If we take the time to take a simple look at the interactions of our Lord and of His apostles in the Gospels and in the book of Acts, it will help us to see the change between the former dispensation and the present dispensation of grace under which we are now living.
This study will first look at interactions with some “strangers to the covenants of promise”, but not just any Gentiles. These would be those that stand out among the Gentiles. These are interactions with some VIPs, the soldiers of Imperial Rome. These were men of stature, yet were not held out as special because of that stature, nor were they excluded because of it. But because of their stature, they are notable.
The first of these soldiers was an unnamed centurion who was blessed to have lived during our Lord’s ministry on earth.
|Matthew 8:5–13||Luke 7:1–10|
|And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.
The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.
|Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this: For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.
Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.
During this encounter, there are many important details that must be considered to understand this encounter. First, the big picture overview: A Gentile, a stranger to the covenants of promise, recognized more of the Lord Jesus and had greater faith than those to whom He was sent. He also recognized his unworthiness to demand anything of the Lord based on rank. He, the commander of 100 Roman soldiers, recognized a much higher power. This is the attitude with which all men of rank must come to the Lord.
In detail though, there is more to be considered. This detail must be understood in the context of the entire Word of God, beginning in Genesis.
In Genesis chapter 12, God made a promise to Abraham:
Genesis 12:1–3 — “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
How does this relate?
In Matthew’s account, we only read of the Lord being approached by the centurion with the request to heal his servant. In Luke’s account, we learn exactly how he approached: he sent elders of the Jews to beseech the Lord. Why is this important? The nation called out of Egypt was to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). Notice that in Matthew 15:21–28, when a Gentile woman approached the Lord on her own, it did not quite happen in this same way. She had to acknowledge the fact that as a stranger to the covenants of promise she could at best eat the crumbs from the children’s table.
It is a little more though than to ask for the intercession of a son of Abraham, to be considered one that blesses Abraham and his children. Does this man seem to fit the bill on this?
Luke 7:4–5 — “And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this: For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.”
Notice from the rest of the story that this centurion did not think himself worthy, and didn’t want to even trouble the Lord to come to his house, but only to speak healing and be on His way.
The blessing that came upon this man, particularly regarding his servant, is a type of the healing that would heal the nations during the promised Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. The Gentile with faith would not be shut out from kingdom blessings. In fact, he would have a place where the unbelieving son of Abraham would not.
The Centurion of Cæsarea
Another interaction with one of Rome’s finest would occur much later. This would be after the Lord’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. It would occur as His apostles would minister and endure the same rejection as their Lord.
We read the story about this soldier in Acts chapters 10, retold by the apostle Peter in Acts 11, and then re-addressed in chapter 15 briefly. This event had a very prominent place in the “Acts” history.
This event can be found in its entirety in Acts 10:1–11:18. While it would be too long to write the entire story here, the reader is highly encouraged to carefully read this account.
This man’s character is addressed in 10:2 and 10:22. Notice descriptions from 10:2:
- feared God with all his house
- gave much alms to the people (i.e., the people of Israel)
- prayed to God alway
Again from verse 22:
- A just man
- One that feareth God
- Of good report among all the nation of the Jews
A few things to ask yourself about this man:
- Read Matthew 25:31–46. Would this be one that would be in the “sheep” group, or in the “goat” group?
- Does he pass the “Genesis 12:3” test?
- Now, the big question: Was he saved?
When we come to Peter’s message to Cornelius, take notice of the way that Peter begins speaking to this group of Cornelius, his family and close friends:
Acts 10:34–35 — “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”
That is exactly what we could call “Kingdom Righteousness”, very consistent with the law, the prophets, the preaching of John the Baptist, and the Lord’s own doctrine.
Before we move on, however, we should take the time to compare this to two verses from Paul’s epistles:
Ephesians 1:6 — “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
Titus 3:3–6 — “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour…”
Notice the acceptance that Peter began to preach to this man as compared to the acceptance that Paul wrote about in Ephesians. Peter began speaking about how individuals in every nation could be accepted by God. It would be to fear God and work righteousness. How does this righteousness compare to the righteousness in Titus 3?
There is also another thing to notice about this message. Until this time, the message has been mostly a national message about a national salvation. You can see this in 2:38–39¹, 3:19–26, 4:5–12, and 5:29–33. Notice in verse 35, however, that this is about individuals in every nation. When we get to verse 43, it gets very personal, but in verses 44 and 45, Peter and those with his become astonished at the results of his message.
First, after explaining the account of our Lord’s ministry, death, and resurrection, Peter makes a statement:
Acts 10:43 — “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”
This becomes personal. To answer the question, “was Cornelius saved”, the answer is that to this point, no, not as we understand our salvation now. This creates a little bit of a dilemma, because remember that if we applied the test of Matthew 25 and Genesis 12, and the “Kingdom righteousness” that we addressed, he did pass the test. If the nation would have repented of their treatment of One that God made both Lord and Christ, times of refreshing and the return of the King with His Kingdom was promised. And this Gentile, Cornelius, would have been on the right side of the King.
However, at this point, the Kingdom seems a fading hope as “the children of the kingdom” sent the message by their unbelief and persecution of the apostles, “We will not have this man to reign over us”.
In verse 43 above, we do not strictly find Peter giving what we would call a “Gospel presentation”. What we do find him doing is stating a fact of something that all the prophets witness is true. There is not an invitation to believe, but a statement of what the prophets said. What happens next is outside of the bounds of Peter’s expectation:
Acts 10:44–46 — “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God…”
This was not the way things had been. Ever. This was a special assignment that the Lord gave to Peter, and Peter did not really understand it from the beginning. Peter had been given an apostleship of the circumcision (Galatians 2:8), but here he was sent to “men uncircumcised” (Acts 11:3) and they received “the like gift” that the believers of the circumcision received (Acts 11:17). They received it before Peter even realized that his message was finished.
That the Gentiles would receive crumbs from the children’s table would not have astonished Peter and all those with him. It would not have caused a stir among the believers of the Circumcision. That they would have a special feast sent to them completely independent of the children’s feast was a little much, and it astonished Peter, every believer of the Circumcision that was with him, and all of the apostles and brethren in Judaea.
These Gentiles would immediately be baptized (notice the sequence of events and compare them to the sequence of events at Peter’s sermon in Acts 2.) The last recording of anything from Peter would be in Acts 15, where he would again speak of this event:
Acts 15:7–11 — “And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.”
Being on this side sequentially of this event we do not readily see the big change of things that has just occurred. For us, we Gentiles came to Christ believing as Gentiles, and are accepted in the Beloved as Gentiles. And to us it has always been that way. But it had not always been that way. And if Peter had said that what is happening at this moment is the Gentiles could be saved just like the Jews this would not have had the same meaning. That, however, is not what he said. He said that “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.”
The times, they are, a-changing…
The Jailer in Philippi
After the meeting in Jerusalem, read of another event involving a Roman soldier, this time with the Apostle Paul.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are imprisoned in Philippi because of the accusation that they were going against Roman customs, because they were Jews. This is really not what they were doing, but it was the accusation. He was simply tired of hearing the woman with the “spirit of divination” speak disruptively while he was speaking. This supernatural manifestation was not helping his cause.
These Jewish men (this is important to keep in mind here), were falsely accused, beat, and put in jail. Not only were they in jail, but their feet were put into stocks. The jailer involved executed this. Ask yourself this question: How would this jailer have done on the “Matthew 25”, or “Genesis 12” test?
But his treatment of these men, being Jews, was not even considered. When he said, trembling, “what must I do to be saved”, the answer was not to change his ways and to start treating the people better. It was not as John the Baptist had spoken in Luke 3:14². It was not to start having a good report among all the nation of the Jews as Cornelius had. There was one issue, and one issue alone:
Acts 16:31 — “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”
This, to this day, is the issue between God and man. All, both they of the Circumcision, and we of the uncircumcision stand before God declared guilty. We have all been declared that there is nothing in us that would commend us to God. We must come to the right side of the God of creation in one way alone. We must be justified freely, as the apostle Paul writes to the Romans, by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, and God is the justifier of all they which believe in Jesus, of the Jews, and of the Gentiles. There is no difference.
Romans 3:19–26 — “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
Where do you, at this time in God’s dealing with man, stand on this issue? Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation?
- Some do argue that Acts 2:38–39 is personal, but the message is to the entire nation as a nation.
- Luke 3:14 — “And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.”
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