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Pentecost for the Gentiles

While Peter was still speaking to Cornelius and the guests he had assembled, the Holy Spirit stopped the sermon by falling on everyone who heard the Word, and the Jews who came with Peter are absolutely astonished. These strangers to the promise hadn’t even finished hearing their first sermon, and already they had been given the ultimate gift – the presence and indwelling of God Himself! The circumcised brothers hadn’t even gotten used to the fact that it was okay to preach to the Gentiles, but for God, it had just been the first domino to fall.

When the Gentiles speaking in tongues and extolling God, it was proof positive that they had received the same Spirit, and so Peter takes another bold step. Seeing that these Gentiles had been transformed by hearing the preached word and responding in faith, such that God had accepted them and given them His Holy Spirit, he says: “Let’s baptize them!” Slow down, Peter! You are forgetting all the intervening steps! Circumcision, purification, food laws, purity laws, submitting themselves to the priests. Hold on! They’ve got to become Jews before they can become Christians!

But preventing that sort of reaction is probably why the Holy Spirit interrupted Peter. If you compare his sermon in Acts 10 to the one in Acts 2, you see that he had covered much the same ground, and was at the point where in chapter 2 he provided the people with the application: repent, and be baptized. But those were his instructions to the Jews: they were already a part of the covenant people, already circumcised, already aware of God’s laws and rules regarding food and special holidays and feasts. What sort of requirements was Peter about to give to this crowd of Gentiles? The most natural thing would be to expect them to become Jews first, and then receive the special blessings that came through Jesus. But before anyone could tell them to become Jews, however, the Holy Spirit made them Christians.

Since no one wanted to line up on the opposite side of the Holy Spirit, there were no objections, even from the astonished Jews from Joppa. And so Peter commanded them to be baptized, and they asked him to remain with them for some days. This shouldn’t be overlooked – by accepting their hospitality, Peter signals that they are fully accepted into the people of God. The Holy Spirit has come in power, and broken down centuries of prejudice and custom, and united Jews and Gentiles into one body, interrupting the story of the division of the human race, and beginning a new story of unity through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In light of this text, I want us to consider two things: First, be surprised by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit blows where He wills, and He is constantly doing new and surprising things. This means that you should expect Him to stir up your life in surprising ways – filling you with an irresistible urge to invite your neighbor over for dinner, which you’ve never done in all thirty years you’ve lived next to him, prompting your nice white middle-class self to cross racial and economic lines for a new and unsettling friendship, or moving you to use your quiet, unassuming voice to speak with holy fire on behalf of the unborn. Expect to be surprised by the Holy Spirit.

Second, examine your standards for fellowship. All too often, some of our cultural expectations and Christian convictions get turned into relational boundaries. It is a very real risk for a congregation that passionately holds to certain convictions to hold them in such a way that people who don’t toe the same line do not feel welcome. As much as we love Christian education, paedocommunion, and our manner of worship, if such things ever become hoops that people need to jump through in order to really feel at home in our congregation, then we have missed one of the key lessons of Pentecost coming to the Gentiles.

We are not one body because we have one opinion about secondary matters. We are one body because we worship one Lord, we share one faith, and we have one baptism, by which we have been united to Jesus Christ and to each other in one Holy Spirit. This is what Pentecost means.

Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 by CJ Bowen