Happy Easter to all my readers!
He is risen!
Those who would like more information about the significance of Easter might find the following posts helpful:
The significance of Easter to the Church (various questions answered)
Easter, the egg and the hare (one of the fullest accounts about Easter symbolism)
Mary Magdalene and the legend of the egg (Christian — not pagan!)
One of the suggested epistles for Easter in Year C of the three-year Lectionary, which Catholics and mainline Protestants use, is Acts 10:34-43:
10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,
10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
10:36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all.
10:37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:
10:38 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.
10:39 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;
10:40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,
10:41 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.
10:42 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.
10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Before discussing this reading, may I recommend the Book of Acts to those who have not yet read it. It features miracles, conversions, martyrdom and persecution. It is the story of the earliest days of the Church. The miracles and conversions the apostles wrought helped the Church to greatly expand. It is a blessing to us that they are recorded in Acts.
I mention that, because one year in Catholic school we read the epistles in Friday’s religion classes for the upcoming Sundays. I found Acts incredibly perplexing and somewhat boring. Everything we read seemed out of context to me. Decades later, I think there are possibly two reasons for this: one, the nun did not explain the background to what we were going to read and, two, the awe-inspiring verses, which I didn’t know about at the time, were never in the epistle readings.
Therefore, putting Acts 10 into context will demonstrate why it is a must read.
Acts 10 tells the story of Cornelius, a pagan Roman centurion who nonetheless had a deep awe of God. Cornelius was so devout — yet still unsaved — that he used to give alms to the Jews. One morning, an angel appeared and told him that God had accepted his offerings and prayers. Cornelius addressed the angel as ‘Lord’. The angel instructed Cornelius to send men to Joppa to find the apostle Peter and bring him to the centurion’s home.
Meanwhile, back in Joppa, Peter was deep in prayer and very hungry. Whilst his meal was being prepared, he had a vision of a huge sheet coming down from the sky with all manner of animals, including birds, descending to earth. He heard a voice say, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat’ (verse 13). Peter answered, ‘By no means, Lord’, insisting he could not eat what was unclean. The voice said, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common’ (verse 15). He had the vision twice more, at which point the sheet of animals returned to heaven.
Peter was deeply troubled in contemplating what he had just experienced when the Holy Spirit spoke to him and told him to go and meet the three men that had just arrived where he was lodging. Furthermore, he was to accompany them to Caesarea. He did as instructed.
The four men left the following day for Cornelius’s home, which brings us to our reading — Peter’s first sermon to Cornelius and his household. Afterwards, the Holy Spirit descended upon them. Peter baptised all and stayed there for several days.
Peter began his sermon by saying that God is no respecter of persons: He loves and welcomes all, Jew and Gentile alike (verses 34, 35).
Peter briefly summarised Jesus’s ministry because he knew that Cornelius and those living with him, just like everyone else, knew it well (verses 37, 38).
It is important to note that he introduced this by stating that Jesus, the one of whom they had heard so much, is indeed Lord of all (verse 36).
The apostle spoke of His crucifixion, which was common knowledge. Given that Cornelius was a centurion, he might have been privy to even more details (verse 39).
Peter confirmed that God raised Jesus up from the dead. He appeared to His disciples (verse 40) and shared a meal with them after His resurrection (verse 41).
Matthew Henry explains that it was important for Peter to relay these facts, especially that of the resurrection, because (emphases, except for the Greek, are mine):
Probably, they had heard at Cesarea some talk of his having risen from the dead but the talk of it was soon silenced by that vile suggestion of the Jews, that his disciples came by night and stole him away. And therefore Peter insists upon this as the main support of that word which preacheth peace by Jesus Christ. 1. The power by which he arose is incontestably divine (Acts 10:40): Him God raised up the third day, which not only disproved all the calumnies and accusations he was laid under by men, but effectually proved God’s acceptance of the satisfaction he made for the sin of man by the blood of his cross. He did not break prison, but had a legal discharge. God raised him up. 2. The proofs of his resurrection were incontestably clear for God showed him openly. He gave him to be made manifest—edoken auton emphane genesthai, to be visible, evidently so so he appears, as that it appears beyond contradiction to be him, and not another. It was such a showing of him as amounted to a demonstration of the truth of his resurrection. He showed him not publicly indeed (it was not open in this sense), but evidently not to all the people, who had been the witnesses of his death. By resisting all the evidences he had given them of his divine mission in his miracles, they had forfeited the favour of being eye-witnesses of this great proof of it. Those who immediately forged and promoted that lie of his being stolen away were justly given up to strong delusions to believe it, and not suffered to be undeceived by his being shown to all the people and so much the greater shall be the blessedness of those who have not seen, and yet have believed …
Therefore, Peter was saying that many people saw the risen Jesus but, because they did not believe He was their Saviour during His ministry, their eyes had been blinded to the truth of the resurrection.
John MacArthur says:
Do you know that after the resurrection Jesus was seen by over 500 people over a period of 400…er, 40 days, but only His own people? Why? I think Jesus said it in Luke 16:31. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, they will not believe though one be raised from the dead,” remember that? It might have been a curiosity, but that’s all it would have been. It might have produced in Pilate terrible fear. It might have produced in Caiaphas and Annas terror, but that’s all it would have produced. Because if they wouldn’t believe the Scripture, they couldn’t be saved. They would find another way to explain it away. And this is one pearl God won’t cast before swine. He appears only to His own, to strengthen them, to confirm the resurrection so they can preach the resurrection.
“He appears…verse 41…visibly to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.” They sat down at table, proof positive, a real, literal resurrection. No phantom here, no hallucination here. We were eyewitnesses. We saw Him, we ate with Him, we drank with Him, we talked with Him.
Peter went on to testify to Cornelius and his people that Jesus commanded His apostles to preach that He alone is ordained by God to judge the living and the dead (verse 42). Peter was referring to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20):
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Peter exhorted Cornelius to be saved. All who believe in Jesus Christ receive forgiveness of sins, as the prophets of the Bible foretold (verse 43). Cornelius and his household had heard and possibly marvelled at hearing of His many miracles and discourses, but they did not yet believe. Henry has this analysis, which surmises that, although a Gentile, Cornelius was familiar with Scripture from his associations with the Jews:
his praying and his giving alms were very well, but one thing he lacked, he must believe in Christ. Observe,
1. Why he must believe in him. Faith has reference to a testimony, and the Christian faith is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, it is built upon the testimony given by them. (1.) By the apostles. Peter as foreman speaks for the rest, that God commanded them, and gave them in charge, to preach to the people, and to testify concerning Christ so that their testimony was not only credible, but authentic, and what we may venture upon. Their testimony is God’s testimony and they are his witnesses to the world. They do not only say it as matter of news, but testify it as matter of record, by which men must be judged. (2.) By the prophets of the Old Testament, whose testimony beforehand, not only concerning his sufferings, but concerning the design and intention of them, very much corroborates the apostles’ testimony concerning them (Acts 10:43): To him give all the prophets witness. We have reason to think that Cornelius and his friends were no strangers to the writings of the prophets. Out of the mouth of these two clouds of witnesses, so exactly agreeing, this word is established.
Peter knew it was essential for Cornelius and his household to believe in Christ Jesus or be judged on the Last Day. MacArthur explains:
You preach, Jesus said to them, go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature…you tell them that the Christ that was crucified has risen and is now their judge. According to John chapter 5 He’s going to judge every individual…all judgment has been committed to Him by the Father. He is the criterion, He is the standard for judgment. He will judge every man. So you tell those sinners that the One who was crucified and the One who rose again is their judge. They’re not His judge. They don’t render a verdict on Him, He renders one on them. You tell them that. That’s a warning part of the gospel. That’s the fear part of the gospel that this Jesus whom you killed is now alive. He’s ascended to the Father. He is now your judge and the judge of everyone living and dead.
This puts paid to the notion that Jesus’s story ended with His burial. Unfortunately, that is what little children are being taught at some of Britain’s crèches. I knew a woman whose three-year-old son was taught that. That took place ten years ago. He cried and cried, even when he got home that afternoon. It is sad that she, although raised as a Christian, did not have the knowledge to tell him that Jesus died for everyone’s sins — and that God raised Him to life on the third day, promising that we would be with Him one day forever and ever. That would have dried the little mite’s tears, especially if she had the nous to explain that Jesus is alive and loves him more than he can imagine. She could have mentioned heaven in simple terms. But, no, that didn’t happen. I wonder what he believes now as a 13-year-old. Keep this lad and others like him in your prayers, please.
What can lapsed or lukewarm believers do at Easter? Some may want to have more faith but think they are so far ‘gone’ that it is impossible. Nothing is impossible with God and with the risen Christ as our only Mediator and Advocate.
John MacArthur says:
If you say, “I’d like to believe, I’m struggling.” Pray the prayer the man in the New Testament prayed, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” By the way, Cornelius and his whole household believed that day two thousand years ago. How about you?
Pray. Pray a lot throughout the day, conversationally. Christ Jesus hears us and answers our needs. He welcomes us as His brothers and sisters. May all who come to believe in Him share newness of life on Easter Day.