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Winning the lost at any cost

Walking through the Book of Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Winning the lost at any cost !
Paul and Silas in Thessalonica
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. 9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour 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. 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
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.
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. (ESV)
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour 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. 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. 23So he invited them in to be his guests"
23So he invited them in to be his guests"
We now find ourselves in the Chapter 10 of the Book of Acts, which is by far the most pivotal chapter in this book. Pivotal because in it is recorded the salvation of the Gentiles. Pivotal, because shows Peter using the “keys of the kingdom” for the third and last time.
First, Peter opened the door of salvation for the Jews in , and then he also opened the door of salvation to the Samaritans in and now God would used him to open the door of salvation to bring the Gentiles into the church of Christ Jesus. Paul speaks of such a move concerning the Gentiles in,
, Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
Paul further states in , that God has now removed all other distinctions or distractions and now both Jew and Gentiles are in one body. “ For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
This event we are dealing with this morning in this passage took place about ten years after Pentecost. Why did the apostles wait so long before going to the lost Gentiles?
After all , says, 18 “And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Jesus had told them all to go into the entire world; and it would seem logical for them to go to their Gentile neighbors as soon as possible.
But there is a difference in urgency and usefulness; God had His times as well as His plans. God’s methodology and masterful transition from the Jews, to the Samaritans, to the Gentiles was a great yet gradual one.
The stoning of Stephen and the subsequent persecution of the church marked the climax of the apostles’ witness to the Jews. Then the Gospel moved to the Samaritans. When God saved Saul of Tarsus, God got ahold of His special envoy to the Gentiles and uses him to bring them into the family of God.
Now this story is being shown in , and we are going to break it down into four basic parts over the next four weeks.
Setting a foundation; giving the information; Teaching by proclamation and Receiving vindication.
This morning we will deal with Setting a foundation as we look at
.
Let us pray...
Cornelius was a man who was devout.
, “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.”
2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.”
Before God could use Peter to bring salvation to the Gentiles, God had to prepare a foundation in which to build upon. So God starts with preparing Peter to bring the message first to Cornelius a devout man. Salvation is a divine work of God’s grace, but God works through human channels. Now, angels can deliver God’s message to lost people, but they cannot preach the Gospel to them. That is our privilege and responsibility. So now is all starts in Caesarea, Caesarea is sixty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem and thirty miles north of Joppa.
At the time, Caesarea was the Roman capital of Judea and boasted of many beautiful public buildings. In that city lived Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Being a Roman centurion meant that he was in charge of 100 soldiers; he was a member of what was called the Italian cohort.
This was a Roman legion of about 6,000, men, divided into ten cohorts of 600 men each and in each cohort there were 60 centurions.
These soldiers were considered the very backbone of the Roman army. Cornelius had reached the rank of centurion by proving to be a strong, responsible and reliable man. More than a good soldier, however Cornelius was a devout man, and one who feared God with all his heart and taught the same to his entire household. This God fearing was born and bred out of reverence and respect for God and the things of God.
No doubt Cornelius has tried the pagan gods and was tired of the myths and empty religious rituals and out of weariness had turned to Judaism in hopes he could find salvation. In the hope he could find the One and True living God. He had led his household to seek after these things as well and he gave generously to the poor through alms and prayed continually to God. Cornelius was devout and faithful.
Cornelius understood, 10 "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
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Cornelius was a devout man, who was as close as one could get to become a Jew without becoming a proselyte; which would have required circumcision. God instead of circumcising Cornelius’s flesh had circumcised his heart instead. God had given him a seeking heart; he had shown him how to lived up to the light of His Word; God had opened up a path for him to find righteousness and to come to know God. God was about to give him even more access because of his faithfulness and his election. There is a necessary balance to divine election where God creates in us a seeking, willing hearts, which we would not have without His divine initiative.
, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteousness man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
Divine election and human responsibility are both the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. Salvation is both accomplished by God and God alone and through the humility of sinners. Although our limited comprehension does not allow us to harmonize them, there is no conflict in the mind of God.
Cornelius was a devout man and a God-fearer. The Lord had moved upon his dark soul so that he abandoned his false religion and was worshiping the true living God, Jehovah. His devotion expressed itself in his giving of many offerings to the poor and in his prayer life.
It is very interesting to me to see how religious a person can be and still not be saved. Certainly Cornelius as a devout and sincere person in his obedience to God’s Law, in his fasting, and in his giving.
He was a model of religious respectability and yet he was not saved.
The difference between Cornelius and many religious people today is this: he knew that his religious devotion was not sufficient to save him. Many religious people today are satisfied that their character and their good works, will get them into heaven. They have no concept either of their own sin or of God’s grace.
, “ And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.”
In many respects, John Wesley was like Cornelius. He was a religious man, a church member, and the son of a minister. But he had no assurance of his own personal salvation. Not until he attended a small meeting in London, where someone read aloud from Romans. Then suddenly, Wesley said he felt his hearty strangely warmed. He felt that now he could trust Christ, Christ alone for his salvation and that all of his sins had been taken away. From that moment on God used Wesley to help transform British society through Christian social action. Because of God’s sovereign election of Cornelius and in response to his changed heart, God built a foundation in him for salvation. God was winning the lost at any cost.
Cornelius was a man who followed directions.
, “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 shown his impeccable military training when God sent an angel to instruct him and he immediately dropped what he was doing and obeyed. Does not remind you somewhat of another centurion in , “After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue." 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it. 9 “When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 “And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.”
3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.
4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue." 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it. 9 “When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 “And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.”
Cornelius was a man of authority and a man under authority, Cornelius clearly sees a vision of the angel of God who has come to him and is calling him by name. Though at first he stares at the angel in terror, which seems to be a common response whenever humans encounter an angel of God.
Look at , “And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Again although he stares in terror, we see that his soul relents and he replies, “What is it Lord?
Praise God, the angel was quick to reassure Cornelius, saying to him,
“ Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.”
You see God knew Cornelius’s heart, God knew he was a devout man, and God knew that he was a God-fearer. But despite his devotion, despite his generosity, despite his sincerity through prayer, God would not save him apart from a correct understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ. God was arranging to provide him with that saving knowledge. This is why God dispatched the angel to instruct him to send men to Joppa and seek a man named Simon also called Peter; who was staying with a certain tanner now Simon at a house by the sea.
So what does Cornelius do? Does he take what he has her from the angel under advisement and entered in to a time prayer?
No, he responds immediately to the commands of the angel of God.
He calls two of his servants and a devout soldier to lead them and sends them to Joppa to find Peter.
Cornelius is a man that trusted God to fulfill and reveal His vision.
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.”
So, meanwhile back a camp Joppa, God was creating a foundation and revelation of a monumental encounter with God and with the men sent from Caesarea. On the next day, these men Cornelius sent are well on the way to Joppa. While these visitors were traveling God was about venturing to reveal a vision to Peter while he had retreated to the rooftop to pray. 10 “And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance.”
It was mealtime and there were some unexpected delays in its preparation so the Peter was not able to get his grub on and the Lord caused him to fall asleep. We need to note here that God not only sovereignty called Cornelius to salvation, but he also is preparing Peter as the means, humanly speaking to carry this all out. God’s always sovereignly calls individuals for His special service.
, “But now hear, O’ Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen!
, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you: I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
, “ You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
In verse 11, Peter saw the heavens opened and something like great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.”
We see that God is using an appropriate illustration to grab to attention of someone is physically hungry.
But the menu that God presents is appalling to Peter, because this sheet contains both clean and unclean animals in which to eat.
The Old Testament instruction in which God prohibits certain dietary restrictions for Israel is being violated.
, “You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean beast, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean.” You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”
It was imperative that Israel be kept separate from her idolatrous neighbors, and such restrictions would and hinder social intercourse with them. Since the coming of the New Covenant and calling of a new people (the church), the day of those restrictions was over, as Peter would soon discover. In his vision, God commanded him to arise, kill and eat. Peter was horrified, as any devout Jew would have been he protested immediately, look at verse 14, “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”
Here Peter shows his zeal for keeping his diet completely kosher.
His strict adherence reflected his devotion to pleasing God.
How could he immediately throw all that aside without assaulting his conscience, which was so sensitive to this dietary duty?
Though Peter resisted the message strongly, God revelation came back even stronger, 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.”
So ingrained were these dietary regulations into his life that Peter still could not truly comprehend what was happening. Finally, after this scenario was repeated three times, immediately the object was taken up to heaven. Verse 17a says “ Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean...” You see the vision had a two-fold meaning. On the negative side, it signified the abolishing of the Old Testament dietary rules. Such separating features were now counterproductive, since God was bringing Jews and Gentiles together in the church, not keeping them apart. On the positive side, the vision pictured the inclusion of both Gentiles, symbolized by the unclean animals, and the Jews, symbolized by the clean ones, into one body.
17b, “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.”
Peter’ perplexity was short -lived. For the men Cornelius sent were at the door. The time had come for the encounter that would clear up all Peter’s confusion. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him. Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “ I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming? 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.” So he invited them to be his guests.”
Peter and Cornelius model the obedience God demands- both at the point of salvation and throughout the Christian life. The Bible repeatedly teaches that obedience accompanies true faith.
, “And he said to all, “ If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
, “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “ I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Yet another said, “ I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
As had Cornelius, Peter obeyed, through he probably still did not fully understand what was happening. He went down dot the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” They them told him about Cornelius, who was well regarded by the Jews, a devout man, who had a vision and directed by an angel to send for you to come to his house and bring a message. We will see later and we continue in this passage, that this was the message of the gospel of Christ Jesus.
Now, in the midst of this new fellowship, Peter does something astonishing! He invites these men to be his house guests. It was too late for them to go and find lodging or for them to travel back to Caesarea so he asked them to spend the night. Here you see a further crack in the barrier dividing Jew and Gentile. No self-respecting Jew would have given lodging to Gentiles- especially to a soldier of the hated Roman occupation army. The word Lodging is the word xenizo[1] in the Greek which means, “ to entertain a guest.” Peter gave his unexpected guests the red carpet treatment, showing the work of God in his heart had broken down the typical Jewish prejudice. Because of that, he know the difference between the Old Testament law, which was binding, and the human tradition, which was not. He had a hard time letting the dietary law go but had no animosity in his heart toward Gentiles, so the hospitality was easy.
Peter was beginning to see his brothers through the lens of the Lord and in the very image of God. All people ever created share in the very image of God, in the likeness of the Godhead. We must respect and hold in great reverence that initial identification with a Holy God. We must also be mindful that God created all people but all people are not God’s people. Peter is about to witnesses God bringing in more of His people front the Gentile nation. God was winning the lost at any cost, at the cost of dropping traditional dietary rules, at the cost of removing life-long prejudices, at the cost completely reassembling His church as Jew and Gentile for the His glory.
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