Summary: The Spirit descends upon Gentile believers before Peter is ale to finish her sermon. When Peter shares what happened with the church leaders they realize that the kingdom of God is open to more people than they had first imagined.
In the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit moves in a mighty, miraculous way. On the day of Pentecost, which is the birth of the Christian church, over 3,000 people responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ and became Christians. A man who had been lame from birth was healed and began to walk, leap, and praise God. Demons were exorcised, and people were raised from the dead. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of the Spirit’s power, however, was the transformation within the early Christian Church itself. It was a seismic change that continues to send tremors throughout the church today.
Predicated upon his own holiness, God has been separating out for himself since creation a people to follow, in faith, his pattern of holiness … God’s command to follow his pattern of holiness is of necessity a call to imitate his moral holiness, and God’s people must separate from anything that hinders them from pursuing after moral holiness. Thus, God’s desire was to call out a people who were separated from anything that God prohibited and exclusively devoted to God’s moral character and will.
The Jews lived out God’s call of separation by prohibiting marriages to other tribes and nations. Joshua’s burned earth policy of destroying everything in the path of Israel’s invading army was meant to keep the Jews separate from any foreign influences. (The burned earth policy was not followed through and the Old Testament records centuries of the Jews turning from Yahweh and following other false, foreign gods.)
God’s call for Israel to be a light to all nations and to bring all nations in to a worship of the one, true God was interpreted by the Israelites as meaning that any non-Jew who wanted to truly worship God must first become a Jew.
By the time of Jesus separation was a central doctrine of the Jewish faith. If a Jew came into contact with a gentile, that person was ritually unclean for a period of time; he or she was not allowed to worship. The separation doctrine also fostered an animosity toward anyone who was not a Jew. Gentiles were considered almost sub-human, while Jews thought of themselves as the elite of humankind.
All of this changed with the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul writes that everyone is a sinner and everyone has fallen short of the glory of God. John proclaims in his gospel that God love the world so much that he gave his son so that everyone who believed might be saved. All humankind was in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. Suddenly the key word was “inclusion” rather than “exclusion.”
Peter precipitated a crisis when he baptized Cornelius, who was a Roman soldier, and his household. Obviously Cornelius was not a Jew and according to the Old Testament standard he and his household could not experience salvation. In the eyes of many earlier Christians, Peter had also desecrated himself by associating with gentile heathen. Peter understood that God was up to something and he proceeded to tell his story.