Your readings from Acts may seem quite long. However, these three readings take you through the conversion of Cornelius, the reaction to his conversion by many Jews, and how the early Jewish church came to terms with their acceptance of Gentiles as full brothers and sisters. Please read these Scriptures. Notice the emphasis given to this important issue of fellowship. Notice how My strongest leaders were needed to win the victory on reaching Gentiles with the good news and involving them in active fellowship. This problem was an issue that had to be resolved or My church would have been split along racial and cultural lines, something strongly displeasing to Us — Father, Son, and Spirit.
Your first reading comes from Peter's message to the God-fearing Gentile named Cornelius. I sent Peter a vision, an angel, a representative of Cornelius, and the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit to prepare him for this important recognition: the Father wants all of His children, over every nation, in His family of faith.
Peter [to Cornelius and his household]:
It is clear to me now that God plays no favorites, that God accepts every person whatever his or her culture or ethnic background, that God welcomes all who revere Him and do right. You already know that God sent a message to the people of Israel; it was a message of peace, peace through Jesus the Anointed — Who is King of all people. You know this message spread through Judea, beginning in Galilee where John called people to be ritually cleansed through baptism. You know God identified Jesus as the uniquely chosen One by pouring out the Holy Spirit on Him, by empowering Him. You know Jesus went through the land doing good for all and healing all who were suffering under the oppression of the evil one, for God was with Him. My friends and I stand as witnesses to all Jesus did in the region of Judea and the city of Jerusalem. The people of our capital city killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him up on the third day and made it possible for us to see Him. Not everyone was granted this privilege, only those of us whom God chose as witnesses. We actually ate and drank with Him after His resurrection. He told us to spread His message to everyone and to tell them that He is the One Whom God has chosen to be Judge, to make a just assessment of all people — both living and dead. All the prophets tell us about Him and assert that every person who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through His name.Peter wasn't planning to stop at this point, but the Holy Spirit suddenly interrupted and came upon all the people who were listening. They began speaking in foreign languages (just as the Jewish disciples did on the Day of Pentecost), and their hearts overflowed in joyful praises to God. Peter's friends from Joppa — all of them Jewish, all circumcised — were stunned to see that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on outsiders.
Can anyone give any good reason not to ceremonially wash these people through baptism as fellow disciples? After all, it's obvious they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did on the Day of Pentecost.So he had them baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The new disciples asked him to stay for several more days.
The events at Cornelius' house brought great celebrations of joy among the angels. The message of the Father's grace demonstrated through My life, death, and resurrection was now spreading outside of its Jewish roots. While there was rejoicing in heaven, some on earth were not so happy. This problem of racial exclusivity had to be overcome.
By the time Peter and his friends from Joppa returned to Jerusalem, news about outsiders accepting God's message had already spread to the Lord's emissaries and believers there. Some of the circumcised believers didn't welcome Peter with joy, but with criticism.
Why did you violate divine law by associating with outsiders and sitting at the table with them for a meal? This is an outrage!Peter patiently told them what had happened, laying out in detail the whole story.
Cornelius and his house came to Me in faith and were baptized. They were made a part of My Christian family by their rebirth by the power of the Holy Spirit. The decisive events at Cornelius' house had been led by the Holy Spirit and witnessed by Jewish Christians from Joppa. This occasion provided the clear foundation that the Father had accepted Gentiles, so must His people! After awhile, the tension on this issue had to be addressed openly and clearly. The conference to resolve this issue happened in Jerusalem at a gathering of James, the apostles, Barnabas, Saul, elders in the church in Jerusalem, and church members. This decision was a major turning point for change in My church. Notice, however, that the favorable decision required the influence and leading of the Holy Spirit acting through the strong leadership of Barnabas, Saul (the apostle Paul), and James.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem, the church, the apostles, and the elders welcomed them [Barnabas and Saul] warmly; and they reported all they had seen God do. But there were some believers present who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. They stood up and asserted,
No, this is not acceptable. These people must be circumcised, and we must require them to keep the whole Mosaic law.The apostles and elders met privately to discuss how this issue should be resolved. There was a lot of debate, and finally Peter stood up.
My brothers, you all know that in the early days of our movement, God decided that I should be the one through whom the first outsiders would hear the good news and become believers. God knows the human heart, and He showed approval of their hearts by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did for us. In cleansing their hearts by faith, God has made no distinction between them and us. So it makes no sense to me that some of you are testing God by burdening His disciples with a load that neither our forefathers nor we have been able to carry. No, we all believe that we will be liberated through the grace of the Lord Jesus — they also will be rescued in the same way.There was silence among them while Barnabas and Paul reported all the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among outsiders. When they finished, James spoke.
My brothers, hear me. Simon Peter reminded us how God first included outsiders in His favor, taking people from among them for His name.(Acts 15:4-14)
Almighty God, may Your inclusive grace be seen in my genuine acceptance of other believers without barriers or prejudices. That is my commitment, and I pray that the Holy Spirit empowers me to have this as my daily lifestyle. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.