20 December 2008

Holy Spirit for All Nations

Week 16 from the "Roots of Our Faith" series on the Book of Acts and the third message of a Christmas series "Hope, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for All Nations" based on Acts 10 - 11:18
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:15-18 ESV)
Peter had an epiphany. He would have had to. His Jewish sensibilities would have him still in Joppa or (maybe) standing outside of Cornelius' home, but they would have never allowed him this experience. Paul (that Hebrew of Hebrews) describes the Jewish worldview:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. (Romans 9:4 ESV)
For the Jew, God had special promises and a special calling to be separate (Acts 10:28). This was fundamental to the their identity. Jesus didn't interrupt that understanding, he only ushered in its fullness by putting away sin (Hebrews 9:26). So Peter's experience with Cornelius must have been significant because it compelled him to break with that thinking (Acts 10:34-35) and be exposed to scrutiny, which wasn't easy for him (Galatians 2:11-12).

The Exclamation Point
The presence of the Holy Spirit in Cornelius and his household convinced Peter and silenced those in the circumcision party.
"...the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning..." (vs. 15)

"...God gave the same gift to them..." (vs. 17)
They experienced the same power the Jewish believers experienced at Pentecost, revealing an equal participation in the promise of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. These Gentiles spoke in tongues as a confirmation that their salvation was the same as that of the Jew. It was the final piece of compelling evidence for both Peter and those in the circumcision party that "to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."

Power to Shift a Powerful Paradigm
Imagine the challenge this presented to the Jewish identity (Galatians 6:16 and Ephesians 2:12-13). Now the Gentiles were included in the promise of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:33-34) and the presence of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:17-18). God's covenant love was extended equally to Jew and Gentile in Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9-10, Galatians 3:28, Romans 8:38,39 and Philippians 3:3). Such a significant change in paradigm was more than some Jews could handle (Acts 15:1, Acts 22:21-22, Titus 1:10) and became a constant source of contention in the first century.

What this tells me is that the presence of the Holy Spirit is a powerful source (2 Timothy 1:7) of conviction (John 16:7-8) and reformation.  My skills of persuasion, my knowledge of the Scripture or my apologetic grasp of the faith have no power apart from the Holy Spirit but his powerful presence in Cornelius changed the worldview of an apostle.  So what obstacles do I face? My own sin? Cultural lies? Hard hearts? The same Spirit revealed at Pentecost and in the living room of this Roman Soldier dwells in me today. Christ's Spirit shining through my frailty has the power to overcome any obstacle (2 Corinthians 4:7, 1 Timothy 1:12). 

"So this is Christmas..."
Without Christmas, none of this could be. The angel told Cornelius to send for Peter because he would declare a message that would save Cornelius and his household (Acts 11:14) and that message (Acts 10:36-43) depends on four Christmas truths.

1) "peace through Jesus Christ (he is lord of all)" (Acts 10:36) - The message of the angels (Luke 2:10, 14) to the shepherds and the promise of the messiah in Isaiah (Isaiah 11:10) was that peace was offered to all people through Christ. To Mary, the angel revealed that Jesus would reign on the throne of David (Luke 1:31-33) fulfilling the promise of his supreme reign in Isaiah 9:6-7.

2) "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:38) - This again fulfilled the promise of the Messiah in Isaiah 11:1-2.

3) "They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day." (Acts 10:39) - Simeon predicted this to Mary at Jesus' dedication in the temple (Luke 2:35).

4) "he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:42-43) - Isaiah (9:6) foretold of Jesus' government and the angel revealed to Joseph that Jesus would save his people from their sins.

Inclusive Exclusivity
 "Merry Christmas" is a weighty statement.  It should be proclaimed, not to win some culture war or for posterity, but as the only hope for Joy to the World.  There is no hope for joy in tradition and no power to overcome in temporary celebration, feasting or gift giving.   When we say Merry Christ-mas it should reveal the weight of the exclusive source of lasting joy (Colossians 1:27) and reforming power.  The king of the earth has come and he inclusively offers an equal salvation (in power, promise and love) to all peoples but only to those individuals who receive him (John 1:12) as the only deliverance from the power of death.  
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:14-18 ESV)
Christmas should be celebrated, not as a perfunctory season on the calendar but as absolutely essential.  Without the Incarnation, the nations have no hope, no gospel and no power to overcome darkness.  This Christmas may your days be truly merry and overflow with eternal joy at the news of peace toward Peter, Cornelius and all men.

"born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord"


Post a Comment