THE GENTILE PENTECOST: V
Peter began his new journey in Joppa in a prayer room. His experience with Aeneas and Tabitha (Dorcas) had lifted him to his highest spiritual mountain. Peter felt clean and at peace with himself; and therefore, he had determined in his heart to stay up there. He was away from being persecuted and being held the responsible for the flock, because James, the half-brother of the Lord, had secured command over the huge gathering of disciples. At that time, everyone was a disciple and they belonged to the “Way” of Jesus. While Peter was enjoying some serenity, a message, from heaven came about a forbidden people, which disrupted his sleep. Luke recorded this phenomenal meeting of two men from different backgrounds, from different creeds, and from different races. To Peter’s surprise, and without the laying on of his hands, the Holy Spirit settled on all Gentile believers in Cornelius’ household. A second Pentecost had taken place.
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what is known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter, he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those that waited on him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
The next day, as they were on their journey and coming near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “No Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.’ This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”
And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by the holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say.” So he called them in to be his guests.
The next day he rose and went off with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his kinsmen and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered; and he said to them,” You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house; and behold, a man stood before me in bright apparel, saying, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the seaside.’ So I sent to you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
And Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days (Acts 10:1-48).
The circumcision party in Jerusalem was not readily accepting Gentiles without them first becoming Jews. Peter repeated what had happened to him and then he remembered what Jesus had said what the Holy Spirit would do. The Holy Spirit did as Jesus had promised to the household of Cornelius. Peter concluded:
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:15-18).
The persecution, which had begun with Stephen, scattered some disciples to Cyprus, to Cyrene, and to Antioch. These disciples were the Greek converts who were present in the first Pentecost. There were some interesting men among the first Holy Spirit recipients. Joseph, who became Barnabas, was from Cyprus and ended up in Antioch. Then, Nicolaus, a proselyte, was from Antioch. The man from Cyrene appeared to be none other than Simon, father of Alexander and Rufus, friends of John Mark, who helped carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21). All these disciples had come to Antioch and they witnessed to the Greeks, who accepted Christ in large numbers. These new members began to call themselves “Christians.” And with the help of Joseph Barnabas, whom Jerusalem sent to supervise the work, Paul was invited to become their head teacher, and even their pastor. Antioch and not Jerusalem became the headquarters for the expansion of the Gospel to the nations under Rome.
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. But there were some of them, of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of he Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were the first time called Christians (Acts 11:19-26).
Back in Jerusalem, the influx of converts to Jesus created feeding, as well as sanitary problems, plus the human tendency to appropriate illegally. The conditions demanded the civil authorities to step in and reduce the population of a people that were bound for heaven; and yet, who no longer were of any benefit to the community. When King Herod joined in the persecution, the followers of Jesus, no longer, gathered in the temple. The leaders and a smaller group met in the house Mary, the mother of John Mark. Herod beheaded James, the brother of John Zebedee. John Zebedee simply disappeared. Later John Zebedee was found as a prisoner on Patmos. Peter, himself, was in prison and faced execution. This was where Luke reports on Peter’s miraculous rescue and his departure from Jerusalem, and also the demise of Herod. At that time, what was left of the membership of the Jerusalem Church was under the leadership of James, half-brother of Jesus.
About this time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to god by the church. The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison; and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he went out and followed him; he did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened to them of its own accord, and they went out and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel left him. And Peter came to himself, and said “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and told that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are mad.” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel!’ But Peter continued knocking; and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell this to James and to the brethren.” Then he departed and went to another place. Now when day came, there was no small stir among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him and could not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and remained there (Acts 12:1-19).
Herod’s persecution did not stop the Church from expanding. However, Herod was instrumental in driving the disciples and the apostles out of Jerusalem. Therefore, Herod was instrumental to make the disciples to obey Jesus’ Commission to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). At this time, three men had to leave Jerusalem and they returned to Antioch where they became the first missionaries in Gentile country. These men were Barnabas, Paul (Saul), and John Mark. The church in Antioch was well staffed and ready to send their head leaders to preach to their fellow men. These first missionaries were still preaching mainly to Jews in their synagogues.
But the word of God grew and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, bringing with them John whose other name was Mark.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) withstood them, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith. But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord (Acts 12:24-13:12).
Paul’s silencing of Elymas, the magician, in Paphos, discouraged John Mark from continuing to stay with Paul and Barnabas; and therefore, John Mark returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas went on to Perga, and then to another Antioch in Pisidia. There Paul delivered a lengthy sermon on Israel’s history. But when Paul began to identify Jesus as the “Risen Lord” and “Messiah,” only a few faithful Jews requested a second meeting. During the week, many people grew curious and nearly all the city gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas. Only, the response was not as the two missionaries had hoped.
The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of the district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:44-52).