44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
The Book of Acts is really called The Acts of the Apostles, but because that’s a bit long, we tend to just call it Acts, which is a bit cryptic for people who are not familiar with it.
If Acts talks about the Acts of the Apostles, then the Gospels talk about the Acts of Jesus.
And if we look at the Gospels and Acts in this way, we will discern parallels.
When in Acts 7 Stephen is stoned and becomes the first martyr, he becomes the first martyr not only for his charitable works but also for his preaching, even though his vocation was to take care of the widows and orphans in the church. When after his sermon to the council he his stoned, he dies with the same words on his lips as Jesus did, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
When at the end of the story of Cornelius and Peter, Gentiles are baptized into the Church, and Peter exclaims, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”, it is an extension of the ministry of Jesus who taught us to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us, because Cornelius was a Roman centurion. Cornelius was not only a Gentile but he was an enemy.
And so the Book of Acts is in many ways an illustration of the ways and words of Jesus. It tells a story about the continuity of Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit, because it is through his presence and through the Holy Spirit that Stephen is able to forgive his murderers and that Peter is able to baptize his enemies.
And so the Book of Acts casts a vision of the church that is deep and wide. It is deeply rooted in the love of God and it is wide in its love for and inclusion of all people.
When I was younger I wished I could perform the miracles the apsotles performed and experienced, and perhaps wondered why I could not. And perhaps you have asked that question.
But it turns out that it’s the wrong question. It’s the wrong question because it identifies God’s presence primarily with the suspension of natural laws, when the real miracle is the love of God in Jesus which is not seen primarily in the suspension of natural laws but in enemies becoming brothers and sisters in Christ, in the persecuted not seeking revenge but forgiving their enemies, because that is not only what Jesus taught, but what Jesus lived. It is where Jesus is present today, because without him we can do nothing.
And so we see in the story of Peter and Cornelius, of the baptism of their enemies who had become their friends, the unfolding of the Kingdom of God in their midst.
That must not be a thing of the distant past or of a noble old book, but it is the stuff of the life of the church today; and for our lives to be blessed in this way and to be manifestations of Jesus’ ongoing ministry we ask for the Holy Spirit to be among us and to bless us, as we pray that God’s Kingdom come and make all things new.