23 Feb 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 10:23b-48. Peter preaches to Cornelius’ household. (continued).
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus were more than significant events; they also constituted the gospel, which *he commanded us* (the apostles again) *to preach*, in the first instance *to the people,* i.e. the Jews. But the scope of the gospel was universal. So the apostles were also to proclaim him as ‘Lord of all’ (36), as judge of all and as Saviour of all who believe. They were *to testify that* he would return on the judgement day, since *he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead* (42; cf. 17:31). All will be included; none can escape. Yet we need not fear the judgement of Christ, since he is also the one who bestows salvation. Long before the apostles began to testify to him as Saviour, *all the prophets* did so in the Old Testament, and still do through their written words: they *testify about him*, the unique, historical, incarnate, crucified and resurrected Jesus, *that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name* (43), that is, through the efficacy of who he is and what he has done. This ‘everyone’ includes Gentiles as well as Jews: the phrase ‘crashes through the barrier’ of race and nationality.
It was a marvellously comprehensive message, a precis of the good news according to Peter which Mark would later record more fully in his gospel, and which Luke incorporated in his. Focusing on Jesus, Peter presented him as the historical person, in and through whom God was savingly at work, who now offered to believers salvation and escape from judgement. Thus history, theology and gospel were again combined, as in other apolistic sermons. As Cornelius, his family, relatives, friends and servants listened, their hearts were opened to grasp and believe Peter’s message, and so to repent and believe in Jesus.
Then, *while Peter was still speaking these words*, and before he had finished (11:15), *the Holy Spirit came on all* those Gentiles *who heard the message* and believed (44), which was the condition Peter had just mentioned (43). The small group of Jewish Christians *(circumcised believers) who had come with Peter* was *astonished* (‘absolutely amazed’, JBP) *that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles* (45), whom they had regarded as uncircumcised outsiders. But they could not deny the evidence of their eyes and ears, *for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God* (46), as had happened on the Day of Pentecost. It was ‘a type of the reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, whose alienation had for ages been secured and symbolized by differences of language’.
Peter was quick to draw the inevitable deduction. Since God had accepted these Gentile believers, which indeed he had (15:8), the church must accept them too. Since God had baptized them with his Spirit (11:16), ‘*Can anyone keep [them] from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have’* (47). How could the sign be denied to those who had already received the reality signified? Chrysostom expatiated on this logic. By giving the Spirit to Cornelius and his household before their baptism, God gave Peter an *apologia megale* (a mighty reason or justification) for giving them water-baptism. Yet in a sense their baptism ‘was completed already’, for God had done it. Peter was clear that ‘in no one point was he the author, but in every point God’. It was as if Peter had said: ‘God baptized them, not I’.
So Peter *ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then*, having been welcomed into God’s household, *they asked Peter to stay with them* in their household *for a few days* (48), no doubt in order to nurture them in their new faith and life. The gift of the Spirit was insufficient; they needed human teachers too. And Peter’s acceptance of their hospitality demonstrated the new Jewish-Gentile solidarity which Christ had established.
Tomorrow: 5). Peter justifies his actions (11:1-8).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.