The Same Gift

How do you test a reported work of God to make sure it really is from God? Peter’s actions in preaching, baptizing, and accepting Gentile hospitality are so radically different that the Jews struggle to believe that he was really doing God’s work in Caesarea. These men are calling an apostle to account, and asking him to justify his actions. In making his defense, Peter sets the record straight for the Jews in Judea by giving an authoritative account of what happened, and in particular, by making three arguments for why his actions should be welcomed by the Church.

After recounting the vision from heaven, Peter argues first (v. 12) that the Holy Spirit gave him specific instructions to go with these men without making a distinction, second, that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, giving them the same gift that the disciples had been given in the upper room, and third, that he had remembered the words that Jesus had spoken. Peter had the guidance of the Spirit, he saw the gift of the Spirit, and he had the Word of the Lord.

Peter’s claim to the direct guidance of the Spirit of God defends him from the charge that ministering to the Gentiles was his idea. This is a believable explanation: it should not have been surprising for the Spirit to speak in this way to an apostle. But for all that’s right with this argument, it is insufficient by itself. Peter is reporting a private message between himself and the Holy Spirit. Muhammad claimed that. Joseph Smith claimed that. Those who are testing such claims need to require more than an assertion. They need proof.

And Peter has proof. Not only did he receive the guidance of the Spirit, but he and the six men who were with him bore witness to the gift of the Spirit. Since God was treating the Gentiles the same way as He had treated the Jews at Pentecost, Peter decided to treat them like that, too. He concluded that if he didn’t baptize the Gentiles and have fellowship with them, then he would be standing in God’s way.

Finally, Peter calls in a third witness – the Word of God. What happened at Cornelius’ house fulfilled exactly what Jesus had said would happen. “I remembered the Word of the Lord, promising this Spirit baptism, and if the Spirit is baptizing the Gentiles into Jesus, then I cannot stand in the way.” Jesus promised it and the Holy Spirit enacted it. Peter preached the gospel and God did the work.

And in light of these three powerful arguments, the Jews are convinced. The former critics begin to celebrate the fulfillment of Christ’s promise, rejoicing in the mighty work of the Holy Spirit and the glorious grace of God that reaches to the end of the earth.

Although certain things have changed in the post-apostolic era, this text still provides three important tests for evaluating a work that seems to be from God. First, the guidance of the Spirit. People engaged in ministry should be able to point to the Spirit-breathed Scriptures as authorization for their work, and they should at least claim that the Spirit is leading them in their ministry.

Second, the gift of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit does the unexpected, but His work is not unrecognizable. God has told us what it looks like when the Spirit shows up: love, joy, peace, patience… No one says “Jesus is Lord” except by the Spirit. Is someone submitting to Jesus’ lordship? That means the Spirit is at work!

Third, we need to remember God’s Words, and test everything by them. We need to be able to recall obscure passages from the book of Joel, like Peter did at Pentecost. That way, when we hear that many people who never heard the gospel before are praising God for the work of Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit, we will know to start glorifying God for granting them the same gift that He has given to us: repentance that leads to new life in Jesus Christ.

So listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Look for the work of the Holy Spirit. And remember the words of the Lord.

Posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 by CJ Bowen