JESUS CHRIST OPENS THE DOOR OF GOD’S GRACE TO ALL MEN ON AN EQUAL FOOTING WITHOUT RESTRICTION
Whether we realize it or not, we are all guilty from time to time of spiritual profiling. By spiritual profiling I mean determining based on our own prejudices who seems to be a better prospect for the gospel message. We tend to gear our ministry outreach to those who are most like us. That is why missionary outreach to people of other cultures is such a special challenge.
Last week I was at a business dinner at the Inner Harbor at the Rusty Scupper (my favorite spot when work is picking up the tab because of the beautiful view). The topic of the MD legislature voting on same sex marriage came up and one of my dinner partners shot me a quick question out of the blue: “What does the Bible say about such people?” (meaning homosexuals) I replied that God clearly stated that He created man and woman and intends for them to function in those clearly defined but separate roles. I could see that this answer pleased him – from a profiling standpoint he viewed himself as morally and spiritually differentiated from this segment of society. But I went on to state briefly that we all have the same sin problem – just different manifestations — and the same need for the Savior because the ground is level at the foot of the cross. I think that extra insight surprised and unsettled him.
[Note the connection between Pride and Prejudice in the classic novel by Jane Austen.]
Probably no greater gulf has existed between two groups of people than how the Jews of the first century viewed the uncircumcised Gentiles. This distinction was not based just on human prejudice. God had clearly chosen the Jewish nation descended from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to be His beloved people. Gentiles were not excluded from the kingdom but their access was restricted to coming to God by way of becoming Jewish proselytes. Ephes. 2:11-13
Stott: It is difficult for us to grasp the impassable gulf which yawned in those days between the Jews on the one hand and the Gentiles (including even the “god-fearers”) on the other. Not that the Old Testament itself countenanced such a divide. On the contrary, alongside its oracles against the hostile nations, it affirmed that God had a purpose for them. By choosing and blessing one family, he intended to bless all the families of the earth. . . The tragedy was that Israel twisted the doctrine of election into one of favoritism, became filled with racial pride and hatred, despised Gentiles as “dogs”, and developed traditions which kept them apart. No orthodox Jew would never enter the home of a Gentile, even a God-fearer, or invite such into his home.
The event of the cross and the rending of the veil from top to bottom opened up access to God on an equal footing – something difficult for those steeped in Jewish nationalistic pride to understand or accept. Much of the NT deals with this merging of both Jew and Gentile into one body without distinction. Important subject – takes up a lot of space in Acts 10-11
JESUS CHRIST OPENS THE DOOR OF GOD’S GRACE TO ALL MEN ON AN EQUAL FOOTING WITHOUT RESTRICTION
4 ACTS IN THIS DRAMA OF PROCESSING THE VISION OF GOD’S UNRESTRICTED GRACE – FOLLOWED BY THE PUNCHLINE
I. (:1-8) VISION OF ACCEPTANCE – DIRECTED TO THE OUTSIDER –
PREPARATION OF CORNELIUS —
ANYONE WHO SEEKS GOD CAN BE GRANTED ACCESS TO GOD – BUT ONLY THROUGH JESUS CHRIST
A. (:1-2) Introduction to Cornelius – God’s Choice for this critical Jew-Gentile Union
1. His Home in Caesarea
“Now there was a certain man at Caesarea named Cornelius,”
Kent: Caesarea was the residence of the Roman procurator of Judea and was the capital of the province.
Stott: garrison city named after Augustus Caesar … boasting a splendid harbor built by Herod the Great.
2. His Occupation
“a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort,”
Matt. 8:5-13 – interaction of Jesus with another centurion who was a man of faith
Constable: Every reference to centurions in the New Testament is positive (Matt. 8:5-10; 27:54; Mark 15:44-45; Acts 22:25-26; 23:17-18; 27:6, 43).
Courage and loyalty were definitely two of his traits; understanding of authority
3. His Religious Reputation
None of these characteristics are sufficient for salvation or in any way earn salvation; but in the case of Cornelius they are presented as positive and preparatory for receiving additional light. The Holy Spirit has been working in his heart to draw him to the Savior.
a. Man of Piety – “a devout man”
relationship with God was important to him – but not saved 11:14
“a certain man” — not a disciple
Kent: adherents to Judaism to a limited extent (i.e. “proselytes of the gate”). They attended synagogue worship, acknowledged the God of Israel, and complied with some Jewish customs. They were not circumcised, however, and thus were regarded by Jews as not full “proselytes of righteousness.”
b. Man who Feared God – “and one who feared God”
following the light that he had; but needed fuller knowledge of God
Holy Spirit works in heart in preparation and drawing person to God
c. Man who Led His Household in Worship – “with all his household,”
genuine and sincere in his religious commitment
d. Man who was Generous in His Giving and in Good Works –
“and gave many alms”
e. Man who understood the importance to God of the Jewish people
“to the Jewish people”
f. Man of Prayer
“and prayed to God continually.” Requesting more light
Despite all of this devotion, he was still a man who needed the saving message of Jesus Christ and the gospel of God’s grace and forgiveness
B. (:3-6) Vision of Cornelius
1. Timestamp – 3 pm — “About the ninth hour of the day”
2. Clarity of the Vision – no confusion – “he clearly saw in a vision”
Sovereignly initiated by God; not something he was seeking or conjuring up
3. Messenger = “an angel of God who had just come in to him,”
Not the Lord Jesus Christ in this instance
What a privilege to receive a message from God
4. Personalization – “and said to him, ‘Cornelius!’”
God deals with us as individuals; Good Shepherd knows each sheep by name
5. Attention and Alarm – Divine visitation often has initial reaction of Fear
“And fixing his gaze upon him and being much alarmed, he said, ‘What is it, Lord?’”
6. Reassurance and Recognition of Attempts at Worship
“And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.’”
God is aware of all we think and say and do
7. Instructions Regarding Retrieving Simon Peter
“And now dispatch some men to Joppa, and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a certain tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.”
Difficult for Cornelius not to go himself; allowed him to collect his family and friends; interesting that Peter is already crossing the lines of Jewish prejudice by lodging at the home of a tanner
C. (:7-8) Response of Cornelius
“And when the angel who was speaking to him had departed, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were in constant attendance upon him, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
Delegation of 3 key loyal people; took immediate action; expected the mission to be successful
This is a great message for those like Cornelius that see themselves as outsiders – God cares about you
II. (:9-16) VISION OF CHANGE – DIRECTED TO THE INSIDER –
PREPARATION OF PETER —
THE NEW COVENANT DRASTICALLY CHANGES THE SPIRITUAL LANDSCAPE – WHAT IS UNCLEAN AND WHAT IS HOLY OR CLEANSED?
And on the next day, as they were on their way, and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry, and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he beheld the sky opened up, and a certain object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 And again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” 16 And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.
Stott: The primary question was how God would deal with Peter. How would he succeed in breaking down Peter’s deep-seated racial intolerance? The principal subject of this chapter is not so much the conversion of Cornelius as the conversion of Peter.
God is sovereignly orchestrating the timetable of all of these detailed events
Peter seeks a place free of distractions where he can be alone for extended time of prayer
Do you ever get distracted from praying by hunger?
Do you ever get distracted from praying by your mind drifting off elsewhere?
Purpose of the OT dietary laws
Cf. Lev. 11 for OT dietary laws regarding clean vs unclean animals
Possibly had some value for health purposes
But main objective was to maintain distinction between Jews and Gentiles – not allow syncretism or blending; could not participate in Gentile feasts; protect against contamination with Gentile idolatry
Times have radically changed – God removing barriers to Jew-Gentile interaction
Message repeated to Peter 3 times – remember his threefold denial and then the Lord’s threefold interrogation of whether he really loved Him
Tough for Peter to change how he viewed Gentiles – What areas of prejudice do you wrestle with?
III. (:17-23) JEW HOSTING GENTILES — VISION REQUIRES CLARIFICATION AND DIVINE CONFIRMATION
A. (:17-20) Divine Timing and Clarification Helps Mitigate Human Perplexity
“Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. And while Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. But arise, go downstairs, and accompany them without misgivings; for I have sent them Myself.’”
Stott: The key expression meden diakrinomenos in 10:20 and meden diakrinanta in 11:12 is usually translated “without hesitation” (RSV) or “without misgiving” (JBP, NEB), but it could mean “making no distinction” (11:12, RSV), that is, “making no gratuitous, invidious distinction between Jew and Gentile.
B. (:21-22) Divine Direction to Cornelius Reviewed as Confirmation
“And Peter went down to the men and said, ‘Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?’ And they said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.’”
C. (:23) Welcoming Hospitality and Prompt Obedience
“And so he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he arose and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.”
Big step to invite them in – don’t overlook what a huge thing this was for Peter
Took six Jewish men as witnesses along with them and made the trip back to home of Cornelius
IV. (:24-33) GENTILE HOSTING JEWS — VISION LEADS TO CHANGED THINKING AND ANTICIPATION OF REVELATION
A. (:24-25) Dramatic Meeting Between Cornelius and Peter
24 And on the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 And when it came about that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him.
Larger crowd than Peter may have anticipated – Cornelius concerned for the salvation of his relatives and closest friends
Meeting gets off on the wrong foot
Constable: In the great St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, there is a huge statue of Peter, where people come and kiss the toe of the statue. This is undue and inappropriate reverence towards any man or angel. We might almost wish that Peter would visit the cathedral named after him and set those people straight!
B. (:26-29) Perspective of Peter – Changed Thinking
26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” 27 And 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. And so I ask for what reason you have sent for me.”
Stott: Peter 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.
C. (:30-33) Perspective of Cornelius – Anticipation of Revelation
30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, 31 and he said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 ‘Send therefore to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.’ 33 “And so I sent to you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.
Stott: 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.
(:34-35) CONCLUSION OR PUNCHLINE: VISION UNDERSTOOD AND OBEYED –
NO FAVORITISM IN SALVATION
‘And opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.”
Constable: “Opening his mouth” is a phrase that typically introduces something very important (cf. 8:35; 18:14; Matt. 5:2; 13:35).
Kent: “face taker” – God does not save men on the basis of their individual appearance or race. The same thought occurs in the OT: Deuteronomy 10:17; II Chronicles 19:7; Job 34:19. John 10:16
Stott: no racial barrier to Christian salvation
Did God show favoritism to the Jews in OT times?
Yes, in the sense of the privileges that applied to the Jewish nation
No, in terms of allowing Gentiles to enter the kingdom as well
Not a statement that divine election no longer applies
Not presenting a works approach to salvation – understanding that repentance and faith lie at the heart of conversion; emphasizing here that God does not restrict the gospel based on any type of favoritism or prejudice; Access to God is open to all on an equal footing – Jew has no advantage over the Gentile; all believers are baptized into one body of Jesus Christ
Who are we to show partiality?? Our society is all about making distinctions:
– Black vs white
– Men vs women
– Skilled vs unskilled
– Rich vs poor
– Young vs old
– Professional vs blue collar
– Healthy vs handicapped
– Educated vs uneducated
We are not to try to anticipate who is a good prospect for receiving the gospel and who is not – don’t fall into the trap of spiritual profiling; understand that with God there is no partiality – proclaim the message of saving grace to everyone
“in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him”
Gal. 2:11-15 – Peter not completely over this struggle with prejudice
Message of Galatians 3 – especially vs. 26-29