No yarmulke or “minor surgery” necessary
Acts 15: So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules.
This is a huge moment in the life of the church with far reaching implications. Some of the Jewish Christians want the Gentiles who convert to adopt Jewish rites, specifically circumcision. Peter, Barnabas, and Paul argue that it’s all about Jesus and that faith in him as Savior and Lord is all that’s necessary to be saved. Will Christianity be a branch of Judaism or will it be a religion of its own? It’s a tough decision for this group, made up of Jewish men who follow a Jewish Savior. However, the answer’s really easy. As Peter points out, the Holy Spirit has already ruled on the issue, earlier, as he preached at the house of Cornelius. Barnabas and Paul affirm this. They’ve been “out there” and seen what happens when Gentiles simply believe in Jesus. Now James weighs in, this time with Scripture that declares God’s intention to include the Gentiles who will, indeed, have a place at the table of his grace. If these new followers of Jesus will just avoid a few things that the Jewish followers of Jesus find especially objectionable there will be, not two flavors of Christianity, but one. Obviously, this new religion will be diverse but it will, never-the-less be united.
Take Away: Christianity is about the Christ and any focus elsewhere is mistaken.
Back at the beginning
Acts 11: As it sank in, they started praising God.
The event at the house of Cornelius sets the table for the next big thing from God. At first the Church in Jerusalem is skeptical. They’ve had trouble from the religious powerbase in Jerusalem before and if word spreads that these followers of Jesus are mixing it up with Gentiles there’s bound to be renewed opposition. However, when Peter tells what happened, especially how the Holy Spirit came to them even as he came to the 120 in the Upper Room those who have been critical of Peter can’t help but praise God. Their Messiah is, indeed, the Savior of the world! Such an eye opening and faith-expanding event has come just in time because even as the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are beginning to grasp the enormity of what Jesus has accomplished things are happening hundreds of miles north of them in Antioch. The Gospel is being proclaimed and non-Jews are coming to Christ by the hundreds and maybe thousands. Because of what happened at one house in Caesarea and with just one Apostle, Peter, the Church in Jerusalem is ready to respond to the big thing happening in Antioch. From a micro point of view, the event at Cornelius’ house is pretty cool, but not that big a deal. However, God is doing something much bigger, preparing the way for the Good News to spread like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean region. It is fun to be part of the big deal, but it’s pretty neat to be there when the “big deal” was still a relatively “little deal.”
Take Away: What a blessing it is to be in on the ground floor of some great movement of God!
Acts 10: No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners.
The story of Cornelius is such a wonderful story. Here’s a good man, a Gentile, who cares for the needy and who makes time to pray. He’s such a good man that he gets the attention of the Lord who wants to do something more in his life. Then, miles away, we see another good man, a Jew, who loves the Lord and is a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus. God’s intention is to bring these two men together. Connecting this Gentile and Jew at the level the Lord wants takes some doing involving an angelic visitation and a vision from God. It works! As Cornelius gathers a house full of expectant friends Peter arrives and soon begins telling them the story of Jesus. The sermon has barely begun before it becomes unnecessary. This gathering of people are already on the verge of faith and all it takes is a gentle nudge from Peter to open the way for the Holy Spirit to take command of the service and their lives. How wonderful it is to experience such a move of God! It’s a blessing that both satisfies and causes hunger for more. Once we have such an experience we’re not likely to be fooled by some counterfeit!
Take Away: Sometimes the Lord has prepared the way for revival and all it takes is one or two acts of obedience to put that revival into full motion.