SHARING CHRIST WITH ALL PEOPLE

 

Week of July 15, 2007

 

Bible Verses:  Acts 10:24-29,34-36,42-48.

 

Biblical Truth: Because God’s offer of salvation is for all people, we are to share the gospel with all people and invite them to faith in Christ.

 

Overcome Barriers:  Acts 10:24-29.

 

[24]  On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. [25]  When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. [26]  But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” [27]  As he talked with him, he entered and found many people assembled. [28]  And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. [29]  That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me.”   [NASU]

 

Peter and his group left Joppa and traveled north along the coastal road to Caesarea. If they went on foot, it must have taken them a good nine or ten hours, apart from stops. So it is the following day that they reached their destination. They found a considerable company awaiting them, for Cornelius was expecting them and had assembled not only his personal household but also his relatives and close friends. His spiritual humility and receptivity may be judged from the fact that, as Peter entered the house, he fell at his feet and worshiped him [25]. People often knelt before their superiors in the cultures of both the Old Testament and the Roman Empire. However, Christians disavowed such reverence because it was similar to the honor given a god. When there was a possibility of misunderstanding, Peter and others made their position clear [Acts 14:14-15; Revelation 19:10, 22:9].

 

If Cornelius’ act of falling down before Peter was unbecoming, so too according to Jewish tradition was Peter’s act of entering a Gentile home [28a]. But now Peter felt at liberty to break this traditional taboo and to enter Cornelius’ house, because God had shown him that no human being was unclean in his sight. Whether consciously or unconsciously, Peter had just now repudiated both extreme and opposite attitudes which human beings have sometimes adopted towards one another. He had come to see that it was entirely inappropriate either to worship somebody as if divine (which Cornelius had tried to do to him) or to reject somebody as if unclean (which he would previously have done to Cornelius). Peter refused both to be treated by Cornelius as if he were a god, and to treat Cornelius as if he were a dog. Peter went on to say that, having been sent for, he had come without even raising any objection [29].

 

Why, then had Cornelius sent for him? In reply, Cornelius told the story of his vision of the angel [30-33] which had taken place four days previously. His account is identical with Luke’s [10:3-6], except that he now calls the angel a man in shining clothes and omits any reference to the terror he had experienced at the time [4]. He then thanked Peter for coming and added: Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord [33]. It was a remarkable acknowledgement that they were in God’s presence, that the apostle Peter was to be the bearer of God’s word to them, and that they were all ready and open to listen to it. No preacher today could ask for a more attentive audience.

 

Speak God’s Message:  Acts 10:34-36,42-43.

 

[34]  Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, [35]  but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. [36]  The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)—  [42]  And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. [43]  Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”   [NASU]

 

Peter began his sermon with a solemn personal statement of what he had learned through his experiences of the previous few days. He stated it both negatively and positively. First, I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality [34]. Partiality was forbidden to judges in the Old Testament who were not to pervert justice by discriminating in favor of either the rich or the poor [see Lev. 19:15]. For with the divine judge there is no injustice or partiality or bribery [2 Chron. 19:7]. Peter’s statement, however, has a wider connotation. He means that God’s attitude to people is not determined by any external criteria, such as their appearance, race, nationality or class. Instead, and positively, God accepts in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right [35]. The emphasis in Peter’s statement is that Cornelius’ Gentile nationality was acceptable so that he had no need to become a Jew, not that his own righteousness was adequate so that he had no need to become a Christian. If Cornelius’ doing what was right saved him then he had no need to call Peter to come and deliver the Gospel message to him. And 11:14 clearly indicates that the salvation of Cornelius and his household was due to the words spoken to them by Peter. Instead the man who fears Him and does what is right should be connected with God is not one to show partiality [34]. Peter sees that God is not just the God of the Jews but also of the Gentiles because he finds a Gentile doing just what a good Jew would do, i.e. fear or show reverence for God and seeking to do right according to God’s law. But, it should be noted that these two acts do nothing to merit or earn salvation on the part of Cornelius. He and his household are only saved as the Holy Spirit applies the Gospel message to their hearts thereby giving them spiritual life.

 

After this introduction, affirming that there is no racial barrier to Christian salvation, Luke summarizes Peter’s sermon [36-43]. Although it was addressed to a Gentile audience, its content was substantially the same as what he had been preaching to Jews. Indeed Peter said so, calling it both the word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) [36] not just of Israel. It related to certain recent events, which Peter’s audience knew about, because they had been public, and whose place and time Peter was able to pin-point: you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee after the baptism which John proclaimed [37]. These events centered on the historical Jesus, on the successive stages of His saving career, and on the salvation He offers in consequence.

 

First, Peter alluded to Jesus’ life and ministry, how God anointed Him for His work as the Messiah, not with oil like the kings of Israel and Judah but with the Holy Spirit and with power, that is, with the power of the Spirit. Thus anointed, He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, or tyrannized by him, so that His power was seen to be greater than the devil’s, for God was with Him [38]. Moreover, Peter continued, we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem [39a], and are therefore able to give firsthand evidence or testimony. It is clear from this that some kind of an account of the life and character of Jesus formed an integral part of the early church’s preaching, especially its initial evangelism. Next came Jesus’ death. The authorities killed him by crucifixion. But Peter hints, as he had done in his earlier sermons [2:23; 5:30], that behind the historical event lay a theological significance, behind the human execution a divine plan. For they had killed Him by hanging Him on a cross (literally ‘tree’) [39b]. Peter was under no necessity to call the cross ‘a tree’; he did it by design, in order to indicate that Jesus was bearing in our place the ‘curse’ or judgment of God on our sins [Deut. 21:22-23; cf. Gal. 3:10-13; 1 Peter 2:24]. The third event was the resurrection [40-41]. Peter emphasized that it was both a divine act (they also put Him to death but God raised Him up, the same dramatic contrast as in 2:23-24 and 5:30-31), and datable (on the third day). It was also physically verified, because God deliberately granted that He become visible, not  indeed to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God. Moreover, the resurrection body the apostles saw, although wonderfully transfigured and glorified, could nevertheless materialize, so that they ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

 

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus were more than significant events; they also constituted the gospel, which He ordered us (the apostles) to preach, in the first instance to the people (the Jews). But the scope of the gospel was universal. So the apostles were also to proclaim him as Lord of all, as judge of all and as Savior of all who believe. They were to testify that He would return on the judgment day, since He is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead [42]. All will be included; none can escape. Yet we need not fear the judgment of Christ, since He is also the one who bestows salvation. Long before the apostles began to testify to Him as Savior, all the prophets did so in the Old Testament, and still do through their written words: they testify about Him, the unique, historical, incarnate, crucified and resurrected Jesus, that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins [43], that is, through the efficacy of who He is and what He has done. This everyone includes Gentiles as well as Jews.

 

Accept all who receive Christ:  Acts 10:44-48.

 

[44]  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. [45]  All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. [46]  For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, [47]  “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” [48]  And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.   [NASU]

 

It was a marvelously comprehensive message, a concise summary of the good news according to Peter which Mark would later record more fully in his gospel, and which Luke incorporated in his. Focusing on Jesus, Peter presented Him as a historical person, in and through whom God was savingly at work, who now offered to believers salvation and escape from judgment. Thus history, theology and gospel were again combined, as in other apostolic sermons.

 

As Cornelius, his family, relatives, friends and servants listened, their hearts were opened to grasp and believe Peter’s message, and so to repent and believe in Jesus. Thus, while Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message [44]. The small group of Jewish Christians who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also [45], whom they had regarded as uncircumcised outsiders. But they could not deny the evidence of their eyes and ears, for they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God [46], as had happened on the Day of Pentecost. It was a type of the reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, whose alienation had for ages been secured and symbolized by differences of language.

 

Peter was quick to draw the inevitable deduction. Since God had accepted these Gentile believers, the church must accept them too. Since God had baptized them with His Spirit [11:16], Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did [47]. How could the sign (water baptism) be denied to those who had already received the reality signified (the gift of the Holy Spirit)? So Peter ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then, having been welcomed into God’s household, they asked Peter to stay on for a few days [48], no doubt in order to nurture them in their new faith and life. The gift of the Spirit was insufficient; they needed human teachers too. And Peter’s acceptance of their hospitality demonstrated the new Jewish-Gentile solidarity which Christ had established.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      Why is it important for you that God doesn’t show favoritism? Do you ever act as though He does favor certain ethnic, economic, social, or political groups?

 

2.      How is 10:34-43 a model for a way you can explain the gospel to people you encounter? What was the focus of Peter’s sermon? What does this tell us that we should focus on when sharing the Gospel with others?

 

3.      What lessons did Peter and the Jewish believers learn from this encounter with Cornelius?

 

4.      Why was it necessary to baptize the Gentiles in water in addition to their experience in 10:44-46?

 

References:

The Book of the Acts, F.F. Bruce, Eerdmans.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter-Varsity.