June 30, 2019
Pastor Ricky Smith
If you have your Bibles, open them up now with me, if you would, to Acts chapter 10. I think it’s important that as we study God’s Word, our eyes see it, and we learn together as we read God’s Word and let it speak to us this morning.
I’m going to make an assumption that I feel is pretty safe just looking across the room. The overwhelming majority of us in the room, regardless of age, probably use some form of social media. It may be Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram… (If you still use MySpace, we need to have a conversation afterward). But whatever it may be, and because of your experience, then you are aware of how somebody may post a video, share out an image, some quote, and it goes viral. -like all of a sudden it just swells with momentum and people latch onto it.
In fact, a couple of years ago, you probably remember the Ice Bucket Challenge, and let’s just own it. Who in the room did the Ice Bucket Challenge? Okay see, here’s what’s amazing: Through the course of this, what became a campaign, 17,000,000 people participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, and collectively, they raised $115,000,000 for ALS research. It’s kind of amazing.
In fact, my brother and I even did it together out here in front of the parking lot area. But we couldn’t just do it with a bucket; we had to do a bucket. I mean, we went next-level with our Ice Bucket Challenge, and we got very, very wet. But here is the reason why I bring this up. This campaign that went viral, it shows us the potential impact when a group of people unify together for a common mission. It shows us how with the power of unity, something can gain traction.
And we see that even in the text today, overwhelmingly in a positive, maybe in a little bit of a negative tone. So, we’re going to dive in to Acts chapter 10, beginning in verse 34, but before we do, in case you weren’t here last week or you haven’t been with us for the last while as we’ve been walking through the book of Acts, I would invite you later to either go back and listen to last week’s sermon, or maybe even later this afternoon, read the verses before this (verses 1 through 33 in Acts chapter 10), because it tells the story of how God supernaturally connected Peter and Cornelius.
Peter was the leader that Jesus was using to establish His church. Cornelius, being a Roman, religious, not-yet-following-Jesus leader, and God supernaturally brought them together. Today we’re jumping back into the middle of that story to understand why all of this happened. So, if you’re taking notes which, I would encourage you to do so, you can fill in this first line here. We’re going to see the clarity of the Gospel, and we’ll see it in verses 34 through 43. Please read along with me if you would.
I. Clarity of the Gospel
34 Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation, the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 You know the events that took place throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil, because God was with him. 39 We ourselves are witnesses of everything he did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, and yet they killed him by hanging him on a tree. 40 God raised up this man on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us whom God appointed as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.”
Your translation may say “God is no respecter of persons,” or “God does not show any partiality.” The Greek way of saying that (which none of us speak koine Greek) would literally be translated, “God lifts up the face.” That’s the idea. And so imagine, have you ever interacted with someone who, either they were deeply wounded emotionally or they were very embarrassed, or they didn’t feel like they fit in, and they just kind of they kept their face down all the time? They would never, never look you in the eye. Have you ever interacted with somebody and you begin to feel like, “Why are they hurting, or what’s going on?” -because you can tell they don’t feel comfortable.
And what Peter has come to learn in this context is, through the Gospel, God lifts the face. He lifts up the face where we can see each other eye to eye. There is no shame. We’re all together. We’re all on the same page. We all have mutual respect in seeing each other. And so, that’s the idea that he says here. God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation, the person who fears Him does what is right and is acceptable to Him.
Here, through the Holy Spirit, Peter begins to give clarity to the Gospel. Peter himself begins to understand the Gospel more clearly. Throughout the years, I’ve been blessed by God to be in a position where I had to hire teammates that come in on the team, and in my interview process, there’s always one disqualifying question, no matter what the position is: Can you articulate the Gospel?
And I may ask that different ways. I may re-frame that question, but can you present the Gospel? Can you articulate the Gospel, and can you do it properly? I remember this past winter, we were hiring our summer staff to come in to work at the camps this summer, and I interviewed 15 of what were the “best of the best”, so to speak, and only four of them could clearly articulate the Gospel. My heart was broken.
And I’m not saying this to cast stones; it’s just to bring awareness to the fact that there are many of us who profess faith in Christ and are actively involved in Jesus’ Church and love Him with all of our hearts, and maybe we struggle to clearly articulate, what is the Gospel?
Two key questions:
1. Who is it for?
And here, Peter is trying to bring clarity to it, and I would say that he helps by clarifying two questions. In fact, you may want to write these down. The first one he begins with is: Who is it for? Who is the Gospel for?
He said it here again. We recommended that he shows no partiality or no favoritism, and this whole “lift up the face” idea that Jesus came to die for all. In fact, 2 Peter 39 reminds us that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, and Christ died for the sins of the whole world.
He loves all, and he’s trying to help us understand through Peter’s growing awareness of the Gospel. “Oh, it’s not just for the Jewish people; it is for the Gentile people,” and Peter’s beginning to understand this. You and I also need to understand this lesson just as well. -that Christ died for the sins of the whole world, even that person that you really don’t like. God loves them too. So, it’s important that we understand, who is it for?
But notice, here’s an advantage that Peter has that I think you and I may not be able to safely assume. We read in verse 37 that Peter begins with some basic presuppositions that Cornelius and all of his household understood. In fact, he even said, “You yourself have heard about this Jesus guy.” and so he had the advantage to begin with some basic presuppositional of understanding of who Jesus was and what He came to do.
And I would dare say, if you’re in this room and, maybe if you’re over… I’m going to pick an arbitrary date of the age of 25 or so, you grew up in a time even in our country where there was some basic presuppositions that you could assume that people around you understood about church, about God.Even people who didn’t believe in God and didn’t go to church could probably somewhat quote John 3:16, could probably somewhat sing most of the first verse of Amazing Grace and maybe even because they played high school football, could probably quote most of the Lord’s Prayer. There was some general presuppositional understanding of, “Yeah, I know about God and Jesus.”
I’m here to tell you, Folks, those days are over. I could give you examples of conversations I have had of people who have grown up their whole life in Columbus, Georgia, now in their teenage years and would say, “I’ve never even heard the name Jesus before.”
You see, we, as we understand the clarity of Gospel, and we, like Peter, begin to understand who Jesus came to die for, and we then begin to share that with others, we have to recognize there are some presuppositions that you could have safely made 10, 15, 20 years ago that you can no longer make. And we, like Peter, have to begin with a very basic understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to do.
2. What does it claim?
– Simple message that bears repeating
So the second question, Who is it for? What does it claim? What does the Gospel claim? There are two things I think that Peter helps us to make note of. First of all, it is a simple message that bears repeating. We see this in verses 38 through 42. It’s a very simple message, this message of the Gospel.
Let me do my best to help you understand it. Peter begins with this understanding that God had sent His Son into the world and had anointed Him and given Him a purposeful mission. I think we need to really understand that the Gospel begins even way before that. It starts before the foundation of the world in the Garden of Eden, even, when God created man and woman. He created them to be in relationship. We even see that God would spend time walking with Adam and Eve in the cool of the garden, and God desires relationship. In fact, He created us to be in relationship with Him.
Because of that, we have this innate desire to have relationships. It comes from God, and it’s a gift. But then, when we continue to read in Genesis chapter three in the fall of men, where Adam and Eve sinned in the garden and they disobeyed the commandment of God. Sin entered into the world because of their disobedience, and death entered into the world. Because of their sin, the fullness of God’s judgment and wrath is now poured on all of mankind, and every person that has been born into this sin, has born into the reality of having the full wrath and judgment of God poured on us.
But the whole story of the Bible, from beginning to end, is this beautiful love story of God’s plan of redemption. -of telling us the simple message of hope and purpose and peace that is only found in God sending His Son, Jesus, to come into this earth to walk a sinless life so that He can pay the perfect sacrifice for our sin by the shedding of his blood on the cross. He died, and in doing so, he absorbed all of that wrath. He absorbed all of that judgment. He paid all of that price that you and I could not pay. And He did that out of an ultimate gift of love. He died on the cross, and He was buried in a tomb that was borrowed from someone, and He rose from the grave. But before He rose from the grave, He made Himself known, proving the reality of His resurrection to all those who would listen.
He spoke with His disciples, and He met with people face-to-face after He was risen from the dead, and He made this promise and even commissioned them to go and tell this story of hope. Why? So that man could once again be in right relationship with God. God desires you and me today to walk in relationship with Him. -to know Him, to experience His love, to experience His peace. And that has all been made possible because the gift of His Son, Jesus, who paid the price that you could not pay, absorbed the payment that you deserve, so that you can have purpose and peace and have a relationship with Him.
– Time tested message that never changes
That’s the beauty of this simple message that bears repeating, and whose hands holds the responsibility to bear that message? Yours and mine. And it’s not just a simple message. It is a timeless message. It’s time-tested, and it never changes. In fact, here in the end of verse 43, Peter says, “Hey, you know what? Even all of the prophets, all the prophets who wrote those books that we now hold together into the Old Testament, they believed in this.” It’s a timeless message, and it’s a simple message.
When I read all of that, here’s where I come to the reality: So, many times we put our faith in what we possess. Maybe it’s our fame. Maybe it’s our position or our title. Maybe it’s even our creed. Can I just say this? I am proud to be an American, and I’m really excited to walk into July 4th week, and I’m going to celebrate it with my family. I’m so thankful for our country. But I also can’t put my trust in the fact that I’m an American.
Even my creed does not earn me anything. The country I belong to does not gain favor with God. The amount of money in my 401k does not gain favor with God. The amount of time that I serve in love and give in humanitarian efforts does not win me favor with God. In fact, it is not what we possess that gives us favor with God; it is what we surrender. Let me say that again: It is not what we possess that gives us favor with God (not our fame, not our creed and not our wealth); it is what we surrender.
In whom do we place our confidence? In what do we place our hope? I’m reminded of the powerful words in Joshua chapter 24, that we must choose today to serve God. He alone is worthy of our sacrifice, and He alone is worthy of our surrender. And when I reached the place in my heart when I understand the clarity of the Gospel, and I surrender to that, it is then and only then that I experience the ultimate peace and secondly, if you’re taking notes, the power of the Gospel. Let’s continue to read verses 44 through 48 and make some observations that I think are noteworthy for us today.
II. Power of the Gospel
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues and declaring the greatness of God. Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days.
A. Power is through the work of the Holy Spirit and not the work of a man
For those of you who, maybe you’re like me and you’ve gone to church many years of your life, have you ever, do you recall some of those moments? -and sadly, they’re probably few and far between, but you’re part of a worship experience that proved to be one of these God-moments that, amazing things happened. You just saw the Spirit of God move, and you step back and come to this conclusion, like “God showed up today. There was no other explanation for what I just saw.” Have you ever had one of those moments? This is one of those moments.
I think it’s interesting and humorous. The first thing that we need to notice is that the power is through the work of the Holy Spirit and not the work of the man. I think it’s funny that God kind of uses Peter, but puts him in his place here. -because when we read the first couple of verses here in 30-44, we see that in the middle of Peter’s sermon, the Holy Spirit just interrupts.
He didn’t even let him get to the invitation. I think that’s so that Peter couldn’t take credit for it. -because if we look back throughout Scripture and build this profile of Peter, we see a little bit of ego. He’s kind of an arrogant, boisterous leader, and I think it’s important that God had orchestrated this whole moment to bring them together, and even in this moment, the Holy Spirit was not going to allow Peter to take any credit like, “I really laid out the word today, and they just responded.” No, He just interrupts him mid-sentence, mid-paragraph and the Holy Spirit moves. It’s as if, in a modern-day context, people just started coming to the altar before the sermon ever ended because they were responding to what the Holy Spirit was doing in their life and not by what some man was saying. Oh, that we may see the Spirit of God move in that way!
This past week, even, I had one of those moments. So, as many of you are aware, I’m kind of finishing out and trying to honorably work out my notice with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. So, we were at a camp in Fort Walton Beach. You may have even seen this on social media. On Monday night this past week, we were in the middle of our first worship set. The band’s on stage; kids are kind of trying to figure out what’s going on, because it was their first night of camp, and the fire alarm goes off.
What do you do when the fire alarm goes off in the middle of worship? I hate doing this. I sprint up to the stage, come back stage. I grab a microphone. “Excuse me, Band. Can you back up here? Everyone, the fire alarm is going off. We need to calmly and quietly exit the building. Let’s go.” So, I’m trying to step into that moment, and everybody leaves the room safely. There was no fire, by the way, and everyone leaves the room safely. Well, our team kind of jumped into work and grab the portable sound system and set it up on the stage outside. And we told the worship leader, “Grab your guitar. Let’s go.” So he’s grabbing his guitar and he’s running outside, and we just on the steps of the convention center, we just had church, like, “Let’s just flex and go with it.”
And so, the kids sing songs and the camp pastor got up and presented the Gospel, and 69 students prayed to receive Christ on the steps of the convention center. Yes, let’s praise the Lord for that! It’s awesome! Now, I’m not God, nor am I going to try to figure out how or why He does the things that He does, in the way that He does them. It very well may have been the case, had we stayed in the room and gone through the service, that the same outcome would have happened. My mind seems to think that He interrupted what we thought that plan was because He had something different that He wanted to do so that He can show the power of the Gospel is through the work of the Holy Spirit, not through the work of any man.
What if, Church, we entered into every worship gathering with that level of expectation? I wonder what God’s going to do today. I wonder what God’s going to teach me today. I wonder how the Spirit of God is going to move among us today. –because He has power, and should we not expect to see it?
B. Power of Spirit affirmed the mission of the Son
Here’s the second thing I think we learn from these verses: The power of the Spirit affirmed the mission of the Son. What was the mission of the Son? Remember? And I just walked through this, as in the comments I made on the clarity of the Gospel, but reference back to Acts chapter one, verse eight. In that season, after Jesus is resurrected, before he ascends into heaven, He’s speaking to his disciples, and He says, “And you’re going to be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the outermost parts of the world.”
He kind of road-maps out what we see unfurl through the book of Acts. The power of the Spirit comes in now in this moment, which some scholars call this the “Gentile Pentecost” that affirms, “Yes, the power of God and the truth of the Gospel is not limited to the Jewish people. It’s to all of the Gentiles, and specifically here, even the Romans. That government that oppresses you now, Yes, I died for them, too.”
And Peter begins to see this truth. He begins to affirm and back. He responds. In fact, if you look in verses 40-47, he says, “Hey, the Spirit of God is coming on them, just as He did on us in Acts chapter two.” It was as if he needed this amazing display of the Spirit of God to confirm what God had been teaching him over and over again. Three times, if you’ll remember on the rooftop toward the beginning of Acts chapter 10, he tries to show him this. And then this encounter with Cornelius in his home, and he just continues to affirm that lesson over and over again.
C. Power of the Gospel is acknowledged by God’s people
And then next, the power of the Gospel is acknowledged by His people. Notice in verses 46 through 48. Remember, Peter didn’t just come by himself. This entourage of six (it could have been more) people go with him, and they see it as well, and they affirm what they have witnessed. They can testify that this special sign was not just for Cornelius and his household to receive the clarity of the Gospel. It was also for the circumcised Jewish believers at that time to see the powerful, indisputable fashion in that God had accepted the Gentiles and died for them, and they begin to see that God was moving. God was still speaking to Peter. God was still working through this sanctification so that Peter’s understanding that the Gospel would continue to grow.
What can cause us to not experience moments like this?
1. Closed mind (God can’t do that…)
And I would dare say, I think there are times when God’s working like that around us, and you and I may miss it. We may not be able to see it. I would submit to you, perhaps (There may be more; this is not an exhaustive list) three things that I think are potential opportunities for us to miss what God may do in moments like this. The first one is this: a closed mind.
We would never say this, but sometimes it’s in our thinking, “Oh, God can’t do that. That person is too far gone for God to save them. These people are too far removed from reality for God to really change their heart. God can’t do that.” And sometimes through our maybe lack of understanding of the Gospel, maybe sometimes through our arrogance or pride or whatever the word may be, we may be closed minded to what God actually can do.
2. Controlling Spirit (I won’t give Him control of this…)
Or perhaps it’s even controlling spirit where we may see God working and we may even hear God speaking, but we say, “Yeah, but I can’t go there with you, God.” Imagine if Peter had the rooftop experience that we heard of him having in Joppa and he said, “Yeah God, I hear you, but I’m not going to Caesarea.” What if he had been so controlling that he was not willing to go there. Again, it’s not what we possess that gives us favor; it’s what we’re willing to surrender.
3. Critical heart (looking to others instead of looking up to Him)
Or maybe it’s a critical heart. You see, we see that the entourage that had traveled with Peter, they came into this. You could kind of read into it maybe a little bit of skepticism because of the way their eyes were open and their attitude changed. We could then conclude that they had a change of heart that needed to take place. And maybe they were a little critical. Maybe they were a little skeptical. “I don’t know about the Gentiles being a part of this…” -and it took this amazing move of God for them to see it.
Now, please don’t read into it and hear something I’m not say. I’m not saying that you and I have the power to limit God. God is limitless. God is all-powerful. God can do whatever He wants to do, whenever He wants to do it. What I am saying is, sometimes the attitude of our heart can prohibit us from being able to see what He’s doing. And I want us to be able to see it. I want us to stay in awe and in expectation of who He is and how He wants to work. And as we commit to look like Jesus, as we commit to follow the leadership of Jesus, we will experience unity even in the face of criticism.
III. Unity in the Gospel
In fact, that’s the third point I want us to look at. It’s not only the clarity of the Gospel and the power of the Gospel, but the unity in the Gospel. We’re going to go on through Acts, chapter 11in the first 18 verses of that next chapter. Would you read with me?
The apostles and the brothers and sisters who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 Peter began to explain to them step by step: 5 “I was in the town of Joppa praying, and I saw, in a trance, an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it came to me. 6 When I looked closely and considered it, I saw the four-footed animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. 7 I also heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 “ ‘No, Lord!’ I said. ‘For nothing impure or ritually unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a voice answered from heaven a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call impure.’ 10 “Now this happened three times, and everything was drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to accompany them with no doubts at all. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we went into the man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 14 He will speak a message to you by which you and all your household will be saved.’ 15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning. 16 I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If, then, God gave them the same gift that he also gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?” 18 When they heard this they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.”
The whole story had not been communicated, and Peter is now trying to respond to this critical spirit, maybe even to some gossip.
You see, I think the unity that we read in verses 17 and 18 comes when Peter redirects their attention from being distracted from the partial reality that they had heard and redirects their attention toward God. In fact, in verses 4-18, 17 different times, Peter makes some reference to God the Spirit, the voice from heaven, an angel, a vision from on high, some reference upward. 17 times in those verses, Peter tries to redirect their attention from each other, from their own prejudices, from their own presuppositions, and tries to clarify what God had done and redirects their gaze toward Him.
There’s a lot that you and I could learn from that example. There’s a lot of truth that we can see in that message. Now we will read later through Acts, like this didn’t solve every problem that they had. In fact, it’s not until Acts chapter 15 that this issue continues to come up and they kind of have this “come to Jesus meeting” where they really clarify and all agree on. “Okay, I guess now we’ll finally give in to this. But little by little, this reality becomes pressed into people in understanding who the Gospel is for.
So what does this all mean? What does this all mean to you and me? What does it mean? So, we understand the clarity of the Gospel. We understand the power that comes from the Gospel and the unity that can be found in the Gospel, but for you and me, it means we must do something.
Before we consider some Next Steps, here’s some questions that I think maybe you I and we need to wrestle with: Do we truly see and accept the clear message of the Gospel? Do we truly believe that there is life-changing power in the Gospel? Do we truly accept that unity can be found in the church when we center around the Gospel and we look up to one leader, and that is Jesus? I believe it’s true, and I believe it’s possible. I know that it is, but the question for you and me is, what is God telling you to do?
- Today, I clearly understand the Gospel and choose to surrender my life to King Jesus.
- Today, I choose to give God credit and confess a sin of pride.
- Today, I commit to walking in unity with God’s people represented here at Calvary.
- How would you define or describe the Gospel?
- Re-read Acts 10:38-43. After reading this, how would your answer to the first question be revised?
- Why is it important that God interrupted Peter in the middle of his speech to reveal His power? In what ways does a prideful heart negatively impact our relationship with God and with others?
- How do you typically handle criticism, and what can we learn from Peter’s example to help us point everyone to look up to God and His unifying power?