Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cornelius & The Mission Of God (part 3 of 4)

With his own witness to the pouring out of the Spirit, the speaking in tongues, and the praising of God, which would be an explicit reminder of Pentecost, Peter says “No one can withhold the water for these people to be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” (10:47)  Peter uses the inclusive language of “we.”  We could here note that Paul uses such language on a regular basis.  We are also reminded of chapter two’s informing us that “those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added” (2:41). 

Along with that, as we hear the telling of this story and the words of Peter in the context of the story of Israel, it is impossible to disconnect the concept of baptism from the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan River (both on dry land).  These are pivotal events within Israel’s story, and they are told as tales of God’s faithfulness to His people.  Also, the baptism in chapter two would have been exclusively Jews, in Jerusalem, during a great Sabbath, whereas that of chapter ten was a baptism of Gentiles.  Thus, because both Jews and Gentiles experience baptism, both stand before God in a state of equality. 

Baptism, when connected to Jesus as Messiah of Israel, allows those that undergo the experience to participate in that tale of God’s faithfulness, symbolically crossing from a state of exile to a state of exodus.  Because the baptism that stems from a belief in Jesus is also rooted in the understanding that the Resurrection of Jesus brought an end to the old age and ushered in the new age, baptism becomes the picture of the believer’s deliverance from the exile of the old age/creation, into the new age/creation.  We could comfortably presume, based on his writing, that such thoughts found a home in the mind of Paul as well.    

This series of events caused no little consternation amongst the circumcised believers in Jerusalem (11:2).  Those that took issue with what Peter had done, accused him of going to uncircumcised men and sharing a meal with them (11:3).  These are the same issues at work, against which Paul stridently speaks, in Galatians two, though the setting was Antioch rather than Jerusalem.  This is nothing short of a clear disavowal of the covenant markers of Judaism, as Peter has, by confirming the presence of the Holy Spirit in the uncircumcised and by violating food laws (though Sabbath is not in view), has transgressed and effectively repudiates the marks that had previously been the means by which one was identified as a covenant member in good standing.  Though they can certainly be practiced, they are of no particular use or value, when set against the new covenant marker of belief in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah of Israel and Lord of all (the Gospel).  Again, all this is stressed, though it seems to not necessarily have any bearing on Romans, because Paul will be more than aware of all of these things, and would most likely heavily rely on Peter’s experience and telling of the experience in formulating his positions about Gentile inclusion under the covenant and their participation in the promises of Israel’s God.         

Peter takes up the challenge that is presented to him, which is also a challenge to the legitimacy of the Gospel message and to the commission given to him and the rest of the disciples by Jesus.  As if to emphasize that this subject is quite crucial to the church of the Christ, Luke has Peter retelling the whole of the story of his encounter with Cornelius (so we get to read the story twice, back to back---by contrast, we read the story of Paul’s “conversion” three times in Acts, all of which are offered separately).  Indeed, “Peter began and explained it to them point by point” (11:4).  He talks about the men that came to him, saying “The Spirit told me to accompany them without hesitation” (11:12a).  He also points out that six of the brothers that were with him, presumably all Jewish believers in Jesus, went with him and also entered the house of the Gentile Cornelius (11:12b). 

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