Continue in Grace
“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” In the life of the early church, it was the persecution of the congregations in Jerusalem—the only churches on earth at that point—that caused the gospel message to reach further and faster than would have happened without those first Christians being forced to flee their city. As the believers were scattered throughout the cities of Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, the gospel was spread to the “Hellenists”—the Greeks—in the region, and many came to believe.
However, when news of these Gentile conversions got back to the church in Jerusalem, it was not immediately welcome. Up until that point, the gospel’s expansion had been almost entirely among the Jews. Now the word was coming back that Greeks were becoming Christians too. This confronted the church with a new development that they were not quite ready for. What was happening? Should they smile at it or frown over it? Who could they send to handle an encounter such as this?
It should not surprise us that they chose to send Barnabas. While not everybody in the church can cope with new and different opportunities, Barnabas was an encourager and a man who recognized God’s redeeming work in others, even when it was surprising or strange (see Acts 9:26-28). Sure enough, Barnabas recognized that what had happened was the work of the Lord, and he was glad at the display of God’s grace, encouraging the new believers with the exhortation we all need: to continue in grace and to remain true to God with all our hearts.
If we have lived our lives attempting to channel the Spirit of God into our own little concrete trenches, having determined that this way or that place is the only one in which God will work, we should reconsider. As God continues to expand His kingdom and pours His Spirit out upon the people we least expect to be included in it, we have the opportunity to respond with the kind of enthusiasm that Barnabas exemplified. While the gospel message is unchanging, our world and times are changing constantly. Yet God continues to call people to Himself “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9). We should expect Him to surprise us—to work in ways we had not predicted and in a time-frame that is different from ours. And when He does, we need to be ready to be like Barnabas, “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24), rejoicing in the new works of God, ready to be a part of them, and encouraging others to continue in His grace.
Peter and Cornelius
1At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3About the ninth hour of the day1 he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
9The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour2 to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
17Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood at the gate 18and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation,3 for I have sent them.” 21And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23So he invited them in to be his guests.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
30And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour,4 and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
Gentiles Hear the Good News
34So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles
44While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
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