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The Wall Has Been Broken Down

How is a person made right with God? What removes the sin, condemnation, and curse that we made for ourselves? Paul tells us in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’.”

Paul takes this saying from Deuteronomy 21:23. The context is that if a man has committed a crime punishable by death, and he is hanged on a tree, he should not remain there overnight. Rather, the body should be buried that same day. Paul now applies this to Jesus. Jesus was hanged on a cross (made of wood from a tree; Peter refers to the cross as a “tree” in 1 Peter 2:24 and in Acts 5:30). This tells us that Christ was crucified to become a curse for us. He didn’t just take on a curse, he became a curse. It was as if Jesus was the one who committed “a crime punishable by death” instead of us, so that we might become his righteousness (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).

This imputation of man’s sin (every person!) into Christ’s inner man, his spirit, happened for this reason: “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14).  If justification were only through the Law, Gentiles could never be saved because they were not given the oracles of the Law.  Christ came and died, however, to break “down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in the place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16).

What is Paul referring to? For centuries there was hostility between God and the Gentiles as well as the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul reminds the Ephesians of this: “Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh…were at that time separated… alienated… strangers… having no hope… without God” (Eph. 2:11-12). Yet he continues: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (v. 13).

Hallelujah! Christ had to die in order to fulfill God’s promise of “all the families of the earth” being blessed. Without his death and resurrection, there would be no chance for all the families to be blessed, because not all the families had received the law! There would be no opportunity for salvation. And because we know that no one can keep the law, even the Jews would have been eternally separated from God.  How awesome is God’s wisdom and providence.

We know then that one of the Father’s purposes in the Son’s death (among thousands), was to make Abraham “the father of all who believe without being circumcised…and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4:11, 12).

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Life

Peter and Cornelius

Part 6 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

In Acts 10, there’s a guy named Cornelius who is a centurion of the Italian Cohort (v.1).  When I hear “Italian Cohort,” I immediately think Vito Corleone.  This might not be the case with our man Cornelius, because the Bible tells us that Cornelius and his family love God.  They pray together and give money to the poor.

One day an angel of God appears to him.  He stares at the angel, probably wondering if it was the midnight snack speaking, and asks, “What is it, Lord?”  God says that his prayers have been heard, and tells him to send servants to bring Simon Peter in Joppa to him.

The next day, as Cornelius’ servants are on their way to Peter’s house, Peter went onto the roof to pray.  While he prayed, God gave him a vision.  In the vision there was a vast sheet with every kind of animal on it.  A voice says to Peter, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”  Peter sharply replied, “Lord, I don’t eat anything that is common.”  And the voice again says, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”  Verse 16 illustrates that God is trying to get a point across: “This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

Now Peter’s mind is scattered higgledy-piggledy over this.  The ESV says he “was inwardly perplexed” (v. 17).  Peter probably went into his study and opened up his journal for some introspective reflection.  While Peter’s journaling, Cornelius’ servants knock on the door.  They tell Peter the reason for their visit, and Peter invites them in.

After what is probably an awkward night, Peter and some friends go with the servants back to Caesarea.  Cornelius is waiting for them — probably with hot dogs, steak, bacon, and milkshakes.  Okay, maybe not, but you know a culture clash is about to happen.  When Peter walks in, he says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation” (v. 28a).  But Peter didn’t stop there.  By God’s grace, sometime between verses 17 and 28, Peter realized what the vision was about.  He continued, “But God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (v. 28b).

Peter and his Jewish friends, along with their new Gentile acquaintances sit down together.  In verses 34-43, Peter lays out the good news of Jesus.  “To him all the prophets bear witness,” he proclaimed, “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v. 43).

Peter didn’t even finish before the Holy Spirit came over the Gentiles.  “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (v. 44).  They started speaking in tongues and were praising Jesus.  The circumcised Jews are freaking out, but Peter said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v. 47).

Peter and his friends returned to Jerusalem.  It’s almost certain that in the back of his mind, Peter had worries that his Jewish brothers might want to burn him as a heretic.  Nevertheless, he boldly told the church the whole story.  The response was anything but negative.  “And 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’ (11:18).  The Jews themselves realize that God’s bigger story is to take his kingdom to the world, not confine it to one race, one people, or one nation.

For the rest of Acts, we see the gospel of God’s grace go to Antioch, Cyprus, Iconium, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, and finally Rome.  All the families of the earth are starting to experience this promised blessing that God made to Abraham.  The gospel has torn down the walls of hostility and division between Jews and Gentiles.  Finally, God has granted repentance that leads to life for the whole world.

To be continued…

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Life

Pentecost, the Jews, and Salvation

God’s Big Story: View Series
Continued from Part 5

At his ascension, Jesus looked at his disciples and said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).  The whole world — literally “all the peoples,” according to Matthew 28:19 — will hear the gospel because of these apostles.  They will receive power from God to make it happen.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together, and suddenly the Holy Spirit fell on them.  They were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.  This would be a great time, you would think, for God to start this world-wide revolution and reach all the Gentile nations with the gospel.  After all, the language barrier is now gone.

After this happens, Peter preaches a short, yet amazing, sermon to thousands of people in Acts 2.  He preaches the gospel — that Christ was delivered and was crucified according to God’s plan and that whoever believes in him will receive the Spirit.  He calls  everyone who’s listening to repentance.  That day, verse 41 says, 3,000 souls received the word and were saved and baptized.

And here’s the crazy part: every single one of those 3,000 people was Jewish.  Not one Gentile was saved.

How do we know this?  Acts 2:5 says, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.”  Peter was in Jerusalem preaching to Jews.  When he began preaching, “the multitude” approached him because they heard Peter in their own language (or “dialect”).  These were Jewish pilgrims from various parts of the world (vv. 9-11).  The pilgrims had come back to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, which is historically related to a Jewish harvest festival.

Furthermore, when Peter began his sermon, he lifted up his voice and said, “Men of Judea!” (v. 14).  Again, in verse 22, he called their attention and said, “Men of Israel.”  He quotes the prophet Joel (vv. 17-21).  He quotes King David twice (vv. 25-28, 34).  There is no doubt he is speaking to Jews.

Then in verse 36, his grand conclusion, he pronounces the dismal, yet glorious indictment on Israel: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  It is dismal because they murdered one of their own — the only One who could save them.  It is glorious because if they turn to him — even after crucifying him — they will be saved and set free from sin.

The gospel hasn’t gone to all peoples yet.  Though the whole Bible up to this point has made it clear that this is God’s plan, the plan keeps getting delayed.  In God’s perfect time, however, this spiritual revolution of the Gentiles will come.