Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Everyone Who Believes (part 2 of 2)

With Cornelius’ presumed familiarity with the idea about sin and exile and the forgiveness of sins, and the exclusive application of those things as relating only to Israel, it would have been quite the unanticipated revelation to hear Peter saying, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34b-35).  Cornelius would have never heard such things said by the Jews around him, no matter how much they thought of him.  All he would have ever heard, concerning Israel’s God, was that He was indeed a God of partiality, concerned only with the plight of His special, covenant people, with this being the case since the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the sons of Jacob. 

Following that, Cornelius hears the familiar term of “good news” (familiar because it was a common term associated with the Caesar and proclamations concerning him), and the attendant, parenthetical declaration that, by the way, that man “Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)” (10:36b), which would have been another titular designation of Caesar.

While processing these things, Cornelius would then hear Peter say that Jesus had “rose from the dead,” which was a story that must not have been news to Cornelius, as Peter has already said, in relation to his speech about Jesus, that “you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee” (10:37a).  To his statement about Jesus’ Resurrection, Peter would then add, that “He,” this living though crucified on a Roman cross Jesus (which would have weighed heavily on the mind of a Roman centurion that had probably carried out or overseen crucifixions in the past), “commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead” (10:42).  The idea that a man that had been crucified on a cross was the One appointed to such a thing was a fairly unusual idea.  As if that was not enough, in that day and most likely, though he was God-fearing, in Cornelius’ mind it was Caesar himself that judged who lived and died---the judge of the living and the dead.

As if that was not enough to occupy Cornelius’ mind, Peter goes on to tell his hearers that “all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His Name” (10:43).  This would have been new information for Cornelius.  Again, as a Gentile in the land of Israel, and worse, a leader in the occupying force in the land, Cornelius would probably have never heard such a thing.  He would have undoubtedly heard, over and over again, that the Old Testament prophets spoke only of Israel and of its return from exile and the forgiveness of sin therein entailed.  Now Peter is telling him that the forgiveness of sins applies to everyone who recognizes and calls Jesus Lord, extending beyond Israel to a much wider group of God’s covenant people, from every nation, and that this was truly the thing of which the prophets wrote and bore witness. 

In these words, Cornelius hears Peter saying that all peoples, not just Israel, are in exile from the land (promised blessings) that God has for them, and that return from exile and entrance into the eternal life that is the forgiveness of sin, is accomplished through belief in the Lordship of Jesus, which is a gift of the faith that comes from hearing the pronouncements of the Gospel.  One might inquire as to how all men entered into that exile, when it was Israel that violated their God-given covenant, suffering exile as a result.  With that inquiry, we are reminded that all men experienced exile through Adam’s failure to trust God and to fulfill God’s intention for him and for all those that were created in the image of God.

From Peter, we learn that belief in Jesus as Lord equals the forgiveness of sins which equals a return from exile which equals eternal life.  This makes a great deal of sense, especially as we consider that the belief in Jesus stems from the gifting of faith that comes from an indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, which is the cause of, and evidenced by, calling Jesus Lord.  The faith for belief is always brought about by the Holy Spirit, and we are reminded of this in the forty-fourth verse of this chapter, which says, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (10:44).  Their belief in Jesus was the evidence that the Holy Spirit fell, with the “speaking in tongues and extolling God” (10:46b) the secondary evidence of the falling and working of the Holy Spirit. 

The presence of the Holy Spirit, signified by this confession (Jesus is Lord!), is the signal that eternal life has been granted, and that the eternal life is right here and right now rather than something awaiting us on the other side of the grave.  With this signal confession, we (along with Cornelius) are also made to know that the exile from God’s promised blessings has been brought to an end, and that the ongoing sin of failing to live according to God’s intentions for a creation of His own image has been forgiven, with this being done because Jesus bore the wrath of God (death) that was owed to all who entered into this sin.  With belief in Jesus, a renewed, restored, redeemed life has commenced, as through that belief, the blessed believer is made to share in the awesome power that brought about and was sent forth in Christ’s Resurrection.    

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