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REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE

Acts 11:1-11:18
Key Verse: 11:18b

In chapter 10 we could see how the good news of Jesus and the Holy Spirit came to the Gentiles. For this work God planned all things perfectly until Peter came to Cornelius’ house and preached the gospel message of salvation to Cornelius and his people and they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This was a shocking event to the orthodox Jews among the believers in Jerusalem. Today’s passage contains Peter’s apologetics for this event and the Jewish believers’ response to this. In this account Luke excellently shows what are involved in believing in Jesus Christ and being saved.

First, receiving the word of God. Look at verse 1. “The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” From the Old Testament God spoke to humans. Finally Jesus the Son of God came to this world to speak the words of God. Jesus once told the people who had gathered around him the parable of sower to teach about the secret of the kingdom of God. In brief, the word of God is the seed of the kingdom of God (Ac 8:11). The kingdom of God comes in the hearts of those who accept the word of God. And Jesus gave the words God gave him to his disciples (Jn 17:8). In Acts we remember the decision of the apostles when the daily distribution of food became an issue. They said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables,” and then they decided, “We will…give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Ac 6:2,4). As a result the word of God spread, and there was the powerful work of God continually (6:7). Later Peter said in 1 Peter 1:23, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God…the word of the Lord stand forever” (1 Pe 1:23-25).

So whether one receives the word of God is very substantial to both the individuals and the community of believers. God’s work is spreading the word of God. In Jerusalem the apostles boldly spoke the word of God regardless of the hindrance and objections of the Jewish authorities (4:31). Afterward the word of God spread to the people in Samaria through those were scattered because of the great persecution in Jerusalem. This was a significant growth stage in the early Christian church. So when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them (8:14). It was to confirm and support the work of God there. Now in chapter 11 we read, “The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” This was an unthinkable and unexpected work of God to the Jerusalem church. Yet it was an undeniable new stage in the church history. What an amazing grace it is that we can hear and receive the word of God. Christian life is in a sense to receive the word of God and spread the word of God.

Second, the Holy Spirit’s coming. Look at verses 2 and 3. “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Apparently, the conjunction “so” does not seem to connect verse 1 and 2. In the flow of the paragraph the circumcised believers were to criticize Peter for preaching the word of God, but they criticized Peter for going into the house of the Gentiles and eating with them. This was a kind of skillful criticism. The bigoted circumcised believers were not happy with the Gentiles receiving the word of God. Yet, they could not find fault in Peter’s speaking the word of God to the Gentiles. However, Peter’s entering a Gentile’s house and eating with uncircumcised people was a serious problem to the Jews. And it was related to Peter’s speaking the word of God to them. So they made Peter’s eating with the Gentiles a big issue. In this way they attacked Peter proficiently.

Criticism is hard to bear to anyone. Most people respond to criticism emotionally. How about Peter? Look at verse 4. “Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened.” Peter was not emotional and subjective, but rational and objective and accurate. Let’s see his precise and whole explanation of the event he experienced. Look at verses 5-10. “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ I replied, ‘Surely not Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.” Peter told them about the vision he saw, the contents of the vision, God’s command to kill and eat, his response to it, God’s further command to not call anything impure, and lastly the scene of the vision going up to heaven.

And then Peter told them about how he could go to Cornelius’ house and encounter the Gentile and all his household: “Right then men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved” (11-14). Here Peter particularly told them that the angel’s final words for Cornelius were that Cornelius and all his household would be saved through Peter’s message. Even Cornelius, who was known as a righteous man in the eyes of people, needed salvation before God.

Now what did Peter say? Look at verses 15-16. “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” It is interesting that Peter did not say about how they received the word of God or why he ate with the Gentiles, which the circumcised believers questioned. Rather, he told them the fact of how the Holy Spirit came on them. In fact, all are connected. Yet, the Holy Spirit’s coming on the Gentiles was the main part of Peter’s apologetics. Seeing the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles, Peter could be reminded of how the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost according Jesus’ promise, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit’s coming on the Gentiles was the continuation of the fulfillment of the promise, although the promise of the baptism by the Holy Spirit was not given directly to the Gentiles but to the apostles. Peter understood the meaning of Jesus’ words, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” in a deeper way. This was the Gentile Pentecost in Caesarea, corresponding to the Jewish Pentecost in Jerusalem. In the previous passage the circumcised believers who had come with Peter to Cornelius’ house, what made them astonished was the Holy Spirit being poured out even on the Gentiles. But Peter could understand the astonishing event in the light of the promise of Jesus. Now Peter’s conclusion in his defense was this in verse 17. “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’” In ESV, verse 17 is translated, “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?” Here we see that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given both to the apostles and to the Gentile when they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit’s coming on the Gentiles through their faith in Jesus was the same work of God as the Holy Spirit’s coming on the apostles through their faith in Jesus. To Peter denying this work of God was opposing God. In saying this Peter was very wise. He did not say, “You are opposing God in criticizing me. How can you do that?” Rather, he said, “Who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

Then why was the Holy Spirit’s coming on the Gentiles was such a big issue? The coming of the Holy Spirit at the time of Pentecost was a new era in Christian history. While on earth, Jesus was physically present with his disciples. When Jesus talked about his leaving this world, they were very sad. But Jesus promised that he would come back, saying, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:18). In saying this Jesus certainly meant the coming of the Holy Spirit, the third person in triune God. The Holy Spirit would be in them and with them as another Counselor and Comforter. This was also in accordance with the promise after h is resurrection and before his ascension, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Also through the coming of the Holy Spirit, they would be witnesses of Jesus as Jesus promised in Acts 1:8 and John 15:26,27. It is noticeable that being baptized with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit’s coming, the gift of the Holy Spirit being given or being poured out, are all the same expressions for one same thing.

Jesus once said to Nicodemus about being born again of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5). One can be born again through the work of the Holy Spirit when the person hears the word of God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12;3 “…no can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit. And Paul said in Romans 8:9, “…If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” The Holy Spirit indwells each Christian (Ro 8:9a). And Christian life is to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:16,25). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (Jn 14:17, 16:13), and the Holy Spirit is our best Bible teacher, guiding us into all truth. The Bible tells believers to not grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30) and not put out the Spirit’s fire (1 Thess 5:19). Rather the Bible commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). God wants us to be witnesses of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even in the Old Testament, when the Spirit of the Lord came to Saul who was shy (1 Sa 10:22), he became a different person with the power of God (1 Sa 10:6; 11:6,7) and defeated the enemies who threatened his people. But when the Spirit left him, the evil spirits came and he became very miserable. When David sinned against God, the most dreadful thing was the Holy Spirit being taken from him. So he prayed in repentance, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps 51:11). We thank and praise God for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We must be aware of the Holy Spirit’s living in us and learn to live by the Spirit and strive to be filled with the Holy Spirit and be powerful witnesses of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Third, repentance unto life. Look at verse 18. “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God…” It is good to know that they were objective people. When they were convinced that what Peter did was the work of God, they did not insist their idea anymore. They stopped their objections and praised God. God’s people should have their strong belief and opinions. But they are not to be obstinate people but objective people with sound reason and sincere heart and discernment to see the work of God.

They praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” This expression is also interesting. They could have said in praising God, “God has granted even the Gentile the Holy Spirit”, or “…the word of God”, but “…repentance unto life.” Repentance unto life means repentance that leads to life. Here we see that receiving the word of God and the Holy Spirit’s coming and repentance unto life are all related. Without repentance one cannot truly receive the word of God. This is the reason Jesus said from the outset of his earthly messianic ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 4:17). Also through the word of God, one can repent. And without repentance the Holy Spirit cannot come. At Pentecost when the people said after hearing Peter’s message, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Ac 2:38). Also through the help of the Holy Spirit, one can repent.

It is true that repentance leads to life. Let’s think more about repentance. Repentance is to turn one’s heart and mind and way to God. One important message to the Israelites in the Old Testament is, “Return to me.” What sinners can do to God is to repent. Repentant people are truly humble people. It includes curbing one’s pride in obedience to God. There was a story about a valiant soldier from Aram who had leprosy. He heard the news of a prophet in Israel who could heal of his leprosy. He came to the house of the prophet in full preparation with many gifts. He expected that the prophet would come to the entrance and welcome him and heal of him calling the name of the LORD and waving his hand over the spot. However, contrary to thought the prophet did not come even to see him, but just said, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” At this the general’s pride was great hurt. In a rage he turned his way to go back to his home country. But on the way back when his servants said something like this, “Why didn’t you do such an easy thing to go and wash?”, he came back to his senses and denied himself and went to the Jordan and dipped himself in the water of the Jordan seven times. This was his repentance in obedience to God’s command through the prophet. Then he was completely healed of his leprosy. More than that through this he came to know the God of Israel, the true God (2 Ki 5:1-5). Isaiah 55:9 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Jesus told a parable of the two sons: “There was man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vine yard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will sir,’ but he did not go.” Of course the first son did what his father wanted (Mt 21:28-31). Repentance is changing one’s mind in a right way based on God’s words. Paul said in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We need constant repentance through his words for the sanctification and transformation of our inner being.

Without repentance all are destined to perish. But what a grace it is that God has granted both the Jews and Gentiles, repentance so that all be led to life. Peter said in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

In this passage we learn that receiving the word of God and the Holy Spirit’s coming and repentance unto life are all together one set in believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and being saved. May God help us to keep the spirit of repentance and receive the word of God constantly and be aware of living by the Spirit and become the defenders of this gospel of Jesus in our generation.

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