God’s Word for You
Acts 11:11-14 The means of grace
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, April 15, 2020
11 “Just at that moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea were standing at the door of the house where I was. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without making a distinction. These six brothers went with me, and we entered the man’s house.”
A key word to focus on here is diakrino (διακρίνω), which I have translated “make a distinction.” In the middle voice (Greek has active, middle, and passive voices) this word can mean “dispute” (“disputing with the devil,” Jude 9) or “hesitate,” as in Acts 10:20, “don’t hesitate to go with them.” But here it is in the active voice, and the word should be translated “make a distinction” or even “judge.” God will certainly judge man, “on the day when God will judge (diakrino) men’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16). Another instance where “make a distinction” is the clear meaning in context is Acts 15:9, “He made no distinction between us and them.” Here the main point Peter makes is that the Holy Spirit wanted him and his companions to enter the home of a Gentile with no distinction, with no regard for his physical heritage. The man was a Christian, and with regard to such social distinctions, “the only thing that counts is faith” (Galatians 5:6).
13 “He told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter, 14 who will give you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’”
The Holy Spirit does not work apart from the means of grace. The means of grace, that is, the means by which God sends his grace and blessing into man’s heart, is the gospel, whether that gospel comes in the word of God or in the sacraments. Here we are reminded that the word of God came to Peter through the mouth of an angel. The angel proclaimed the efficacy and the power of the means of grace. Notice what the angel says: “A message through which you and all your household will be saved.” There are three times in the book of Acts in which an entire household is saved through God’s grace given by the means of grace: Cornelius’ family (Acts 11:14), Lydia’s family (Acts 16:15), and the family of the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16:31). The word of God worked in those households just as it has worked in our hearts. The word works because it is the power of God at work. When we read God’s word, we are hearing the voice of God, the voice that said to the infinite nothing, “Let there be,” and there was. He spoke to our dead and sinful hearts, “Believe in me,” and we came alive with faith. This is nothing less than miraculous. By nature, we can’t understand God or put our trust in him, but then the word of God works God’s divine power in us, and we can believe in him.
There is a danger today in many reformed churches that deny the divine power of holy Scripture. They tend to accept “a merely psychological power of the word.” For them, “Scripture convinces and moves man supposedly only by the clarity of its teaching and the cogency of its proof” (Hoenecke, Ev. Lutheran Dogmatics IV p. 18), or they want to give man the power of his own ‘wish’ or will to be converted once he has heard the word. This is nothing less than the spewed vomit of the devil who wants to confuse man into thinking he has a hand in his own salvation; that the forgiveness of sins is up to man and not up to God alone, despite all of the convincing proofs to the contrary throughout the Bible (Romans 3:22; Galatians 3:14; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9, etc.). How depressed and confused Christians would be if we were saved by our own actions and not by the gracious gift of Christ. How would we ever know whether we had done enough? How would we ever take comfort in our hour of death? How would we ever have consolation when a loved one dies?
But we know that God’s grace has come to us through his word and sacraments. We have confidence that all of Jesus’ righteousness, innocence, blessedness, holiness and all his merits are ascribed to us simply because he has given them to us as a free gift. He planted faith in us in our baptism, and it is faith which is the portal through which all the blessings of God come pouring into our hearts. Jesus himself assures us (Luke 12:32): “Do not be afraid, little flock, because your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Pastor Timothy Smith