There are stunning miracles in these verses that transcend the natural order of things. They give us hope in the possibility of healing, renewal, new life and a meaningful future. And they don't don't place in v. 34 and v. 40, where a paralyzed woman is made to walk and a dead woman is raised to life. They take place in v. 35 and v. 42, when ALL the residents of two towns turned to the Lord, and MANY in Joppa believed in the Lord.
We no doubt focus our reading an attention on the physical healing of a paralytic and on the resurrection of dead woman. They are indeed mind blowing evidences of the power of God and clear signs of the kingdom of God. But they are, as we have said about signs and wonders, performed by God in order to point beyond themselves to the reality of the Kingdom that will one day come in all its fullness. And anywhere that God lends his power and authority to do miracles through his people, it is not as an end in itself, but in order to give credibility and and authority to the gospel proclaimed by his people, for the salvation of lost and guilty sinners.
As miraculous as these instances are, we must not look past the even more miraculous work of blind, deaf, guilty, spiritually dead sinners being born again by the Holy Spirit, embracing the gospel, and turning from sin to Jesus through repentance and faith. This is the ultimate miracle. Any supernatural work of God which leads the the celebration of people pales in comparison to the superantural work of God that is salvation. I emphasize this because we are prone to preoccupitation with the lesser miracle and the overlooking the greater miracle, which, if we are in Christ, has happened to us. May God save us from callousness or deadness to the completely supernatural work of our salvation. May we never grow hardened to the reality that his grace and mercy have landed on us, and that his Spirit has given new life to us.
Let's be open to the miracles of healing displayed here, but let's never grow cold to the miracle of God's tender mercies in Christ and the healing from he offers from the ravages of sin.
This encounter of Cornelius is another account of the supernatural revelation of God and the inbreaking of Christ's Kingdom. 3 observations about it...
1. The Generosity and Prayerfulness of Cornelius
Prior to the appearance of this Angel, Cornelius is described as a God-fearing man, evidenced by his generosity and and prayerfulness. Cornelius isn't a Christian yet, but he had a very acute God-conciousness. The Father was working to draw Cornelius already. He was not just open to the things of God, he is pursuing the things of God. Something about his honest and heartfelt pursuit touches the heart of God. The Angel clearly says that it's his generosity and prayer that God is responding to.
I have serious doubts that Cornelius was praying for an Angel to come and talk to him, or expecting that, but in his diligent dependence on God through prayer, and continual humility through sacrifical giving, God was pleased to reveal himself. That God saw it as a "memorial" to Him indicates that though Cornelius didn't yet know the gospel, his heart was oriented toward worship. There is no promise here of any such Angelic appearance in our lives, but a prayerful and generous life rooted in the fear of the Lord seems to capture the heart of God in profound way that inclines him to draw near in personal ways that join us to him more deeply.
2. The Specificity of the Angel
There is no vagueness about the message. God is cryptic with Cornelius. In response to his prayer, he sends this messenger with a clear message. He distinguishes between 2 different Simon's, the Apostle and the tanner. I'm just struck by the clarity of God's revelatory insight. He is not a God of confusion. He isn't trying to trick us or play games with us. When he reveals himself and speaks to us he does so to lead us into the life and wisdom, not to leave us guessing. Ther is often confusion about what God is saying through His Spirit, but I wonder if that's not because it's not really His Spirit speaking at those times. He seems to lead clearly. The enemy sows confusion. That may be helpful in discerning at times whether we are genuinely hearing from the Lord.
3. The Obedient Response of Cornelius
Not only was he pursuing God in the ways he knew how, but when his categories were blown open and he encountered angelic being, he took what was said as directly from the Lord and obeyed immediately and completely. Sometimes, I wonder if I don't hear more from the Holy Spirit in clear ways because I've disobeyed Him in the past. I have felt God's Spirit draw near, and nudge me in a direction or speak something to me which I didn't want to do. It's one thing to receive revelation. It's another thing entirely to respond obediently to revelation.
**I dare you to start praying every day and asking for the Lord to give you direction and revelation so that you might know him more personally and be used by him more powerfully.
When he inevitably responds to your prayer by speaking, I dare you to obey him, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.
If we don't respond in obedience, why would he keep speaking?
The significance of this text cannot be overstated. This is where God's promise of salvation for all people, through Jesus, extends for the first time beyond the Jewish community. Most of us are Gentiles. Unclean. Outside the covenant people of God. What the Spirit did in Acts 10, by reinterpreting the law in light of the gospel, and enlarging Peter's understanding of the scope of redemption, is what makes rom for us in the family of God. This is where we really start to see how God's covenant with Abraham, to bless him and all nations through his offspring, is going to be fulfilled. This is where the possibility of our inclusion in the covenant people of God is legitimized. Let that soak in today just in and off itself.
Then don't miss, yet again, how it happened. An angel appears to Cornelius and gives him very specific instructions. Then while Peter is daydreaming about food, the Spirit gives him a vision of all kinds of animals he's not allowed to eat because of Jewish dietary restrictions. Only, the Holy Spirit commands him to kill and eat it, which he rejects outright because of their uncleanness. And Peter has a little argument with the Holy Spirit over this because he's like us and loves to argue with God.
But the Holy Spirit has a trump card, divine authority, which he plays to recalibrate what Peter thinks of as clean and unclean. He will understand later the larger point God was making was about the Gentiles not food, but the restrictions around both were removed. So, not only does salvation advance to us in this moment, but our freedom to enjoy good BBQ is secured. I told you this significance of this text can't be overstated. We get Jesus and ribs. That's amazing. Feel free to pause and rejoice.
Okay, I could go on explaining or examining different things here, but there are 2 things my soul is aware of here...
1. The Spirit speaking... again.
Like Cornelius, Peter is praying and seeking the Lord and has this supernatural revelatory encounter, seeing a vision from God and then hearing the voice of God. That's incredible in and of itself. It's exciting and ought to awaken some expectation in me that God wants to speak to me (and you). But like yesterday, there is a question of obedience. Will we actually obey the voice of the Lord?
2. We have to rethink everything in light of Jesus
Peter's resistance to the Spirit, initially, is grounded in thousands of years of religion. He wasn't being needlessly stubborn. He's trying to honor his understanding of God's law that has been clearly communicated for centuries in the Jewish community. It's Peter's zeal for the Lord that positions him against the Lord in that moment.
In Romans 10, Paul refers to the Jews as having a "zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." Meaning, they want to obey God, but they don't actually know God. And the reason they don't know God, is they had not received Jesus as God in the flesh, as having fulfilled the requirements of the law, and as having purchased for them a new freedom from rigid, joyless, begruding obedience to the law.
We all have certain points of religious devotion that are grounded in tradition, preference, or some wrongly applied teaching from some point in our lives, but which have nothing to do with Jesus. We all have certain things we probably struggle to reinterpret in light of Christ and his finished work. We have sensibilities or deeply held convictions which are rooted in our feelings, or family history, or church tradition, but not on the bible or on Christ himself.
We have some way to liberal ideas and way to conservative ideas based on our thoughts. I wonder if we're willing to let Jesus jack with those and reitnerpret them. We must be constantly coming back to the Scriptures, to the Gospel and to the person of Christ to consider how our lives more rightly align to him... He's the center of everything. (check yesterdays blog more on that.)
So here's this beautiful and succinct presentation of the gospel. But the very first line of Peter's testimony is huge... "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." God was not only intent on saving the Jews, but also the Gentiles. God's mission is still being carried out. He's still seeking a people for his own name from among all nations, and all ethnicities. He does not show partiality.
This means that any small thoughts of your life need to be put away. You are not beyond God's reach or beneath his redemption. His redemption is unworthy people such as you and mean. You aren't less important to the heart of God than any other man. However anonymous you feel, and however insignificant you may think of yourself, God knows you by name, is aware of even the hidden things in your life, and he loves you and has made his grace available to you. However ignorable you think you and your gifts are, God himself has fixed his attention on you.
On the other hand, you must also put away all small thoughts of other peoples lives. You must renounce self-importance, ethno-centrism and pride in all it's forms. That God shows no partiality means you stand before him only by a grace which every individual is as worthy of as you. There is no person not worth your time. There is no group of people irrelevant. Whatever instincts you have to sit comfortably and complacently in your own salvation while caring nothing of the salvation of others is an indicator of your need for salvation and it can't be trusted. Whoever you have defined outside of God's love and grace must be defined back in. Whatever walls you have built around yourself and those like you, you need to blow up.
The grace of Jesus and his finished work is good news for all people, and all nations, and all ethnicities, and all cultures, and all statuses, and all reputations, and all vocations, and all ages. There is no partiality with God. How can there be with us?
I have always loved this passage. In the middle of Peter preaching the gospel to these Gentiles "outsiders", the Holy Spirit falls and saves. I mean, they aren't waiting for the altar call after the sermon, or the dimmed lights and emotional plea for people to come forward or stand where they are. Peter hasn't even gotten to the 4th point of his sermon. Their eyes are just opened, faith is imparted to them, and they are born again. It's incredible. I don't know a single preacher to whom this has happened. Nor do I know a single preacher who wouldn't consider it the best day of their ministry if it did happen.
As remarkable as is this instance is, though, it reminds of 2 things:
The Miracle of salvation
In some sense, this is what the Holy Spirit does for everyone who receives the new life of Christ. He falls on us as we hear the word and changes everything.
He Works Outside of our Categories
The believing Jews, those genuinely Christian converts among Israel, still are thinking small and nationalistically about salvation. They have no expectation or consideration of the Gentiles as partakers of the gospel. That God's grace, presence and power land on other ethnicities makes no sense and disorients them. But God has never seen fit to confine his work to our small imagination and narrow categories. And praise His name for that because the world would be a much darker place and redemption would be far less beautiful.
I wonder if you're still trying to restrict God to your neatly defined parameters of what he can and can't do, based on your comfort zone and sensibilities? I wonder if you've opened yourself to the possibility of God being more immense than anything you can contain or restrain. I wonder if you're willing to give up the delusion that God is only permitted to operate within the boundaries of your low expectations. If ever he does limit himself in according to our presumptions, it is to our own peril. On the other hand, if God ever does transcend our categories and open us up to reality, it is always for our good and growth. I hope we'll embrace it.