Acts 10:1-43 The Gospel Breaks Prejudice
- Fearing God
- Purpose of the law
- Presentation without prejudice
Verse 1. At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort,
Elder Bernard’s introduced us to Cornelius, a commander and leader. Soldiering is a timeless profession. I’m convinced that while time moves on and environments change people, human beings, image bearers of God don’t. We’ve the same desire to sin, the same inclinations the same resistance to God’s will as all those that have gone before. The desires of the flesh, lust, greed, selfishness, covetousness dog our path and the pursuit of righteousness, the fruit of the spirit, apart from Jesus Christ, remain elusive.
You are leading people, whatever your profession or role in life, who are living in a fallen world corrupted by sin and struggling with the trials of life.
I want you to empathise with Cornelius.
He comes from a pagan culture. Rome was polytheistic, in other words they worshipped many God, – You have come in from a culture this morning that worships many gods. Many in our city are not only functionally pagan in their worship of the creation and rejection of the creator but also self professing pagans; Shamans, wiccans, Buddhists, and druids.
Cornelius would have worked with people with a range of beliefs. He was, essentially in the eyes of the world, a good man – You work with people who champion equality and diversity, work hard for charity and are in the eyes of the world ‘good people’.
He cared for his family, was generous to his neighbours, honest and honourable – Don’t you seek to be those things?
How would our church look if we had a congregation of Cornelius’s?
Wouldn’t attendance be high? I’m sure we would have more ministry activities, there’d never be a need for an appeal to pay the accountant and our giving would systematic, uniform throughout the month and generous.
After all, with Cornelius’s around growing churches through great programmes and religious systems is easy. We’ve people in our church who know the methods. Uncle Phil will tell you what music needs playing, Brother Ogi how the atmosphere can be pumped up, Elder Bernard how the Scriptures are twisted to tickle ears and tell people what they expect to hear.
In view of the desire to grow churches, how do you suppose Peter and the disciples may have been counselled, by today’s church leadership, to engage with Cornelius?
Firstly the disciples would have been advised to take care not to offend him. It would be advisable not to be pushy with their beliefs, after all we wouldn’t want to seem judgemental and make anyone feel uncomfortable. Secondly it might be best to take a friendship evangelism approach and recognise him as a good man, with a good heart. The disciples would be advised that they should be an open and accepting church, welcoming all people with a personal faith. Cornelius could be given a registration form for the voting role, a direct debit mandate for support to the missions ministry, and a suggestion that as an officer in the Roman Army he would be great at organising some super events for the men’s ministry.
Given our understanding of this portion of Scripture, in light of our studies of the first 9 chapters Acts, does not that parody seem absurd? It bears no resemblance to the biblical narrative so it is, quite simply, absurd.
God does not charm people into His kingdom he, by his sovereign choice, adopts them into his kingdom.
So let’s look to Scripture to see how God’s sovereign hand of providence unfolded and how we might engage with Cornelius’s we meet in our lives.
Verse 2 tells us that he was,
…….a devout man who feared God
We heard last week that this was not a redeemed fear of God. Not a fear of God that comes from a reconciled believer. So what is this fear that we see in Cornelius?
The fear in Cornelius is a reasoned fear. It is recognition of the power and majesty of God seen through his creation and revealed through his laws which are written on the consciences of all men.
In Cornelius’ case this fear has led him to devotion to following the tenets of second temple Judaism.
It is this compliance with Jewish religious practices of the day, attendance in the synagogue, being generous to the poor, and having a social status as a military leader that won him the admiration, we see in 10:22, of the whole Jewish nation.
Jo and I last weekend stayed with a wonderful couple in their beautiful Norfolk cottage. You’ll unlikely meet a more charming and generous couple in all Christendom. Janet is a journalist, academic and jam maker of repute. Loved by her neighbours. Ross is an accomplished senior manager in the field of broadcasting, an entrepreneur and good steward of all he has been gifted.
Ross is Scottish and his mother is from the Munro Clan. He shared with me the Munro clan’s motto which is, ‘dread God’. Now Ross’s difficulty is how miserable it must be for the Scottish clansmen to wake up in his wee bothey, on the only sunny day of year and face a new day with the words, ‘dread God’ emblazoned on their family crest. I tried to explain to Ross that the Creator of all things, the God of the Bible, is worthy of our dread.
My concern for Ross and Janet, is that like Cornelius, in the eyes of the nation they are admired. Ross is accomplished, he is respected but his problem is, that he has no ‘dread for God’. In the words of Romans 3:18,
“there is no fear of God before their eyes”.
There is nothing in Ross and Janet’s life to suggest that they are on some kind of quest, or search for God. In the same way there is nothing in this text to suggest that Cornelius was on some kind of quest. He was a pious man, a respected man, doing what was reasonable and rational.
So what are we to do with those friends or colleagues, who like Cornelius, are decent folk? First off we can be comforted by the words of our Saviour who said, recorded in John 6:44, “they cannot come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws them and I will raise them up on the last day.”
It is my prayer that the Munro motto, ‘dread God’, will pull on Ross and Janet’s hearts, dwell in their minds and plague their consciences that they might, by the sovereign grace of God, believe the Gospel, Acts 13:48.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed
God employs the means by which he draws people to himself …
so let us now look at verse 3 as the story unfolds:
About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?”
Let us note from the text this common thread through Scripture. Encounters with heavenly beings, at least from those who are sent from heavenly places, leave a man terrified. Adam in his rebellious state runs and tries to hide, Moses is hidden in a rock lest he perish in the presence of the Most High, Isaiah, fearfully says, woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips, Isaiah, 6:5, Jonah runs the from God, Saul is struck blind and the Apostle John bows to the ground in worship. Revelation 19:10. And here we see, Cornelius stares in terror.
May this be a word of caution for us before we believe all the ‘testimonies’ people want to bring before the church. Let us remember that not every spirit is from God, 1 John 1.
We hear what I refer to as ‘Christian ghetto language’, a word from the Lord, visions and prompting and yet I detect no awe, no terror, no dread as seen in Scripture. Whereas, encounters with the heavenly realm has an impact, it changes a person in profound ways.
Here the Word of the Lord,
“Many false prophets have gone out into the world…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti Christ that you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” 1 John 2-3.
There is a battle raging, you are in the midst of that fight and you must be on your guard.
Back to the text, verse 4 continues:
And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
The Purpose of the Law
We now come to verse 9 to 34 which is Peter’s vision, his response and introduction to Cornelius. Elder Bernard covered this in detail last week. So let me just reinforce the main lesson:
The purpose of the dietary laws, alongside all the 613 laws, were that they separated the Jews from the gentiles, Leviticus 20 :26,
26 Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.
God is holy, which means he is utterly different. Bible dictionaries will speak about the otherness or separateness of holiness. By calling Abraham out of his pagan land and setting him in a land of his own God set apart a people for himself. Following the covenant he established with Adam and Noah he established his covenant with Abraham, Genesis 12:2 and 17:7, and later with his people at Mount Sanai, the Mosaic or Saniatic Covenant. It was a simple promise, obey me that you may be blessed.
Exodus 20:20, Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
As we know from human history, the Israelite’s’ journeyed through the wilderness; the time of the prophets followed, then the judges, and kings; Israel proved repeatedly she was a woefully disobedient and adulterous nation. Israel’s continued corruption of God’s law is recorded by the prophet Isaiah in 30:9, “for they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord”.
And in this and the remainder of human history we see the ultimate purpose of the law which is to show mankind, who fall woefully short of God’s perfect standard, their desperate need for a saviour. And this was revealed to Peter when he was told, ‘what God has made clean do not call common’. We see the same in Paul’s letter to Timothy, 1 Timothy 4:3, where he chastises those who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created….
Now here’s the challenge that will come from the unbeliever, for they reckon they have found a contradiction in the Bible. We are told that animals once forbidden for consumption are now clean – look at Leviticus 20:25 which says,
“‘You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground–those that I have set apart as unclean for you”.
Do you see a difficulty? Peter is told, reinforced by Paul in his letter to Timothy that these beasts are clean. Bacon, shell fish, and ostrich is now eaten whereas in Leviticus they are seemingly detestable?
Do you have an answer for the sceptic?
Let me share some of the less persuasive responses that I’ve heard.
These laws are for Jews, they are not meant for gentiles.
That was Old Covenant we’re now New Covenant.
Back then these laws were necessary, there were no fridges for the shellfish but these days, well, we’re more developed.
The challenge you have is that we serve a God who never changes. The term is immutable. GOD is the same yesterday, today and forever. You cannot in one season have detestable animals that by some strange metamorphosis become clean. What happened before the laws received at Mount Sinai? Were pigs clean and healthy, yet overnight became foul and then some time later, through a vision to Peter, became clean again? It doesn’t add up.
We can start to answer our challenge from Galatian3:24, 24 Therefore the law was our tutor (or guardian ESV) to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
Furthermore, we also know from Christ Jesus that “ Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Matthew 15:11
Here’s the point: When the Jew disobeyed the dietary law and partook of that which was forbidden it was his wicked heart that was leading him to disobedience. The text says, Leviticus 20:25, “do not defile yourselves” It is not the animal that is quintessentially unclean but the disobedience to God that is causing person to defile himself.
Peter can now see the purpose of those dietary laws having been fulfilled in directing God’s people to the person and work of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will have recalled Jesus saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”
No more requirements for a dietary law to direct people to the Jewish Meshiak Hamashia, he has been and he has dwelt among his people and his people did not receive him.
Jesus continues in the Matthew,” For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished”.
What did Jesus Christ say at the Cross before giving his life up, “It is finished”.
All was accomplished. The dietary laws, the ceremonial laws all those ordnances and edicts that foreshadowed and directed God’s people to their Messiah fulfilled by Jesus Christ’s atoning death on the Cross.
This vision of Peter’s is profound, it has global significance, it is the pivotal point where it was demonstrated that the Gospel is for all people, all tribes and all tongues. That through the spirit of adoption, through God’s extensive election and generous Grace, Christ’s Kingdom will and is extending to the all the corners of the Globe, without prejudice, through the preaching of his Gospel.
Thirdly – Presentation without prejudice
Let us look at the chapter from 34 – 43:
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
First take note that Peter is speaking. Our Gospel is first and foremost a spoken message. There is a multitude of religious systems, philosophies and ideologies in the world full of good works, but good works without first the good message is not the biblical mandate. Peter’s initial sentence throws the net wide. However, for the Christian we know that in fact there are no righteous and acceptable people among the nations apart by the sovereign choice and electing work of the Holy Spirit.
We continue verse 36
As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),
Here we see Peter identifying Jesus in his Deity, as Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one. The Lord of all, that is the Lord over all Creation. The very LORD who we see in Genesis 19:24 who rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. The Lord who the Psalmist says, said to my Lord, ‘sit at my right hand until I make all your enemies a footstool’, Psalm 110:1. That Christ Jesus is fully God we know because he emphatically and repeatedly said he was God. Most clearly when he says recorded by John; Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58
We continue, Verse 37
….you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
Now Peter is showing his hearers the fully human ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, empowered by the Holy Spirit, sent or anointed by the Father. How do we know Jesus was fully human? Because the Bible tells us, ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man.’, so he took on knowledge. We also see that he experienced hunger, thirst, he was weary, and in the garden, as his final and greatest tribulation approached, sorrowful and troubled.
Let us to pause to ensure we each have a biblical understanding of what we are seeing in Peter’s presentation. Here we see the two natures of Jesus Christ. His nature as fully God and his nature as fully man. It is not that he is part man and man God. It is not that he somehow was God but then somehow stopped being God to be Jesus of Nazareth. It is in this area of understanding that cults are formed as the clear teaching of Scripture is twisted.
However, a plain reading of the text is all we need. Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, through whom all the things were created, that’s Colossians 1:16, and that in him the fullness of deity dwells that’s Colossians chapter 2:9. And that Jesus of Nazareth is fully man, tempted as we are:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
The term that we use for this is the hypostatic union. The union of two natures, fully God and fully man in the person of Jesus Christ.
Continuing with the last three verses 39 – 43:
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets’ bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
There’s much in these three verses:
1. We see that he died at the hands of lawless men.
2. That God raised him from death. Let us be minded that God is Trinitarian. That Jesus said, destroy this temple, speaking of the temple of his body, and in three days I will raise it up, John 2:19.
3. That Jesus’ conquered death and the grave with a physical body that was able to eat and drink, meaning that he could enjoy flavour, texture and aroma. Furthermore, he ascended with a physical body.
4. We also see acknowledgement of our Matthew 28 commission that preaching the Gospel is not a choice but a command.
5. And we see that Jesus Christ is the one appointed judge. No matter our belief system, our personal faith or particular religious conviction be that Hindu, Muslim or Atheist, all who perish without forgiveness from the Father that can only be found through the Son, will cower, naked, ashamed and in deepest dread before the throne of the Judge who is Jesus Christ the Lord.
6. The one who all the prophets spoke of, reminding us of Christ’s conversation with the disciples on the road to Emmaus when he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken” Luke 24:25.
Do you believe in all that the prophets have spoken?
“We can hold a correct view of truth only by daring to believe everything God has said about Himself. It is a grave responsibility that a man takes upon himself when he seeks to edit out of God’s self-revelation such features as he in his ignorance deems objectionable.”
A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
Let us pray.