Good morning! In yesterday’s reading, I focused on how outsiders kept finding their way inside the community of Christ followers. There’s no greater example of this than how Gentiles came to be equal partners with (and later far outnumbering) Jews in the community of Jesus-followers. That story is told in today’s passage (Acts 10-12), along with a narrative of miraculous salvation from imprisonment.
What I find so interesting about Acts 10 are the ways that Peter (an exemplary Jew) and Cornelius (a virtuous and well known Gentile) are prepared by the Holy Spirit to meet one another. Their encounter comes about through divine conspiracy, then yields a growing connection between Christ-followers who are Jews and those who are non-Jews. Peter’s vision scandalized him—eating reptiles, birds, and other things are prohibited by Torah laws—but the broader message to Peter and other Jews is the moral at the end of the vision: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This repeated message makes clear that Peter’s vision is not about food, but about the people God will soon invite into equal partnership. Cornelius meanwhile had sent for this Peter with no real sense of what it would yield, yet has enough of a sense that something is up that he gathers a whole group to meet Peter and the Hebrews. Because of the vision, Peter’s prepared at this point to eat and associate with them, and eat with them. They are prepared too, for the message he’s sent to bring them—the Holy Spirit has laid it wide open for them both. “God shows no partiality”, as Peter says. In the midst of his testimony, the Holy Spirit falls upon the assembly as a final confirmation of the rightness that the mission field be expanded, and the only fitting response for these new Gentile Christians is baptism.
Peter reports all this to “headquarters”, to Jerusalem, when he goes back there. The power of his story and his testimony makes it possible to be believed—a lesser apostle might not have been given such favorable treatment. But because of Peter’s advocacy, the Jerusalem church agrees that God’s repentance and new life extends “even to Gentiles”. We then hear about other parts of the dispersed community after Stephen’s martyrdom—some are focused exclusively on Jews, but some enterprising folks are seeing the opportunities of reaching out to Gentiles also. Barnabas comes from Jerusalem to check in with the folks in Antioch, affirming their outreach to Greeks. Barnabas gets Paul from Tarsus and they do a deep campaign of proclamation in Antioch for a whole year.
As might be expected, their public actions inspire deep reactions. King Herod essentially makes it official policy to target Christian leaders. The apostle James is killed and Peter is imprisoned. During the church’s fervent prayers on Peter’s behalf, an angelic intervention that leads to Peter’s release. Laugh with me at the irony that their prayers on Peter’s behalf, they miss Peter’s presence himself, but leave him outside knocking on the door after he’s been seen, and disproving skeptics think that he’s a ghost. Peter survives imprisonment just fine with a little help from his (angelic and prayerful) friends. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Acts 13-14. Thanks for reading!