Peter’s leaders are not happy with his behavior in Ceaserea with Cornelius and family. Peter is both a leader in the church and also obviously a very well-known figure. So if he’s not only conferring with, and not only going home with, but also baptizing a Roman Centurion, gentile and oppressor though he is, then they have a problem. Yesterday we talked about what we do with people who are acting against the Law but want to follow Jesus. Today we have to talk about what happens when these unacceptables receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, a “down payment on (their) redemption” (Eph. 1:14f).
This was a political issue as well as a religious one. But Peter has a good argument. “How can I argue against God, who gave them the Holy Spirit?” he asks. Traditionally, that was evidenced through the gift of tongues as was probably the case here. And so with that proof, Peter baptizes not only Cornelius but his entire household (presumably including infants!)
What would be the reaction today if the leaders of the church found out that one of their famous fellow leaders offered a sacrament to an unclean, sinful outsider who nonetheless was seeking Jesus? I bet they might suspend that person’s ordination. They might even fire them from their leadership position. Today, the political overwhelms the spiritual.
In contrast, what was the reaction of the early church to this breach of protocol? “They praised God.” They trusted Peter, and the evidence of the Holy Spirit, and God Himself. “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Repentance leading to life is offered to even the most unlikely of groups. Not immediate acceptance, not power and leadership, but the gift of repentance which leads to life. If only we’d learn that God offers this gift of repentance to everyone. And if only everyone would seek repentance.