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Acts 10:915, 2223, 2829a, 3436comment (0)

January 19, 2012

By Joseph F. Scrivner

Related Scripture: Acts 10:915, 2223, 2829a, 3436

Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University

Acts 10:9–15, 22–23, 28–29a, 34–36

God promised Abram that He would make his name great and that “all the peoples on earth [would] be blessed” through him (Gen. 12:3). Later in Israel’s history, a prophet foresaw a time when “no foreigner who has converted to the Lord should say, ‘The Lord will exclude me from His people’” (Isa. 56:3). As one continues through the Bible, however, it is often unclear when this day would come. In a famous “hard saying,” Jesus even told a Canaanite woman that He had been sent “only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Indeed understanding how the gospel of Jesus Christ leads to the inclusion of every racial and ethnic group only becomes clear as the Holy Spirit guides the apostles after Christ ascends into heaven (Acts 1:6–11).

Challenge Your Assumptions (9–15)
Before Jesus ascends, He tells His apostles that they will be witnesses for the gospel “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is an early indication in the Book of Acts that God intends the gospel for every person in every region. We see the first manifestation of this on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles miraculously speak in the languages of the various people gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1–13).

Unfortunately this miracle does not alleviate cultural tensions among the earliest believers in Jerusalem. The apostles then move out from Jerusalem, spreading the gospel to different areas, just as Jesus commissioned (Acts 8:1–40). Yet the gospel does not transcend Jewish parameters until God changes Peter’s assumptions in a Gentile home (Acts 10:1–48).

God introduces Peter to a Roman military official named Cornelius through two miracles. First an angel appears to Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, and instructs him to send for Peter (Acts 10:1–8). Second, the next day, Peter has a vision in which he sees unclean animals on a sheet (9–16). A voice directs him to kill and eat, but Peter refuses because of the Mosaic prohibitions against eating unclean animals (12–14). Nevertheless the voice responds repeatedly with a surprising, yet ambiguous, declaration: “What God has made clean, you must not call common” (15–16).

Change Your Behavior (22–23, 28–29a)
After Peter arrives in Caesarea, he enters Cornelius’ home and encounters a room full of Gentiles (Acts 10:24–27). Though it is unlawful for him to associate with Gentiles, Peter recalls God’s command in the vision and opens himself to what God may be doing. As Peter shares the gospel with these Gentiles (Acts 10:34–43), the Holy Spirit miraculously falls on them, just as happened to the apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 10:44–48).

Later, when word of this gets back to Jewish believers, they question Peter (Acts 11:1–3). He recounts the Holy Spirit’s work and then asks, “Therefore, if God gave them the same gift that He also gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?” (Acts 11:17). The controversy continues until it is finally resolved with additional witnesses and deliberation in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1–41).

Clarify That Jesus Is Lord of All (34–36)
Yet Peter later demonstrates that even those who have experienced God in the most miraculous ways can fall into indefensible hypocrisy. Paul tells us that Peter and others give into social pressure and withdraw from fellowship with Gentiles (Gal. 2:11–21).

When relatives and friends perpetuate stereotypes about “those people,” will we be Peter in Acts or Galatians? Will we protest when politicians engage in fear mongering for their own selfish benefit? Or will we go along to get along? Will we remember that “those people” are created in God’s image? If we do not, then we “give false testimony” against our neighbor (Ex. 20:16). Moreover, when we make culturally convenient distinctions between “us” and “them,” we disobey the spirit of Jesus’ response when He was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25–37).

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