It was not easy for Peter to take on board what he saw with his own eyes in Caesarea. Yet he was reassured by one important detail. The new behaviour that he observed, which was that the Holy Spirit had fallen on Cornelius and his friends, was what had been predicted by Jesus when he said, ‘John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ The presence of the Spirit was the overwhelming proof that Jesus was at work bringing change into the life of his church in such a dramatic manner. And we, if we are spiritually wise, will want to know whether or not Jesus is at work in our midst.
What signs would indicate to us that the Spirit is present in a special way? Peter had seen such a presence in the home of Cornelius and it was such a presence that he was prepared to admit his previous reluctance to accept Gentiles had been wrong and that he had to change. On that occasion, some of them had spoken with tongues, which was appropriate evidence on that occasion, but there are many other ways by which the presence of the Spirit will be seen. So here are a few suggestions.
First, there will be a burden to pray. We can see from the experience of Peter and of Cornelius that both of them were burdened to pray, although miles apart geographically and culturally. It was Jesus who led each of them to pray, even although they did not understand why they were praying. So that is the first way to see whether or not the Spirit is here with us in a special way. Each of us should look in the mirror and ask the individual that we see, ‘How earnest, how burdened is your prayer life?’ Because if it is not, don’t expect anything to happen.
Second, there will be a focus on Jesus and his salvation. One of the easiest things to happen in a church is distraction. Distraction occurs when something else becomes more important to us that Jesus. It is fairly easy to work out how important he is to us. Again, go back to the mirror and ask the person you see, ‘How often did you think about Jesus and his salvation today, or yesterday?’ If the Spirit is present, we will think about Jesus.
Third, there will be a concern for repentance. Why should we repent? The reason is because we have sinned against God. Why do we repent? The reason is because we see our failures through the willingness of God to forgive us. Repentance is an expression of regret for sinning, of determination to forsake sinning, but it is done in the presence of God by the leading of the Spirit.
Fourth, there will be a longing to share our faith. Surely that is what Jesus had taught the church in Jerusalem. They were reminded of the fields that were white ready for harvest and the Spirit had led Peter to tell the people in Caesarea about Jesus.
Perhaps you will ask, what is new about a burden to pray, a focus on Jesus and his salvation, a desire to repent, and a longing to share the faith? From one point of view, they are as old as the hills. But from a spiritual point of view, they should always have newness about them. And when a church is marked by newness in these areas of life, they are the evidence that the Spirit is present.
When Peter had been enabled by Jesus to tell the story of what happened in Caesarea, you could hear a pin drop. They were all silent in amazement, with wonder written all over their hearts. Then they all began to praise God for what he had done. What had seemed potentially divisive had been overcome and unity had been enhanced. What a happy gathering!