Audio Available from May 26, 2013 - Acts 11:19-30 "The Kingdom of God Spreads, Takes Root and Matures among the Gentiles"
Today's passage tells the story of the Good News of Jesus taking root among Gentiles. It is a drama with 3 scenes. Act 1 is about the Good News spreading widely among the Gentiles in Antioch - 'many believe and turn to the Lord. In Act 2 we see the believers being encouraged and taught by Barnabas and Saul for a whole year. Act 3 shows that the believers are learning about the heart of God as they rise up and respond to the needs of the believers in Jerusalem by taking up a gift and sending it along with Barnabas and Saul. We stand in awe of this story as we realize that the global work of Redemption that God first promised to Abraham is being fulfilled in this story - and we too are still a part of God's plan to offer the gift of New Life to people from every tribe, language and nation!
In this 2nd half of the Peter / Cornelius story we pay particular attention to the character of Peter. We notice his comment in 11:17 "who was I to think that I could stand in God's way?" In pouring out the Spirit on unclean Gentiles, God was doing something way outside Peter's comfort zone! As the story unfolds we notice several indicators that reveal Peter to be an obedient follower of Jesus who is willing to step out of the way and let God do His supernatural and surprising work of bringing 'even the Gentiles' to faith. We identify 5 indicators - 1) prayer - Peter is going up to the roof to pray when God gives him the vision, 2) simple obedience - 'the Spirit said... Peter did' - it really is about hearing and doing, 3) faithful to his commission - Peter's sermon in Cornelius' house is a simple yet profound re-telling of the story of Jesus - Peter is simply bearing witness to what he has seen (see Acts 1:8), 4) willing to stay out of the way - the language of the end of Acts 10 tells us that as Peter is still speaking, God sends the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles and Peter responds - 'who can stand in the way of them also being baptized with water', 5) willing to defend his actions against opposition - we see this as Peter returns to Jerusalem to tell the story to the other Jewish believers there. We respond to this story by praising God that the Good News of Jesus reaches to the Gentiles and from there continues its global journey to all languages, peoples and nations! We also take a challenge from the example of Peter that we too might be willing participants in God's work without getting in the way!
The story of Peter & Cornelius is the single longest story in the whole narrative of Acts. We discern therefore that Luke considers this to be a highly significant event. In fact we see in this story that a foundation is being built to allow the Good News of Jesus to be released from the Old Testament ceremonial laws and from circumcision, the sign of the old covenant, so that the Gentiles may freely become followers of Jesus without adopting all of the practices of the Jewish faith. This is monumental and indeed very difficult for these early Jewish followers of Jesus to accept! God speaks unmistakably clearly in a vision to Peter and prepares his heart to respond positively to the invitation to go to Cornelius' house where he shares the Good News of Jesus. God also speaks in a vision to the Roman soldier, Cornelius, in an equally unmistakable fashion so that his heart is prepared to hear and respond to the Good News! We who are Gentiles from all over the world respond with celebration as we observe this incident and realize that this was the first significant step in the expansion of the kingdom of God to 'all the nations of the world', including our own! It has always been a part of God's plan that people from all nations would ultimately be gathered around Him in worship. The incident in Acts 10 is truly a turning point in history in this regard!
In this remarkable account of the healing of Aeneas (a paralyzed man) and Dorcas (a woman who is dead for several hours before Peter shows up!), we find Peter imitating Jesus in a striking way. In both instances of healing, he uses almost exactly the same words as Jesus uses in Mark 2 and Mark 5 respectively where we find very similar miracles recorded. As we observe the response to these miracles of healing in Acts 9 we realize that many people turn to follow Jesus and so we discern that these people are turning to follow Jesus as a result of Peter's imitation of Jesus. This, in fact, is how the kingdom of God has spread throughout the world over the last 2000+ years! People thinking and acting like Jesus draws people around to turn and receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We further discover a beautiful 'story within a story' in this text! Dorcas (Tabitha) is also one who imitates Jesus but on a much less dramatic scale. Her ministry to widows was also 'Jesus-like' and resulted in many widows finding Jesus. The response from our hearts is twofold - first we ought to celebrate the expansion of the kingdom of God by this means - still today people all over the world are being drawn to faith as we imitate Jesus in our words, attitudes and actions. Secondly, we should take this as a challenge into our lives to be sure that in increasing measure our lives do reflect the life and values of Jesus. How does this happen? Not by trying harder through our own strength, but by increasingly loving Him more, spending time with Him and His Word and His people. May we become people who increasingly become like Jesus and may this result in many people around us also turning and finding true life in Jesus!