GOD ACCEPTS MEN FROM EVERY NATION

Acts 9:32-10:48

Key Verse 10:34, 35

        “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.’”

 

            Last week from Shep. Bruce’s message on Acts 9 we learned how Jesus Christ changed Saul into Paul; from a proud man who breathed murderous threats against Jesus’ people into a humble man who would not be silent in teaching that Jesus is the Son of God. In today’s passage we will learn how the Holy Spirit used Apostle Peter to begin fulfilling Jesus Christ’s world mission command to preach his gospel throughout all creation.  Today most people who believe in Jesus Christ, who find comfort in him and spread his gospel of good news are gentiles as most of us here are. In the beginning of Christianity faith in Christ was enjoyed and shared exclusively among the Jews. Jewish laws of what to eat and what not to eat along with their law not to associate with gentiles close their minds to share the gospel with gentiles. In today’s passage we find God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit all working together to open Apostle Peter’s heart and mind to bring the gospel to the gentiles. Acts 10 is the beginning of where the rubber meets the road when it comes to bringing the gospel to the gentiles. The gentile world would never be the same. Barrier such as language, culture, education, personal prejudices and race can all hinder sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray God may bless this word of God to destroy such barriers in our lives so we can freely and boldly share the good news of peace to anyone the Holy Spirit leads us to.

 

Part 1.  Peter’s Shepherd Heart to His Own People.

 

            In Acts 9: 32-43 we find Peter traveling around the country visiting the saints and healing those who were sick. In Lydda one man named Aeneas had been a bedridden paralytic for eight years. Someone who had a shepherd heart for Aeneas led Apostle Peter to where Aeneas was lying on his mat. For the last eight years laying on that mat for 24 hours a day seven day a week had been Aeanas' whole life. What could Peter do to help this man who couldn’t even lift a finger to help himself?  Look at verse 34: “Aeneas, Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. Later when all those in Lydda and Sharon saw how Jesus Christ healed him they too turned to the Lord. From this I learn the medicinal value of saying to myself when I am sick: “David, Jesus Christ heals you.” Sometimes we just want to give into our weak body and lay on our own mat. At these times we must tell ourselves: Jesus Christ heals you. 

 

            Later in the city of Joppa a hard working disciple named Tabitha became ill. This woman spent all her time doing good and helping the poor. She literally worked herself to death. For Tabitha dying may have been a welcome relief because now she could rest and go be with the Lord, which is far better. But her life was such a big blessing to so many people they refused to let her die. Her friends took her body, washed it and placed it in an upstairs room. Others were sent to urge Peter: “Come at once!” When Peter arrived he was met by many crying widows. They showed him many robes and other clothing Tabitha had made for them. Look at verses 40-42.  From these miracles we are reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 14:12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.” We learn it was not Peter himself but his faith in Jesus Christ, which allowed him to perform these great miracles.

 

Part 2.  Peter’s Shepherd Heart for the Gentile Word

 

            Now let us focus our attention on how the Holy Spirit uses Peter in Acts chapter 10. The chapter begins by giving us a brief life description of Cornelius the first gentile the Holy Spirit chose to hear the Gospel. Cornelius was a Roman centurion stationed by Rome in the Mediterranean seaside city of Caesarea. Mostly Roman soldiers were drafted from men of countries Rome had conquered. Cornelius was a genuine Italian centurion with one hundred Italian crack Roman soldiers under his command. Centurions like Cornelius were the backbone of the Roman army. They were the Roman soldiers in the movie Gladiator. They were expected to win victories or otherwise, stand fast and die at their post. At this time the world belong to Rome so in a sense Cornelius owned the world. In reading this passage we find even this was not enough for Cornelius. What he found lacking from being a Roman citizen he found in faith of the Jews he was in charge of.  He had a learning mind to the deep Jewish life of faith. He adopted their practical faith in God into his own life. Verse 2 reads: “ He and all his family were devout and God fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. Here we see Cornelius’ life of faith in God was not done for the eyes of men but for God’s eyes alone. As a gentile and as a soldier of the army of occupation the Jews did not associate with him. His life of regular prayer to God and giving generously to those in need was entirely done to please the eyes of God alone. As we will next see his effort to fear God and do what was right did not go unseen by God.

 

            Verse 3 and 30 we read one day while he was praying three in the afternoon he had a vision in which he distinctly saw an angel of God. Cornelius stared at him in fear. Now look at verses 4-6 “ 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 Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” From this vision we learn even those who do not believe in Jesus, if their life lives in a manner that fears God and they do deeds that are right such as giving to the needs of the poor, their lives becomes a pleasing memorial offering to God. Nevertheless such life in itself is never enough to save oneself. Acts 11:14 reads: “He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.” This brings us to the other point we can learn from the angel’s message. Certainly the angel could have delivered the message that could save Cornelius but God doesn’t use angels to deliver his message of salvation. He uses those who already know it and believe it. In this instant God chooses to use Peter to give the message to Cornelius. He tells Cornelius to send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.  Here we learn the mission believers like you and me are called to do those unbelievers cannot do. Unbelievers can pray and help the poor.  What they cannot do is give the message of God that can save people from sin, Satan and God’s eternal punishment. Only the Gospel believing Christian can deliver this message. In this passage we will learn precisely from Peter the contents of this message. By listening carefully to it we can not only apply it to our own lives, we too can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring the saving message to unbelievers.

 

            Meanwhile back in Joppa about the same time the angle had appeared to Cornelius, Peter went up to the roof of the house he was staying in to pray. Look at verses 10-13: “He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” In this written account the reader is told Peter was hungry. Food was in the back of his mind as he was praying. He may have stopped praying for a short moment and asked someone in the house to make him something to eat. While someone in the house was making Peter’s favorite food God was making for Peter a spiritual meal he did not like. Peter fell into a trance and saw a sheet lowed from heaven by its four corners. The sheet contained both clean and unclean creatures. Leviticus 11 tells us specifically what creatures are clean and what ones are unclean. For example any animal that has a split hoof and chew the cud would be clean. This of course would make sheep and cattle clean. On the other hand animals that walk on their paws like dogs or do not chew with their cud such as pigs are unclean. Predatory birds such as hawks and owls are unclean. Weasels, rats and lizards are also unclean. Creatures like these the Jews were not only not to eat they were not even to touch their carcasses. Now God was telling Peter: Kill and eat. Peter was horrified. He thought the Lord was testing him in this matter and responded in verse 14: “Surely not Lord! Peter replied. I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Three times however Peter heard this command from God: “Kill and eat.” This was God’s way to open Peter’s mind to accept the invitation from Cornelius to come and preach the gospel in his house. More broadly this was God’s way to inform Jewish believers they should now preach the gospel to the gentiles. Even today we find accepting the food of other people is one of the best ways to open a door to preach the gospel to them. Missionary Samuel Folta told us eating a meal of dog meat with his Chinese friends in northeast China presents a wonderful environment to share the gospel with them.  When Missionary Sarah Barry went to Korea she did not take her American diet with her. She ate kimchee along with her Korean students. Because of this she quickly won their affection. Recently she came to my house. My wife offered some venison. Usually women grimace and say,  “I’m not eating deer meat.”  Missionary Sarah Barry welcomed the opportunity to eat it. Seeing this great servant of God happily eat it allowed me to feel very comfortable around her.

 

            After Peter came out of the trance he wondered about the meaning of what he just saw. Just then verses 17-18 tell us the men whom Cornelius sent to bring Peter to his house had found where Peter was staying. Verses 19-20 tell us the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” Peter unlike the stiff necked Jews who killed Stephen submitted to the Spirit’s direction. Even though they were Gentiles, Peter welcomed them into the house to be his guests. The next day he followed them to Cornelius’ home.

The next day verses 23b-24 tell us 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.” History books seem to be written by events such as the British General Wellington leading his army to meet engage Napoleon’s army at Waterloo. Nowhere in the history books do we find mention this meeting of Peter the head of the Christians Jews meeting Cornelius the Roman centurion. But in this meeting of these two men is where Jesus Christ really begins to shape and define the gentile world. Before this time Jew and Gentile when they came together it was only for reason of mortal combat. Now as Peter comes in the name of Jesus Christ and Cornelius awaits with eager anticipation for the Lord’s message the two people Jew and Gentile will become one people. As we read this passage we see barriers that once separated people come crumbling down not by the violence of war but by the power Jesus Christ and his shepherd heart to save all mankind.

 

            Look at verses 27-28: “Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” Peter first shares his interpretation of the “kill and eat” vision. In that vision Jesus was figuratively showing Peter he should no longer call any man impure or unclean. Before that vision Peter thought he was made pure and clean by Jesus as long as he stayed separated from gentiles and ate food the Bible had taught was clean. Now he entirely denied this Jewish way of thinking out of obedience to the “kill and ea” vision. We should learn from Peter his obedience. We might not use the words impure or unclean as a reason to separate ourselves from people. Instead it could be our own prejudices or cultural differences that keep us separated from people. If we want to be obedient to Jesus Christ we must deny our prejudices and cultural differences as Peter did. Jesus Christ by his grace makes us clean and pure not because we are better than other people. Since Jesus by his grace accepts us then we who truly want to be obedient to Jesus Christ must be willing accept all kinds of other people as clean and pure. We practically show our obedience the same way Peter did which was by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.

 

Peter obeyed the Spirit by entering Cornelius’ home. But he didn’t presume to know exactly why Cornelius had called him to his home. Verse 29: Peter asked Cornelius:” May I ask why you sent for me?” Cornelius replies in verses 30-33: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining cloths stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come; now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” Listening to Cornelius Peter could see this man was sincerely trying to seek and obey the Lord.  There was no hidden motive for why Cornelius had sent his men to bring Peter to his home. All Cornelius wanted was him, his family, relatives and friends to listen to what the Lord had

commanded Peter to say to them. This pure motive to just want to hear what the Lord would say should be our motive for attending Bible study, Sunday worship or any Bible related event. When we come to church or bible study we must acknowledge we are in the presence of God. Our attitude should be humble reverence.  Listening to what the Lord has to say to us should be our one and only motivation.

 

Peter was amazed at Cornelius’ sincerity. Let us read verse 34, 35 together: “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.” Before meeting Cornelius Peter thought it wasn’t entirely true God didn’t show favoritism. Especially he thought God favored Jews over Gentiles. Now he could see God is completely blind to race, culture, nationality or whatever our human origin came from. There are only two things that God is not blind to. Do we fear him and do what is right?  It was obvious Cornelius the Roman centurion feared God and was seeking to do what was right. God therefore was not deaf to his prayer or blind to his actions.

 

I don’t like it when people show favoritism and I’m sure you don’t like it when people show favoritism but this is the weakness of sinful mankind.  What is important is God who is sovereign over all the events of mankind does not show favoritism. God notices us when we fear him by repenting according to his word and seek to do what is right. This week begins Maryland’s spring break. What should we do during spring break? Does anyone have any ideas? We should fear God and do what is right. Some condense this life code by asking themselves: What Would Jesus Do? For Jesus it didn’t matter what men thought; it didn’t even matter what he wanted. When we read the gospels of Jesus Christ we see even after event Jesus showed he feared God not man and did what was right even at the cost of his life. Do we want God to take notice of our bible student? We should encourage them to fear God and do what is right. Do we want God to accept our children? We should teach them and train them to fear God and do what is right. Getting straight A’s is a nice goal. But we must remember this is not what God accepts. In God’s sight what is more important is fearing God and doing what is right.

 

            Next Peter shares the gospel of Jesus Christ. Look at verse 36: “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.” God’s message to Cornelius was the same message he gave to Israel. This is the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” Peace with God was what was missing from Cornelius relationship with God. Cornelius did what was right. He prayed. He feared God.  Still he had no peace with God. He reminds me of myself when I first started to seek God. I spent every spare moment doing something for others or for God; still I had no peace with God. I remember I went campus fishing once and asked a student about bible study. He saw my troubled face and asked me: “Do you have peace with God?” I lied and said yes but in truth I felt like the most troubled soul on campus.” Only through accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ did I finally find peace for my soul. First Jesus gives us peace by overcoming Satan’s power in our life. Look at verses 37 and 38.  Last week the woman who was the voice of Lucifer in the movie Exorcist died. They replayed the recording of her voice over the radio. Listening to it momentarily brought chills down my spine. Then I rebuked my fear of Satan by remembering Jesus Christ crushed Satan’s power by the power of God that was with in him.

 

            Second, Jesus gives us peace by taking away our sins by his death on the tree. Look at verse 39: “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree…” When John the Baptist saw Jesus he told his disciples “Look! The lamb of God who takes away our sins.” Mel Gibson found his inspiration ‘The Passion of the Christ’ after he hit rock bottom. Humanly he had worldwide fame but found he was addicted to every vices and only thoughts of suicide filled his mind. Then he went back to the old, old story of Jesus Christ and him crucified. In the movie he is one of the hands who nailed Jesus to the cross. By personally believing Jesus died for his sins he found God’s reminder for the power of sin in his own life. Two things struck me when I saw the Passion of the Christ. First the entire movie theater, every single seat was taken. Second I felt a kinship and a healing among the people when we left.

 

            Third, Jesus gives us peace by overcoming our fear of death by his resurrection from the dead. Look at verses 40-41: “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.” In the coming weeks we will learn much more about the resurrection of Jesus Christ as we memorize 1 Cor. 15 and attend the Spring Bible Conference.

 

            Peter concludes his message of peace with the message the risen Jesus told him to preach and to testify to. Look at verses 42 and 43: “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.” Here we learn no one can afford to be ambiguous about what they believe about Jesus Christ. God appointed Jesus judge of the living and the dead. Everyone like it or not, believe it or not must appear before Jesus’ judgment seat. Not even death can cause a person to escape Jesus’ judgment. However Jesus is a very gracious Judge. His condition for forgiveness of sins is simple. All the prophets testify that those who believe in him receive forgiveness of sins.

 

            Look at verses 44-48. Peter did not need to say another word about Jesus Christ. Before his eyes he saw the Holy Spirit come on all who were listening.  Peter was shock. With his mouth he said God does not show favoritism, but he did not totally believe it until he saw with his eyes the same Holy Spirit God give him now be given to the gentiles.

            Acts 10 is the beginning when God actively wanted to begin expanding his tent and brings his gospel to all Gentiles of the world. To do this he first had to help Peter the head of the first Christian church overcome his many prejudices he had towards the Gentiles. I pray just as God helped Peter overcome his prejudices, this word of God may help us overcome our own prejudices or demolish any other barrier that keeps us from sharing the good news of peace through the life of God’s Son Jesus Christ.