The Spirit Explodes
Part 10 of 22
A major step : welcoming non-Jews
by Roger Kirby
After introducing Paul to us Luke switches back to 3 stories about Peter, 2 minor and one major. First the 2 minor stories. As we read them watch out for several sharply contrasting features between the first and the second.
Read Acts 9:32–43.
Question 1: Apart from the obvious one of a bed-ridden person and a dead person, what are the major contrasts between these 2 stories? What are we meant to learn from them?
- As so often in Luke’s writing one is about a man and the other about a woman. Luke is clearly concerned that we should understand that a woman is every bit as important in the Kingdom as a man is.
- Dorcas was an important person much respected both in the church and in the wider community. Aeneas was a nobody: bed-ridden and of no significance. No one is more important than anyone else in the Kingdom. As is sometimes said: the ground is level at the foot of the Cross.
The major story is long and complicated. Some background is advisable. To this point almost all those who had set out to follow Jesus had been Jews. Now the good news of Jesus had begun to break out of the bounds of Judaism in a small way, mainly because of the adventurous ministry of Philip. Certainly Peter was staying with Simon, a tanner, who was therefore a notoriously unclean person from handling dead animals, so he too was beginning to break out, but the great question: did non-Jews who wanted to follow Jesus have to become Jews as well was still unresolved.
Three things in particular defined a Jew:
- Sabbath keeping,
- obeying the strict food laws.
The first, circumcision, would remain an unresolved problem for some time yet. The second, Sabbath keeping, was probably not a great issue. The early church, which would have included many slaves, can only have met on a local feast day, whether that was a Sabbath or a pagan festival. Slaves will not have been able to keep the Sabbath anyway. We are about to read how the third problem: the argument about keeping the food laws, was resolved.
Read Acts 10:1–18.
Centurions, in charge of 80-100 men, formed the backbone of the Roman army and so were very important people.
Question 1: What would these verses have meant to Theophilus, the guy for whom Luke wrote this book?
He hears about a highly respected Roman being involved in the story of Jesus and his people. That would be an encouragement to him that he need not be wary of similar involvement himself.
Read Acts 10:9–16.
Peter’s vision was clear in its meaning. As a devout Jew Peter will have avoided any contact with the foods forbidden in the Law. He saw a sheet including animals like pigs, rabbits, herons and snakes – to mention just some now commonly eaten – and was told he might eat them, rather, he was commanded to eat them.
Question 2: What would his reaction have been?
He would have been shocked and horrified. (So might we be at some of the things included – snakes, yuk!).
Question 3: What is the general significance of him being told this?
The people of God were to turn away from a rule-based system of ethical behaviour. We shall find out later in this chapter what was to replace the rules.
Read Acts 10:17–33.
What an astonishing scene: a Roman army officer, family and friends in a grand house welcoming a small group of dusty, sweaty, well-travelled Jews. Whatever next!
Read Acts 10:34–43.
‘You know’, said Peter, ‘all about Jesus’. So the whole countryside must have heard all about the life, death and reappearance of Jesus. Peter’s sermon simply tells the story of Jesus.
Question 4: What were the most important things in his talk? What would have been the bullet points if he had had a computer?
- his ministry of teaching and preaching,
- his death at the hands of ‘them’,
- his resurrection from the dead, validating his status as the Son of God,
- his role as Messiah and judge,
- the way belief in him conferred forgiveness of sins.
Perhaps there is a message here to all preachers – you cannot tell the great story of Jesus too often.
Read Acts 10:44–48.
Question 5: This is a fundamentally important question. What was to replace the rules of Judaism?
The answer is the Holy Spirit. (Of course he is a ‘who’ and not a ‘what’ but to have said ‘who’ would rather have given the game away!) When we start to follow Jesus the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, enters into our being and enables us to do things, to behave, in ways we would not, and could not, before. As John reports Jesus saying in his gospel (John 16:13-14)
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.
When we believe and set out to follow Jesus the Holy Spirit comes to us as a special gift from God. We don’t have to look for any particular signs of his presence. To do so would imply that he was under our control and he isn’t. Rejoice in his presence in and with you.
Note once again the close association between the start of the Christian life and baptism. It is not essential but it is definitely expected. After that life will be different because as Paul says we are to ‘walk in step with the Spirit’.