“At the Beginning”

Peter was in trouble with his brethren. He had gone to Caesarea, spoken and eaten with Gentiles, taboo for all Jews in his day and when he returned to Jerusalem from there “they who were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised and did eat with them” (Acts 11:21-22). Peter responded, telling brethren of the unusual things which had occurred while he was in Joppa, how that he had gone up on the housetop about noon one day when a great sheet was let down from heaven containing all kinds of animals, and he had heard a voice saying, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat” (Acts 1:7). Peter’s answer was immediate: “Not so, Lord, for nothing common or unclean hath ever entered my mouth.” The Lord’s response was just as immediate: “What I have cleansed, call thou not common nor unclean” (Acts 11:7-9). Two more times was this vision repeated, then drawn up into heaven. While Peter pondered the significance of the vision, the Spirit informed him that three men were seeking him. They had been sent by God and that he was to go with them. The men had been sent by Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who feared God and to whom God had given instructions to send to Joppa and fetch Simon surnamed Peter. This man would tell him words whereby he and his household might be saved. Peter obeyed the Spirit, went with the three men whom Cornelius had sent for him, carried six Jewish brethren with him as potential witnesses, and entered the house of Cornelius. He found a large crowd waiting for him because Cornelius had anticipated his arrival and gathered his friends and family together so that they also might hear the words of Peter.

After Cornelius had explained how angels had told him to send for Peter who would tell him words whereby he and all his house might be saved, he concluded, “Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all things that have been commanded thee of the Lord” (Acts 10:33). Peter understood the vision he had seen in Joppa. He told Cornelius, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respector of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted of him” (Acts 10:34-35). When Peter began to preach to the people an unusual thing occurred: “The Holy Spirit fell on them that heard the word” (Acts 10:44). Then Peter turned to the six Jewish brethren whom he had brought with him from Joppa (men who were astonished at what they had just witnessed) and asked, “Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?” (Acts 10:47). Of course, none could so Peter commanded Cornelius and those with him “to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48).

When Peter rehearsed these details in the ears of those who had accused him, and having his six Jewish witnesses who would attest to all the things he had said, he replied, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said ‘John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-16). Peter’s accusers were satisfied. “When they heard this, they held their peace and glorified God saying, then to the Gentiles hath God granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

Nearly a decade had passed since the events in Caesarea, and the time when the apostles had received the Holy Spirit. There can be no doubt that those events were in his mind when he recounts the circumstances to the brethren in Caesarea and later in Jerusalem. The day which came immediately to Peter’s mind was the first Pentecost after the Lord’s ascension back to heaven. He knew also where he was for the Lord had steadfastly charged him and the rest of the apostles to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high (Acts 1:4-5). They had asked the Lord if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel, but the Lord had told them it was not for them to know the times nor season in God’s hands. They were to wait for the Spirit to come with power. He also promised them that the kingdom would come with power, and some of them would be alive to see it (Mark 9:1).

The significance of that one day rises even more in importance when Peter looked back to that day, remembering when he and his fellow apostles had received the Holy Spirit, promised by Joel (2:28), John the Baptist (Matt. 3:14), and the Lord Himself. Look at what Peter called that day: “the beginning.” The beginning of what? Can there be any real doubt what it was that began that day? Disciples had prayed for the kingdom, heard Jesus reveal its nature in His teaching and parables, and been told they must be born again if they wanted to enter it (John 3:3, 5). The question the disciples asked right before Jesus ascended was, “Lord, dost thou at this time restore again the kingdom of God to Israel?” It was not for them to know the answer immediately, but they would know. And they did know. Pentecost, my friend, was God’s answer to their question. It was on Pentecost that the promised kingdom began. Truly, Pentecost was “the beginning.”

Jim McDonald