God’s Word for You
Acts 11:15-18 Theology and theologians
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, April 16, 2020
15 “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came upon them, as he had come upon us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the saying of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
Peter remembered one of the last things Jesus said before he ascended into heaven: “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in just a few days” (Acts 1:5). The Holy Spirit is poured out wherever the gospel is at work, through the means of grace (the gospel in word and sacrament). As Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). But later in that same meeting, Jesus told Nicodemus, Israel’s teacher, that whoever believes in God’s one and only Son “shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). There are not two or three doors to heaven, but only one. Therefore baptism, being born of the Holy Spirit, and having faith in Christ, are all part of the same door. Being born of the Spirit is being brought to faith, but so is baptism. And having faith in Christ is possessing these things. Faith in Christ is truly the only requirement for life in heaven, whether that faith comes through baptism or through hearing the word of God. In this case, Peter explains that faith came “as I began to speak,” that is, as the word of God was proclaimed.
In this case, “The Holy Spirit came upon them” also means that the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius were given the same charismatic gift that the apostles had been given in the house at Pentecost (Acts 2:2-4). Such a gift is not promised to everyone who believes in Christ, and not even to every minister or missionary of Christ. No Christian should feel slighted or judged because they have not been given the gift of speaking in tongues. Nor should anyone accuse a Christian of not really or truly being a Christian simply because they have never spoken in charismatic tongues. I know that I have a place in heaven with Jesus, and I know that I am a Christian, but I have never spoken in tongues. The faith that came to me fifty-six years ago (today, April 16, is the anniversary of my baptism in 1964) has been sufficient for me for eternal life. If my faith is scorned or despised by anyone because of my lack of charismatic gifts, then I will repeat my wife’s great confession of faith along with the Syro-Phoenician woman: “Crumbs, crumbs are enough.”
Luther said something important about this: “Faith and the Spirit go together, but the Spirit is not always revealed. So Cornelius had the Holy Spirit before Peter came to him, although he didn’t know it. Those in the book of Acts who said, ‘We don’t know the Holy Spirit,’ also had the Spirit, just as the patriarchs in the Old Testament had Christ, although they didn’t know him. They clung to the Word, and through it they received the Holy Spirit. Later in the book of Acts he was manifested to them outwardly. It’s to be understood thus: The Word comes first, and with the Word the Spirit breathes upon my heart so that I believe. Then I feel that I have become a different person and I recognize that the Holy Spirit is there. Accordingly these are two things: to have the Holy Spirit and to know that you have him” (Table Talk no. 402, p. 63).
17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who am I to oppose God?” 18 When they heard these things, they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “That means that God has given to the Gentiles repentance that results in life.”
Peter asks more literally, “Am I someone who has the ability to oppose God?” Peter had learned his lesson in this from Jesus himself. He had been rebuked by the Lord not to hinder little children from coming to him (Mark 10:14). He had been rebuked again when he tried to stop Jesus from talking about his death and resurrection: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have godly things in mind, but human things” (Mark 8:33). Jesus had even rebuked the wind (Mark 4:29), and the wind obeyed him. The crowning work of Jesus was suffering and dying for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). That included little children, and if it included Gentiles, Peter would not say anything against it—not to the God who commands all things, even the wind and waves, to obey him.
The men of the circumcision group, if they were truly yet a ‘group’ or not, were satisfied. They became silent, which is to say that they stopped objecting to what Peter and the others had done. If this was God’s will, they were satisfied. Then, they began to praise God. Their doxology was: “God has given to the Gentiles repentance that results in life!” They showed the true nature of theology. Theology begins as something in the theologian, as Abraham Calov said, “in the soul of the human being whom we call a theologian,” and this theologian earns his title to that name by possessing theology (Isagoge ad ss. Theol., 1,2, p. 201). While today we usually speak of theology as a system of beliefs written down, looked up, and referred to, the truth is that theology must be rediscovered and communicated in every single generation. Otherwise, a doctrine remains a dead letter, something the church “used to” talk about. But praise God that he allows storm and stress to churn up the waters in which the Church sails! Just as a young driver learns about cars by driving one that breaks down sometimes and needs to be fixed, so also Christians become theologians by facing controversies and by diving deeply into the word of God for the answers to questions. Peter and the apostles should have known that salvation was also meant for the Gentiles through the Old Testament scriptures like Isaiah 42:6, “I will make you a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,” and also through the ministry of Jesus who welcomed Gentiles into the kingdom of God (John 12:20-26; Mark 7:24-30). But now, coached and coaxed by the Holy Spirit, they had rediscovered a teaching that had always been there. May God help us all to rediscover his truths in this and any other crisis, for the salvation of our souls and for the good of the souls around us.
Pastor Timothy Smith