God's Plan for Salvation
When I was a child my family would take trips to Portugal almost every other year and our trips to Portugal were never complete without visiting the ever famous tourist trap Fatima. For those who don't know the story of Fatima well apparently Mary the mother of Jesus came down from heaven and appeared to three children and provided a message from God. On the site where this children were visited they built this incredible church, beautiful building with a shrine dedicated to the place where Mary visited the three children. People every year make a pilgrimage to the church and go with the hope that Mary will bless them and their hope is laid in a plan of Salvation that apparently Mary brought to them. This plan of Salvation involves works, and personal sacrifices to deal with sin and all for the purpose of glorifying Mary. It places responsibility of being cleansed from sin squarely on man and man's own ability. Apparently Mary told these children that God is offended by our sin, and we have to fix the problem. That is her message, that is her plan. The worst part of this is you can do all Mary asked and still wonder if it is enough for you to get to heaven.
I have witnessed first hand people walk on their knees for about a mile on a marble path sacrificing their own comfort, in agony and pain praying the rosary, which is just rote prayer, believing in their hearts this will bring about salvation for them. People believe this place is so holy, that they bring empty jugs and fill them with water from the faucets around the complex because they believe it has special powers. People so easily fall for these kinds of shenanigans for one reason and one reason only, they want to believe. They want to believe in Salvation. They believe this will get them saved and they place their hope in this plan that an apparition of Mary spoke. This is sad and heartbreaking because these people are all looking for the plan of salvation and they aren't even looking to God's plan which He fulfilled 1900 years earlier, they are seeking it through someone whom they deified not through the One who designed the plan. God has already established His plan of Salvation and He is the One who determines who can be saved and He is the One who cleanses people of sin and He is the only One who deserves glory for granting life to mankind. It is a good thing God is the One who established this plan and provided a solution to the problem of sin because if it were solely up to man well then we would be utterly doomed.
When it comes to the reality of salvation, being saved from sin, going to heaven people have their own preconceived notions of how it should be and what needs to be done. It gets to the point that people will impose regulations or even make up ways of being saved and even who can be saved. This comes from man imposing their ideology and their thinking on what God has done, is doing and will do. The Jews had this problem also. And God deals with this in our passage this morning.
When we looked at Acts 10 we looked at the Six components of Salvation which for the most part all revolved around us, man and what man's role in salvation is, for the most part. We have to pursue, acknowledge, obey, believe, listen and receive. Now as we move into Acts 11 we will focus more on God and His part in Salvation, because lets be honest Salvation is not about us. This morning we will focus on God's plan of Salvation through the cleansing of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit that can't be thwarted by man and brings Him Glory. God's plan of Salvation is through His selection, His empowering, and for Repentance.
God's plan of Salvation is through His selection, His empowering, and for Repentance
God's plan of Salvation is through His selection, His empowering, and for Repentance
If you have your Bible's turn with me to Acts 11:1-18
1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6 and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7 “I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 “But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 “But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10 “This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. 11 “And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 “The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13 “And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 “Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
In verses 1-3 Luke changes the scene once again. When last we saw Peter he was at the house of Cornelius in Cesarea and he was asked to stay for a little while, how long I do not know, but it was long enough for word to spread to all Judea that Peter went to the Gentiles. The news traveled all the way back to Jerusalem which is the hub of the church at the moment. Luke in the second half of verse 2 introduces the problem, "those who were circumcised took issue with him." The circumcised people, that is the covenant people of Israel, those who were born of Abraham's line, and took on the sign of the covenant God had made with Abraham, they were taking issue with Peter's mission to the Gentiles. In verse 3 is were we find the two fold issue, the two fold accusation, "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." This is pretty bad for Peter to do, to go and minister to Gentiles that might have been over looked for these Christians who grew up under the law, but to go to their house and to have fellowship with them, to break bread with them, that was an absolute no-no. The real issue is that theses circumcised Jewish-Christians believed that if the Gentiles had recieved the gospel that the only way they could be welcomed into the church is if they took on the sign of the circumcision, in essence they believed they need to go the Jewish ritualistic cleansing to be welcomed into the family of God. The fact that Luke writes here in verse 2 "those who were circumcised" points to a specific group of Jewish believers who believe that the Gentiles should become Jews if they are to be followers of God. These people want an explanation as to why Peter would do such a thing, what was on his mind, why would he dishonor God in such a way by going to the Gentiles, those who are not covenant people, those who do not belong to God and eat with them without the gentiles first taking the sign of the covenant.
The church leaders took issue with Peter because Peter didn't follow Mosiac law and thus Peter by what these people believed was not following God. The question raised here is not weather or not the Gentiles should have recieved the gospel but how Peter could have fellowship with them if they have not been circumcised. Ritualistically they are unclean and thus not able to have fellowship with God or even have fellowship with the church. This becomes an issue of God's plan of salvation versus man's plan for God's salvation. How does someone become cleansed by God in God's plan of Salvation. God's will in this new covenant is to do something new, something the Israelites have never experienced and that is to bring about a cleansing or purification of the heart that doesn't need to be ritualistic. God's will for Salvation is internal, God's will for Salvation is at His discretion, God's will for Salvation is through His Holy Spirit God's will for Salvation can't be thwarted by man God's will for Salvation is His glorification and God's will for Salvation grants repentance.
As Peter provides his explanation and mind you this is not a trial and he is not making a defence just explaining the reason for his going to the gentiles and having fellowship with them.
His explanation for God's plan of salvation begins with Salvation through God's selection.
Salvation through God's Cleansing
Salvation through God's Cleansing
In verses 4-14 Peter provides his explanation of events. We read in verse 4 that Peter began to explain himself in "orderly sequence," Peter provide events from his own perspective not from Cornelius'. He begins with being in Joppa praying, he fell into a trance and saw a vision, the vision entailed all the creature of earth, all that God had created. This is interesting and I didn't notice earlier in chapter 10 that the list of animals is reminiscent to the list in Genesis. In Genesis 1:20-25 is the account of the fifth day of creation and the beginning half of the sixth day.
20 Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” 21 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. 24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
It is a clear picture of God as the creator of all things, and if you notice at the point of creation what does God say. Verse 21, "God saw that it was good," then in verse 25 "God saw that it was good." God sovereignly created all things good even in verse 31 after God the pinnacle of God's creation after the apex of His created order after God created man we find this in verse 31.
31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
God had created everything and because He had created everything, everything was good. This of course was pre-fall, after the fall no longer was anything good anymore, now because of sin, sin has infected and infested everything. Still the One who dictates what is good is God. God is the One who when He created all things all the animals that Peter saw in the sheet, and when God created them they were created good, they were good because God determined they were God. God is the One who can determine what is common and what is not. Now when I am talking about the animals being good, I don't mean they are good to eat or they look tasty. They are morally without blemish or imperfection, same goes for mankind. Man was created good. They weren't good because of anything they did, they didn't work up to it, they didn't have to jump through hoops to be good, they were created that way. God determined it because God made them pure, innocent perfect. When they sinned they turned their back on God. They became hostile to God. They abandoned the purity and the innocents and the goodness that God created them in.
So now as Peter is telling the leadership about the sheet and all the animals that were in the sheet it is pointing to God's sovereignty in His creative power and the fact that the One who created these animals and created man is the One who determines who is clean and who isn't. Peter is very clear in letting the circumcised men know he followed the law, he was ritualistic. Verse 8, "But I said, "By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth." There were two things the Israelites were very careful to follow, circumcision and the dietary laws. Peter was clear he had never eaten anything that God had deemed unholy or unclean. This is in Leviticus and there are so many they are not allowed to eat, the most famous that just about everyone knows, is pork. There was more then likely a pig squealing in that sheet because how offensive it is to the Israelites. God was making a point this would have hammered the point home.
Anyway Peter wanted these men to understand how he felt and wanted them to understand the gravity of what the Lord says. Verse 9 "But a voice from heaven answered a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.'" The same God who created all things good also has the power to make things clean. Man doesn't choose what is clean and what isn't, man doesn't decide what is good and what isn't. Man doesn't decide what people are good and what people aren't, this is all on God. Man can't do anything about making others clean. Yes, you pray for them and you can give them the gospel but you can't make them clean you can't save them you can't take away their sins. In fact you can't look at the outer appearance of someone and say this person is clean and this person isn't. I am not talking about needing a shower.
Remember the Pharisees with Jesus were always concerned with the ritualistic washing;
1 Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 “For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 “But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” 6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ ” 10 After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. 11 “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”
Peter and the others are still focused on the rituals and not on grace and not on God's desire and God work.
Paul says this to the Romans in regard to food;
20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
Later Paul says this to Titus;
15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.
God is the One who determines who is clean and who isn't. He chose me, in the same way He chose Peter to go to Cornelius. Peter is a picture of us, hard headed, he doesn't wand to go. So God needs to make the point he has to go. When ever God wants to make a point He typically repeats what He has to say three times. I am not trying to make a big deal out of the number three only make the observation God does repeat Himself to make a point and many times it is three times.
Peter explains he was told to go with the gentile men who came and it was the Spirit's explicit instructions to go without putting up a fight and without doubting God's work in this. The 6 men went with Peter for a very important reason, to witness what God was doing. All they need for witnesses are two, there are six, there would be no refuting what God was doing with this amount of witnesses. See here is the reason why Cornelius had to tell Peter what he saw and what was said to him. It is so Peter can give testimony as to what God was doing. All of this points to God every little bit of it.
So in God's plan of Salvation God chooses those He saves who He makes clean, the way people are saved is through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, Salvation is through the Holy Spirit.
Salvation is through Holy Spirit
Salvation is through Holy Spirit
We see in verse 15-17 the work of the Holy Spirit and Peter realizing what God is doing. Verse 15 Peter continues while Peter, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning." He compares the two events of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles in the same way the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Peter and the six men that went with him witnessed this event and they were able to recount the story. Peter is the spokesmen but I am sure those men corroborated the account. God was doing something new, He was revealing a mystery that is now being realized by the Israelites. The law and the temple are not the center of worship and the place of cleansing for sin. God is cleansing all through His Holy Spirit.
There are times when God works and is doing something new and incredible. People all to often want to be like Gideon with the fleece and test God to see what God wants and what He is doing. When God is doing something, He will speak. God was doing something here, God in Acts 2 did something amazing and the people moved. It was the beginning of what God was doing. All to often people don't listen to the full counsel of God and they only see and hear what they want. Also people have but taught something all their lives and when God opens their eyes to the reality that He is at work and He wants our obedience it is hard to shake what we have been taught. It is hard to see the truth through the preconceived ideas and thinking. That is why it was so hard for the nation of Israel when God delivered them from Egypt to fully follow God. They had grown up in Egypt, they were slaves but as long as they did the work they were to do they were fed. So when they are in the wilderness and they have no food to eat the whine and cry out and their wicked hearts tell them it was better in Egypt. They are missing out on what God is doing and they are not looking to God directing them and bringing safely to their new home.
Here God is doing something incredible also and God needed the Israelites to see what God is doing and to understand God's power and control so God sent Peter who was the most likely of men to go to Cesarea because of his connection to the apostles and his being the spokesmen for the early church and the fact that he fully understood what had happened in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit was still moving and the Holy Spirit wanted them to stop thinking in terms of what they have been taught be to focus on what God is doing now. They need to be open to God's work.
Here is what Peter needed to learn. See not everything came to the apostles all at once, as time went on they learned and grew in knowing God, knowing His Word and applying what Jesus had taught. Here is one of those instances. Peter was reminded of this. Did he get this in Acts 2 , probably, but it has been a long time since Acts 2. (About 9 years, Pentecost happened in somewhere around AD 31 and Cornelius' conversion was circa 40 AD so think about that with Paul's conversion somewhere in between, something like 33-35 AD so the spread of the gospel message was going across the known world but it was not going to the Gentiles.) So with the 9 year gap it is very possible Peter had remembered this earlier on but it could have slipped his mind. Now God reminded him of this with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles and reminded of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This baptism of the Holy Spirit is crucial to salvation. Keep in mind the context of the original quote about John the baptist. It is found in Acts 1:5 just before Jesus ascended on high. Jesus tells the apostles specifically that John baptized with water but they will be baptized not many days from now by the Holy Spirit. They saw this as a promise for them and 120 of Jesus' disciples experienced this promise in a very visible and powerful manifestation.
Baptism is a very important element here, both the water baptism and the Spirit baptism that the water baptism illustrates. Baptism was not unique to the church it was a practice performed by the Israelites as well as a ritualistic form of cleansing of sin. It was only performed when a person had repented of their sins. Thus when John was preaching in the wilderness about the coming kingdom and that they were to repent it was preparatory. It was also a picture of what was going to transpire through the coming of the Holy Spirit. If water baptism is a symbol or a sign of cleaning from turning from your sin to God the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the reality of the sign. When the Holy Spirit comes on us He cleanses us from all unrighteousness, He is the One does the work of turning our hearts and minds to God and He is the One the does the cleansing work of the cross upon our hearts. Jesus went to the cross and Jesus died on the cross and Jesus rose from the grave and Jesus ascended on high and took His seat at the right hand of the Father and it wasn't until the coming of the Holy Spirit that the believers were cleansed from their sin. This is a big deal to Peter because in his mind the promise was for him and the other Israelites but now that he has witnessed what happened with Cornelius he sees he had a narrow view of what God is doing and who the message of salvation is for and who the Holy Spirit has a claim too.
God had foretold this in Joel which was realized in part in Acts 2 when Peter preached his sermon on Joel 2:28-29. Here is what Joel 2:28-29 says;
28 “It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. 29 “Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
You see that all it includes the gentiles.
Paul teaches Titus a valuable lesson concerning the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives;
3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
And this is what the Spirit does for Gentiles and Israelites alike in Ephesians 4:1-6;
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
He has a claim to anyone and everyone that God has called to Himself. He is the One who has made me a new creature in Christ, it is only because of Him and without Him there is no cleansing in my heart and there is no guidance. My mind is renewed not by my will or power but by the renewing mind of the Holy Spirit. Sin is abolished by His work in me. Not by my works. The evidence of the Holy Spirit working in the gentiles was that they spoke in languages that those people didn't know. The marks of the Holy Spirit in our lives today, the marks of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in our lives today are Galatians 5:20-21, this is the fruit of the Spirit. These are the gifts. Other gifts can be, be able to do administration when you were terrible at it, teaching, confidence, not being able to keep you mouth closed when it comes to sharing the gospel. We don't need the gift of tongues to have the evidence of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. In fact Paul says it is the least of all the gifts, so big deal. It is also a gift that is solely for the edification of the one who possess it so big deal. The burning desire to want to know about the word that is the gift I want. The discernment to know when you are doing something counter to the Word of God, that is the gift I want. The spiritual strength and the emotional strength to mortify your sins which we are always dealing with, that's what I want. I can speak another language and it does me absolutely no good, but those other things that's the gifts I want.
This is the point and purpose of God's work and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is to bring people to Himself and the Holy Spirit that came on the Israelites in Acts 2, and then again in Acts 8 and in Acts 10 is the same Holy Spirit and the evidence He is the same is that the Holy Spirit did the same work in those who believe. Peter doesn't dare stand in the way of what God is doing by bringing Salvation to the Gentiles. The last time Peter got in the way of what God was doing he was rebuked, Jesus said, "get behind me satan, for your intentions are man's not God's." See how people learn. Peter knows all to well he is no match for God and he is not in the position to tell God what He can and can not do or even tell God who He can and can not save. Peter only wants to serve the Lord and God demonstrated to Peter that the Holy Spirit He has bestowed upon him and his current audience is the same Spirit with the same physical manifestation they have all witnessed themselves.
Salvation is through Repentance
Salvation is through Repentance
The apostles have stopped dead in their tracks after hearing what Peter had to say. They no longer took issue with Peter having fellowship with the unclean Gentiles. Instead of doubting what God was doing they now had confidence in what God is doing and they glorified God for bringing Salvation to the Gentiles also. They say that God has granted repentance that leads to life. This is everlasting life, this is true life in Christ and it can only come through a broken and contrite heart.
True repentance is not just remorse for sin, Judas had remorse but their was no repentance.
Repentance is this;
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise. 16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
Let’s look at what Paul tells the Corinthian church about repentance;
9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Repentance is not just saying your sorry about something but making every effort to make it right. If you are a lier you not only stop lying you also repair the damage caused by lying. If you are a gossip, you stop gossiping and you repair the damage of the gossip. If you are covetous you stop chasing after stuff and maybe sell some of it. Stop looking for your treasure in this world. If your lazy confess to those who your laziness has effected and deal with the issue of being lazy. It is not just saying sorry, that shows remorse but it is about being contrite which means you are broken, your heart is crushed by your actions. That is repentance. That is the repentance that leads to life and that is the repentance that God grants to those whom He cleanses through the powerful work of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.