Just like at the beginning
By Edmund Tedeschi
Peter wasn’t trying to get outside the box. When the
delegation from the Roman centurion Cornelius interrupted his rooftop prayer
time, he had been having a most disturbing vision … about eating ceremonially
unclean animals. Now there were three “unclean” people at the door, summoning
him to ministry at the home of a Roman officer.
Gentiles were certainly beyond the scope of his intended
ministry; but the rest is history. Many generations later, what happened then
matters to you and me. The great missionary Paul would call it the “mystery of
Christ” that everyone is included in grace. Jews, Romans, barbarians … everyone is included in God’s amazing grace.
The clincher for Peter was that “the Holy Spirit fell upon
them, just as He did upon us at the beginning.” The Spirit fell on them. The
presence and power of the Person, God the Holy Spirit, came on them. Just as in
Jerusalem on the apostles and on more than 100 other Jewish disciples in the
Upper Room, now the Spirit was wonderfully overwhelming a house full of
Gentiles as they heard about and believed on Jesus. He was their Messiah too.
And they demonstrated the same personal evidence of their experience in the
Spirit — they were worshipping in unknown tongues.
Speaking in tongues had evidential value to Peter and the
six Jewish men accompanying him, as Luke points out, “For they were hearing
them speaking with tongues and exalting God” (Acts 10:46). Their emphasis,
however, was not on evidence, but on the Spirit and on the obvious fact these
Gentiles could experience Him just like the Jewish believers had at the
In like manner, the modern Pentecostal revival would arise
from earnest study of those Book of Acts precedents, with a deep longing that
we too might receive the Promise of the Spirit, like “at the beginning.”
Tongues-speaking would be called “initial physical evidence,” an audible link
with events in Acts, but the stated standard would be “according to Acts 2:4,”
a humble appeal to be filled with the Holy Spirit just like the Upper Room believers
were at the beginning, to be emboldened and empowered by the Spirit himself to
bring compelling witness of Jesus the Savior across the street and around the
Beyond evidential value, praying and worshipping in an
unknown tongue releases the human spirit in expressions to the Lord that bring
deep personal edification. The time spent waiting prayerfully focuses heart
desire on Jesus and leads to practical understanding of what it means to yield
to the Spirit. Learning to give over the tongue to the Spirit’s utterance opens
a door to being used in other spiritual gifts.
Receiving the Spirit, like at the beginning, obviously
includes tongues with the blessings and benefits of that gift. However, a
preoccupation with “initial physical evidence” can lead to a mistaken emphasis.
Some Christians who have a brief initial utterance in tongues seek no further
exercise of the gift because the desired goal has been achieved. Others seem
unable to receive because they passively wait to witness a supernatural sign
instead of actively worshipping the Lord and learning to yield to the Spirit.
In the Gospels, Jesus pointedly rebuked those who seek signs and miss the
For Peter, seeing everyone at the house of Cornelius
receiving the Spirit (tongues and all) broke down the wall between Jew and
Gentile. He would describe the events in detail on returning to Jerusalem (Acts
11). Years later a church council would consider how to disciple new believers from pagan backgrounds. There, Peter would remind everyone of his
pioneering ministry to Gentiles, and how God gave them “the Holy Spirit, just
as He also did to us” (Acts 15:8).
Rightly understood, the teaching about receiving the Holy
Spirit doesn’t divide us; it joins us together with the apostles and with one
another. If our teaching and ministry practice are true to those beginnings,
our emphasis will not be on “evidence,” but on the Spirit himself and on the
purpose of the Spirit to draw attention to Jesus. tpe
EDMUND TEDESCHI is assistant superintendent of the Minnesota
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