ACTS: UNDERSTANDING OUR ORIGIN
Let's begin with a brief review of last Sunday night's study. I called your
attention to two basic points. Point one: when Christianity began in early Acts, all
Christians were Jewish. When the church began, it was completely Jewish. No, all
Christians were not descendants of Abraham because some baptized believers were
Jewish proselytes. But, all baptized believers were followers of Judaism.
Point two: all these first Christians who accepted Jesus as God's promised
Messiah understood God was keeping His promise to Israel by sending and
resurrecting Jesus. That was the apostle Peter's understanding. These Jewish
Christians understood in Christ God gave them the opportunity to be the people God
always intended them to be. The only distinction between the lives of the Jew and the
Jewish Christian was the Jewish Christians' faith in Jesus as God's promised Messiah,
promised Christ. There was no sense of God beginning a new religious movement.
There was the understanding that God was keeping His promise to Israel.
- Tonight our study needs to begin with an understanding of the events in
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking
His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the
Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He said to them,
"But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the
living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood
did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will
give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been
bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."
- Jesus' ministry caused an enormous amount of Jewish questioning.
- Jesus' teachings and acts simply had to be explained; they could not be
ignored; there had to be an explanation for Jesus.
- Jesus asked his twelve disciples how people explained him, and they
- The disciples had to explain Jesus to themselves as surely as did the
multitudes, so Jesus asked his disciples for their explanation.
- Peter said he was the Christ.
- Jesus said God revealed that to him and gave Peter the keys to the
- The basic use of a key then was to open a door; Peter would open the
doors of God's kingdom.
- I want you to see what a huge issue this was in the first century: must Christian
do things Jewishly? Understanding this first century problem tremendously
impacts us today.
- In Acts 2 Peter was the principle spokesman, and he used a key to open a
door to God's kingdom for all people living by Judaism.
- All Jewish people and all proselytes could enter God's kingdom.
- Those who entered by responding to Jesus as God's promised Christ
understood God was keeping His promise to Israel.
- I used statements in Acts last week to show you how Jewish the church
in Jerusalem was.
- In Acts 10 the Lord sent Peter to use the second key to open God's
kingdom to people who were not Jews or proselytes. Turn to Acts 10.
- Cornelius was a "God fearer."
- He believed in the God the Jews followed.
- He was devout, prayerful, and benevolent.
- But he was not a circumcised convert to Judaism [does his falling
down before Peter to worship (reverence) Peter sound like something
a Jew would do?].
- I ask you to note how much convincing the Lord had to do to convince Peter to
teach Cornelius about the Jewish Messiah Jesus (10:10-16).
- God prepared Peter's mind to consider "unthinkable" thoughts by the vision
repeated to Peter three times.
- Each time Peter was commanded by the Lord to kill and eat something
that was in violation of the Jew's dietary code.
- Each time Peter rejected the Lord's command [not even God could
change the rules for Peter; God was bound by His own rules.]
- Each time Peter affirmed to the Lord that he had never eaten anything
common or unclean [no profane food had ever entered his mouth!].
- Each time the Lord told Peter the he was not to consider what God had
cleansed to be unholy.
- To use my terminology, the whole event blew Peter's mind; he was
"greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might
- From his Jewish understanding of God and scripture, the whole event
made no sense; it simply confused him.
- As Peter came down from the roof and the vision experience, the Spirit (Holy
Spirit) told him three men were looking for him (10:19,20).
- He was to accompany the men without misgivings because the Spirit had
- They explained to Peter they were there because their master was
following the instruction of an angel.
- These Jews invited these non-Jews to spend the night.
- The next day Peter went with the men to the home of Cornelius.
- In Acts 10:34, 35 Peter made this statement:
"I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in
every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him."
- In our words, Peter said, "I got it! Now I understand! It is not a matter of
nationality or heritage! God will welcome any person who reverences
Him and does what is right! The restoration of Israel is not exclusively
for the Jewish people and proselytes."
- Peter taught Cornelius and the group Cornelius brought to his home.
- Peter brought Jewish witnesses to observe everything [does that give
you a clue as to how sensitive and serious this matter was?] (10:45).
- The witnesses saw the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these
uncircumcised non-Jews (Gentiles) and were totally astounded. What
happened was far beyond any thought they ever had.
- For the second time, the restoration of Israel (God's promise)
included matters they had never considered.
- Remember I shared with you the six confirming signs of the
restoration of Israel (restoring the fortunes of Israel) in my first lesson
in this series.
- One of those six signs was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
- They witnessed an undeniable sign of the restoration of the fortunes
of Israel being poured out on uncircumcised people who were not
- They are absolutely astounded; God was moving the "boundary
- Peter, with his new understanding of what was happening, asked the
Jewish witnesses if they could deny these people immersion in water?
- They cannot, and Cornelius and those gathered with him were
- Do you understand why at first Peter was confused by the incident?
- Now look at chapter 11.
- The apostles and the Jewish Christians throughout Judea were very
unhappy with Peter for his decision to associate with uncircumcised people
- Note they, including the apostles, did not approve of Peter eating with
- There is an issue here more fundamental than the baptism into Christ.
- Peter entered the home of an uncircumcised person.
- Peter ate with uncircumcised people.
- Jewish people, including Jewish Christians, could not do that!
- Peter in orderly sequence explains why he did what he did (11:4).
- He told them about the vision, and that was not enough.
- He told them about the Spirit's instruction, and that was not enough.
- He told them about the six Jewish witnesses, and that was not enough.
- He told them about the angel's instruction to Cornelius, and that was not
- He told them about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these
uncircumcised people, and that was enough (remember the six signs.)
We would conclude that settled the question, but it did not.
- I want to point out three things to you quickly that we will likely consider in more
- The first thing: in my judgment the fact that Peter associated with the
uncircumcised Cornelius and his friends radically changed Peter's
relationship with the Jerusalem church.
- Peter was the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7,8)
- Consider Peter's popularity prior to the conversion of Cornelius.
Acts 5:14,15 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were
constantly added to their number, to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the
streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might
fall on any one of them.
- After the conversion of Cornelius, Acts never recorded Peter's popularity
again, never spoke of Peter in a leadership role in the Jerusalem church.
- My point is not that Peter ceased being a Jewish leader.
- My point is that Peter became suspect in the thinking of many Jewish
Christians: Peter moved the "boundary markers."
- The second thing: association and conversion of uncircumcised people
remained a major issue in the Jerusalem church among Jewish Christians
long after Cornelius was baptized.
- When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey,
they returned to Jewish Christians from Judea telling non-Jewish
Christians in Antioch that faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism
was not enough for salvation: "Unless you are circumcised according to
the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).
- Paul and Barnabas could not resolve the issue even through great
dissension and great debate.
- This issue had to be referred to the apostles and leaders of the
- The end result was what is called the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15.
- Even that decision did not resolve the question.
- The third thing: the pressure was so intense and so great that the apostle
Peter "caved in" to the pressure (Galatians 2:11-14).
- When the apostle Peter visited the non-Jewish (gentile) church at
Antioch, he associated and ate with uncircumcised Christians
- But when Peter heard that a group of Jewish Christians from Judea were
coming, he withdrew his association from uncircumcised Christians.
- He did so because he was afraid of the Jewish Christians [the part of the
circumcision] from Judea.
- Peter's fear made him a hypocrite.
- His hypocrisy was so influential that the rest of the Jewish Christians in
Antioch withdrew their association from uncircumcised Christians, and
even influenced Barnabas to do so.
- In a very straightforward manner Paul condemned Peter in a face-to-face
confrontation for his hypocrisy--he knew better!
I want you to realize this was an enormous salvation issue in the first century church.
Many Jewish Christians were very upset because they concluded that the restoration
of Israel excluded people who did not adopt Jewish practices. They were convinced
that Paul had no right to move the "boundary markers"! Certainly gentile people could
be saved. But the only way that could happen was if they did things the way Jews did
things. Faith in and response to Jesus Christ was not enough. It had to be done the
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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Evening Sermon, 21 July 2002
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