“As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as He fell on us at the beginning. Then I thought of the Lord’s words when He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews.Acts 11:15-19
We have come a long way to understanding what was going on at this momentous time. This time when God turns Jewish culture on its ear and opens the door to taking the Good Jewish News to Gentiles! Many paradigm shifts and worldview changes had to take place for the possibility of this to even enter into their heads. We have been told very clearly how God was behind every step, orchestrating and leading them along the way. Expanding their comprehension to really what He had in mind in the beginning. Peter could not have spoken many words before the Spirit fell on those gathered. We don’t know just how many of those who were present at the time of Pentecost in the Upper Room were in this crowd of those gathered to hear what Peter was saying now. There must have been a number of them for Peter to say “The Holy Spirit fell on them just as He did on us at the beginning”. He is linking the outpouring on Pentecost with the outpouring on the Gentiles in Caesarea. This was their Pentecost. He had hardly said but a few words and the Spirit fell on these Gentiles. I am convinced by what Peter said to his critics that God was in the events described. Clearly it was enough to convince them too. Whether it had been before Peter delivered his punchline or not I don’t know. But I think Peter’s question, “who was I to stand in God’s way” clinched his argument to convince them. Sometimes when we ask a question that draws our hearers into the perspective that we hold, it’s like things change and they see with new eyes. “Oh I have never thought of it that way before.” This appears to have happened after Peter’s question. Luke tells us when the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” Immediate adoption of this new radical idea. Really? Is that all it took?
Remember we know a whole lot more about what has been happening than they do. We have been tracking the events since the beginning of Acts 10 and we have had a good summary from all the viewpoints. We have been told the significance from each player’s perspective. What Luke has written for us gives a summary of what was told to them. But it must have been short anyway because for the duration of Acts 11 we have been given summary statements. That certainly is what we are told here and furthermore the Holy Spirit cuts off the information flow by falling on them all. The Holy Spirit of God has been active at all levels and all stages of what has been going on. Now everything is set for take off. But is it?
We have been given the clue by what Luke has told us of who Peter had before him here. Luke has used the description he has heard Paul use before [οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς] (literally – those from the circumcision). As we have talked about before is he using “those from the circumcision” to mean Jewish believers or is he meaning those from the Circumcision Group? It is harder to convince die hard radicals of anything with just a few well chosen words. It does seem surprising that Peter saying, “who was I to stand in God’s way” was enough to get them to change their thinking. Ah but Ian don’t forget there is more weight to the argument than that. I am fully aware of that. Peter has made his earlier points skilfully and the Holy Spirit has once again confirmed the witness with signs and wonders. But it just leaves you with the feeling that this is going to pop up again. Sometimes deep seated, strongly held beliefs take some shifting.
Now we have another of those Lukan comments at the end of a significant moment in the story of the spread of the Gospel. Another summary statement which sets the scene for more growth in the body of believers. It is similar to what Luke has told us before. “Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God . . .” This statement sums up the event, puts a cap on it and then tells us again of the spread of the gospel/church/kingdom . . . on its way to the ends of the earth. We are told clearly that the persecution after Stephen’s witness resulted in these Jewish believers being taken to far off places (implicit information: filled with Gentiles). It is like this statement leaves us hanging. Notice also the introduction of Antioch in Syria. This is a subtle statement. It is introducing a new base of operation. From this point onward in the story we have a new base. The centre of operations now has switched to Antioch. Oh this is wonderful. The Gospel is going further and the Jewish believers are now convinced that they should include Gentiles in The Way as well. But notice how Luke close this segment. “They preached the word of God, but only to Jews.”
No, all is not yet what it seems. The statement of these members of the Circumcision Party is interesting. They say, “So then, we can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” The particle which introduces their statement is [ara] which is an inferential connection, “so then”, “that being the case it infers that” . . . Inferring they have just realised something to be true which they have not seen before. But [ara] is placed in the unusual position at the beginning of the sentence. In classical Greek it isn’t usually placed in this position. It’s almost like it is flagging that something is amiss here. This acceptance of the fact that the Gospel is for Gentiles as well and that they too can be granted repentance and the fullness of the Holy Spirit is not whole hearted but rather a reluctant acquiescence. Followed by which we have this end statement that the word of God was preached, but only to the Jews.
Now we are ready to begin the next phase but with the feeling that all is not right in the camp.
So you’re going through a low valley? Don’t worry. Everyone does. Just don’t unpack & camp there. Keep walking for the exit.Sidney Mohede
If you have an unease that all is not as it seems. Keep going, the truth will come out eventually.Ian Vail
If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.Maya Angelou
You have a great God who loves you and cares about you. Be full of hope that something good will happen despite how it appears.Ian Vail