Updated: Feb 3
Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
This is the reading from the Episcopal Lectionary for Easter Sunday, Year B 2018. It will next be read aloud in a church by a reader, as an Easter replacement for either the Old Testament or Epistle reading, on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018. It is important as it tells of the ministry that will comes after the resurrection of our Lord in an Apostle. Serving God would no longer be limited to one small sect of believers in the One God (Jews), as professed faith would no longer be the determining factor of devotion.
In this reading, Peter has been divinely called to meet with Cornelius, who was a Roman Centurion in Caesarea. Cornelius had also been divinely called to send men to Joppa to request Peter’s presence. Because of a spiritual dream, Peter went to meet with a Gentile who had found the God of the Jews worthy of praise.
When we read, “Peter began to speak,” the literal Greek says, “Having opened moreover Peter the [one] [his] mouth.” This should be seen as a statement of how Peter’s mouth was opened by the Holy Spirit, just as it was on the day of Pentecost. As such, Peter’s mouth – lips and tongue – was moving, but the Word of the Holy Spirit was coming out. Peter spoke, but he spoke from the same divine source that put Peter in the presence of Cornelius.
This means that when Peter’s mouth said, “anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God],” that does not mean he set forth an expectation that God puts up with whatever anyone wants to do, as long as they do what is right. That leaves “what is right” up to one’s interpretation of “good” and “right.” It makes human definitions of what God expects become a question of acceptability. To get that implication makes the translation become misleading.
The Greek words actually written, “ergazomenos dikaiosynēn,” say “working righteousness,” rather than “does what is right.” This means that when one is working righteousness, then one is filled with the Holy Spirit, acting on God’s behalf. The qualifications have nothing to do with one’s Jewish heritage or lack thereof. Thus “acceptable” (“dektos”) means God has “received favorably” the heart and soul of one who prays devoutly for God’s guidance [as had Cornelius and Peter]. Such devotion in a person makes that person be “accepted” by God, and the Holy Spirit has been “accepted” by that person in return. That is how one acts from righteousness.
[Hint: This is why Easter has readings from the Acts of the Apostles.]
When Simon-Peter said, “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that [Jesus Christ] is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead,” the element of “living” says “those who are alive via the Holy Spirit – as Jesus Christ reborn.” Jesus only possible to come into the living; and Jesus coming into one can only result in that one gaining eternal life.
Because all who have received the breath of life at birth [from exiting a mother’s womb], all human beings have been given mortal life, which in turn (eventually) leads to an end in mortal death. Therefore, Peter said [via the Holy Spirit] that being reborn as Jesus Christ brings the judgment of life, while not receiving that Spirit keeps one locked into the mortal judgment of death. The rebirth of Jesus Christ within a servant to the LORD is wholly “ordained by God,” and not up to the human being to cast judgment otherwise. God, then, is the judge of who lives eternally (with Jesus Christ protecting that soul) and who is returned for reincarnation or soul punishment (without Jesus Christ protecting that soul).
When Peter ended this reading by stating, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name,” one has to grasp that “through his name” ONLY comes by being reborn AS Jesus Christ. One can ONLY receive forgiveness of sins by belief that reaches a level of faith that is pleasing to God [acceptability]. For one’s love of God and faith in Jesus as the Messiah, one is sent the Holy Spirit by God, so one begins ACTING RIGHTEOUSLY … just as did Jesus of Nazareth.
As a reading that accompanies the Easter Resurrection lessons, one must see that the Resurrection of Jesus was for a promise of eternally offering redemption to those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus. After Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven on the forty-ninth day [the seven Sundays of Easter], his Spirit [thus his name] returned in those who had shown faith and devotion. In return, they were granted eternal life over mortal death, because they chose to sacrifice themselves to the will of God. From Pentecost that year and until their deaths, they acted from righteousness, doing what was acceptable to God.