“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. – Acts 10:39-48
Simon Peter has travelled with the men sent by Cornelius the Roman Centurion. Before the men arrived to retrieve Peter he had his famous vision:
“He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” – Acts 10:11-15
God and the Holy Spirit made it clear that God loves and wants to be in relationship with everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation or history. He wants courageous and curious God seekers like the Ethiopian converted by the Holy Spirit with the help of Philip and Cornelius who is welcoming Peter into his house because he wants to learn more about the God whose unseen hand has been reaching out to him.
Prior to the vision about the animals and unclean versus clean foods Peter clearly had a limited view of who God invites into relationship. Despite many experiences and spiritual squalls that made it clear Jesus welcomed all those who were willing to seek Him out. This experience with Cornelius is a key turning point for Peter. He finally understands that God reaches out His arm to everyone, not just the righteous and religious.
After his arrival Peter launches into a monologue about Jesus’ life and resurrection. In Peters defense this is probably what he felt he was supposed to be doing. I do wonder whether the same miraculous moment would have occurred if he had simply prayed or talked with Cornelius about his faith. It does seem to be part of a pattern with Peter of speaking when silence would be just as effective. When Peter reaches the part about forgiveness of sins: “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” the Holy Spirit intercedes and is poured out and into all those who were listening, both Jews and gentiles.
The Jewish followers with Peter are surprised by this indiscriminate outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They also had something to learn about the size and doorways to God’s house. Peter, also somewhat surprised, says “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”.
Peter’s statement about people being baptized with water implies that there were some followers that were preventing people from being baptized with water. These gatekeepers probably had good intentions, and felt they were trying to keep the faith pure and free of pagan poisons, but I think they missed the point. The change in heart and direction is what is being commemorated through baptizing with water. This transformation and beginning of a new relationship with God is open to every human being. Full stop. No one should be able to restrict or limit our love for God or His love for us.
Prayer: God thank you for loving us and pouring out your Holy Spirit freely.
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