Glorying in the Gospel (Acts 10:23b-11:18)
The Meeting (10:23b-33)
Cornelius wasn’t under the assumption that the message from God that Peter was going to deliver was for him alone. Instead, he invited his relatives and friends so that they too could hear (v. 24). Mistakenly, when Peter arrives in his home, Cornelius begins to worship him, and needs to be reminded that Peter, too, is just a man like Cornelius. It would also have been wrong, according to Jewish law, for Peter to enter Cornelius’ house (v. 28). And yet, Peter understood that it was now wrong to consider Cornelius unclean, just as it was wrong for Cornelius to treat Peter like a god. Whether he knew it or not, Peter successfully argued against both extremes of the opposite attitudes that people often have toward one another: either elevating someone to divine status, or subordinating someone below human status. There are not two classes of human beings, one of higher rank and one of lower status. Though Peter was an Apostle of Jesus, he was still on the same level as Cornelius, the military man of pagan roots. Since all are sinners in the sight of God, there is to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:22-23).
The Message (10:34-48)
Peter begins his gospel message with the declaration that “God is not one to show partiality” (v. 34). God’s disposition toward people is not based on any external criteria; not appearance, not race, not nationality, not education, not political views, not socio-economic class. Neither is the pathway to God Judaism; the only pathway to God is Christ, and He is equally offered to all people who repent and believe. Notice too that Peter’s message does not begin with him railing on their lost condition or harping on their sin. Instead, he identifies with them, showing that before the Lord who shows no partiality, they are on the same level. Peter’s sermon is not primarily about men, but about Christ! It is absolutely true that our condition in sin is horrific. But, because that condition is so terrible, the beauty of Christ shines all the brighter. The message Peter is preaching is “peace,” peace in Christ (v. 36); peace not just for Israel, but for all mankind! As Jesus is being exalted through Peter’s preaching, the Spirit comes, just as He did at Pentecost. The Jewish Christians were amazed: Gentiles were being indwelled by God. And since the Gentiles had been accepted by God, so also they must be baptized; the reality has been received, and the sign should be administered.
The Mess (11:1-18)
The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem took issue with the fact that Peter had associated with Gentiles. In response, Peter explains to them that God had shown His acceptance of the Gentiles by pouring out His Spirit on them “just as” He had done on the Jews at first (v. 15). Since God had done the exact same thing for the Gentiles as He had done for the Jews, then there is nothing at all about them any longer that denotes a second class citizenship. If God had accepted the converted Gentiles into His family, then the church must be prepared to accept them into their fellowship also, through baptism. If we are preventing repentant outsiders from becoming obedient to God through baptism and fellowship with the church, then we are attempting to “stand in God’s way” and to keep Him from doing what He has planned for all time. The early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem received Peter’s correction well and glorified God because of what He was doing in the lives of the Gentiles (v. 18). The greatest change the church has ever experienced, the inclusion of Gentiles (the outsiders), was happily embraced with glad hearts and praise to God.
- What does the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church reveal about the work of Christ? What does it mean that God shows no partiality? Why is there no difference between Jew and Gentile before God?
- What does Peter emphasize most in his sermon? How does Peter identify with his listeners? What impact should this passage have on the way you evangelize?