In our last lesson, we discussed the shocking reality that the apostle Paul was nothing more than a Christian poser. His conversion to Christianity was simply not sincere, and we know this because of the overwhelming amount of false teachings that permeate his epistles. From his blatant rejection of the Divinity of Christ to his gross misrepresentation of Yahweh, Paul’s letters are filled with teaching which directly counters what Jesus and Yahweh teach elsewhere in Scripture (see The Great Offense of Paul: Rejecting the Divinity of Christ). Because the man claims to be passing on direct revelations from Christ, there is simply no defense we can give him. Anyone who claims that Christ told him to preach that Christ is not God is an obvious liar. And while Paul promotes the Old Testament as “God breathed,” he constantly misquotes and contradicts passages from it. If you want to misquote David, that’s one thing. But preaching total reversals of what Yahweh says? That’s inexcusable.
Paul is an arrogant spiritual rebel whose zealous promotion of Christ is solely driven by a carnal lust for glory, honor, and power in eternity. As we discussed in our previous lesson, Paul sees Christ as his equal: a mere mortal who proves that men can become like demigods if they just please Yahweh enough. It’s critical for you to understand that Paul is not promoting true Christianity. True Christianity begins with the reverential submission to three Gods: Yahweh, Jesus, and the magnificent Holy Spirit. What Paul is preaching is a cockeyed spinoff of monotheistic Judaism. He is preaching that Yahweh is still the only God, and that Christ is merely some human who Yahweh thinks very highly of, thus we should all be submitting to Christ as our human master in order to score goodies in eternity. It is self-exaltation, not rich communion with our Creators, that Paul is promoting. His end goal is to reign with Christ as Christ’s equal. Paul does not teach believers to cherish their relationship with their Creators, but rather to use their Creators for their own selfish ends. This is total garbage, and a highly offensive way to approach our Gods. If we listen to Paul, then instead of delighting in our Creators and valuing Them as our greatest Treasures in life, we’ll end up perpetually whining at Them to fulfill our carnal lusts. Look around at the Church today, and what do you see? A bunch of Christians praying an endless refrain of “gimme, gimme, gimme.” We’re so fixated on life being happy, comfortable, and convenient, that we’re never getting around to prizing our Gods. Always the focus is on valuing our Gods for what They can do for us instead of for who They are. This is what happens when we sit around exalting the apostle Paul like some amazing example of spiritual maturity.
CONTINUING ON IN ACTS 9
Now let’s pick up where we left off in Acts 9. Paul’s claim to have converted to Christianity has ticked off the Jewish leaders in Damascus [duh-MASS-cuss]. They knew that Paul came to their town to arrest troublesome Jesus followers, and yet now he’s turned out to be a dirty traitor. After three years of watching him disrupting the Jewish community, the leaders begin to make plans to murder Paul in cold blood. When other believers hear of the plot, they warn Paul and help him make a hasty escape. But now where should Paul go? Down to Jerusalem, of course, to get approved of by the big boys: Peter, John, and the other apostles. But wait—who gives a flip about getting a sign off from the apostles? What does the approval of humans have to do with one’s standing with God? Nothing, but remember, this whole Christian routine is about self-exaltation for Paul. And since the man has an insatiable appetite for glory, he isn’t content to suffer for Christ in some unnoticed corner. If he’s going to play Christian, then he wants to be a Christian with clout. So now it’s down to Jerusalem to dominate the current political powers of the Church.
Now Paul is a Pharisee, and the apostles are a bunch of bumpkins by comparison—at least that’s how ethnic Jews would see it. Paul is a theological superstar. He’s highly educated, well bred, and he was all chummy with the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin before his encounter with Christ. So when Paul shows up in Jerusalem, do the apostles feel like his equals? No, they feel totally outranked socially, politically, and theologically. Plus, Paul has a very domineering personality. The man is no shrinking violet. He exudes arrogance, and arrogance is a form of confidence. People are always impressed by confidence, so when Paul comes strutting into Christian headquarters in Jerusalem, everyone is instantly afraid of him.
When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer! Then Barnabas brought Saul to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen Jesus on the way to Damascus and how Jesus had spoken to Saul. Barnabas also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the Name of Jesus in Damascus. (Acts 9:26-27)
A few assurances from Barnabas is all it takes to win over the apostles and Paul is accepted into their group. When you realize who Paul is, this is yet another disturbing demonstration of how no one is seeking the wisdom of God. On what grounds is Paul being accepted as a believer? He gave some rousing speeches in Damascus. Well, whoop-dee-doo. Any speech that a strong personality like Paul makes is going to sound passionate, but so what? If we’re not asking God directly for discernment, are we going to make good judgment calls about who we should trust? Not hardly.
So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the Name of Jesus. He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to murder him. When the believers heard about this, they took him down to Caesarea [sess-uh-REE-uh] and sent him away to Tarsus [TAR-suss], his hometown. (Acts 9:28-30)
Now that Paul is strutting around with the apostles, he’s gaining mega clout in the eyes of other believers. The modern day parallel would be if some popular Christian pastor at a huge church brought in some famous rabbi and let him start preaching some of the sermons. Thanks to the Church’s ridiculous obsession with all things Jewish, Christians would be so impressed by the rabbi’s ability to speak Hebrew and quote Old Testament Scriptures that they would turn off their brains and just believe anything he said.
Among humans, popularity is very easy to gain if you just get some already popular person to endorse you. And yet is this an appropriate way for Christian leaders to behave? Once we start gaining a steady following, should we then sit around scheming about how we can manipulate our followers for our own selfish gain? Suppose we know that you are a fan of our material. Should we then try to take advantage of your trust in us by urging you to blindly extend that trust to any products and people we promote? Certainly not. This is an obnoxious way for Christian leaders to behave, which is why you won’t find us promoting any products, organizations or people in our material. It is never acceptable for Christian leaders to promote their own discernment as superior to others. If we tell you, “Buy So-and-so’s latest book—it’s brilliant,” what are we really saying? We’re saying, “Just trust our assessment of this clown’s book. Don’t use your own brain. We liked it, and we’re superior to you, so you ought to like it as well.” Or if we tell you, “Hey, now that we can see you’re feeling inspired by our material, guess what? We’re going to start charging you to read it—that way we can make money off of your personal pursuit of God. Isn’t this fun?” What kind of garbage is this?
In the age of the internet, how can Christian leaders justify charging for their insights about God? If you really think that God has downloaded some life changing kernel of truth into your mind, where do you get off saying to your fellow man, “Ha, ha, God told the secret to me, not you, so now if you want to know about it, you’ll have to pay me.” What do you think God thinks of such disgusting behavior? How do you think He feels about Christian leaders trying to charge others for truth? Since when does God set a monetary price on spiritual insights? He doesn’t. So the next time you see some Christian leader trying to sell God to you or urging you to blindly trust in some friend of theirs, you need to recognize such behavior as the obnoxious abuse of influence that it is. It is never okay to encourage souls to skip the step of asking God for verification because you’re promoting yourself as His flawless interpreter. It’s never okay to demand payment before giving souls access to something which you have no ownership of. Human beings do not own God or His wisdom, and no fathead with a fancy title can block you from gaining access to God. You have just as much access to God as anyone else, so there is no excuse for you to not check with God yourself before you accept anything that another human says.
We’re moving slowly through Acts because the book is full of horrible leadership examples which you need to be recognizing. Don’t miss the foolishness of the apostles as they so quickly accept Paul just because Barnabas gave him a thumbs up. Don’t miss the fact that none of these people are bothering to seek God’s wisdom before making their decisions. How does God react when we’re refusing to respect Him by treating Him as our only reliable Source of truth? He intentionally leads us into foolishness—this is something Yahweh teaches us in the Old Testament. So while our author Luke is painting a rosy picture of everything, what’s really happening is that the apostles have just accepted a total poser into the highest tier of leadership in the Church and they are now going around promoting him by letting him publicly preach in their presence. What a bunch of dingdongs. And yet the situation could still be salvaged if the non-leaders were personally checking with God about everything Paul is preaching. But of course they’re not. What we have here in Acts is not a sea of true believers, but a whole bunch of posers with only a small minority of authentic Christians in the mix. Among the true believers, most of them aren’t bothering to seek God, thus we’ve got bad sermons rolling off the lips of the apostles and a flock that just swallows it all whole without ever questioning it. What a mess.
Now Luke’s account of Paul’s movements leave out a lot of information. Luke makes it sound like Paul went up to Damascus, got saved, and returned to Jerusalem a short while later. Yet according to Paul, he actually traveled west from Damascus and spent time in Arabia before returning to Damascus and staying there for another three years. This time allowed him to refine his style and give a lot of thought as to what his personal goals were. So the fellow who returns to Jerusalem is not brand new to the Christian game. He’s got a well-polished act by the time he gets to Jerusalem, and yet his reputation as a Christian persecutor is still intact enough to initially frighten all of the believers there.
According to comments Paul makes in Galatians 1, Peter was the first apostle he met in Jerusalem, and he hung out with Peter and Jesus’ brother James for fifteen days. That James was probably the author of the epistle James, and he was definitely not the James who was one of the original twelve disciples. This is quite strategic, for by winning over head honcho Peter, Paul won over the trust of all of the other apostles and believers.
Paul summarizes his conversion to Christianity at the start of Galatians. Listen to how he emphasizes that he was personally taught by Jesus Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.
You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted Yahweh’s Church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors.
But even before I was born, Yahweh chose me and called me by His marvelous grace. Then it pleased Him to reveal His Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.
When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus.
Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord Jesus’ brother. I declare before Yahweh that what I am writing to you is not a lie.
After that visit I went north into the provinces of Syria and Cilicia [sill-IH-see-yuh]. And still the Christians in the churches in Judea didn’t know me personally. All they knew was that people were saying, “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!” And they praised Yahweh because of me. (Gal. 1:11-24)
This is the problem with Paul: the man swears that he is passing on insights which he received directly from Christ, and yet as we discussed in our previous lesson, his preaching is full of lies about both Christ and Yahweh.
Now here’s an important question for you to ponder: is Paul modeling good leadership with all of this boasting about how he is passing on direct words from God? Is his language in this passage going to encourage or discourage souls from thinking critically? Look around at the Church today, and you’ll see that the waving of holy titles and dramatic testimonies are fabulous ways of getting souls to stop thinking. The reality is that calling yourself a prophet and describing how bright Jesus’ face glowed when He was standing before you in your bedroom last night can be a very useful way of making your listeners feel too intimidated to contradict you. Once a man says, “I’m passing on the very words of God,” many souls feel like they are sinning against God Himself if they dare to question what that man says. It is this kind of mindset that leads to dangerous doctrines like the Catholic Church and pope being incapable of error when they are teaching on faith and morals. The Catholics aren’t the only ones to promote the concept of infallibility among humans. There are plenty of other denominations in which it is considered unacceptable for the laypeople to ever question the teaching of certain leaders. And yet the reality is that there is no place a man can stand and no topic he can speak on which will guarantee that everything he says is right. Putting on fancy robes doesn’t turn a man into a well-spring of truth, and neither does standing behind a pulpit or being called by some holy sounding title. God is your only Source of truth, and God intentionally keeps humans a mix of good and bad in order to steer you away from becoming overly dependent on them. Remember that Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are very jealous by Nature and They’re not going to tell you to give any mortal the same degree of trust, devotion, and admiration that you’re supposed to be giving to Them. Our Gods must come first, and that means all human teaching must be questioned. You must question us, Paul, Peter, your pastor, the pope, and every other source of teaching in your life. Until God Himself confirms the truth of something to your soul, you have no grounds on which you can claim it is true.
Now in his letter to the Galatians, Paul is just being manipulative when he goes on and on about how his messages come straight from the lips of Jesus. It is inappropriate for leaders to draw this kind of attention to their personal dynamics with God, because God leads us all differently, and waxing on about the specific manner in which He talks to you right before you launch into a bunch of spiritual instruction is a cheap way of trying to make your listeners feel too intimidated to question you. If the topic being discussed is the manner in which God speaks to people, then it might be appropriate to share some personal details. But once a leader knows he has gained influence over people, he should be taking extra precautions not to abuse that influence.
Christian leaders are supposed to be encouraging souls to move closer to God in their own lives. Since talking to God directly and developing discernment skills is such a critical part of that journey, how is it helping the flock to boast of how pure your messages are? Don’t wave credentials in people’s faces, because if your messages are as pure as you think they are, God will make that evident to people without your help. Spiritual instruction should be presented clearly, and then the flock should be challenged to question what they’ve been told in the privacy of their own souls. Debating with other humans is useless because other humans are not the final authority on truth. Other humans need to be kept out of the equation as much as possible if any real learning is going to occur, and this is why we don’t allow our readers to post feedback on our articles. Good or bad, the opinions of other created beings shouldn’t be carrying any weight in your search for truth. God is the One you need to be looking to for guidance in life, and knowing biographical details about your human teachers is only going to distract you from listening to God. “She must know what she’s talking about because she went to such-and-such school. He must be right because he says an angel told him all of this. She couldn’t be lying because she says she was in the middle of a worship session when this revelation came into her mind. He has to be telling the truth because he says that God speaks to him face to face.” In the Church, this is the kind of useless logic you’re encouraged to use, and on all sides, leaders are trying to win your trust by telling you a bunch of irrelevant facts about their personal dynamics with God. Of course you have no way of knowing if what they’re telling you is true, a dramatized version of the truth, or a blatant lie. But what you do know is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if Paul says he spoke to Jesus, went to Heaven, or sat in Yahweh’s lap: Paul is a human and humans are not who we look to for truth in life. Who do we look to? Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Be honest: are you impressed by Paul’s boasting in Galatians 1? Is part of you saying, “Wow, he spoke to Jesus Himself, so how can he be wrong?” If so, you need to ask your Gods to help you get human beings in proper perspective. We Christians are not supposed to be admiring the created, only our three glorious Creators.
PETER GOES TO LYDDA
Now Tarsus is a good ways from Jerusalem, so it makes for a decent hideout for Paul. Meanwhile, Peter decides it’s time to move on as well, so he heads off towards the coast. When he reaches the town of Lydda [LIHD-uh], he meets a man named Aeneas [uh-NAY-us] who has been paralyzed for eight years. Everyone in the area knows of poor Aeneas’ bedridden condition, so when God heals Aeneas, it creates quite a stir.
Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up, and roll up your sleeping mat!” And he was healed instantly. Then the whole population of Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas walking around, and they turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:34-35)
Are these people really submitting to God, or are they just thrilled that a miracle man has come to town? We’d like to take the optimistic view, but it’s just not supportable. With the biblical records filled with complaints from both Yahweh and Jesus about how few and far between sincere believers are, we can hardly accept the ludicrous notion that every single soul in Lydda decides to sincerely submit to God the very moment Peter is in their midst. Remember, no one needs miracles to get right with God. If these people were so interested in truth, they could have been seeking Yahweh in the privacy of their own souls long before now. And with Jesus complaining so much throughout the Gospel books about the spiritual rebellion of the Jews, we simply can’t accept that here in Joppa, everyone’s on fire for God. It’s more like they’re saying anything they think Peter wants to hear in hopes that he’ll keep the miracles coming.
One of the many things that makes Acts such a disturbing little book is that neither Luke nor the apostles are acknowledging the widespread problem of folks feigning interest in God just to get some earthly perks. Every time any fuss is made over miracles, the early Church leaders rush to label everyone as “saved.” This is certainly not the kind of leadership Jesus modeled. When He was being mobbed by thousands, Jesus didn’t just smile and declare the masses to be right in the eyes of God. Instead, He kept blasting them with pride pricking truths and harsh criticisms. The difference of course is that Jesus is God Almighty, and as God, He can see into people’s hearts. Yahweh is also God, which is why He was never fooled by the insincere religious motions that the Old Testament Jews went through. Our Gods call it like it is, and when it comes to humans seriously seeking Them, the numbers have always been very sad. So are we really to believe that here in Acts, the very nature of humanity has undergone some radical change and that the same folks Jesus was always chewing out for their spiritual defiance are now suddenly filled with a sincere desire to please God? No, this is too absurd to accept—especially when the trigger that always sparks these mass conversion events is some healing miracle.
People have always schmoozed those who can make their troubles disappear. Miracles will always be popular, regardless of where they come from. The way Peter is projecting sincerity onto these mobs is absurd. But is Peter’s spiritual discernment really so lacking or is he perhaps so off on being the miracle man that he is just parking his brains and believing what his ego wants to be true? Likely the second option is what’s really going on. Remember that the twelve disciples spent years dreaming of all the power and status they’d acquire once Jesus seized the throne in Jerusalem. This instant popularity that Peter is getting is a welcome treat after his hopes of being Mr. Big Stuff in Israel were so brutally dashed. In the Gospels, we found the disciples getting into arguments over who would be the greatest once Jesus established His earthly kingdom. Now Peter is being applauded, praised, and no doubt provided with a bunch of nice accommodations just because he says a few dramatic words now and then and watches God heal someone. How pleased would you be if you spent most of your life feeling overlooked and underappreciated only to suddenly have hundreds and thousands of people hanging on your every word? After a while, a guy starts believing that he really is as fabulous as all of his fans are making him out to be. And then he starts describing reality the way he wants it to be. All of these people in Lydda aren’t just trying to butter Peter up for another miracle. They’re sincerely converting to Christianity. Right.
PETER GOES TO JOPPA
Joppa [JAW-puh] is a port city that the prophet Jonah fled to when he was trying to get out of obeying Yahweh’s command to go to Nineveh. Jonah’s naughty escapade happened over 800 years before the days of Acts, but the ancient city of Joppa is still around and it’s not so far from Lydda. So when a very popular woman in Joppa who is named Tabitha falls ill and dies, the Christians aren’t about to take a God honoring approach by perhaps praying and asking God to help them all grow closer to Him through the loss. Why bother with growth when a quick fix is available? We’re told that believers from Joppa rush on over to Lydda to hunt the miracle man down. You see, Tabitha was the sort of sweet do-gooder who was always making other people’s lives easier. So losing her is a real bummer. Of course Peter comes, and when God raises Tabitha from the dead, of course Peter interprets everyone’s enthusiasm as evidence that many more people are turning to God.
The news spread through the whole town, and many believed in the Lord. And Peter stayed a long time in Joppa, living with Simon, a tanner of hides. (Acts 9:42-43)
Imagine what hero points Peter scored by healing sweet Tabitha. Why should he rush to leave this ego stroking tank? It’s no surprise that Peter decides to park in Joppa for “a long time” and it takes special prodding from God to get him to leave.
CORNELIUS & PETER’S VISION
As we start Acts 10, we learn about a Roman army captain named Cornelius. Cornelius is described as a devout believer in Yahweh, and this is easy to believe. You see, when you’re not an ethnic Jew, you have to try a lot harder. With ethnic Jews constantly snubbing you as inferior Gentile scum, you’re never going to get that you have any chance with the God of Israel unless you are sincerely seeking Yahweh in the privacy of your own soul and giving Him the chance to tell you how He really feels about you. We know that Yahweh will not turn away any soul who is sincerely seeking Him, and He has clearly given Cornelius some help, because our Roman captain and his entire Gentile household are revering the real God. Remember that the Romans worshiped a whole pantheon of gods—their own plus a bunch more that they’d stolen from the Greeks. So there was no reason to go borrowing deities from a bunch of stuck up Jews who treated them so hatefully, yet here we have little Cornelius praying every day to the Jewish God.
One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of Yahweh coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.
Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel.
And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by Yahweh as an offering! Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.”
As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa. (Acts 10:3-8)
Here is yet another fine example of our Gods embracing those who sincerely seek Them. Cornelius already has his own little revival happening with his family members and one of his soldiers all getting onboard with Judaism. And now see how Yahweh expresses His pleasure with Cornelius’ soul attitude. It’s time to give Cornelius some help with this changing of Covenants. Of course Yahweh could educate Cornelius directly, but this is a good excuse to get Peter out of Joppa before the man’s ego is totally out of control. But God also knows that Peter isn’t going to love the idea of leaving his fine situation in Joppa to go talk to some Gentile yuck. So as Cornelius’ messengers are closing in on Peter’s location, Yahweh gets Peter in a pre-lunch prayer session and shocks him with a disturbing vision.
The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a Voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”
“No, Lord!” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”
But the Voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if Yahweh has made it clean.” The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)
This vision packs a powerful point that we Christians need to not miss: our Gods can change Their rules whenever They want to. Under the Old Covenant, Yahweh made quite a fuss over what foods people could and couldn’t eat. In this vision, He is intentionally showing Peter animals which Peter knows are off limits. But when Jesus showed up, He declared Yahweh’s dietary laws to be null and void. Jesus said that it didn’t matter at all what a man swallowed, for God judges the heart.
“Listen to Me, everyone, and understand this: What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Mt. 15:10)
What’s a good Jew to do when his leader is declaring some of Yahweh’s Laws to be irrelevant? Jesus came across as quite the irreverent Fellow at times. After all, where does He get off deciding for Yahweh that some of the laws of the Torah no longer apply? So far, Peter hasn’t taken Jesus’ rebellious teaching on the subject of food very seriously. Peter is still being a good little Jew and avoiding those unclean foods. But now here’s Yahweh showing him a bunch of off limit animals and telling him to eat up. How does Peter respond? Do we see him modeling reverential submission to God by saying, “Okay, God, You’re the Boss. What You say goes”? No, we find him arguing with God. “No, Lord.” Hm. You really need to be cautious around any spiritual role model who says “no” to God.
Now of course Peter finds the imagery in this dream shocking and repulsive. He thinks that by protesting, he’s being loyal to God. We find Christians today responding the same way anytime God tries to share some new insight with them that they find upsetting. The Bible isn’t perfect? No, Lord! God lies? No, Lord! God is the Origin of both good and evil? No, Lord! How far are we going to get with God if we keep reacting like this? At some point we need to remember Who is talking to us and stop with the protests. Our Gods are wild and They have a long history of changing Their rules. One minute Yahweh swears He’s the only God in existence, the next minute, He’s saying Jesus is His Equal. Our Gods are wild, and when They start upsetting us with Their unexpected plot twists, we need to do more listening than protesting (see Present Convictions vs. Past Commands).
To drive the point home to Peter’s resistant mind, Yahweh repeats this vision of unclean animals three times. Then the Holy Spirit explains to Peter what its metaphorical meaning is, and Peter shares that meaning with Cornelius after he agrees to go with the captain’s escorts.
They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled. (Acts 10:24-27)
Like the Jews, the Romans were a superstitious lot who physically bowed to communicate respect. Cornelius is playing it safe by worshiping this Jew who seems to be associated with supernatural beings, but Peter rightly refuses the worship and Cornelius adjusts. We then learn that Cornelius has gathered a crowd together in his home to witness this strange sequence of events with him. These must be trusted friends, for a man in Cornelius’ position wouldn’t want to boast of having Jewish company.
Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But Yahweh has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” (Acts 10:28-29)
Peter’s culture has taught him to view Gentiles as inferior scum. It’s the same with Paul, and his great disdain of non-ethnic Jews comes through loud and clear in his letter to the church in Rome (see More Lies from Paul: God Loves Jews More Than Gentiles). But here in Acts 10, Peter is doing well to actually listen to Yahweh and interface with a group of folks who he would normally want nothing to do with. When you spend your life treating other ethnicities like germs, it’s uncomfortable being in such close proximity to them.
Cornelius now explains his encounter with a supernatural being in dazzling clothes four days earlier. He assumes that God has given Peter some message for him which he is most eager to receive. Well, Peter’s mind is still reeling from the shock of having Yahweh say Gentiles aren’t really scum after all, and as Peter answers Cornelius, we hear him marveling over the concept that Yahweh really isn’t a raging bigot.
Peter replied, “I see very clearly that Yahweh shows no favoritism. In every nation He accepts those who fear Him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with Yahweh through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. And you know that Yahweh anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for Yahweh was with Him.
“And we apostles are witnesses of all that Jesus did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put Jesus to death by hanging Him on a cross, but Yahweh raised Jesus to life on the third day. Then Yahweh allowed Jesus to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom Yahweh had chosen in advance to be His witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with Jesus after He rose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the One appointed by Yahweh to be the Judge of all—the living and the dead. Jesus is the One all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His Name.” (Acts 10:39-43)
Even though Peter is demeaning Jesus by saying He had to be “allowed” by Yahweh to appear to people, and by crediting Yahweh with bringing Jesus back to life, at least Peter is grasping that Jesus is going to be judging us all in eternity. And at least he’s grasping that it is no longer possible to be accepted by Yahweh without submission to Jesus. But his language still needs a lot of improvement, and it’s certainly not acceptable for us Christians to talk like this today. Peter was living during the transition of Yahweh’s Covenants and he’s in the middle of a major theological shift. We can’t use that excuse today. Jesus is God Almighty, not some favored human, and Jesus really doesn’t need Yahweh to give Him power, help Him out of graves, or grant Him permission to do things. Peter is not describing Jesus as Yahweh’s equal, but as Yahweh’s limited subordinate. This is an unacceptable way to speak of our glorious Lord.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of Yahweh.
Then Peter responded, “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And Peter commanded them to be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay for a few days. (Acts 10:44-48)
Notice how Peter is talking, not touching people, when the Holy Spirit makes His move. This is a very refreshing change after seeing the apostles trying to associate their physical touch with the Holy Spirit coming on someone. No, the Holy Spirit really doesn’t need help to do His God thing, and all of this amazement over Yahweh accepting Gentiles really demonstrates how out of touch these Jews are with who Yahweh really is. Yahweh has always taught that all ethnicities are welcome. He says this in the Torah quite clearly, yet it’s blowing these Jewish minds that the Holy Spirit would actually come on all of these Gentiles. Also, notice how Jewish Luke refers to Peter’s Jewish companions as “the circumcised believers.” It’s not like anyone is dropping their drawers to prove that they’ve obeyed Yahweh’s command to get circumcised. Interestingly, Yahweh has arranged it so that this particular sign of the Covenant is in a private, hidden place most of the time. So when Luke refers to Jews as circumcised, it’s an assumption he’s making. And when ethnic Jews refer to Gentiles as “uncircumcised,” that’s both an assumption and an insult.
Happily, Peter chooses not to let his personal astonishment prevent him from honoring God. Since Yahweh has clearly accepted these people, they might as well be baptized. Of course everything’s happening all backwards. Peter is used to the baptizing and laying on of hands happening before the coming of the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is in a pattern breaking mood, so He’s intentionally throwing the Jews into confusion by dramatically coming on the Gentiles without the usual rituals. It’s a great exercise for the Jews, and it’s a great reminder for us today that our Gods are wild, and They’ll do whatever They want whenever They want.
Now as thrilled as Cornelius and his pals are, this hobnobbing with Gentiles is going to cause Peter grief when he returns to the not so open minded believers in Jerusalem. Remember that here in Acts, the term “believer” is being grossly misapplied. Most of the people being referred to as believers in Acts as well as in the epistles aren’t really saved, nor do they care at all about pleasing God. You shouldn’t expect mature attitudes from spiritual rebels. You should expect carnality and sniping, and sniping is what Peter is going to get when he and his pals return to “Christian” headquarters in Jerusalem.
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