20 May 2017

Acts 11:1-18

“If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (v. 17)

Psalm: Psalm 9:1-10


In the Thursday's and Friday's passages (link), we reflected on Peter's experience at the house of the Cornelius in Joppa, and then of his realisation that behind his vision and encounter with Cornelius was God's word that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

This is the firm experience of Peter and the six brothers who were with him; however, it comes as something of a shock when reported to the rest of the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem. So, when Peter returns they are initially quite critical and ask him: "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" (v. 3).

Peter's response was to set out the experience of what has happened to him, as we have read; first his vision at Joppa of a sheet of unclean animals being lowered before him, then the arrival of the three messengers following Cornelius' vision in Caesarea, all of which were then confirmed by the encounter at Cornelius' home, as a result of which, as he began to speak, "the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it fell upon us at the beginning" (v. 15).

In this explanation, Peter reflected on words of John the Baptist, that he "baptized with water" but that you will be "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (v. 16), but which he attributed as the words of Jesus himself, to which the coming of the Holy Spirit bears proof. And then in the light of all this, Peter nailed his colours to the mast; "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

On the face of it, his fellow apostles seem convinced. We are told they first fall silent, before going on to praise God and affirm their understanding of all that has happened, how "God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life" (v. 18). We know from other sources in Paul's letters and the account of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, that it was not quite so simple, and that the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians would remain something of a thorny issue for generations to come. Nevertheless, Acts 9-11 reveal how a significant turning point has been reached, and how the Apostles will henceforth speak of being 'sent to the nations', as well as to the people of Israel.

To Ponder

  • It's easy to be critical of the community in Jerusalem; how well do we deal with differences in our own community?
  • Have you ever experienced criticism about your practice of faith and the company you keep? How did you respond to it?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.