Part X

The Holy Spirit’s Ministry to Gentiles

At that time, the apostle Peter was travelling throughout the country. One day he was staying at the home of a Jewish believer, in a place called Joppa, as we can read in Acts 9:43

Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

In another city, Caesarea, lived a man named Cornelius, as we can read in Acts 10:1-2 

At Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing, he gave generously to those in need, and prayed to God regularly.

This man was a centurion in the Roman army, and he followed the Jewish religious practices by praying to the Jewish God and giving to the poor. One day, this man had a vision, and in this vision an angel told him to have some of his men go to Joppa to look for a man named Peter and to bring him back, as we can read in Acts 10:3-6

One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius.” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 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."

So Cornelius had some of his men go to the house where Peter stayed. While these men were travelling, Peter had an open vision in which he saw a sheet come down from heaven with all kinds of animals in it, some considered clean, and others unclean, according to Jewish religious traditions, as we can read in Acts 10:9-16 

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 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 of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord,” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Three times the sheet came down, and each time it happened Peter was told to eat these animals. However, Peter was a good Jew and good Jews did not eat unclean animals so Peter did not think he could do so and he made that clear to the One who spoke to him from heaven. However, the voice from heaven corrected him by telling him that he was not to call anything unclean that God had made clean. Peter was greatly puzzled by this experience, as we can read in Acts 10:19-20

While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them."

The vision had, in fact, nothing to do with clean and unclean animals. It was related to so-called clean and unclean people, or Jews and Gentiles, for the Lord wanted Peter, a Jew, to minister to Gentile people. So the Holy Spirit spoke to Peter and told him to invite these three Gentile men into the home he was staying, as we can read in Acts 10:23a 

Then Peter invited the men into his house to be his guests. 

That would have been quite a challenge for Peter, since Jews never entered a Gentile home, and neither did they invite Gentiles into their Jewish home. To do so would have made them unclean. But here the Holy Spirit is directing Peter to do what he has never done before. This, truly, was a new day and was in fulfilment of what Jesus had told them they were to do, according to Acts 1:8 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

These Jewish believers had just taken some time to be obedient to the words of Jesus for the church has been in existence for quite a while by now. The Lord must have decided He better do something about them going to the Gentiles, for if He left it to them, it might never happen. Anyway, the three men from Cornelius’ household explained why they had come. Peter recognised that this was obviously arranged by the Lord, so the next day he and some other Jewish believers from Joppa set out for Caesarea with the men from Cornelius’ household, as we can read in Acts 10:23b 

The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along.

When they got there, a large gathering of people was waiting for them as, we can read in Acts 10:24-27 

The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.

Cornelius then shared with Peter his vision in Acts 10:30-33 

Cornelius answered, “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ”Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the house of Simon the tanner and lives by the sea.” So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

Consequently, Peter began to preach the gospel, as we can read in Acts 10:34-35 

Then Peter began to speak, “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

While he was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon the people present, as we can read in Acts 10:44-47

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 the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."

As Peter was preaching the gospel to Cornelius and those he had invited, the Lord baptised the people with the Holy Spirit. The reason the other believers could recognise that this was so was because the evidence was the same as it had been for them; the people there began to speak in tongues and praise God. These people obviously believed the gospel message as it had been presented to them by Peter. At that moment they were born again and the Lord then baptised them with the Holy Spirit to empower them for the task that He had for them.

Part XI