(Act 11:1-3 ESV) Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Notice that immediately the church forms a circumcision party! God acted powerfully, was transforming the world through this Spirit, and a party arose in church to oppose God’s mission — immediately. This is just so much like, you know, church.
And the complaint wasn’t that Peter had preached the gospel to Gentiles or that he’s baptized them. No, it was that he ate with the Gentiles! And proper Jews just didn’t do this. Gentiles were unclean.
(Act 11:4-15 ESV) 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.
Luke then reports Peter’s reply. He didn’t get mad. He didn’t argue theology. He just told his story: This is what I saw God do. (Peter omits the fact that “the man” was Cornelius, a Roman centurion.)
(Act 11:16-17 ESV) 16 “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
Jesus had earlier reminded the apostles —
(Act 1:4-5 ESV) 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Notice the emphasis. The apostles certainly baptized with water, but the promise from God that drives Acts is baptism with the Spirit.
Some want to limit this to the apostles and Cornelius, but Peter says “the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He was speaking to an audience of Jewish converts, and so “us” refers not to the apostles but to the Jews. After all, Peter believed in Jesus long before Pentecost, but the Jews in his audience received the Spirit when they believed.
Peter’s point repeats his point from Acts 10:47: “[Cornelius has] received the Holy Spirit just as we have,” speaking to the Jewish believers who accompanied him.
In short, all Christians receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit when they are saved. It’s a gift, a promise, an outpouring, and it falls from heaven. And normally, it occurs when we are water baptized, which symbolizes many things, including the receipt of the Spirit. But God sometimes gives the Spirit separate from water baptism — which is his perogative, and I’m not inclined to argue with him about it.
(Act 11:18 ESV) 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
The circumcision party celebrated the result. Such is the power of story! It’s not a mere theory. It really happened. Witnesses to God’s working testified, and hearts were changed.
You know, we really need more testimonies in our churches — unless we believe that, as the New York Times reported, God is dead.