Acts 10:23b-11:18 (AD 44)
Again we have complementary descriptions of what becoming a Christians looks like:
- God “accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (10:35)
- “All the prophets testify about [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:43)
- “even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life” (11:18)
Notice Peter’s drawing Old Testament prophecy together with New Testament theology. God hadn’t just been telling the Jews for 1,500 years that a special chosen one would come. He was much more specific than that – he told them, repeatedly, that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”. Not freedom from the Romans and other, external occupying forces, but freedom from the most toxic occupying force of them all: our own sin.
Isn’t that contradicted by the previous statement that God “accepts” everyone who “does what is right”? Doesn’t that imply a performance standard?
No, because the command isn’t to perfection but to repentance. Jesus’ message to the lost was, is, and always will be, ‘Repent’. After repentance, a Christian will strive to live sinlessly and God-honouringly. But we do not come into God’s presence by moral achievements. Thus “does what is right” refers in the first and most important instance to the command to repent. It is a true heart change brought about by God, as we ask him for forgiveness, trust in what Jesus has done and adopt a posture of hatred towards sin.
“even to Gentiles” – and more startling still to these Jews, even to Gentiles living outside the community of Jews. Throughout the Old Testament, the pattern was for people who worshipped God to come into the Jewish community, because there was no other community where God was consistently worshipped. Only by being in a community of Jews could people follow the ritual practices God commanded.
So there would have been some anti-Gentile prejudice among some people, but this wasn’t primarily a response of prejudice, just genuine shock that wholesale Gentile conversions were now happening, and the presence of God – Holy Spirit – was being given to them freely.
It required a rapid broadening of their minds to accept what God had always spoken of but which was only now becoming an overwhelming reality: the gospel of Jesus was for all people. It started in Jerusalem, and it spread throughout the whole world so that you and me might also be among the redeemed – the true Israel of God.
Thank God for that change, which meant the gospel reached your descendants, wherever you are. And marvel at how God uses different parts of the world, at different times, to show his glory and set an example of zeal and godliness. God used Europe and North America in just such a way. Now we are better served looking to Asia, Africa and South America to see the blaze of God’s redeeming work. To remember that our God is as powerful and active now as he ever was. And be prompted to play our part in bringing people into his kingdom through a reverential fear that drives a repentant faith.
Time accelerates, Acts-narrative-wise, over the course of these passages. Acts 9 starts in AD 34, ‘after many days’ (Acts 9:23) may have been 14 to 36 months. Acts 10, with Peter talking to Cornelius, was likely five years after Paul’s visit back to Jerusalem, in AD 42. Acts 11 after verse 19 took place another two years after that, in AD 44. So we have about 10 years in two chapters.