Day 283 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue in Acts.
Acts 9 – In the book of Acts, God’s gospel not only overcomes formidable ethnic and geographical barriers but also breaks through the most formidable barrier of all: human sin. Saul learns firsthand how closely Jesus identifies with His church, here described as “the Way.” In persecuting those of the Way, Saul was persecuting Jesus Himself. In response to the question, “Who are you?” Saul would have preferred any response to the one He receives: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In opposing God’s people, Saul has opposed God Himself (Acts 5:38–39).
Saul is blinded by the magnificence of this appearance of Jesus, and his physical blindness allows him to see himself truly. He finally recognizes his own powerlessness and weakness, and accepts his blindness in humility. Before commissioning Saul to take the gospel to the Gentiles, God tears down his reliance on his religious zeal. Only after being brought to a position of abject humility is Saul ready for the uplifting gospel of Jesus Christ. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Saul was at his worst, overseeing the murder of men and women in the church, with no sign of repentance, when Jesus met him on the Damascus road. Here again we are admonished against condemning anyone as lost beyond hope, and this includes ourselves. God will reach to His farthest-out enemies, He will defeat the uttermost human rebellion, but in doing so He does not crush these rebels but loves and converts them into chosen instruments of the good news (verse 15). In Saul we see a rebel against God, an enemy of the long-promised Messiah. Yet Saul is reconciled to God through Jesus and is called God’s ambassador, through whom God makes His appeal to the entire world (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Maybe you (or someone close to you) feels too far away from God to ever experience His love. How does this chapter defeat that thinking?
Acts 10 – The story of the conversion of Cornelius is the longest narrative in the book of Acts. It is a very significant moment in the gospel’s advance, as God is showing that the gospel is for all people, not just the Jews (in accord with the purposes Jesus outlined by the expanding concentric circles of Acts 1:8). In the gospel, the same God who chose Israel is doing a new thing, bringing Israel’s vocation to be a “light for the nations” (Isaiah 49:6) to its climax and fruition. This happens as God embraces the Gentiles through Jesus, the perfect Israelite, the Light of the World. He is the Light who shines in the darkness of a rebel people to create new men and women from all nations who will carry this light through the Spirit to the ends of the earth.
The expression “the heavens opened” (verse 11) would have reminded readers of other significant communications from God, such as the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:21) and, in this same book of Acts, Stephen’s vision of the exalted Jesus just before his martyrdom (Acts 7:56). In Peter’s vision, a key word is “all”: God shows him “all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.” This would clearly have included animals forbidden in the Old Testament dietary regulations (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14), yet God tells Peter to “kill and eat.” As a faithful Jew, Peter reacts with horror at the prospect of eating “unclean” foods. The vision initially confuses him, but when the God-fearing Cornelius sends for Peter, he makes the connection. God is using a buffet of foods to show that He is able to make anyone clean, and He has chosen to bring cleansing and salvation through Jesus to all the nations. Peter now understands that he “should not call any person common or unclean.” Once again, salvation extends beyond a significant boundary, this time beyond the borders of Israel and into the Gentile world.
That this vision, and its connection to Cornelius, is highly significant is made clear by several indicators. The vision is given by God three times (verse 16). The command in the vision to “kill and eat” is concise and direct (verse 13). The Spirit speaks directly to Peter (verses 19–20). And finally, an angel speaks directly to Cornelius (verses 30–32). Why is Luke so intent to relate these specifics regarding the importance of the vision and its effects on different persons? In part, to show that God intends to save both individuals and people groups. Up to this time individual Gentiles have been saved (from Ruth and Rahab in the Old Testament to the Ethiopian in this book of Acts). But Cornelius has a household with him, and it is apparent that others outside his household are aware of this new kind of mercy as well (verse 24). The gospel will spread not only to individuals but to entire people groups, who will repent and be grafted into God’s people. And, of course, it is important to note that these groups now extend to those formerly considered unclean. The gospel knows no ethnic boundaries.
Satan often tempts us to doubt God’s salvation, reminding us of the unclean blemish of sin in our or others’ lives. Peter’s vision, however, reminds us that what God has called clean, we have no right to call unclean. God see us as pure in Jesus, and how God sees things is how they truly are. There is no condemnation for those in Jesus (Romans 8:1), for He has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12); He has made our scarlet sins as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). We no longer regard others or ourselves by outward appearance. Instead we regard others and ourselves according to the Spirit, in which God has made us clean, pure, and whole (2 Corinthians 5:16).
In his gospel presentation in verses 34-43, Peter does not quote the Old Testament as on previous occasions (Acts 2:14–36; 3:11–26), but his message remains consistent: Jesus lived, died, and was raised; he has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead; and everyone is called to repent and believe, to receive forgiveness of sins through the name of Jesus. This is the culmination of God’s redemptive plan.
God shows no partiality, but freely receives all who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. Both Jew and Gentile receive forgiveness through Jesus (Acts 15:11). The cross of Jesus is the great equalizer: we are all humbled as we grasp the magnitude of our sin and guilt; yet at the cross, the offer of forgiveness is made to all without distinction. Because Jesus is Lord of all, His gospel is available to all.
The Jewish believers with Peter are shocked that the Holy Spirit is poured out even on the Gentiles (verse 45). They probably thought that Gentiles should become Jewish proselytes first, but they knew the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles when they began speaking in tongues and praising God. Peter later uses this incident to answer the challenge of the Jerusalem church that a believer in Jesus had to first be a Jewish proselyte (Acts 11:15–17). Therefore, there was nothing to prevent the Gentiles from being baptized as Believers.
Acts 10:47 quotes Peter as saying that they “have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” The reference to Acts 2 is obvious. The same Holy Spirit who had been poured out on Jews had also been poured out on Gentiles. God can make all things clean. The conclusion embraced by Peter and by the Jerusalem church was that these Gentiles were fellow Believers. Repentance and salvation had been granted even to those who had not been under the Mosaic covenant.
What is the simple Gospel message that Peter provides for all people?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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