"For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God."
Dear Bro. John,
Not so long ago, I was getting ready for work, and, as I was crossing the kitchen floor, I started hearing this preaching, not with my ears but in my heart. These are some of the things that I was hearing – and understanding, thank God!
The Jews would have considered it heresy for the Gentiles to claim to belong to Jehovah. None of the Gentiles were God’s chosen people, and everyone among the Jews knew it. Jesus himself said that they were dogs and said that they were not fit to be fed the children’s bread (Mt. 15). No Gentile’s claim to be accepted of the Lord would have carried any weight.
When God did turn to the Gentiles, it was going to take something straight out of Heaven to convince the Jews, God’s own people, that such a thing had happened, that the "impossible" had happened!
So, God filled the Jews up with His New Covenant first, the power and glory of the holy Ghost. He gave it to them first so that they would know it when they saw it on someone else. They had something from God and they knew it. Then, God opened the door to the Gentiles and filled them – the ones Jesus called dogs – with His holy Spirit. It was impossible, by every standard they had available to them, and yet it had happened. They knew that it had happened because they (the Gentiles) were now doing what the Jews did when they received it. Here is 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."
They (the Jews) were astonished. But what was it that astonished them? What were they witnessing that had that effect on them? God had grafted in the Gentiles by pouring out on them the gift of the holy Ghost, and the Jews knew it because they heard them speaking in tongues, just as the Jews had done in the beginning. Peter and the Jews with him knew what was God and what was not. God had made sure of it. So, to borrow a phrase from Peter, "Who were they to resist God?"
God had sent irrefutable proof (speaking in tongues) to the Jews that the Gentiles were now God’s people, along with the Jews, and that they really had been given the real Spirit of God. Had the Gentiles merely have claimed to be washed from their sins, the Jews would never have believed it, and rightly so.
The Jews were sometimes proud of the fact that they were a special people to the Lord and were set apart by Him for Himself (e.g. Luke 4:24-29). But by God’s adopting the Gentiles into His family (if they repented and believed the gospel), the Jews had lost their status! It may not have been seen as a good thing by many Jewish believers, yet it had happened, and speaking in tongues proved it! The Jews who followed Jesus while he was on earth had been trained to know better than to believe the testimony of men. At the same time, they had also been trained never to deny the testimony of God! At Cornelius’ house, God had changed things, and then He sent His witness from Heaven to let the Jews know that He had really done it.
Paul said that speaking in tongues was a sign for unbelievers. Who could have qualified to be more of an unbeliever than a Jew that day? They would never have believed that God would baptize a Gentile into His kingdom. That was contrary to everything they had ever seen or heard, even from the Lord Jesus, who commanded his disciples not to go to the Gentiles (Mt. 10). It is easy to see why they were utterly astonished at hearing God’s testimony, the witness of the holy Ghost, coming through the mouths of the uncircumcised. But they knew God’s witness was true. They had received it themselves.
When did the witness ever stop? No man, especially a Gentile, could have convinced a wise believer back then that he belonged to Jesus without God’s sign – and he can’t today either. Would a man’s claim of being born again or "getting saved" have stood the test for a believing Jew back then? Would the Jews have been "astonished" if the uncircumcised in Cornelius’ house had listened to Peter and then said, "I accept the Lord as my personal Lord and Savior", or "I just got saved"? Of course not! Peter would have rebuked them for their foolishness. It has never been acceptable in God’s kingdom for men to declare themselves to be right with God! Man’s claims of holiness have never meant anything in heaven, whether under the Old or New Testament. Only the foolish are impressed by what men claim.
God did the wonderful work of cleansing Gentiles that day at Cornelius’ house, and He added His witness, speaking in tongues, to show His servants that He had really done it. No man at the scene could in good conscience deny that God had indeed washed away the sins of the Gentiles and taken them in. Thankfully, God is still showing the same great mercy to all who repent and believe, and He is still giving the same sign that He has indeed done it.