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Good News For All

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GOOD NEWS FOR ALL PEOPLE    ACTS 10:1-33

           

            Remember the song that you use to sing as a child: Jesus loves the little children all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Take to heart the words of this simple song and know that God loves the world. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

            Well, that is the lesson that is being taught in our passage this morning and evening. God is fulfilling his plan for salvation that he instructed the disciples with in Acts 1:8. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Salvation had been proclaimed in Jerusalem on Pentecost by Peter. Next, it was being proclaimed in Judea by the apostles. Then, the gospel was proclaimed in Samaria by Philip the evangelist. So the gospel was being proclaimed in areas that were specific to Jesus command.

            Now, God was about to do something different and move the gospel to the end of the earth. In our passage this morning, salvation is going to be proclaimed to the Gentiles. Acts 10 marks a dramatic transition in the life of the early church because Jews were not the only ones who were going to receive the gospel. Gentiles were going to be added to the kingdom through the preaching of the gospel.

            Paul wrote in Ephesians, those who were Gentiles about the plan of God to save Jews and gentiles alike. He said, “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---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. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of the commandments expressed in the ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father, so then you are no longer aliens and strangers, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

            Paul goes on to say in chapter 3 of Ephesians that he was made a minister of the gospel to preach to the Gentiles and reveal this mystery that was hidden for ages so that all the saints could comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love. So you can see that God had the desire to include people from every nation, tribe and language in the kingdom.

            Yet, there was one problem: people’s prejudices had to be broken down. God could have used angels to herald his message of salvation, but he didn’t. Instead he chose people to be his witnesses of his sovereign grace. Folks, the problem that plagued the early church still plague us today. And that problem is prejudice. Before God could bring salvation to the Gentiles God had to tear down the walls that separated the Jews from the Gentiles. This is what happens in our sermon this morning. God is breaking the barriers between two people groups, so that all people can hear the gospel.

            So turn in your Bibles to the tenth chapter of Acts. Due to time I will not read the entire passage, but I will highlight three timeless truths for salvation to unfold. We will look at two of the truths this morning and the third truth this evening. First truth,

PREPARATION FOR RECEIVING AND SHARING THE GOSPEL – 1-16

            In these verses, God is preparing the heart of Cornelius for receiving the gospel and Peter for sharing the gospel. Let us look first at God’s preparation of Cornelius for receiving the gospel. Luke tells us that Cornelius lived in Caesarea which is about 30 to 35 miles away from Joppa where Peter was staying. It was a bustling city with inland trading and was also known for its maritime trading because of its harbors. It had a mixed population that consisted of both Jews and Gentiles, which inevitably caused some clashes between these two groups.

            Here Cornelius was stationed as a centurion for the roman army. A centurion was responsible for 100 men in the Roman army. They possessed quite a bit of authority and could make decisions on their own if situations demanded it. They were one of the highest office that an ordinary could attain to. A centurion had great responsibilities which included discipline of the men in their ranks, oversaw capital punishment, and responsible for his troops at all time. This was a prestigious and high-paying job.

            Also, Luke recorded that Cornelius was a devout man who feared God with all his household. This does not mean that he was a Christian, but does mean that he was very moral in his conduct. In other words you can be religious without being saved. Maybe Cornelius was not satisfied with the gods of the Romans and began searching for the truth. He came in contact with many Jews and learned of Judaism. God had stirred his heart enough to move from his pagan religion and fear him.

            There are many today who are very religious, but are lost. They go through the motions of good works and behavior, but to no avail. The difference between Cornelius and many so-called religious people is that Cornelius recognized that his religious devotion was not sufficient to save him. Yet, how many people are being deceived into believing that they can do enough to please God for him to accept them.

            So Cornelius devoutness stirred him into action by giving generously and praying continually to God. He did like many of the Jews of his day, except get circumcised. 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.

            So God prepared the heart of this seeking man by sending an angel to instruct him what to do. So the angel said that God is aware of all your actions and has taken note of all your sacrifices. But Cornelius you need to go a step further send for peter to come and preach the gospel to you. Well, Cornelius obeyed the Lord and communicated the vision to two of his servants and one devout soldier.

            Yet, God was not only preparing Cornelius for what is about to happen, he had to prepare Peter for what was about to happen. Isn’t that like God working with the right servants and the right time to accomplish his purposes? So Peter goes to pray at noon like most devout Jews who prayed three times a day. Notice verse 10, that Peter was hungry and wanted something to eat. Have you ever noticed that when you go to pray sometimes you get hungry or sleepy or your mind begins to wonder? Well, God used this incident to teach Peter a valuable lesson about prejudices.

            Peter fell into a trance, according to verse 10, and saw heaven open and a sheet come down with all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds on it. All of which were unclean in the minds of a devout Jew. God instructs Peter to get up and kill and eat what is before him, but Peter refused because he had never had anything common or unclean. Even though Peter’s refusal was in the most polite terms, it was still wrong. Dr. W. Graham Scroggie wrote, “You can say ‘No,’ and you can say ‘Lord’; but you cannot say ‘No, Lord!’ ” If He is truly our Lord, then we can only say “Yes!” to Him and obey His commands.

But in verse 15, God spoke to him that he was not to call anything clean that he had cleansed. What God was doing was getting Peter to see his prejudices. He like most Jews considered Gentiles to be pagans, outside of God’s plan, and basically the scum of the earth. Folks, before we get to rough with Peter, we need to take a close look at ourselves. Pastor, I can honestly say that I am not prejudice. Can I remind you that even the most dedicated Christians can have some biases or preferences?

Have you ever noticed that the guy driving slower than you is always a jerk, whereas the guy driving faster than you is always a maniac? By fallen nature, we’re all prone to justify ourselves and to condemn those who are different than we are. We’re prone to judge others according to outward characteristics, rather than to accept them as individual human beings on an equal par with us.

            The ancient Greeks divided up the human race into two categories: Greeks and barbarians. The barbarian was literally a man who could not speak Greek, and so his words sounded to the

Greek ear like “bar bar.” One Greek historian asked rhetorically,

“How can men who can only bark ever rule the world?” Prejudice is not eradicated with brilliance, since Aristotle believed that the world’s climate maintained the difference between Greeks and barbarians. He explained that those who lived in the cold lands to the north had plenty of courage and spirit, but little skill and intelligence. Those who lived in the warm south had plenty of skill, intelligence, and culture, but little spirit and courage. Only the

Greeks lived in a climate designed by nature to produce the perfectly blended character (Aristotle, Politics [7:7:2], cited by William Barclay, Flesh and Spirit [Baker], pp. 40-41).

            Imagine for a moment, if this attitude was left unchecked what would happen to the spread of the gospel. Large areas of the world would be written off as beyond God’s grace. Millions of people would have never heard the gospel including all of us Gentiles. I am thankful that God’s grace prevailed in the heart of peter and the many other Jews who shared the good news with those outside the nation of Israel. I am thankful for those of other nations, tribes and tongues who were willing to cross great divides of land in order to fulfill the Great Commission. And today that responsibility falls on our shoulders to tell all the world the good news.

            Are there prejudices that keep you from sharing the gospel with a particular ethnic group or race or different background. If so, I call on you to repent of that sin. It is a sin to withhold the good news to ourselves just because they don’t dress the way I do or look the way I do or even have the same skin color as I do. All are created in the image of God and lost without the gospel of Jesus Christ.

            Now I don’t want you to miss the point that I am trying to make about our prejudices. I am not saying that we ought to be tolerant or accepting of practices that the Bible calls sin. We still need to call wrong wrong and sin sin. But the point I am making is that if we do not allow God to root out our prejudices that we will never share the gospel with a person of another race or somebody with an alternative lifestyle or with someone with tattoos and body piercings all over them. Remember Christ died for those who will call upon his name and who am I to say that this or that person won’t call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. So the first truth is preparation for receiving and sharing the gospel. Next truth,

SUBMISSION FOR OBEYING AND HEARING THE GOSPEL -17-33

            In these verses, we see the submission of Peter obeying the instructions from the Lord and Cornelius ready to hear the gospel. In verse 17, Peter was perplexed, puzzled by what he had just saw and was trying to process what he had just seen. While the men sent by Cornelius were looking for Peter, the Spirit was speaking to him about the visitors coming and what he was supposed to do. Like Cornelius who obeyed the word of the Lord, so did Peter. I want to say that obedience always accompanies true faith.

            Peter made immediate application to the truth that he had just heard. He invited the three visitors in and allowed them to lodge the night before departing with them the next morning. Brothers and sisters, when we here the word of Lord we are to put its instructions to immediate action. We are to obey like Peter did from his vision. The boys have a CD at home that says that partial obedience is no obedience.

            Peter could have passed the buck on to someone else to share the gospel with these Gentiles. He could have instructed these men and allowed them to go home and share what he had told them. Or he could obey completely what the Lord commanded him to do. God wants us to do the latter. Is there something God has spoken to you about and you have only obeyed half-way or hoping someone else will be commissioned with the task? If so, then I think you can clearly see that God wants us to obey fully like Peter does. After all look at the blessings that Peter is about to experience as a result of his obedience.

            For example, if you are resisting God’s instructions for your life regarding specifically in the area of prejudice, then listen carefully to Alexander Whyte’s words: It would change your whole heart and life this very night if you would take Peter and Cornelius home with you and lay them both to heart. If you would take a four cornered napkin when you go home, and a Sabbath-night pen and ink, and write the names of the nations, and the churches, and the denominations, and the congregations, and the ministers, and the public men, and the private citizens, and the neighbors, and the fellow-worshipers – all the people you dislike, and despise, and do not, and cannot, and will not love. Heap all their names into your unclean napkin, and then look up and say, “Not so, Lord, I neither can speak well, or think well, nor hope well, of these people. I cannot do it and I will not try.” If you acted out and spake out all the evil things that are in your heart in some such way as that, you would thus get such a sight of yourselves that you would never forget it.

            So Pete obeyed the will of the lord by submitting himself to present the gospel to a group of people he would not otherwise be willing to share with. Now as peter was submitting to the Lord to obey, Cornelius was submitting to the Lord to hear the gospel. In verse 24, Cornelius was expecting them to return and had called all his relatives and closes friends to hear the gospel.

            When Peter arrived in verse 25, Cornelius bowed down and worshipped Peter, but Peter said he was just a man like he was. Folks, Peter was not a celebrity that needed to be admired, but a servant willing to serve his master. Peter could of looked at himself as better than this Gentile man, but he didn’t. There are too many men who think too highly of themselves today, but Peter was only thinking of doing the Lord’s will.

            So Cornelius shared with Peter his vision and Peter reminded them that it was unlawful for him to even be there until God showed him otherwise. So he asked why they had sent for him.   

            Cornelius wanted Peter to share what he knew about the gospel. Obviously word of Jesus had gotten around town that he wanted the truth. He wanted to know what it was that had to be done to be saved.

      Warren Weirsbe notes three truths in these closing verses. First, the idea that “one religion is as good as another” is completely false. Those who tell us that we should worship “the God of many names” and not “change other people’s religions” are going contrary to Scripture. “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22), and there can be no salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ, who was born a Jew. Cornelius had piety and morality, but he did not have salvation. Some might say, “Leave Cornelius alone! His religion is a part of his culture, and it’s a shame to change his culture!” God does not see it that way. Apart from hearing the message of the Gospel and trusting Christ, Cornelius had no hope.

Second, the seeking Savior (Luke 19:10) will find the seeking sinner (Jer. 29:13). Wherever there is a searching heart, God responds. This is why it is essential that we as God’s children obey His will and share His Word. You never know when your witness for Christ is exactly what somebody has been waiting and praying for.

Third, Peter certainly was privileged to minister to a model congregation (Acts 10:33). They were all present, they wanted to hear the Word, and they listened, believed, and obeyed. What more could a preacher ask?

            As you know, in the late 1960’s there was a lot of cultural upheaval that resulted in a wide gap between the younger and older generations, both in attitude and appearance. Hudson Armerding was the president of Wheaton College at the time. He had fought for our country’s liberty during World War II, and as a member of that generation, was conservative in his grooming and attire. He also despised the counter-culture movement, because to him it represented unpatriotic draft-resisters, flag burners, and the like. So he did not like it when students dressed in the grubby counter-cultural fashion. Also, he thought that it was biblically inappropriate for men to have long hair. But the staff at Wheaton was trying to permit a degree of liberty among the students on this matter.

            One day Armerding was scheduled to speak in chapel. Just before the service, they gathered for prayer. Just before they began, a young man walked in who had a beard and long hair, and was wearing a sash around his waist, with sandals on his feet.

Armerding looked at him and was sorry that he had come in.

Worse yet, the student sat down right next to the president. When they started praying, Armerding did not have a very good attitude.

            Then the young man began to pray: “Dear Lord, you know how much I admire Dr. Armerding, how I appreciate his walk with you. I am grateful for what a man of God he is, and how he loves you and loves your people. Lord, bless him today. Give him liberty in the Holy Spirit and make him a real blessing to all of us in the student body. Help us to have open hearts to hear what he has to say, and may we do what you want us to do.”

            As Armerding walked down the steps to go into the chapel, the Lord spoke to him about his attitude. After giving his message, he asked the young man to come to the platform. A ripple of whispering went through the students, many of whom thought that the president was going to dismiss the young man from school as an example to the rest of the students. But rather than rebuking him or dismissing him, everyone including the young man was surprised when Dr. Armerding put his arms around him and embraced him as a brother in Christ. It broke up the chapel service, as students stood and applauded, cried and embraced one another. God used that simple act of one man laying aside his prejudice to turn the mood on campus to greater love and acceptance of one another. Dr. Armerding later learned that this young man had adopted his appearance in order to reach some of his generation who were alienated from God and the church (Hudson Armerding, Leadership [Tyndale], pp. 166-168).

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