Through the New Testament in a Year

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Acts 10:24-48 – God of surprises

God has a way of teaching us more of his character and purposes when he surprises us with his unexpected grace. He undoubtedly has many more surprises in store for us.

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When Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius the Centurion he discovered that Cornelius had assembled a party of relatives and friends, all of them eager to hear what Peter had to tell them.

As soon as Peter entered the house, Cornelius fell at his feet in reverence. Peter’s reaction shows us that he had learnt well the lesson the Lord had been teaching him through visions from heaven. The Jews had long expected that when the Messiah arrived the Gentile nations would be brought to acknowledge that the God of Israel is the only true God. But, based on such passages as Isaiah 49:22-23 and 60:10-14, they had looked for the day when Gentiles would come to bow down at their feet and serve them. But Peter will have none of it. He immediately tells Cornelius, “Stand up, I am only a man myself.” Peter had learnt that Gentiles were to be welcomed into the kingdom on equal terms with Jews. It’s a remarkable moment.

Cornelius then explains that an angel had instructed him to send for Peter and that they were therefore assembled in the presence of the Lord waiting to hear what he had to say to them from the Lord.

Peter explains how the Lord had also appeared to him and enabled him to overcome the taboo against associating with Gentiles. He then goes on to speak of Jesus as one who was empowered by the Holy Spirit during his earthly ministry. He speaks also of Jesus' death and resurrection and tells the assembled crowd that all of the prophets spoke of Jesus. He is the one whom God has appointed to judge the living and the dead. All who put their trust in Jesus will have their sins forgiven – for them, judgment has become history.

As Peter is speaking to them the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles in unmistakable fashion; they praised God and spoke in other languages. This astonished many of those who had come along with Peter; they were not expecting that Gentiles would receive the Holy Spirit in the same way as they had. But in the face of these unmistakable evidences of their faith in Jesus and their acceptance by God, Peter has them baptised and welcomed into the family of Jesus.

Why were some of Peter's companions so amazed that the Holy Spirit who had empowered Jesus ministry and had been poured out on the first disciples at Pentecost, was now poured out on these Gentiles? After all, the Lord had appeared to Peter and told him to go to Cornelius and had appeared to Cornelius to tell him to send for Peter. If the Lord had done all this, why be surprised when he brought them to faith and gave them the Spirit? Furthermore, this is what Jesus himself had said in commissioning the disciples just before his ascension into heaven – they are to take the message to all peoples. Nevertheless, when God shows that he accepts the Gentiles through faith in Jesus in precisely the same way as he accepts Jews they are taken by surprise.

Like these Jews, we become used to the status quo and, despite the promises and purpose of God, don't really expect him to act in unfamiliar ways. When were you last surprised by God's unexpected activity in someone's life?

Lord, surprise me today by the profligacy of your grace and then make me ashamed of my surprise. Teach me afresh the greatness of your love and what it means that you do not show favouritism but accept all who fear you and do what is right.


Peter Misselbrook