44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 They heard them speaking in other languages and praising God. Peter asked, 47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” 48 He directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited Peter to stay for several days.
As lay members of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of the UMC, Steve and I have the privilege of representing our local church at the conference sessions. There are clergy and lay people of all backgrounds and ages. We worship, pray and sing in Spanish, Korean and English. We may not, as John Wesley said, all be “of one opinion,” but we are all “of one heart” in Christ. It’s like the song we sing in worship: “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, Yes! We’re the church together!”
The early church began in Jerusalem. Peter was a Jew who believed in Jesus and followed the purity laws of Moses. This meant that all his life he avoided eating food that was not kosher or eating with or associating with Gentiles. However, the Holy Spirit had been working on Peter to change his heart. (Read Acts 11:1-18 for that story.) Peter was preaching in Caesarea when, in mid-sentence, “the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word.” Peter and the Jewish believers were “astonished” that the Holy Spirit could fall on the Gentiles. Until that moment Peter believed that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was only for Jewish followers of Jesus. In that moment, Peter’s eyes were opened to see that the good news of salvation through Jesus is for the whole world, and not exclusive to any one group of people.
By Jeneene Reduker
For Pondering & Prayer
Peter lived among his own people and his own culture. Peter’s limiting belief that Jesus the Messiah was just for the Jews prevented Peter from doing what Jesus had commanded his disciples to do, to “go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).
Like Peter, we all hold beliefs about groups of people who we think aren’t like us. But by God’s grace, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit at work in us to change our hearts and minds. God’s love is not exclusive, it’s for all nations and all people. Let’s pray that we too will be “astonished” when the Holy Spirit not only reveals those areas of our lives that need to change, but by grace leads us through the transformation.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, fall upon us, open our eyes, astonish us, and change us to be more like Jesus, with hearts and spirits of all-inclusive love. Amen.