Harbor Lights Sermon Aug 15th, 2010

Cornelius

Today we'll be looking at another of the earliest examples of the gospel being preached. It's in Acts chapters 10 and 11. This will be the first time the gospel is preached to a Gentile - that is, a non-Jew. Formerly the gospel was preached to the Jews. By now the church in Jerusalem was composed about 5000 Jewish Christians. But the apostles had yet to talk with non-Jews.

The history of the early church is written about in the book of Acts, which was compiled by Luke who also wrote the gospel of Luk and both of these books were written to a man named Theophilus. Now at the very beginning of the book of Acts Luke writes, In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." And I previously spoke on that incident which occured at Pentecost, 40 days after Jesus' ascension. In which the Christians received the Holy Spirit and Peter preached his first sermon, which established the first Christian church. It was apparently composed exclusively of Jews and located in Jerusalem and led by Peter, James who was the Lord's brother, and the Apostle John, all of whom were Jews.

Now there was a major weakness in that first church, a weakness due to cultural upbringing, a weakness apparent even in the leadership of Peter, James and John. That weakness was that there was an inherent prejudice that Jews had against Gentiles. And this was a hinderance to the spread of the gospel. For Jews avoided associating with Gentiles. But Jesus command, "go and make disciples of all nations" Mt 28:19a Before they could do that the Lord would have to deal with this prejudice and show the believers that Jews and Gentiles have equal status. This became a theme in many of the New Testament letters.

After the church of Jerusalem was established, one day when Peter, having visted with a Gentile, went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers (the Jewish Christians) criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them." Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened: "I was in the city of Joppa praying, (by the way we read earlier in Acts 9 that Joppa is the city where Peter had just raised a dead woman, a woman named Dorcas, to life) and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ "I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ (Realize that under the Law of Moses the Jews were restricted from eating certain foods.) "The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

What did that mean? Well of course one thing it means is that the Lord was lifting the dietary restrictions. The Apostle Paul later writes, "Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving" 1Tim 4:4 and in 1Cor 8:8 "food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do." But it was also intended to imply that Gentiles were acceptable as candidates for the gospel message. For Peter goes on to say, "Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them." What had happened was  At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.  (Realize the Israel was under occupation by the Romans. The Jews were prejudice against Gentiles, but especially against the Romans, especially against the Roman military presence in their country.) But He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!" Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea." When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants.  He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

The men arrived right after Peter's vision  and said, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say." Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself."
Note: Just as an aside, it is not appropriate to worship the apostles or other saints, nor to angels. The apostle John had a vision of an angel in Rev 19:9,10 "the angel said to me, "Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’" And he added, "These are the true words of God." At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!"
Peter goes on to say the Cornelius told them how he had seen an angel appear in his house and said, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

Now wait a minute. Here's this Cornelius. A good guy. He was devout, generous, prayed regulary and this with sincerity for God so impressed with this guy that he sends an angel to tell him, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God." And yet that guy was not saved. For the angel tells him, "‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’" This is a good man, but he needs to be saved. Even good people need to be saved. Furthermore notice that he has to hear a message to be saved. People are saved by hearing and believing the message of the gospel. That's the way God made it. The apostle Paul speaks of those who hinder the message of the gospel. He says, "They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved." 1Thess 2:15b-16a Salvation is by faith in Christ and faith comes from hearing the message. For Paul writes, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Rom 10:12-14 And apparently God did not chose angels to carry the message, because here Cornelius had an angel speaking to him but the angel did not share the gospel with him. Instead he told him to send for Peter to preach to him a message through which he would be saved.

So Cornelius goes on to say, "we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us." Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

Now notice the content of the gospel message here as he goes on:

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

1. Jesus is Lord of all

 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.

2. The gospel contains eyewitness testimony to Jesus miracles which validate his message

They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen— by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

3. The gospel contains eyewitness testimony to Jesus death by crucifixion and to his resurrection from the dead

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."


4. Jesus Christ is the judge of the living and the dead. And as affirmed also in the Old Testament, everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.


Back in Jerusalem Peter told the Jewish Christians, "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."

This did not completely put the issue to rest. There would still be prejudice between Jewish and Gentile Christians, as we'll look at further next time. But this was the beginning of the gospel going to the ends of the earth, the message through which people are saved; the message that Jesus is Lord of all, that his message is validated by eyewitness testimony to the miracles he did and to his resurrection from the dead, that he will judge the living and the dead, and everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.

Jul 29,2015