In our previous studies we saw God sovereignly orchestrating the events in time to bring together a Jew, Peter, and a Gentile, Cornelius, so that the Gentile might hear the Gospel. Cornelius is told by an angel to send for Peter, which he immediately does. Upon his arrival, Peter found a large group of Gentiles gathered at the home of Cornelius, all waiting to hear the words which God had promised to speak through him, words which would inform them of what they must believe in order to be saved. So Peter begins to share the Gospel with them, and while he was still speaking, the Spirit fell upon all the Gentiles who had gathered. Peter shared the Gospel with them, and they believed it. The Spirit fell upon them, baptizing them into the body of Christ. Since these folks were now saints, Peter commanded that those who had been baptized by the Spirit be baptized with water. Our text ended by saying:
And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. (Acts 10:48 NASB)
Peter stayed in Caesarea for a short time during which he would have taught these new Gentile believers the Word of God. After a short stay with these saints, Peter headed home to Jerusalem. The journey from Caesarea to Jerusalem would take about a week.
Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. (Acts 11:1 NASB)
The word was out about the conversion of Gentiles even before Peter returned to Jerusalem. This radical news traveled fast.
You would think they would say, "Praise God, Peter! He is using you to bring the Gentiles to salvation," but no, Peter didn't get a warm welcome in Jerusalem:
And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, (Acts 11:2 NASB)
The word "took issue" is from the Greek word diakrino, which means: "to have a dispute; to withdraw from one, desert; to separate one's self in a hostile spirit, to oppose." Please notice that this opposition was not coming from unbelieving Jews who sought to protect Judaism from the influences of Christ and His apostles. This opposition came from none other than the saints. "The brethren" (v. 1) and "those who were circumcised" (v. 2) refer to Jewish Christians, not unsaved Jews. More than this, it appears to have come from the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, including Peter's colleagues, the apostles.
So the believers in Jerusalem were hostile to Peter. Why are they upset with Peter?
saying, "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." (Acts 11:3 NASB)
The charges against Peter are simple: "You, who are supposed to be a faithful Jew, associated with and even ate with Gentiles!" This offended these Christian Jews, so they contended with Peter. Apparently Peter ate with his host while he was with him for several days, though Luke did not record this.
Remember what we saw in our last study: No Jew would think of going into a Gentile home, much less eating with Gentiles, for fear of contracting ceremonial defilement. The Lord Jesus had clearly told the apostles to go into all the world to preach the Gospel to every creature. But in their centuries-old Jewish way of thinking, the disciples thought that Jesus meant for them to go and preach to Jews who were scattered all over the world. But the thought of preaching the Gospel to pagan Gentiles and of those Gentiles coming to salvation without first becoming religious Jews was simply unthinkable.
Just a few weeks earlier Peter felt the same way about Gentiles as these men did. Do you remember Peter's first words to Cornelius and his friends?
And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. (Acts 10:28 NASB)
The word "unlawful" here is from the Greek word athemitos. It emphasizes the violation of established order. It means: "taboo." The Old Covenant ceremonial law didn't say that it was unlawful for Jews to keep company with Gentiles; the rabbis added that. The rabbis said that going into a Gentile home resulted in a seven-day defilement. Normally, a Jew would wait outside in such a situation, and the Gentile would come out to him, thus preventing the Jew from being defiled by something in the Gentile's house.
The same taboo that had bothered Peter was bothering his Jewish brethren. The prejudice from which Peter had been delivered was still preying upon the hearts of his Jewish brethren, including the other apostles. They were all circumcised Jews who, like Peter, had kept Moses' dietary laws all their lives. If Peter had to see a vision and be told directly by the Spirit to accompany Gentiles, it is reasonable that without this guidance, the brothers at Jerusalem would have some questions. And I'm sure that they didn't have all the facts of the story, because when Peter explains it to them, they seem to be fine with it.
As we look at the incident, it is important that we recognize that this questioning of Peter was a valid and Scriptural procedure. The First Testament made it incumbent on God's people to check out any instance where it appeared that God's Law had been broken:
then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. And if it is true and the matter established that this abomination has been done among you, (Deuteronomy 13:14 NASB)
They made no exception for Peter; they questioned his actions, because they thought he was violating Scripture. These believing Jews should have known that it was God's plan to save the Gentiles. God had foretold the Gentile salvation.
A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel." (Luke 2:32 NASB)
Here Simeon spoke of the Lord Jesus as a "light of Revelation to the Gentiles," which was a citation from Isaiah 42:6. In Luke chapter 4, when Jesus was welcomed by His own people at the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus made it clear that the salvation He had come to bring was for Gentiles as well, a disclosure which reversed the attitude of the people so that they now tried to kill Him (Luke 4:16-30).
"Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1 NASB)
The "Servant" here is the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that He, Jesus, is to bring "justice to the nations." Jesus quotes this of Himself in Matthew 12:28: "He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles"--This is the establishment of the kingdom that involves the calling of the Gentiles.
God prophesied His purpose to Abraham in the first book of the Bible:
And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:3 NASB)
Later God told him, "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 22:18). That seed of Abraham was not just the Jewish race, but specifically Jesus Christ, God's promised Redeemer. In the last book of the Bible, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fall down before the Lamb and sing:
And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 "And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." (Revelation 5:9-10 NASB)
Thus God's purpose is to glorify Himself through the salvation of His elect from every
nation through the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. The apostles knew this, and so did Jesus' disciples. So why all the fuss about Gentiles being saved?
Most Jewish believers held the position that the Gentiles must receive circumcision before they could enter the church. Circumcision was the most important Jewish tradition. So, these Jewish believers wanted to keep it in the church.
So when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, "those who were circumcised" came to him to contend with him. Let's talk for a moment about this term, "circumcised." As it developed down through the history of Israel, and even into the time of our Lord, it became very clear that "the circumcision" was a title, a technical designation of the children of Israel. Jews were synonymously called "the circumcision." There are many passages in Acts and some in Paul's letters in which instead of saying, "Israel" or "The Jews," they are simply called "the circumcision."
And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. (Acts 10:45 NASB)
The Jews who are called "the circumcised" were astonished, because the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles:
And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." (Acts 11:2-3 NASB)
The Jews, "the circumcised," were upset because Paul ate with the uncircumcised, the Gentiles:
since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. (Romans 3:30 NASB)
"The circumcision" was simply a way of saying "Israelites" or "Jews." The "uncircumcisied," was the Gentiles:
Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands-- (Ephesians 2:11 NASB)
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas' cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him); 11 and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision; and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. (Colossians 4:10-11 NASB)
The term "the circumcision" was a technical designation for Israel. Now with this in mind, look with me at:
Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, (Philippians 3:2-3 NASB)
Notice what Paul tells us here; Paul says, "These Jews are not 'the circumcision.' they are in fact the mutilators." The word "false circumcision" in verse 2 is a play on words in the Greek with the word "circumcision" in verse 3. The words he uses are katatome and peritome. Kataome means: "To mutilate." Paul is saying to these Jews, "You think that you are the circumcision. but you are, in fact, the mutilation party.
Who then are "the circumcision"? Paul tells us in Philippians 3:3:
for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, (Philippians 3:3 NASB)
This is the Church, Christians, believers! Paul is saying that the Church is the "true circumcision"; the true Israel, and the true Jew. Paul has taken the technical designation for Israel and applied it to the Church.
Someone may ask, "Isn't a Jew someone who descended physically from Abraham and, as a sign of his covenant relationship with God, had the mark of circumcision?" Paul seems to be telling us that the "true circumcision" is not determined by ethnic derivation, not determined by the blood flowing in your veins, but rather by the faith that is in your heart. It's a matter of circumcision of the heart.
Paul taught that the Gentiles in the Church shared in the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant with Israel:
Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands-- 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12 NASB)
What is "at that time" of verse 12? It is prior to Christ's first advent. They were without hope, because they were aliens from Israel:
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 NASB)
What were they brought near to? They were brought near to the commonwealth of Israel and the covenants and promises:
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:14-16 NASB)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, (Ephesians 2:19 NASB)
Believing Gentiles have been admitted as citizens into the commonwealth of Israel. We partake of their promises and blessings. We, believers, are the true circumcision, the true Israel.
But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, (Acts 11:4 NASB)
Peter replied by describing what had happened to him "in orderly sequence," or just as it had happened. The detail is repeated because of its importance. Note how each point that he makes emphasizes that it was through God's initiation. He wants them to know that it was not he who had made these choices. Nor was it Cornelius. It was God Who sovereignly directed each step that was taken:
"I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, a certain object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6 and when I had fixed my gaze upon it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. (Acts 11:5-6 NASB)
He points out that God had first spoken to him through a trance. Wild beasts had not been mentioned in Acts 10.
It is remarkable that the Spirit of God has put on record Peter's own account, as well as that given us by Luke as a historian, in the previous chapter. This emphasizes the importance of what happened so obscurely in the house of the Roman officer. It was in truth an epoch-making event.
"And I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Arise, Peter; kill and eat.' 8 "But I said, 'By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 9 "But a voice from heaven answered a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.' 10 "And this happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. (Acts 11:7-10 NASB)
Peter was led directly by the Spirit of God into new truth. A visual aid was employed and he "also heard a voice" directly from the Lord. The other apostles did not have this information, but through Peter, they are here being led into that same truth:
"And behold, at that moment three men appeared before the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. (Acts 11:11 NASB)
Peter saw the timing as significant:
"And the Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. And these six brethren also went with me, and we entered the man's house. (Acts 11:12 NASB)
The six brothers are brought in as witnesses as well, making the total seven. Their number may be significant for commending the truthfulness of the account to Luke's Roman audience, since it was the custom in Rome to authenticate a really important document by attaching seven seals to it.
"And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, 'Send to Joppa, and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' (Acts 11:13-14 NASB)
In Peter's account we have his side of the story, rather than that of Cornelius. Peter furnishes us with one very important detail of the angel's message to Cornelius, which is not mentioned in the previous chapter. Notice what Peter adds that the angel tells Cornelius, "He shall speak words to you by which you will be saved." Peter is going to speak words, the Gospel, by which you will be saved. Peter shall announce to you all the doctrine of salvation. This reminds me of Romans 10:
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 NASB)
Here, and in our text, we see that men are saved by believing the words of the Gospel. We also learn exactly what is involved in the Gospel. What is it that a person has to believe in order to be saved? This question is easily answered by going to the words that Peter preached to Cornelius, since Cornelius was saved by these words, we know that they contain the Gospel. Let's look again at Peter's words, keeping in mind that believing these words is what saves a person:
"The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)-- (Acts 10:36 NASB)
Peter's sermon begins here and ends in verse 43 with God as a Peacemaker through Jesus Christ. Peter lifts up Jesus as the One through Whom God makes peace with His rebellious creation.
The fact that Christ preached peace implies that there is hostility and alienation between sinful men and the holy God. Many people are oblivious to such hostility. They do not understand God's absolute holiness and His hatred of all sin. While they admit that they aren't perfect, they see themselves as basically good.
I think that many people who say they are Christians are not, they're just religious. And I think that the greatest enemy of the Gospel is religion. Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. Let me tell you the difference between religion and Christianity. Religion is about what you do for God. Christianity is about what God has done for you. Religion says, "If you obey, God will love you." Christianity says, "Because God loves you, you can now obey." The Gospel is not: If you are good, God will love you. The Gospel is: You are bad, and God loves you anyway! Christ didn't die for good people; there aren't any:
as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." (Romans 3:10-12 NASB)
So Christ didn't die for good people, He died for sinners:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NASB)
Christ died for sinners. Are you a sinner? If you think you're not a sinner, you're proud, and God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. The Gospel starts with man realizing his sinfulness.
Peter goes on:
"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. (Acts 10:38 NASB)
Jesus of Nazareth tells us that Jesus was true man Who existed in the flesh as a human being in a Galilean town, but One Whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, so that in Him God walked on earth. The Lord of all had become a human like you and me (only without sin).
"And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. (Acts 10:39 NASB)
Jesus was put to death through crucifixion.
"God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, (Acts 10:40 NASB)
Jesus is alive. He is alive because God did not abandon his Peacemaker in death. He raised Him from the dead. He vindicated Him and gave Him a name above every name.
The resurrection then becomes the heart of apostolic preaching, the heart of the Gospel, the heart of the "Good News."
"Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." (Acts 10:43 NASB)
"Through His name"--the name of Jesus refers to all that He is. and all that He did. Forgiveness is ONLY through Jesus.
To believe in Jesus means that I believe He is the Lord who gave Himself on the cross for my sins. I believe the promise of God, that whoever believes on Him receives eternal life as God's gift, not based on any human merit, but only on God's free grace. To believe in Jesus means that I no longer rely on anything in myself to commend myself to God. Rather, I trust only in what Jesus did on the cross as my hope for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
This is Peter's message, and this is the Gospel. Do you see anything in this Gospel message about works, or repentance? No, it is all about faith. The Gospel is not about what I do, it is about what Jesus Christ has done for me! It's not about my works, it's about His. God accepts Jesus' sinless life and substitutionary death on my behalf.
The Lordship Salvation view has redefined saving faith so it's more than just believing. To them, saving faith involves surrender, commitment, submission, repentance, and sacrifice. These additions are both linguistically invalid and Biblically invalid. Faith is simply believing.
Is repentance necessary for salvation? I was reading a commentary and the writer said: "Over the last couple of weeks we have been looking at answering the basic question, 'What must I do to be saved?' We have looked at God's Word and have seen that for one to be saved, they MUST have faith, according to many passages like Romans 10:17 and Hebrews 11:6. Last week we looked at the step of confession. Romans 10:9 gives us the importance of confession as a step to salvation.
From these last two messages we can see that faith alone is not what it takes to enter the kingdom of heaven. Faith is the first step in the process. Today we are going to look at the third step in God's plan of salvation. That step is repentance. After we look at some of the passages on repentance, you will see that it is an essential step to salvation, no more or no less important than faith and confession." According to this preacher, "repentance" is necessary for salvation.
Another writer said: "Without repentance, there is no salvation. It is important to know all about repentance. We need to know what repentance is so that we may not be mistaken. It is important to know what repentance is so that it might be brought about in our own lives. Repentance is one thing that man does which affects heaven. All must turn from a life of sin to a life of righteousness if they wish to be saved."
Wow! If what these men are saying is true, Peter messed up. Peter doesn't mention repentance in his "words... by which you will be saved," and yet the Gentiles got saved:
"And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning. (Acts 11:15 NASB)
It was not necessary for them to rely on Peter alone, because the six Jewish brethren were present to see the Spirit descend and to hear the non-Jews speak in tongues:
"And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' (Acts 11:16 NASB)
These words are very remarkable. The words of our Lord, quoted from Acts 1:5, to which Peter refers here, have been thought by many to refer to the apostles alone; but here it is evident that Peter believed they were a promise made to all Christians; i.e. to all, whether Jews or Gentiles, who should believe on Jesus Christ. Therefore, when he saw that the Holy Ghost fell upon those Gentiles, he considered it a fulfilment of our Lord's promise: "Ye, that is, all that will believe on Me, shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
Peter ended his defense by pointing out the fact that the salvation of Cornelius and the other Gentiles was God's doing:
"If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" (Acts 11:17 NASB)
Notice again, that Peter identified believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only necessary prerequisite to receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
So Peter has made clear that the initiative was God's each step of the way. It was God Who had put him into a trance and given him his vision. Peter wasn't trying to
come up with some new theology. God, not Peter, originated this process. Further, God sent His angel to Cornelius with instructions as to how to get in contact with Peter. He orchestrated the arrival of the Gentile messengers from Cornelius with Peter's vision
and specifically told Peter to go with them without any misgivings. He sovereignly saved the Gentiles and sent the Holy Spirit upon them even before Peter finished his sermon.
The coming of the Holy Spirit on them had been as a result of God's direct and unexpected action. Nothing, therefore, had been of Peter's doing.
The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include this story twice so that the Jewish believers especially would see that salvation is not a matter of adopting Jewish rituals, but rather of God saving people of every race through faith in Christ alone:
And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:18 NASB)
The facts, the divinely given interpretation and the apostle's application, prove convincing. The critics had no further objections (literally, "became or were quiet") and glorified God with a confession that the Gentiles' faith is genuine.
Notice what Peter says, "God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life." Peter didn't mention repentance in his message to the Gentiles, but here he says that God granted the Gentile repentance. What is Repentance? What does he mean? The main words in the Greek New Testament for repentance are the noun metanoia ("repentance") and the verb metanoeo ("to repent"). Originally, these Greek words meant: "to change one's mind." That is the etymology of the word. Repentance is used most often in Scripture to mean: "turn from sin to God." But since there is nothing in the text about the Gentiles turning from sin, I would think that Luke uses repentance here in its etymological sense of changing the mind. God had granted to the Gentiles a change of mind. They now believed in Jesus.
And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:18 NASB)
This fact was probably not accepted by all who were present, and even less by many who were not present. Many Jerusalem Christians were still devout Pharisees, or had been connected with other deeply religious sects such as the Essenes or the Qumran community, and they were thus very much involved in Jewish traditions. That is why it would turn out in the future that many of them were not willing to accept the apostolic authority on these matters.
They were still far too attached to the regulations and ordinances of Judaism to relinquish them because of Peter's experience, and they would later come to be called "the Judaisers." This was because they would continue to demand that all who became Christian should be circumcised and become genuine proselytes, observing all their strict regulations.
Meanwhile, however, the apostles, themselves, and many of their supporters, had gained a new understanding and were moving towards the position of total acceptance of uncircumcised Gentiles as full and welcome members of the body of Christ without the necessity for circumcision. They were genuinely rejoicing in this new wonderful work of God and would be ready for the next step when the news came of what was happening in Syrian Antioch. What God had cleansed, they must not call common.
It is quite significant that this story of Gentile salvation is repeated twice in a row. In addition to that, Cornelius described his vision when Peter first arrived at his house (Acts 10:30-33). That means that certain events were described three times in the space of two chapters. It was a very important event to God. When He takes the time to repeat a message, then it's something we had better pay attention to.
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