Summary: The ways of the Holy Spirit are not always exactly the same.
THE GENTILE PENTECOST
On one occasion, king David inquired of the LORD, ‘Shall I go up against the Philistines?’ To which the LORD replied, ‘Go up,’ and David defeated the Philistines (2 Samuel 5:19). Threatened again by the same enemy, the same David asked the same LORD the same question: and this time the answer was ‘you shall not go up’: but wait until you hear marching in the tops of the mulberry trees. ‘For then the LORD will go out before you’ (2 Samuel 5:23-24).
This illustrates to us that the ways of the Holy Spirit are not always the same.
At the Jerusalem Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), the three phenomena of a wind-like noise, fire-like tongues and coherent words in strange languages heralded the dawn of the age of the Spirit. The Apostle Peter preached, and people received the word and were baptised (Acts 2:41).
At the Samaritan Pentecost (Acts 8:5-8; Acts 8:14-17), the evangelist Philip preached, and the Apostles sent Peter and John to confirm those who had received the word and been baptised. These two Apostles laid their hands upon them, ‘and they received the Holy Ghost.’
In the precursor to the Gentile Pentecost (Acts 8:36-37), the devout Ethiopian eunuch interrupted Philip’s one-to-one sermon to ask, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptised?’ And upon a short confession of faith, the evangelist baptised him there.
In our present passage (Acts 10:44-48), when Peter preached to the household of Cornelius, the sovereign Holy Spirit “fell on all them which heard the word” DURING the Sermon, and these people “spoke with tongues, and magnified God.” In this instance, baptism was administered afterwards.
Luke tells us that it was “while Peter was still speaking” that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” (Acts 10:44). It is evident that they had believed that word, too: for that is exactly the point in Peter’s sermon where this divine intervention took place (viz. Acts 10:43).
The Jewish believers who accompanied Peter to Cornelius’ house were astonished, “because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon Gentiles also” (Acts 10:45). But Peter had already learned that God is ‘without partiality’, from his earlier vision (cf. Acts 10:15), and had underlined the point at the beginning of his sermon (Acts 10:34).
The signs following were “speaking in tongues and magnifying God” (Acts 10:46), both of which had also occurred at Jerusalem (Acts 2:4; Acts 2:11). The Holy Spirit Himself was announcing to the world that the barrier between Jew and Gentile was surely broken down! Babel was reversed!
Peter’s explanation of this event is telling. ‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning’ (Acts 11:15). Since God had evidently baptised them with His Holy Spirit, who was Peter to withstand God (Acts 11:17)? Can anyone, he asked, forbid them water to be baptised (Acts 10:47)?
This passage stands amid an interchange of hospitality between Jews and Gentiles. Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, sent for Peter the Jew. After his vision, Peter the Jew entertained the Roman Centurion’s messengers. Then Cornelius the Roman Centurion entertained Peter and his Jewish friends at his own home. After their baptism, Cornelius and his family and compatriots pressed upon Peter to remain for a few days, no doubt to learn more about their new-found faith.
Let us fulfil our commission in proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ and worshipping the name of our great God. But God forbid that we should ever seek to put a straitjacket upon the Holy Spirit, telling God who He may or may not save. As Peter’s inquisitors also concluded, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life’ (Acts 11:18).