This Tuesday we are discussing Chapter 5 “Passing on the Story of Jesus” of Dr. Hanna Steele’s book Living His Story. In this chapter, Dr. Steele writes of how the Holy Spirit guides us when we speak.
Acts of the Spirit:
Dr. Steele rightfully points out that the “Acts of the Apostles” could just as easily be named the “Acts of the Spirit.” Acts is Part II of Luke’s Gospel, and in his preface, Luke reminds his audience of Jesus’ command that they were to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. Acts 1:5. The book begins with Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit upon the apostles. Acts 2. The word “Spirit” is mentioned 70 in Acts. It is through the Spirit that the church grew from about 120 souls (Acts 1:15) to the largest religion in the world. Dr. Steele invites us to focus on two evangelical works of the Spirit in Acts – the Ethiopian Eunuch and Cornelius the Centurion.
The story of the decon Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is found in Acts 8:26-40. The Ethiopian is what we would call the Secretary of the Treasury for the Kingdom of Ethiopia. (v.28). He was also Jewish since he had come to Jerusalem to worship. (v.28). He is reading the suffering servant hymn found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (the same reading we have on Good Friday).
Philip was a deacon in the church. Acts 6:5. He had been told by an angel to leave Jerusalem and go to Gaza. As the Ethiopian was reading Isaiah, the Holy Spirit instructed Philip to go up to the Ethiopian’s chariot and ask if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian replied that he did not know of whom the prophet spoke. Philip then told him the story of Jesus and that Jesus was the person spoken of by Isaiah. (vv.34-35)
As a result of this conversation, Philip baptized the Ethiopian. The Ethiopian then returned home with the story of Jesus. The Spirit did not lead Philip to Ethiopia, rather he lead him to someone else who would make that journey.
Cornelius the Centurion:
The story of Peter and Cornelius is found in Acts 10. Before this story, Christianity was simply a Jewish sect that believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. Cornelius was a Gentile. He was part of the Roman garrison that controlled Judea. As a centurion, he had command of 100 Roman soldiers. Cornelius was generally a good guy – he gave alms to the poor and prayed to God. Cornelius, however, was still a Roman and still a Gentile. He was not Jewish and he did not obey the Jewish Law. Cornelius was ritually unclean.
At this time, Peter had a vision. In this vision, God instructed Peter to kill and eat ritually unclean animals prohibited by Leviticus 11. At this time, Cornelius also received an angelic instruction that God had heard his prayers and told him to send someone to retrieve Peter. Coming out of his trance, the Holy Spirit instructed Peter that men were looking for him, and he was to accompany them.
Peter did as the Spirit instructed. He entered Cornelius’s ritually unclean house which was prohibited to him. Peter then speaks to Cornelius and his entire household about the story of Jesus. As a result, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Gentiles and they are baptized. The (Old Testament) Law considered Cornelius and his household unclean and unworthy of God, and yet, the third person of the Trinity welcomed them into the household of faith. God showed Peter (and us) that we “should not call any man common or unclean.” (v.28). By the act of the Spirit and the obedience of Peter, the gospel enters the Gentile community.
Dr. Steele draws a few lessons from these two stories. First, in both stories, the Holy Spirit was already at work in the lives of the Ethiopian and Cornelius. Both men, one Jew and one Gentile, were seeking God and to be in closer communion with God. Philip and Peter simply gave each man the key to seeing the fullness of God displayed in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit had already tilled the ground and provided the good soil for Philip and Peter to plant the seed. (p.102).
Second, both the Ethiopian and Cornelius were unexpected converts. The Ethiopian, although Jewish, was not Judean or Galilean. He was not someone of Philip’s ethnic group. Cornelius was not even Jewish and was a member of the occupying and hated the Roman military force in Judea. If anyone should have outside of God’s mercy, it should have been Cornelius. Both these stories illustrate that the good news of Jesus is not simply for people like us, and it is bigger than we can imagine. (p.94, 95).
Finally, both Philip and Peter were open to hearing the voice of the Spirit. Both went where the Spirit directed. They were attentive to the call. Both men trusted that even when the Spirit guided them towards the unexpected converts, these unexpected converts were the destination. (p.96).
The question that Dr. Steele asks of each of us, is who is our Ethiopian or our Cornelius. Who is it that the Spirit places in our lives that we are to go to? Who is the chance conversation that we may have about Jesus? Who is God-fearer, the spiritual-but-not-religious, or the non-rule-follower, that we are being called to tell our story to? The Scriptures never say that the Ethiopian or Cornelius joined Peter’s congregation, but the Scriptures do say that they were baptized and became filled with the Holy Spirit and carried the Gospel back to their homes.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is beans and greens. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
“And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”Acts 10:42-43