First Church: An Open Church
Acts 10 1-48
How are we the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ supposed to deal with the differences between cultures, ethnicity, skin color. I don’t intend to preach a “social issue” message this morning. I’ve had enough of social media, social distancing and social upheaval. I don’t have the answer to fixing the deep rooted issues that are dividing our nation.
I can only offer what God’s word tells us and then pray that each of us in our own lives, our prayers, our families and our church will do what God has said is right.
Acts chapter 10 is a major event in the very young church and it will dramatically change the church in the centuries to come. Once again Peter is the catalyst at the center of the change and once again the Holy Spirit is the power source of the change. This is the third time the gift of the Holy Spirit falls upon people, showing that God is giving proof of what is happening. First in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, then in Samaria in Acts 8 and now in Caesarea in Acts 10. In each instance the door of the church was opened to those God had determined would be His church, His “new covenant, new testament” people.
Preparation of Cornelius - Acts 10:1-9
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
A centurion was an officer in the Roman army who commanded a hundred men and was similar in rank and function to our noncommissioned officers. Cornelius commanded the Italian cohort. A Latin inscription has been preserved which indicates the presence in Syria of the "second Italian cohort of Roman citizens" in AD 69.
The Bible calls Cornelius a devout man and one that feared God. This was actually, a title or a label. God-fearers to the Jews were familiar with the OT in the Greek version as it was read in the synagogues. Some Gentiles became full converts to Judaism and accepted all Jewish practices, including circumcision, but a much larger number stopped short of circumcision but accepted the Jewish belief in God, synagogue worship, the ethical teachings of the OT, and some of the Jewish religious practices, these were the God fearers.
Cornelius sees the vision and obeys by sending two of his trusted servants and a soldier who was also a God-fearer to go to Joppa to bring Peter back. Joppa is about thirty miles from Caesarea. The three messengers leaving early in the morning would have arrived in Joppa about noon. God had sent Cornelius and his servants on a quest to find salvation.
God Fearing but Lost
The character of Cornelius shows us a man who believed in the God of the Old Testament, a man who worshipped in a house of worship, a man who gave generously to the needs of that house of worship and to others. We see a man who was seeking God but we also see a man who was not saved.
All Cornelius knew was what Judaism had instructed him. He must keep the law in order to be saved. It was a perverted, corrupted view of salvation that the Old Testament did not teach and yet was readily accepted because to many then and to many more today, salvation only makes sense when it is earned by our goodness. And yet the Bible so plainly states just the opposite.
Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Titus 3:5 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;
Even in the OT we read passage after passage like Psalms 86:5 For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.
Illustration: John Wesley
In many respects, John Wesley was like Cornelius. He was a religious man, a church member, a minister, and the son of a minister. He belonged to a "religious club" at Oxford, the purpose of which was the perfecting of the Christian life. Wesley served as a foreign missionary, but even as he preached to others, he had no assurance of his own personal salvation.
On May 24, 1738, Wesley reluctantly attended a small meeting in London where someone was reading aloud from Martin Luther's commentary on Romans. "About a quarter before nine," Wesley wrote in his journal, "while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." The result was the great Wesleyan revival that not only swept many into the kingdom, but also helped transform British society through Christian social action. - Bible Exposition Commentary - Be Dynamic (Acts 1-12).
Transition: And so God prepared the heart of Cornelius the seeker and sent his servants to Joppa to find Peter, but the preparation did not stop with Cornelius, in fact a much greater preparatory action was needed before Peter would be ready.
Preparation of Peter, The Apostle, Acts 10:9-19
On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
About twelve o'clock Peter went up to the flat housetop to seek a quiet place to pray.. He was hungry and a meal was being prepared, but before his prayers were finished or the meal ready, Peter fell into a trance and saw a vision.. In the vision he saw something like a great sheet, lowered by the four corners from heaven to earth. In the sheet all kinds of creatures, among them creatures that Peter was forbidden to eat by Levitical dietary law. When He was commanded eat these, Peter said no, he had never eaten any of these. Peter was a Christian spiritually, be he was Jew culturally, a Jew who would not violate make himself unclean by eating unclean animals.
The Lord gave Peter a much different vision from Cornelius, one that was shocking, even appalling to him. He was told to eat these unclean creatures. It would be like us being told to eat cockroaches, only much worse because it was not just a natural aversion. It was an ingrained, inbred foundation of who Peter was. Peters response to the vison and God’s command to “eat” was no. It was respectful, but it was still No, Lord.
Before the door of the church could be opened to the Gentiles, God had to prepare the door of Peter’s heart to open to something that was completely outside his experience upbringing and culture. And this message of salvation and inclusion had to come from Peter, the angel that gave carried the vision to Cornelius could not tell Cornelius about saving grace through Jesus Christ.
I really liked what Warren Wiersbe said about this. “Angels can deliver God's messages to lost men, but they cannot preach the Gospel to them. That is our privilege and responsibility,” – Warren Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary - Be Dynamic (Acts 1-12).
Peter had lived his life as law keeping Jew, but now the Law of Moses was a wall between the Jews and the Gentiles, a wall that prevented the Jewish believers from accepting the gentiles, a wall that now must be broken by the cross.
Peter is told to go with them, "nothing doubting" (Acts 10:20) that phrase means "making no distinctions." Jesus’ command to Peter was that he no longer make any distinctions between the Jews and the Gentiles.
Pushing Past Prejudice
We read the story of Acts 10 and in our minds think, what’s the problem? Jesus had already preached to the Gentiles when he healed woman’s daughter at Caesura and the Centurion’s servant. Peter should have know this, the church should have know this, but we underestimate Peter’s prejudice because it is not ours.
Peter had to see his own prejudices before he could overcome them to preach to the Gentiles and before the new church would include them as members.
We all have prejudices, for some they may be culturally, racial even among good Christians and Baptists.
I remember a pastor who was a mentor to me telling me why the curse of Ham’s son, Canaan meant that slavery of blacks was in the Bible. I was only about 10 but it made me very uncomfortable and it just didn’t sound right.
We may not be racist, but we can still be much more comfortable with our own culture, our own people. You folks are my people and I’m very comfortable with you. Now that doesn’t mean I want you over at my house 24/7 but Sundays, Wednesday and the occasional visit is really nice. I love you folks because you are my church, but even if I didn’t know you I would probably like you because we are from the same culture and share much of the same beliefs and background of our life. It’s easy for me to like you and of course I know I’m very easy to like, I’m just that kind of guy.
But there are people that I’m prejudiced against, before I meet them, I am uncomfortable with them, as uncomfortable as Peter being told to eat things that went against his beliefs. I don’t think I dislike them, but they might feel that way when I’m around them. Do you want me to list the kinds of people I don’t warm to immediately? Well I’m not going to do that. I don’t care for that part of who I am. And you know why? Because just like Peter, the Lord has told me and you, to make now distinction. That when it comes to sharing the Gospel and inviting people outside our comfort zone to church we commanded to “doubt nothing.”
Can we allow our prejudices to influence us if we are to keep the Great Commission that Jesus set for us?
Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Mark’s Gospel says it this way, Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. We would phrase it, Go everywhere and preach to everyone.
We don’t have the option of preaching and reaching just who we like or are comfortable with. Jesus has command and we can’t refuse that command. Dr. W. Graham Scroggie wrote, "You can say 'No,' and you can say 'Lord'; but you cannot say "No, Lord!'" If Jesus is truly our Lord, then we can only say "Yes, Lord!" No matter how outside our comfort zone is His command.
Illustration: No Comfort Zone in Prison Outreach
I once had the privilege of working a prison revival with Rock of Ages Prison Ministry. I was way outside my comfort zone. We went cell to cell to talk directly to the prisons. I didn’t know that before getting there and I really was sweating bullets and not just because there was not AC and it was summertime.
Let me tell you about the toughest prisoner I spoke with. As we entered the cell block and went to the different floors we just took whatever cell you found yourself in front of. I was really nervous and really hoping that I would get easy going guys, you know criminals but nice criminals. As we lined up on one floor I looked into the cell and had to stop myself from stepping back. The man inside was a big guy, he was a tough looking Hispanic man, who obviously had been hitting the weights. On top of it all he had his shirt off and he was covered with prison tattoos. Man, I wanted to ask for a restart.
In vss 21 – 33 Peter meets Cornelius and is told by him, why God sent him to this Gentile’s home. A home that as a Jew by law and custom, he should not have gone to. We then pick up the story in vs 34 as Peter proclaims the Gospel.
Proclamation of The Gospel
Acts 10: 34 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. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
Peter Preaches The Gospel.
Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius and it is interesting exactly what he preaches. He tells the Gentile seeker, of Jesus and the events that he had probably heard of that took place in Jerusalem. Peter gives testimony to the things that he, himself was witness to and would be outside the common knowledge that Cornelius might have heard.
Peter tells him that Jesus was sent by God to preach the Gospel first to the nation of Israel. He also points out that Jesus is Lord of all men though, not just the Jews. Peter gives a brief history of Jesus' ministry in Judea and Galilee, his validation by the signs of God the Father and the Holy Spirit at his baptism by John. He tells of Jesus’ good works, healings, and casting out of demons. He tells Cornelius that Jesus was slain by the Jews and hanged on a tree. Which Cornelius would know was a curse under OT law. Then he tells him that God raised Jesus up and that he was a witness of that resurrection.
Peter didn’t talk about theology, the Temple, the reason why God used the children of Abraham to bring the Messiah into the world. He just told Cornelius that Jesus came, lived, died and rose again. This is the Gospel, in its barest form and yet it is still the gospel that saves. The Gospel that saves also includes the warning that Jesus would also judge the living and the dead and most important that through his name whosoever believes shall receive forgiveness of sin.
People Preach The Gospel!
This is the same message we must bring to those whom God has opened the door of salvation and the door of the church to.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this Gospel, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
That is the good news of the gospel, Jesus came, Jesus died for our sins, Jesus rose again and when you believe in Him you are saved in that good news.
Its not hard to preach the Gospel, it is a simple message filled with all the hope of eternity. People we need to Preach the Gospel to everyone no matter who they are because God is not respecter of persons, He sent His son so that whosoever believes can be saved. Their looks don’t matter, their culture doesn’t matter, their haircut, their tattoos, their language, the country they come from or the side of town they live on now, we are to tell them the good news of Jesus, invite them to believe, be saved and come to church.
Transition: One act of this story remains and it is the truly the climax. The first acts was the preparation of Cornelius, the second act the preparation of Peter, the third was the proclamation of the Gospel and now, keeping in perfect sermon alliteration form, we come to the final acts, the Powerfication of the Spirit. That’s the same as empowerment only better because it starts with a P.
Powerification of the Holy Spirit Acts 10:44-48
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. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
Holy Spirit Shows
Peter is just getting into his message, I’m sure he had another 30 or 40 minutes in his outline, but suddenly the Holy Spirit shows up. Peter didn’t even get a chance to tell him what church he needed to join, what tie to wear when he came, or where to buy a nice suit before showing up. The power to save was in the Gospel and the Gospel had been shared now it was time to get some people saved.
Its interesting to note that God the Father interrupted Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matt. 17:4-5, and God the Son interrupted him in the same chapter when asking dealing with the temple tax. And now, God the Spirit interrupted him again, Peter never finished this sermon. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Why can’t more preacher be like Peter?” You know if this kind of service was happening I think a lot of preaches would welcome the interruptions and shorter sermons.
Once again, the gift of tongues was given so that there was no doubt whatsoever that God had given to the Gentiles the same gift he had bestowed upon Jewish believers. Also notice that they were not immersed in the Spirit, not baptized that occurred once on the day of Pentecost to the church now this sign was given so that all might know they should be included in the church.
I don’t think Peter or those with him expected this. They were just preaching to share the salvation that Jesus brought but they did not see this coming. Suddenly the full extent of Peter’s vision was clear, it wasn’t just tell them about Jesus, it was tell them and them welcome them into the church.
You know the only thing that can change a man’s heart full of sin and hatred to one filled with love and compassion, the acceptance of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.
You know the only thing that can change a life filled with worry and fear to one filled with hope and joy, the acceptance of the Gospel and the poer of the Holy Spirit.
You know the only thing that heal a nation torn asunder by hatred, immorality and greed, the same thing, the acceptance of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is a lot of political and philosophical ideas out there right now to make things right, but unfortunately they are all wrong because they leave out the love of Jesus, the forgiveness of sin and the work of the Holy Spirit in each individual person’s heart. Without God’s mercy there can be no change.
The Bible says in Acts 17:26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth. God made us and we all come from one blood. We all share that same blood that came from Adam. In God’s eyes there are no races of people created differently from one another but only one race, the human race. The other thing that God sees in this one human race is that it was lost because of sin. He sees that it needs reconciliation, and remission. He sees that the human race needs a supernatural Savior.
We, the one blood, one race, filled with sin creatures, need to hear the good news. Jesus, God the Son came to earth, lived a sinless life then gave that sinless life as a payment for our sin, died on the cross and was raised on the third day, claiming victory of sin, death and hell.
Believe that Gospel and the change we all need will happen where it needs to happen, right here in our heart.