19 May 2017Acts 10:44-48
“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v. 47)
Psalm: Psalm 8
The significance of this passage is that it follows on immediately from the speech which Peter has just made, after the visions which he and Cornelius experienced separately but which were then confirmed in their mutual encounter at Cornelius house in Caesarea, and in which he has set out his new understanding of God's grace; that God shows no partiality, "but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:35).
If there were any doubt about the truth of this realisation, it is removed by what happens next, namely the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon all who heard the word. We don't have a physical description as to how the Spirit came, unlike the account of what happened to the Apostles in Acts 2:1-4; but the outcome was substantially the same, in that it leads to their "speaking in tongues and extolling God" (v. 46).
What is striking about this is the fact that the "circumcised believers", that is those Jewish Christians accompanying Peter, discovered that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out not just on them, but "even on the Gentiles" (v. 45). Equally striking is what happens next. Having realised the significance of what has happened, Peter's response was immediate: "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (v. 47). There are echoes of the experience of Philip in meeting the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:26-40), when having explained the gospel to him, the Ethiopian says; "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:36).
Peter recognised that this new understanding of faith needed to be given visible expression in the life of the fledgeling Christian community: "So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (v. 48). It will also be evidenced in practical form in welcome and hospitality, as the newly-baptized Christians invite Peter to stay with them for several days.
- Peter responds very immediately to the experience of faith. Are we too cautious and wary in responding to the experience of new Christians?
- What does this passage have to say about our practice of Baptism?
- How do we seek to welcome newcomers into the life of Christian community?