background: Acts 9.
Concepts and Connections.
The gospel given to the Gentiles: Up until this point in the book of acts, the good news about Christ really had only gone to the Jews. Even when the believers were scattered abroad after the stoning of Stephen spoke the word only to Jews (see Acts 11:19). The story of Cornelius is often referred to as the first gentile conversion. Whereas it may be argued that it is possible that a small number of Gentiles or at least proselytes had heard the good news, it is certainly the case that Cornelius is used as an example by the Holy Spirit to demonstrate to the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles were equally called to follow Christ and it was time to take the gospel to them as well. This was not a new plan that happened just because the Jews rejected Christ (though they were to receive the good news first, and the majority of Jews did reject their Messiah), but it had long been foretold in Old Testament prophecy that the Gentiles would be welcome in the kingdom of God, even from the promise of Abraham whose seed would bless ‘all nations’ (see Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 2:2, 49:6, Joel 2:28-32). Though the prophecy was evident, it seems that the Holy Spirit needed to give the apostles a little nudge to actually go to the Gentiles. This is precisely what happened with Cornelius, who was a righteous and God-fearing man, well spoken of by the Jews.
A vision was given to Cornelius to send men to Joppa and find Peter. It is interesting to point out here again that it seems that God’s plan was always to use people to spread the gospel, even when He gave people visions or guided preachers to those who were seeking Him. As the men were coming to get Peter, Peter himself is given a vision that would prepare him for the meeting of Cornelius. The vision itself told Peter to not call anything common that the Lord had made, referring to food, but Peter would soon find out that this was actually a message to him to teach him that the Gentiles had were not common or unclean, because they had too been made by God. Note that Peter doesn’t understand what the vision means until he meets Cornelius. It’s okay not to know exactly where the Lord is guiding. What is important is that we follow His lead. Note also that some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied Peter, suggesting the importance of spreading the gospel in groups as opposed to solidarity. When Peter gets to Cornelius and Cornelius explains what has happened, he understands the vision and preaches the good news about Jesus to Cornelius and his household. As he was preaching, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles just as it did on the Jews in Acts 2, demonstrating to the Jews that the Gentiles were to be fully accepted into the kingdom just as the Jews were. This baptism was a second instance recorded of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which seems to mark the onset of the spreading of the gospel first to the Jews in Acts 1-2, and here to the Gentiles in Acts 10-11 (see Mark 1:8, Acts 1:5-8, 2:1-4). This astonished the men that were with Peter, but Peter understood the sign and commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus. Peter and his accompaniment stayed with Cornelius for some days before Peter went to Jerusalem to report to the church what God had done for the Gentiles.
1. Reporting the Gentile conversion to the church: Word quickly spread about the Gentiles receiving the word of God, and at first the circumcision party was upset with Peter for eating with the Gentiles. But Peter explains to them all that happened and how he had received a vision to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and how they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit just as they had in the beginning on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 1:5-8, 2:1-4). After hearing these things, the Jewish Christians fell silent and then glorified God, understanding that salvation had also been given to the Gentiles. The vivid sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles seems to be exactly what was necessary to let the Jewish Christians understand that salvation was for all.
2. The church in Antioch: After the persecution that arose at the stoning of Stephen, the disciples were scattered abroad, only speaking the good news to Jews at first. But in Antioch, the word was starting to spread to the Hellenists, who were Greeks. Barnabas was sent to Antioch and exhorted all to remain steadfast to the Lord, and a great number of people were added to the Lord. Barnabas then goes to Tarsus to find Saul and brings him back to assemble with the church at Antioch for a whole year, which follows along with the plan of God for Saul to be a vessel to the Gentiles. The term Christian was first coined in Antioch. Prophets came to Antioch and foretold of a great famine, and relief was collected for the bothers in Judah, sent by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
Persecution, imprisonment and death: As the church was growing in Antioch, persecution began to aries in Jerusalem. James the apostle (the brother of John, not the brother of Jesus, who is mentioned later in this chapter) is killed by Herod, and when Herod sees that this pleased the people, he arrested Peter as well. Peter was thrown in prison and we are given a prime example of the power of prayer. Earnest prayer was made by the church on behalf of Peter, and the Lord sent an angel to miraculously free him from prison. Peter didn’t even know that what was happened was real, for he thought it was just a vision until he was outside the gate and the angel who freed him left him. Peter goes to the house of Mary where the disciples were praying and tells them everything that had happened, and to tell James and the brothers what had happened.
When Herod found out that Peter was no longer in prison, he was very angry and ordered that the soldiers that were guarding Peter be put to death. Power and pride seems to have overcome Herod, as he paraded as a god over the people who shouted out to him. They said he spoke with the voice of a god and not man. At this, an angel was sent to strike Herod, showing the people that he was no god, and Herod was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God increased, and Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem after completing their task of bringing the relief funds that the church in Antioch had gathered for the brothers in Judea.
Tomorrow’s Reading: II Peter 1-3.
Glory and honor to our King.