Faithlife Sermons

Sneaky Grace

Way, Truth, Life  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:59
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Acts 10:9–23 NRSV
9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “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 Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him.
Acts 10:30–33 NRSV
30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31 He 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 staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”
Narrate • Paradigm shifts often arrive best through stories. Here is an opportunity for you as the preacher to share a story. • As I drove through the cape-cod homes of the neighborhood surrounding our church my heart was pounding a little. I’d only been a lead pastor for a few months. There had been a tragic death touching the life of the congregation. It was to be my first funeral. A young man was killed trying to fix a flat tire on the shoulder tri-state at 2am when he was struck by a car. A promising life snuffed out in an instant. I had met his mother as she was attending our church. But people told me to brace myself to meet his father. A man who refused to come to church. A man who was often angry. A man who didn’t like visitors and who wasn’t interested in the things of God at all. Just what a rookie pastor wants to hear! But I believed God’s grace went before me so I walked up to the door and rang the bell...
Funny thing, though. I never met that version of Ron. The man who met me was broken. The man who met me was waving the white flag, no longer defensive. The man who met me was glad to see me and invited me in...
For many years lots of people had been praying for Ron. His wife had been praying for more than 30years. He saw his kids grow up. Saw them find faith. But still watched from afar. To other people Ron seemed like an almost impossible case. But with God all things are possible.
At this point in the story some things were going to converge. If everyone just hardened in their categories this could have been a very ugly collision of attitudes and worldviews. Ron had been mean at times, he had rejected every offer from the church. So the church might have had a wall up—this man isn’t open to the things of God so we steer clear. Let him fend for himself. It could have been ugly...
Now that’s jump back to the text: Peter is a jewish man who is having his mind blown continually trying to follow Jesus and now be a leader in the Christian movement. There were strict dietary laws for Jews. Some foods were unclean and not to be consumed. Pork, for example. Some people were not to be closely interacted with: Gentiles for example. Add on to this that Cornelius was an elite Roman soldier. Different social class. Different Race. Armed to the teeth. Representing the most brutal regime on earth. Soooo many reasons for Peter to not speak to Cornelius.
I don’t really want to compare my conversation with the Lord while driving to meet Ron to Peter’s vision. But it’s similar. Barriers had to be overcome and God was at work.
Peter sees a vision of a blanket full of unclean animals and God says “Take, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter thinks it’s one of the those dreams where you feel like you are being put to the test. He’ up for it. “No, Lord, I will never eat what is unclean.” But it’s not that kind of dream. God says, “Don’t call anything unclean that I have made clean... There are some gentile men coming to see you. Go with them. It’s ok.”
The equivalent of a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit is knocking on the door downstairs. So easy for nothing to happen here. Peter could dismiss the dream. These men could say, what are we doing? This won’t work out. But everyone is in tune and on time and God is working all things together for good...
Back in Chicagoland, Ron opens the door, invites me in and wants to hear all I have to say. He knows he needs something to get through this. His heart is wide open. I went with him to identify the body, something else I had never done before. But the God of all comfort worked during this time.
Well there weren’t enough parking places at our little church building so they lined both sides of the street as far down as you could see. The police showed up to make sure people could get through. I’ve never done a funeral before and this sanctuary is packed to the brim. It’s chaos as everyone wants to greet the family before the service. I’m freaking out a little. God says, “the service I have in mind has already started. Just stay out of my way, boy and I will teach you some things today.”
I presented a clear message of the gospel. I couldn’t preach this young man into heaven but I knew he had made a commitment in childhood and that God would do right by him. But my focus was on the people there that day. Some of them from the Chicago music industry. Some from his high school days. Some from the neighborhood. I talked about how fragile life is and how we can’t count on the next moment and we need to make sure things are right with God. Several people stood and testified that life is precious and we need a saving connection with Jesus. The service took forever, but I saw Ron’s burden lifting. At the moment of his need, God was working and his life was opening up to all God had for him. More things came out of that day than I have time to talk about today.
But the Holy Spirit showed up and lives were changed. And a little church that had been praying for a man who lived in a little house down the street was also changed, believing that God could move in a big way in their midst.
Peter went with the men. Peter showed up to a packed house hungry for truth. He spoke the gospel of Jesus. The Holy Spirit fell. People got baptized. Yeah, it was a very very good day. A very important day in the history of the church world wide. God was making it clear. The gospel was for everyone, not just for Jews. The Christian family was wide open to anyone hungry to know Jesus.
God bless Cornelius for seeking hard after God. God bless Peter for being teachable and flexible when God wanted to move. Thanks be to God for loving everyone so much that he worked it all together for salvation and vision and mission. Thanks be to God that a church was renewed and reminded of what God can do.
Ron got saved. Ron surrendered his life to God. Ron made his public profession of faith to confirm his baptism that had happened in childhood. Ron joined the church. Ron became a church board member and served the church well in so many ways. It was incredible to see. But it all goes back to prayers offered up for years. God seeing Ron’s heart and never giving up on him. God softening the hearts of the church and strengthening the weak knees of a young pastor to follow through.
It’s all the same kind of stuff that’s happening here. But it doesn’t matter if someone is a Roman Centurion, a woman at the well, a Special Forces commander, or a little shop keeper who lives down the street.
Acts 10:43 NRSV
43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
God’s grace can be sneaky at times. God goes to work before we even realize it. We call that Prevenient Grace.

Prevenient Grace

It’s that grace that goes before us. Softening hearts. Placing people in your life who pray and testify and invite and love you. Softening your heart. Preparing others to say the right thing at the right time.
Too many people these days look around and say “what is the church doing for me today?” I’m not going to say there is 0% validity to that question. But I am going to say it’s usually the wrong question to ask. Here’s the thing: YOU are the CHURCH! I’m going to say that again. YOU ARE the CHURCH! So the only way it’s possible that the church is doing nothing is if YOU are doing NOTHING! Just let that sink in… We don’t pay the pastor to do it. The pastor is here to help us stay connected to God and to help us do it better.
Nobody is in the church without something like a Ron or Cornelius story. There was already a moment when dozens of people got it right and paved the way for you to come to Jesus. Think about the effort that was put in. Think about the effort put in every week to keep in touch and try to build you up in faith and give you chances to serve. Does the church really owe you a lot more than this? Once you’re in the family of God so many of your needs are met. The greatest needs are still outside these walls and relationships. That’s where God is at work.
Prevenient Grace will find its way…will you join God in this work? I’m so glad Peter didn’t miss this incredible moment. I’m so glad I didn’t miss all the incredible moments I’ve seen God do very cool stuff.
This morning if you still need to find Jesus. If you aren’t on the inside of the family of God. This moment is for you. God has prepared the way and led you to this moment. We’re not all crammed into Cornelius’ living room. But we are here at a church built to his glory or we are connected online. Wherever you are: understand Jesus is the way to God. Jesus is the truth about God. Jesus is the life you need to taste of God here and now.
John 14:6 NRSV
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Peter said the following:
Acts 10:43 NRSV
43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
I’m so thankful for God’s Amazing Grace. I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God. Don’t focus on all the garbage in the news about the church at its worst. Look, for every bad story there are 1,000 stories of grace and healing and newness of life. It’s just not deemed newsworthy by the media or social media. It’s a race to the bottom. Forget all that. Find your fit among the people fully immersed in God’s amazing grace.
Be Cornelius. Be Ron. The rest of Ron’s life that I knew him, was lived as a great big thank you to God. He sought to serve rather than be served. He wasn’t perfect but he said grace saved even a wretch like me. Open your heart to God’s invitation today.
If you’re a Christian, stop looking for what others can do for you, start rolling up your sleeves and joining God’s great big project to redeem other lives. It’s not easy, but it’s always interesting and some days it’s just plain fun. Let’s pray...
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