(65) It’s really happened! God has broken through to the other nations, opened them up to Life! – Acts 11:18

The scattering of the Jerusalem church led to the good news about Jesus being spread throughout Judea and Samaria. Luke gives an account of Philip, one of the seven chosen to attend to practical matters in the church, who went to Samaria, the old capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, which was then a city of Samaritans. His preaching and healing drew large crowds and brought joy to the city.

Just as things were going really well in Samaria God told Philip to go about fifty miles south to a desert road heading south from Jerusalem. There Philip stood with no one around wondering why he was there until a chariot came by with an Ethiopian government official in it. Philip ran alongside it and heard that he was reading from the prophet Isaiah about a man who “was led like a sheep to the slaughter” (Acts 8:32 quoting Isaiah 53:7). The official asked Philip who the prophet was talking about so Philip told him the good news about Jesus. The Ethiopian saw some water and asked to be baptised and “went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).

The persecution of the church lasted for some time. Luke gives us no indication of the timescale in Acts but it would be reasonable to assume that it was a few years before his next summary statement: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers” (Acts 9:31). By this time there were churches established in towns throughout Judea and Samaria and beyond. These were groups of Jews who had come to believe that Jesus was their promised Messiah and put their trust in him.

The apostles travelled around the fledgling churches teaching and encouraging them in their faith. They also performed miracles. Luke records that Peter, the leader of the twelve, prayed for a lady called Tabitha who had died and saw her restored to life. This created a stir in her home town of Joppa and he stayed there and saw many come to believe in the Lord Jesus.

While he was there Peter saw a picture of animals that were ‘unclean’ – meaning that the law prohibited Jews from eating them – and heard a voice telling him to eat them. He refused but the voice said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). Peter was perplexed by this but it turned out to be the preparation for one of the most significant steps in the development of the church.

The previous day an angel had appeared to a Roman Centurion called Cornelius living in Caesarea, thirty miles up the coast from Joppa. We are told that “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10:2). The angel told him to send men to Joppa to fetch Peter. When they arrived Peter was prepared to go with them and they journeyed to Caesarea.

When Peter arrived at Cornelius’s house he found a whole group of people waiting to hear what he had to say. The Jews at this time were brought up not to associate with people from other nations, or even visit them and, as Peter explained to Cornelius, he was unsure what to say. Jesus had operated almost exclusively among the Jews which meant that Peter had no example to follow in his dealings with Gentiles. (The word Gentile is sometimes used to translate the Hebrew and Greek words for ‘people’ or ‘nations’ in English Bibles when they refer to non-Jews.) Reflecting on the strange vision he had seen the day before, but still struggling to adapt to this new situation, Peter told them about Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. To the complete surprise of Peter and his Jewish companions, while he was speaking, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (Acts 10:44). God conclusively demonstrated to them that the good news about Jesus was for all nationalities.

Peter had to explain himself to a suspicious and critical church back in Jerusalem, but when they heard his account they, praised God that, “It’s really happened! God has broken through to the other nations, opened them up to Life!” (Acts 11:18 in The Message). The church was now set for a dramatic new phase of expansion to the Gentiles.

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