Could You Oppose God?

You are the person on the scene. A decision has to be made now! But then listen to the Monday morning quarterbacking. In Acts 11:1–18 Peter has to defend his visiting the home of the Gentile, Cornelius, preaching to him and his family, and having baptism administered to them. As you listen to his defense, glorify God for the way that he has shown his grace to you.

Do not oppose God! The unbelievable has happened. After the conversion of Cornelius, when Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was roundly criticized. The issue was not that he had preached Jesus to Gentiles, but rather that he had entered the home of a Gentile and eaten with him. The critics knew of Gentiles who had become part of God’s people, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah, but they had become proselytes. They had become subject to the ceremonial laws which separated Israel from the nations. Prominent among those laws were the dietary regulations, laws given by God, and which Peter, by accepting hospitality from Cornelius, had violated. The critics understood that the coming of the Messiah could include his being a light to the Gentiles, Isaiah 42, but understood that as the Gentiles becoming subject to the disincentives that had separated them from Judaism.

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From Every Nation

As deep as some of the racial divisions have been in our country, the gulf between Jews and Gentiles in the first century likely ran deeper. Acts 10 describes God breaking down those walls of division. That act has profound implications for how the church views its mission today.

Be thankful that God does not show favoritism. The separation between Jews and Gentiles was not only ethnic. Although it may have included an element of racial pride, a conviction that Israel was God’s favorite people, it had its origins in the fact that God had chosen his people to be separate from the world around them. The ceremonial regulations, perhaps especially those dealing with diet, kept Israel distinct from their pagan neighbors. The door to the Gentiles coming to Christ had been cracked open with the Samaritans, sort of a half-way people, believing. The Ethiopian had believed and been baptized, but neither had much contact with the Greco-Roman world. Now, through a Roman centurion, a God-fearer, God pushes the door wide open. He prepares Cornelius by sending an angel in a vision, telling him to send for Peter in Joppa. And he prepared Peter, with the vision of the animals and the command to eat. Peter realizes that this repeated vision is about more than food, as that was an important part of the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Peter had to overcome the feeling that, as an Israelite, he was a favorite of God. But sin is a great equalizer. We all deserve his wrath. Now God graciously reaches across the barriers and calls the nations to himself.

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Everlasting Life!

In my senior year of seminary I preached in a small Orthodox Presbyterian Church in western Pennsylvania. My hostess was an elderly lady, to all appearances frail and helpless. But when she prayed at the breakfast table, and when I learned of what she was doing quietly to serve that church, I became convinced that she was one of the reasons that church survived. When I think of the service to the church that Dorcas rendered (Acts 9) I think of this lady.

Fill your life with the Spirit’s work. Obedient concern for others marks the lives of God’s people. The window of peace enjoyed by the church gave opportunity for the fruit of the Spirit to be displayed. Following the death of Dorcas, when Peter arrived, her works of service were displayed by the widows, probably showing what they were wearing. The concern for the needy, displayed earlier in Jerusalem, is evident among these believers, as it needs to be in the church today. Her life may not have been as dramatic as some of the gifts in Jerusalem, but it was full of ordinary deeds of service, doing to God’s people what the Lord counts as done to him.

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The Lord’s Chosen Instrument

If you were a Christian in Jerusalem around 35 A.D., whom would you pick as the greatest enemy of the church? Acts 9 describes the transformation of Saul of Tarsus into Paul the Apostle.

The Lord chooses his instruments, and when he does so, he chooses the unlikely. Saul was a violent persecutor of the church (Acts 8:3; 9:1. 22:4; and 26:9–11). Perhaps he saw himself, like Phineas, turning away the wrath of God by his zealous obedience, Numbers 25 and Psalm 106:30. He may have looked at the method of the death of Jesus, and, on the basis of Deuteronomy 21:23 decided that this was proof that Jesus was under God’s curse. As he is on his way to Damascus to seize more Christians for punishment and prison, the Lord graciously intervenes. Glory light from heaven, reminding you of the pillar of cloud and fire and of the vision of Isaiah, surrounds him. He is struck to the ground, and the Lord speaks to him. The blindness of helpless Saul reflects his spiritual condition until the light of the gospel shines in his heart. The Lord sends a disciple named Ananias to lay hands on him and restore his sight. You can appreciate the hesitation of Ananias! Saul’s conversion is marked by his baptism.

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Good News for the New Year

What are the barriers that stand between you and God? Luke’s account of the Ethiopian official in Acts 8:26–40 shows you God breaking down barriers with resulting joy at the good news about Jesus. That is news you need for 2023.

God brings the ends of the earth to himself. The Holy Spirit is at work. An angel of the Lord sent Philip to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. Acts describes barriers falling. Acts 8 begins with scattered Christians fleeing persecution bringing the good news to the Samaritans, who had corrupted the worship of the true God. Philip’s initial preaching there is confirmed by an apostolic visit. Now God sends Philip to the south of the land of God’s people, on the road to Gaza, one of the five cities of the Philistines. A bigger barrier is about to fall as Philip is instructed by the Spirit to approach the chariot of an Ethiopian official traveling home from a visit to Jerusalem. The Spirit’s work in this incident will prepare for Peter’s preaching to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and before that, Saul’s conversion and call to be an apostle to the gentiles.

“Philip explains to the Ethiopian eunuch that the servant song of Isaiah 53:7–8 is indeed fulfilled in the person of Jesus (Acts 8:30–35). The seemingly odd inclusion of this event in Luke’s narrative illustrates the arrival of the gospel even to nations of Africa.”

G. K. Beale & Benjamin L. Gladd, The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament, page 165

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