Biblical Inclusion

peter_in_the_house_of_cornelius

The early church was growing in spite of – or perhaps, with the help of – some persecution at the hands of some Jewish religious leaders. One of those, Saul – or Paul – had been converted to Christ. The end of its first decade was nearing and the Christian church was gaining many, many members from the Jewish populations in Judea, Galilee and even some Samaritans had found Christ. Philip was busy preaching up and down the Mediterranean coast and winning more Jewish converts from that region.

But the Gospel is for everyone. It was time for it to be preached to people who were not Jewish or of Samaritan decent. The Gospel needed to be taken to the Gentiles.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 NIV)

We call Paul “the apostle to the Gentiles,” but it was Peter whom the Lord chose to break through the cultural and religious barrier with the Good News. This is what the Bible considers to be “inclusive.” The Gospel is for everybody, not just for some. The call of salvation goes out to all people without regard to their culture or color or anything else. Anybody is welcome to respond to Christ’s call.

Acts 10:1 – 23

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. (Acts 10:1 NIV)

Dr Luke mentions Caesarea three times. The first time Ceasarea is mentioned, we learn that Philip settled there after he preached the Gospel. The next time, Paul was on the run for his life and his friends took him to Caesarea to hop on board a ship which would take him to Tarsus. And here we learn about a citizen of this great city.

Caesarea, originally known as Strato’s Tower, and was a bustling metropolis which Caesar Augustus gave to Herod in 30 AD. Herod, in turn, renamed it Caesarea to honor Caesar. It was a beautiful city by all accounts with a very diverse population that apparently all got along with each other. Greeks and Romans mixed their cultures and even though they were a minority in the city, the Jews exerted some powerful political influence.

Cornelius, serving the Italian Regiment there, was a centurion, a non-commissioned officer in command of a hundred soldiers. He was Roman – a Gentile – who was wealthy and had a good reputation among not only his peers but the general population of Caesarea.

He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. (Acts 10:2 NIV)

He may have been a Gentile, but Cornelius was a devout one. He was a convert to Judaism and he believed in the God of Judaism. He was a generous man and a praying man, but was not yet a saved man. In other words, he was religious.

Two visions are recorded in the first 16 verses. Cornelius the Gentile had one and Peter the Jew had one. God was preparing each man to meet the other. God was working at both ends of the line.

In his vision, Cornelius is given very specific instructions by an angel:

“Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” (Acts 10:5 NIV)

“Simon” was probably the most common name among Jews, and the important one, Peter, was staying at Simon, the tanner’s home. That’s why the angel’s instructions were so explicit.

Meanwhile, Peter had his vision:

He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (Acts 10:10-13 NIV)

For a Jew, those instructions where hard to swallow. Everything Peter was taught, all the laws and practices of his Jewish upbringing and faith, were now being turned upside down.

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15 NIV)

Peter hadn’t been wrong his whole life; he had been observing the very laws God had given His people. But, as they say, the times they were a’changing. God would now cleanse the Gentiles with His Gospel and the Gentiles would now be brought into the fold on the same basis as Jewish believers. Verse 15 is not an insignificant verse for the church of today to remember. It has been called a “divine corrective.” It emphasizes the cleansing power of God’s saving grace. It’s not just a setting aside of religious food laws. It’s God’s great equalizing power at work. Gentiles, renewed by the grace of God, could now become part of God’s great family. John MacArthur:

The kingdom of God is for the spiritually sick who want to be healed, the spiritually corrupt who want to be cleansed, the spiritually poor who want to be rich, the spiritually hungry who want to be fed, the spiritually dead who want to be made alive.

Acts 10:34 – 43

Cornelius was a man who had a measure of faith. When Peter and Cornelius’ men finally reached their destination, Cornelius was waiting for them.

The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. (Acts 10:24 NIV)

The Greek wording indicates that this man had been “continuing to wait expectantly for them.” Think of this man’s faith. He knew Peter would come and he gathered his family together as his vision told him to do. Cornelius, not yet a born again believer, not yet in possession of either saving faith, the Holy Spirit, nor the Word of God, had exhibited more faith than many Christians today. God was definitely working on this Gentile’s heart, and this Gentile was co-operating with Him at every step.

Peter’s opening comments to his host show how far he had come in his spiritual journey:

He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:23 NIV)

How far this one-time apostle had come in a such a short span of time! Here was the man who denied his Lord three times; who had contradicted the Word of the Lord, now obeying without question God’s instructions! God was asking Peter to completely change his religious orientation, and he was doing just that.

He then preached a sermon specifically tailored for his audience. This was a transformed man, for sure. Once a fisherman who spoke his mind without thinking, he was now preaching with great skill and sensitivity. He spoke in such a way as to virtually eliminate the possibility of his audience misunderstanding his message. His sermon had three main points:

First, Peter dealt with the current situation. Verse 34:

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism…”

All people, Jew or Gentile, are in need of salvation because all people are equally lost and God wants all people to be saved.

Secondly, Peter deals with the personal career of Jesus. His audience apparently was acquainted with this Jesus of Nazareth and the apostle makes these points:

He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power. God equipped Jesus with power to carry out His mission of preaching and healing. The word “power” indicates that what Jesus did He did through the indwelling Spirit. No human being could do what Jesus did without the power of God operating in his life: Jesus stood up to Satan, cast out demons, healed the lame and the sick, cleansed the lepers, raised the dead, and He proclaimed the Word of God like no one before Him.

He went around doing good and healing people. Jesus set people free from sin, sickness, and Satan. Everywhere He went He changed lives, one way or the other. He spoiled the devil’s plans for man.

God was with Jesus. Everything Jesus did He did according to God’s plan. He didn’t speak anything God didn’t want Him to say. He didn’t go anywhere God didn’t want Him to go. He didn’t do anything God didn’t want Him to do. Jesus lived a life of absolutely perfect obedience.

Lastly, Peter makes it clear that Jesus was no mere man. Up till now, Jesus’ divinity hadn’t been discussed. But Jesus was the Son of God and these Gentiles needed to know it. He died and rose again, by the power of God.

This Savior then gave His followers a mission:

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10:42 NIV)

What Peter was doing was evangelizing!

To “evangelize” is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord He now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Holy Spirit to all who repend and believe. — John Stott

Acts 10:44 – 48

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. (Acts 10:44, 45 NIV)

This great evangelistic sermon didn’t have an ending; it didn’t need one. The Holy Spirit fell on this group of Gentiles while Peter was preaching and they had their own mini-Pentecost! In fact, at the Jerusalem Council, some time later, Peter compared this so-called Gentile Pentecost with the original Pentecost.

God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:8, 9 NIV)

God had cleansed the hearts of the 120 gathered in the Upper Room when they were filled with Spirit in Acts 2, and He did the same thing with Cornelius’ household in Acts 10.

This, naturally, astonished the Jewish brothers Peter had with him. And it was a good thing he had witnesses! The importance of what happened to these Gentiles cannot be overstated. Here God had received them into the fellowship not only on an equal basis with the Jews but without the laying on of hands. Receiving the Holy Spirit at the very moment of salvation is the normal pattern, and the gift of tongues was a sign to the Jews present that this event was of God.

This is inclusion, Biblical style. Salvation is for everyone, anywhere.

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