Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Pastor Steve Schell
Acts 10:37-11:18
Peter is under attack. He’s having to defend himself. A sizeable and vocal group within the early church were deeply convinced that faith in Jesus in no way changed their requirement to observe the Law of Moses. They believed the statutes and ordinances in the Torah were meant to be eternal commands and therefore must be kept by anyone who wishes to be saved (Ac 15:1). And they were furious with Peter for two reasons. First of all, he had ritually defiled himself by entering a Gentile home and eating improperly prepared food. But second, and even more importantly, they were dismayed that he had actually baptized these Gentiles, because it meant he believed they were saved. By baptizing them, particularly as an apostle, he had welcomed them into the church. They were to be thought of as brothers and sisters. They were to be included in church gatherings. But in the minds of Peter’s accusers unless these Gentiles kept the ceremonial laws they were still “unclean” (Ac 15:5). By welcoming Cornelius’ household into the church Peter had opened the door for unclean people to sit next to them in a worship service, and if they touched them they, too, would become unclean. So as soon as he arrived in Jerusalem they cornered Peter and scolded him. And Peter’s only defense was to point to the fact that it was God, not he, who had welcomed these “unclean” people into His church. By baptizing them in the Holy Spirit, He proved that in His eyes they were perfectly “clean.”

Here’s what happened (Ac 10:37-11:18)
God visibly indwelt “unclean” Gentiles, so Peter baptized them.

Here’s who got upset
Observant Jewish believers who didn’t want to choose between the traditional interpretation of the Law of Moses and Jesus. Apparently the group was largely made up of Pharisees who had come to believe in Jesus, but had no intention of adjusting their observant lifestyle to include Gentile believers. The issue would not go away and would be addressed several years later at the “Jerusalem Council” (Ac 15:4-29). That debate centered around the question: what must Gentiles do so Jewish believers can be in the same room with them (Ac 15:20, 21, 28, 29). Peter’s reply, then and now, was to point to the fact that by baptizing Cornelius’ household in the Holy Spirit God proved that He considered these Gentiles “clean.” For the Holy Spirit to come and dwell inside someone means they are “holy.” The Holy Spirit never takes up residence in an unclean “temple” (1 Co 3:16; 6:19).

Here’s what God said
By baptizing Gentiles in the Holy Spirit God proved:
1) He looks at the heart not the observance of the Law of Moses to determine who He accepts and does not accept.
“And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.” (Ac 15:8, 9)
2) Those who repent and believe are clean and therefore no one should consider them unclean.
“But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’” (Ac 11:9)
3) The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a gift God gives to people after they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as to us, having believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God.” (literal) (Ac 11:17)
4) The baptism in the Holy Spirit is an undisputable proof that a person has repented.
“Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did can he?” (Ac 10:47)
“When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’” (Ac 11:18)

Here’s why they got upset
They knew Peter was no liar, and there were six observant Jews from Joppa standing there confirming everything he said (Ac 11:12). So, for the moment, they were forced to acknowledge that God had made His will known. But the root of the issue was far too deep to ever go away entirely. It had to do with their Jewish identity and their loyalty to Scripture. If they gave in and started fellowshipping with Gentiles their family and friends would consider them disloyal and unclean, and would withdraw from them. And the commands concerning cleanness and being separate from Gentiles were still there. To disobey these statutes felt like they were abandoning Judaism and converting to another religion. So it is no surprise that this was a heart-wrenching issue for many…and still is.

By opening the door to Gentiles Peter had forced this group to choose. They could no longer walk down two paths at the same time. If they acknowledged that righteousness comes when a person’s heart is right before God, then the observant Jewish community would be closed to them. And if they didn’t acknowledge this, and Gentiles started showing up in church gatherings they would be denying their trust in Jesus’ cross by refusing to touch one or eat food they served. In their minds they were being forced to choose between Moses or Jesus.

By baptizing Gentiles, Peter had set a precedent, and if this action were allowed to stand it would only be a matter of time before Gentiles showed up in their gatherings too. Yes, Samaritans had come to Christ earlier (Ac 8:4-25), but the Samaritans had kept to themselves, in Samaria. But Gentiles, particularly Romans, were everywhere. Sooner or later they would show up in a seat next to them. No wonder Jesus had warned His followers,
“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Mt 10:37)

If their observant family and friends discovered they were socializing with Gentiles their relationship network would be destroyed. Peter had forced them to choose and neither path was an easy one. To accept Gentiles meant they must stop trusting the righteousness of the law, and endure condemnation and ostracism. To reject Gentiles meant they were denying that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient and were saying only Jews could be saved, excluding most of the human race.

The truth
The truth is, the choice they felt they were being forced to make, was a false one. God has never made anyone choose between Moses or Jesus, between His holiness and His grace. The two do not disagree. The Torah, which Moses wrote, is full of grace which is expressed through confession, repentance and substitutionary sacrifice. Blood was shed and poured out on the altar to show that God had transferred their sin to another, and had mercifully forgiven them. No one in Israel was ever thought to be perfect, they knew they all sinned regularly from the high priest on down, and that’s why God had given them an elaborate system of sacrifice to constantly proclaim His mercy. And the ritual laws were never meant to be “ladders to heaven.” They were meant to teach God’s people how to live in such a way that God’s Spirit could dwell among them. The Torah was given so God could teach His people as a father teaches a child.

Radical change
In order to follow Christ these Jewish believers would have to change their understanding of the ceremonial portions of the Torah. As believers they would, of course, still be free to observe these ceremonies and feasts, but only as acts of worship, not as prerequisites for acceptance with God.

But there is something in fallen human nature that wants to earn God’s approval rather than acknowledge we are completely dependent on His mercy. So we tend to select certain rules we think we can keep, or reinterpret those we can’t, and then focus our efforts on keeping them. Our hope is that if we keep these particular rules God will accept us and, of course, we assume that anyone who does not keep our special list of rules, is not accepted by God. In doing this we fall into a trap of trying to earn our own righteousness (Ro 9:30-32), and this becomes a terrible form of slavery. As hard as we try we never really achieve perfection which leaves us depressed and critical toward others.

This same process goes on in Christianity as well. People become self-righteous, proud, and critical of others. They want to withdraw from “sinners” and fellowship only with “clean” people. That’s why we too need to deeply understand the lesson God was trying to teach us in Cornelius’ household.

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is God’s announcement that a human being is “clean.” It is one thing to confess by faith that we are clean, but it is another for God to prove that we are clean by sending His Holy Spirit to take up residence inside us. God will never dwell in an unclean place, and by sinning every one of us has become spiritually “unclean.” But when we repent and believe in Jesus as our Savior we become completely clean, a “holy temple” (1 Co 3:16, 17; 6:19, 20), a suitable place for Him to dwell. “Cleanness” is a gift given to us by God and received by faith. Because Jesus took our sin upon Himself it no longer remains on us. Our sin is not just “covered” by His blood, it is gone. We are truly “holy” and because we are holy, God will baptize us with such power we will know He has come. Different people experience His arrival in different ways, but the confidence that He has come and dwells inside us is a gift God wants to give everyone of His children. He wants us to know, beyond the shadow of doubt, we are clean!

The baptism with the Holy Spirit declares I am “clean,” that I am a “holy temple.” It is a gift God gives to everyone who repents and believes. He focuses on my heart not my history, and what He is looking for is a real change in my attitude toward Him and genuine trust in Jesus Christ, not just words. No one in Cornelius’ household prayed a special prayer. They didn’t get the chance because the moment God saw what He was looking for He poured out this gift.

This powerful encounter leaves us with two questions:
1) Have I truly repented and believed? Has God seen those realities in my heart?
2) Have I actually received the gift He has given me? The baptism of the Holy Spirit was given the moment I believed, because I instantly became clean. But have I actually accepted His gift and allowed His Spirit to “fall upon” me in power?

Here are some basic steps to receiving this wonderful baptism:
1) Believe that this gift has been given to me.
2) Be in a place where the power of the Spirit is present.
3) Ask someone who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit to lay hands on me.
4) Be willing to open my mouth and speak out the words He gives me when His power comes upon me.
5) Be determined to persevere until I know He has come.

1) Have you ever seen the Holy Spirit powerfully “fall upon” someone? When? Where? What happened?
2) If you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit tell us what happened and how it has helped you.  

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