Study No. 11 - Chapter 10:1- 11:18 - The Jew – Gentile Thing
The section of scripture that covers the account of a Gentile person coming to faith in Jesus is quite lengthy. Perhaps that is intentional so that we will the right perception regarding how important this event really is.
This is ‘the Day of Pentecost’, part III.
If we stop and think about the entrenched attitude that the Jews have developed regarding the Gentiles, this account really takes on immense meaning.
The Jews, since the time of Moses, lived under a system where certain foods and practices were to be considered ‘unclean’ and specific other foods and practices were to be viewed as ‘clean’. The present day word for ceremonially clean is the word ‘kosher’.
The result of eating something unclean or doing something unclean (like touching a dead body) was to be, yourself, pronounced unclean … for a period of time. In the case of contracting a communicable disease (i.e. leprosy) a person could not be pronounced clean until having an inspection by a priest. In other cases a person was ‘unclean until evening'. In still other cases a person was called unclean for one week …and sometimes for two weeks. A person in an unclean state would be called on to remain absent from public worship.
While there does not seem to be a clear directive from the Old Testament regarding association with Gentiles, by the time Jesus appeared on the scene the Jews were preaching that a person became ceremonially unclean if they spent time (fellowship and other interaction) with a non-Jew.
(Click here to get a little more information on Jew - Gentile attitude)
1Sa 16:7 “… the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
Our attention now turns to Cornelius, a Gentile centurion living in Caesarea. The last we heard about Philip is that he preached in churches all the way up the coast to Caesarea. Later in scripture we read that he settled here and raised a family. I can’t help but wonder if he is here at the time of this occasion about which we are reading. I wonder if he had anything to do with the spiritual attitude of Cornelius.
He was a Gentile man who ‘feared’ God. The Jews viewed Gentiles in one of three categories.
a. An ‘out and out’ heathen
b. A proselyte
c. A God –fearer.
The first is self explanatory. The second has reference to a non Jew who ‘joined’ the Jewish religion by doing everything necessary – Adopting One God. Agreeing to abide by the Mosaic law(s), and receiving circumcision. The third category represents those who willingly adopted the concept of One almighty God and made every effort to live by the Law of Moses, that is, the ten commandments. They did not adhere to the many other laws of Leviticus or Deuteronomy, nor did they accept circumcision. The Jews showed a measure of respect for ‘God-fearers’ but they were still held at ‘arms length’ in matters of clean or unclean.
God responded to his prayers
a. His prayers and alms went up to God as a memorial …not as ‘filthy rags’. Why?
Isa 64:6 ¶ All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;NIV
b. God’s response was unique and quite detailed. (v. 5,6)
2. The answer to Cornelius’ prayer depends on Peter. Peter is a Jew. God says that he will come and tell this man what he must do. (Why Peter?) What if Peter were to pull a ‘Jonah’?
a. God prepares Peter … on the very day that the messengers are coming to the house in Joppa. Sometimes God prepares us for things years in advance. Think of Moses; forty years in Egypt, forty years in the desert as a shepherd, and then forty years of service – leading the Israelites to the promised land. God has prepared Peter for ministry over the past 3 years, but now prepares him for one single but very significant task. Verses 9-20.
By the way, Peter was carrying the keys.
Mt 16:18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, …
b. Peter’s Jewishness is deeply entrenched. Tradition can be good and bad. 2Th 3:6 ¶ But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. In Peter’s case his tradition was actually scripture. For him to change would be extremely difficult.
c. Peter obeys God and goes with the men. 21-33
4. A Gentile man hears the gospel message. The message is simple. It includes repentance. 34-43
a. Cornelius, his household and invited guests respond in faith.
b. Peter calls for a ‘vote’ before baptizing them. (v47)
5. Cornelius and all of the others are welcomed into the family of God.
a. First by God, Himself – and this is evidenced by the baptism of the Spirit.
b. By Peter – he takes a vote regarding water baptism
- The Conclusion of this mission
The door is now unlocked to the Gentiles. It is official. God put His own seal of approval on it. But now the Jewish church leaders need to be brought up to speed.
As news reaches Jerusalem, when Peter gets back the apostles challenge/accuse him.
Peter defends himself. 11:1-18
The Apostles acknowledge that Gentiles too can be saved. Perhaps the ‘arms length’ thing is what they would have expected, but now they are realizing that this means saved … all the way. The Gentiles are in the same body. It is one church. There will be a lot more wrinkles to iron out before this really sinks in, but they are on their way.
The Antioch church, of which Ananias was a part (he was the one who baptized Saul), was a Jewish church up to this point, but it now becomes a mixed assembly of Jew and gentile.
The Apostle Paul wrote things concerning the gospel. He said in Romans 1:16 ¶ I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
See also Romans 2:9 and 10
Even though the Jew is mentioned first in these passages … Acts 15:8,9 Romans 3:22 Romans 10:12 … what can we conclude from verses like these?