This is the final part of a long story that began at the first verse of chapter 10. It is the story of Peter and the Roman centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius was what they called a “God Fearer”. This meant that he loved the Lord God Yahweh, and followed many of the commandments. The commandments that God Fearers did not observe were circumcision and the dietary rules. But Cornelius was a very devout man, generously giving alms in the community, and praying constantly. The Holy Spirit called Peter to visit Cornelius, and witness about Jesus. In the verses preceding today’s passage, Peter is summarizing his sermon.
- The Holy Spirit “fell on all who heard the word”. As we will read in verse 46, the people of Cornelius’ household started speaking in tongues. This was always certain proof that the Holy Spirit had blessed the new believers. (v. 44)
- When John uses the phrase “the circumcised believers”, he is referring to Jewish Christians. A group of them came with Peter to Caesarea. They couldn’t believe their eyes—these Gentiles were given the gift of tongues by the Holy Spirit! (vv. 45-46)
- Peter asks a big question of those in his entourage—“What’s to stop us from baptizing these Gentiles? The Holy Spirit has already decided that for us!” (My paraphrase.) (v. 47)
- Peter and Company stayed there for a few days. One assumes they were teaching them about Jesus, telling them stories, etc. (v. 48)
Except for Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, Christianity at this time existed exclusively within the Jewish community. Then, the Holy Spirit came to Peter, and gave him an assignment. He was to preach the good news to a Gentile. Not just any Gentile, but to a Roman officer. This trip was not well received back in Jerusalem. (Acts 11) But Peter stood firm. Because of this and Paul’s ministry, we Gentiles are able to say “Jesus is Lord!”
The normal pattern was for the Gospel message to be shared, the hearer accepts Jesus, is baptized, and the Holy Spirit enters. In this case, Peter is still speaking when the Holy Spirit starts handing out gifts. We often talk about the time when we accepted Jesus as our savior; the time when we chose Jesus. I believe that the Holy Spirit first choses us, works within us, and brings us to the Lord. We can, of course, suppress these urgings. But it is the Holy Spirit who first chooses us.
1 JOHN 5:1-6
These are the concluding words of John’s first letter. He has been talking a lot about love. In his conclusion, he will change the subject a bit.
- John reminds us believers that we are “born of God”, or born again. (v. 1)
- As God’s children, we show this love to God and one another by obeying his commandments. We will talk about these commandments in our study of the Gospel lesson. (vv. 2-3)
- There is an abrupt shift in the next verse to conquering the world. To the people of John’s day “the world” meant the world of non-believers. Since John is talking about spiritual matters, he’s talking about spiritually conquering all these non-believers. His point is that since we are part of God’s family, just like Jesus, we have the power to spiritually conquer those around us. (v. 5)
Try this. Take verse 5, and substitute your name for “…the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” That would be you, right? Yes, of course. For me, then, this verse would read “Who is it that [spiritually] conquers the [non-believers of this] world but Don Silsbe?” What would yours sound like? We all have this power to spread the Good News of Jesus to those around us, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Let’s get crackin’—we’ve got work to do!
This is a continuation of last week’s Gospel reading. Both of these are part of Jesus’ final discourse to his disciples at the Last Supper.
- Jesus says that he loves us, just as the Father loves him. He asks us to “abide” in this love. You may recall the twisted wires example from last week’s reading. Abide refers to an intimate, nourishing relationship with Jesus, like a branch is to the vine’s main trunk. (v. 9)
- Next, Jesus says that the way we abide in him is by keeping his commandments, “the same way I kept my Father’s commandments.” At this point, I want to raise my hand and ask—“But Jesus, you healed on the Sabbath, you spoke to foreign women of questionable reputation, and you even touched lepers. How can you say you kept your Father’s commandments?” I’ll answer that in the takeaway below. (v. 10)
- OK, he actually answers it in the next breath. His commandment is to love one another. (v. 12)
- Jesus now calls all of us his friends, not his disciples or servants. He is willing to lay down his life for us, and we should do the same. We are therefore all friends with our Lord. (vv. 13-15)
- Look at what he says next. “I chose you, you did not choose me.” This doesn’t mean just the 12 apostles, but us as well. Remember the takeaway from today’s first lesson? God chooses us first, and we accept. (v. 16)
- Here comes the conclusion and our marching orders—love one another. (v. 17)
Jesus makes the statement that he has kept his Father’s commandments. I believe that if a Pharisee were present, he would take exception to this, because of all the Laws of Moses that Jesus openly broke. But what the Pharisee would not have recognized is what I call “Rule Number One”. It is given to us in Matthew 22:34-40.
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
So, when it comes to the laws regarding working on the Sabbath, or a touching a leper, or discussing religion with a shady foreign woman, they all take second place to the Law of Love. All the Laws of Moses, including the 10 commandments (one of which Jesus broke) were all written within the context of the Law of Love. We must love God and love one another; everything else then just falls into place. Everything else is secondary.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
By showing God’s love to everyone around us, we not only please God, but we experience complete joy. (vv. 10-11) This is the fruit that we are to bear; the fruit that will last. (v. 16b)
How can you show God’s love to those around you?