Sunday, October 11, 2020
For the Nations
If you were at someone’s deathbed, you would hope to hear their last words. Those last words would have great meaning.
Jesus had last words on earth, but not at his deathbed. At his ascension into heaven. This is what he said,
Acts 1:8 ESV “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Christianity was founded in the Middle East. Specifically in Jerusalem.
But Jesus’ clear intention and strong command was that the message of life in him was to be taken to the farthest corners of the world.
We…we are the ends of the earth.
At Stonebrook, we have more than 12 nations represented across the world.
The United States is the “ends of the earth.” As is China, Nigeria, El Salvador, South Korea, and Vietnam. We are all “the ends of the earth.”
For the past 2000 years, Jesus’ disciples have taken Jesus’ last words seriously. And they have traveled far and wide to make disciples. We all are fortunate. Blessed… to be the beneficiaries of their obedience.
In short, Jesus’ command is that the gospel is for the nations.
This morning in our series going through the book of Acts, the Acts… the Deeds… of the Apostles, we are going to read a fascinating story in Acts 10.
At a glance, the story doesn’t seem overly significant. And we might even wonder why God put this story in the Bible. But when we understand the 2000 years of history prior to the events of this chapter, something marvelous and hopeful is revealed.
This crucial story has seven scenes. We will read six of them.
SCENE 1: the vision of Cornelius (10:1-8).
Acts 10 (ESV)
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort,
2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.
3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.”
4 And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.
5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.
6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him,
8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile, a Roman soldier, a centurion, which meant he was in charge of about 100 men. That he was not a Jew is highly significant. God will make clear that he has destroyed what Ephesians 2 calls “the dividing wall of hostility” between Jews and Gentiles.
By the way, Gentile simply means “nations.” Usually in the NT the word refers to anyone who is not Jewish. That is virtually all of us at Stonebrook, unless you are of Jewish descent.
God sends an angel through a vision, and he gave Cornelius some instructions. Cornelius was to send for Simon Peter. The apostle Peter.
Peter was in Joppa, about 30 miles south of Caesarea. Both cities were on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine.
We learn in Chapter 11 that the angel also told Cornelius that Simon would come and “bring you a message through which you and your household will be saved.”
SCENE 2: the vision of Peter (10:9-16)
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter [who was in Joppa] went up on the housetop about the sixth hour [NOON] to pray.
10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance
11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.
12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.
13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”
15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”
16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
While Cornelius’s soldier and his servants were traveling to Joppa, Peter received a vision. A strange vision of something descending from heaven like a great sheet. All kinds of animals, reptiles and birds were on it. The command from heaven was to kill and eat these animals.
Some of these animals had been forbidden to eat by God himself through the Law given to Moses 1400 years earlier. Peter knew this, so he refused, perhaps thinking it was a test.
But he was commanded, “What God has made clean (meaning “holy”) don’t call common or unholy.
To reinforce the message, the Lord did this three times.
SCENE 3: Peter’s meeting with Cornelius’s servants who have traveled from Caesarea (10:17-23)
17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate
18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there.
19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.
20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”
21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?”
22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.”
23 So he invited them in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.
To add to this unusual vision Peter had, the Holy Spirit tells Peter to go with these men.
At this point, Peter has to very curious what the Lord is doing here.
- Visions (both Peter and Cornelius)
- Instruction from an angel
- Instruction from the Holy Spirit
This is no small thing.
SCENE 4: Peter talks to Cornelius (10:24-33)
24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.
26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”
27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered.
28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.
29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing
31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.
32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’
33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
Cornelius had gathered a large group of family and friends.
(In recent weeks at Stonebrook we’ve been talking about “Who’s Your One.” Who is one person you can pray for, serve, show love to, and speak to Jesus about. Well, Cornelius must have had a “Who’s Your Twenty” since all his family and many friends were there.)
The angel had told him that Peter would tell them about salvation.
There was no formal law that strictly forbade Jews from associating with Gentiles. But they did have laws about restrictions from certain foods.
And Jews could become ritually unclean because Gentiles did not have the same requirements for foods.
So practically speaking, Jews generally avoided fellowshipping with Gentiles.
Now it’s important to know that a Gentile could become a proselyte by accepting all laws of Israel such as circumcision and eating only clean foods.
But it’s very significant to the point of the story that Cornelius was not a full proselyte.
SCENE 5: Peter’s sermon (10:34-43)
Verses 34 and 35 are the key to the whole chapter;
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,
35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),
37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed:
38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree,
40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear,
41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.
43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Peter recounts the recent history that Cornelius and his family apparently knew… the history of Jesus’ three year ministry. The power of the Holy Spirit in him as he spoke and performed miracles.
And Peter declares that he personally witnessed Jesus, including his resurrection from the dead.
And then vs. 42 and 43 is the capstone of the gospel message:
- First, Jesus Christ has been appointed by God the Father to judge the world, both the living and the dead. This is a powerful and jolting truth. Every man and woman who has ever lived, including you and me, is accountable to Jesus Christ who will judge them.
- Second, all the prophets in the Scriptures—of which Cornelius is familiar—proclaim Jesus, that everyone— everyone, from any nation, Jew or Gentile—who believes in him will be forgiven of his sins.
God does not play favorites
Friday morning I was reflecting on vs. 42-43. I thought back to the day I believed in Jesus Christ. It was a warm August evening near the ISU campus. I didn’t know much about the Bible or salvation, but these two truths I knew:
- That Jesus Christ was going to judge this world, the living and the dead, including me.
- That by believing in Jesus, I would find forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
These two verse are remarkably simple and concise. And powerful.
Some of you may be unfamiliar with the truths here. If you are, I suggest starting here. Examine your life. Examine your standing with God. Examine the hope that Jesus offers.
SCENE 6: divine intervention and Cornelius’s salvation (10:44-48)
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.
45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,
47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
This large group of Gentiles gathered at Cornelius’s house believed the gospel. They simply believed what Peter said about Jesus. And so God saved them. God saved these uncircumcised Gentiles.
This is a monumental event in the history of the church. To be saved, no one needs to become a Jewish proselyte, getting circumcised and walking in all the laws God gave to Israel through Moses. They simply had to believe in Jesus. This was a new revelation to the Jewish believers like Peter.
For the sake of Peter and the six Jewish believers who were with him, God emphatically made this point by giving them the gift of the tongues through the Holy Spirit. This was a unique time. We see this only 3 times in Acts.
And this time it was necessary to understand God’s will, that God was opening up the gospel to the whole world, simply through faith in Jesus Christ, the Judge of the living and the dead, and the Savior of the world.
Scene 7 is in chapter 11, and Peter retells the story of what happened in scenes 1-6.
And interestingly, this whole story is referred to again in Chapter 15. So essentially this story is spoken of three times, showing the importance of this moment.
So I want to finish up with a few lessons.
The story may seem a bit strange to us. We may even wonder, why did the Lord have Luke, the author, include this in this book?
- We learn God is passionate for the whole world.
This is nothing new, however. As far back in the Bible as Genesis 12, we see God’s heart for the world. God made a covenant to Abraham.
Genesis 12:3 ESV “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God has never quit on his promise to Abraham, to bring blessing to the nations through Abraham’s one great descendant, Jesus Christ.
God’s heart for the world can be seen throughout the OT.
Solomon prayed to the Lord,
1 Kings 8:41–43 ESV “When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel..”.
Israel’s role was to display God to the world, and the world was to come to them.
Our role as the church is to display God and go out to the nations.
The tactics have changed, but God’s heart has not.
If we haven’t been persuaded of this before, Chapter 10 is another clear example.
- We Gentiles should be humble and grateful
I assume all of us at Stonebrook are Gentiles. Perhaps one or two of you are of Jewish descent. But the rest of are Gentiles from the United States and China and Nigeria and other nations.
God has gone to extraordinary measures to show mercy and love to rebels. To sinners like us.
Romans 5:8 says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We are recipients of God’s heart for the world.
And for 2000 years, God has sent ambassadors—people just like us—to the United States, to China, Vietnam, and Nigeria. People who have brought us the message of Christ. (Peter was an ambassador to Cornelius.)
We Americans may think that Christianity is a very American religion. We might even think that the United States is the center of Christianity. If so, we don’t realize that someone had to bring the gospel here 6000 miles from the Middle East.
Remember most, if not all, of us at Stonebrook were born far away from Jerusalem. We are the ends of the earth. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been spread by Christians for 2000 years all over the world, and we are beneficiaries.
God has been gracious to us, for he offers life to anyone who believes. So we should be humble and grateful.
- God calls his church to go to the world.
Acts 1:8 that I mentioned earlier is Jesus’ command to us to make disciples of the nations.
If you are a true Christian, you are God’s ambassador to the world. This is your identity. This is your job description. This is why Peter traveled to Caesarea.
One step at Stonebrook we’ve taken this Fall to help us recognize that is to go through this Book of Acts. We are talking about ambassadorship.
We are also asking one another, “Who’s your One?” Who is one person you can pray for, serve, love, and speak to about Jesus? Obviously the world is much bigger than just that one, but it’s a place every one of us can start.
God has given us as the church an identity and a task: We are ambassadors to go out into the world for Jesus’ sake.
- We are to have no partiality or prejudice when it comes to the gospel.
We might believe someone is beyond hope of salvation because of their sinful lifestyles.
We might believe someone isn’t worthy of Christ because of their ethnicity or skin color.
We might believe someone is too far gone to be saved because of their consistent, vocal opposition to Christ.
But consider the stories just from Acts chapters 8, 9, and 10 which we have read the past 3 Sundays.
- A demonic sorcerer named Simon believed the gospel.
- A high ranking official from Ethiopia—probably dark skinned– who was a eunuch believed the gospel.
- An angry, violent, very religious Jewish man named Saul believed the gospel.
- A Roman soldier named Cornelius and his entire household and many of his friends believed the gospel.
Peter and all the Jews had reasons for their partiality.
But God, through these unique and memorable experiences by Cornelius and Peter, changed the direction of the church.
Peter’s conclusion to all this was:
Acts 10:34–35,43 ESV
“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…
“To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Gentiles didn’t need to become Jewish proselytes to be saved in Christ. In a sense, they didn’t need to become Jewish. All they needed to do was to fear God and believe in Jesus Christ to find forgiveness. To be granted eternal life.
At the end of time in heaven, we will see the breadth of God’s gracious hand of salvation. People from all over the world.
From a glimpse of a heavenly vision, John tells us:
Revelation 5:9 ESV And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you [Jesus] to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…”
There are no classes of people in God’s eyes.
No one is beyond hope.
We should regard no one—no individual or people group—as unsaveable or undesireable.
Let me wrap up with this.
The events recorded in this chapter are eternally significant. For 2000 years, God had been using the descendants of Abraham, the people of Israel, as his mouthpiece. But Acts 10 opens the door further to a new way of operating as the CHURCH.
The gospel is open to the whole world. Life forever and ever in glory is available simply yet powerfully to anyone…anyone…who will bow the knee to Jesus Christ, to acknowledge he is the Judge of the living and the dead. And to believe in him, that he alone offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
What a God we have! Hallelujah, what a Savior!