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Apr 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 3, 2016 – Acts 10

The Lord of Breakthroughs

Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is stahing with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.”
When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
 Acts 10:1-8

Intro: I’ve been looking forward to arriving at this chapter with you

It begins an important section in Acts–at least for us
– supernatural events are recorded here that are God-led and exciting
• but the whole thing becomes a significant scandal when it reaches Jerusalem
• from this point up to chapter 15 we can feel the church’s inner turmoil
◦ leaders are forced to come to terms with what is raised here
◦ finally they reached a decision, but the tension was not resolved in their lifetime
– slowly, the first disciples eventually accept the possibility of Gentile believers
• this meant, they did not have to first become Jews to become Christians
• but even the idea of Gentile sharing their faith encountered intense resistance

The story of Cornelius and Peter has interesting parallels with chapter 9
– the conversion of Saul–the church’s worst enemy–entailed two visions:
• one vision came to Saul, who was about to be converted
• the other vision came to Ananias, who would assist Saul
– again we find two visions involving a prototypical outsider in chapter 11:
• one vision came to Cornelius, who was about to be converted
• the other vision came to Peter, who would assist Cornelius
– we might notice that each person who received a vision was addressed by name
• we see a God who is as near and as familiar with unbelievers as he is his servants

Vv. 1-8 The last place Peter would think to go fishing

Caesarea was a Roman outpost dedicated to Caesar Augustus
– centurions were as embedded as loyal to Rome as a soldier could be
• there is not a whole lot of information about Cornelius in verses 1-2
◦ but still enough that a first-century reader would know lot about him
• certainly enough that it would sharing their faith with him would not occur to the apostles

Do you see how Luke defines “devout”?
– it is one who

  • feared God — held God in reverence
  • gave many alms — the Greek word for alms is translated charity in 9:36
  • prayed to God continually
  • (and in v. 22) a righteous man — he did what was right in his relations with others

– devout is not pious, definitely not self-righteous, and not even innocent
• devout is an internal and external integration of life in its dedication to God
• Cornelius got God’s attention and God wanted him

A vision is a special kind of seeing – not through one’s physical eyes
– the vision makes invisible things visible
• this is why Cornelius saw the angel who right then had entered
• I know several Christians who, like myself, would love to experience a vision like this
◦ an experience big enough to knock us down and then tell us what to do
◦ but visions do not guarantee human cooperation or produce transformation
◦ and even without a vision of angels, the same spiritual forces are at work around us
– when the angel spoke his name, Cornelius asked, What is it, Lord?
• the Greek for Lord could also be translated “Sir”
◦ I think of the way men and women in military service habituate respectful address
◦ more than once, in conversations with marines I have been addressed as sir
• however, in this instance I imagine Cornelius filling this word with awe and reverence

The centurion is given an order to dispatch messengers to Joppa
– from Caesarea, a magnificent port city on the Mediterranean coast
• to the port town of Joppa, a more rural and Jewish port town
• we can hardly imagine a more beautiful setting (as we who have been there can vouch)
– the specific reference by the sea gave Cornelius an idea of where his delegation should look

Vv. 9-23 Peter was taken out of himself to receive a revelation

The Mediterranean housetop suggests a quiet, comfortable place
(and ocean view!)
– Peter could no doubt hear the waves that broke on the shore
• maybe he went up there to pray to distract himself from his hunger
◦ but his prayer went took him much further than he expected
trance is exstasis (ecstasy) to go from one’s self
◦ in other words, it was not his usual mode of perception
– Peter would be told something he was not ready to hear
• in fact, something against which he was prejudiced
• it it would take something big to break resistance to the new revelation

The vision brought Peter’s religious aversions to the surface
– it is not too strong to say that the idea of defiling himself repelled him
• he had grown up in a kosher home and culture
– but against his protest he was told, What God has cleansed, no longer call unholy
• a word in the Greek text is not included in our translation: you
◦ not only that, but this word is emphatic, YOU are not to call unclean what God has cleansed
(we later learn the impression this had on him,Who was I that I could stand in God’s way? —Acts 11:17)
• this one line is the heart of the chapter

Two things happened simultaneously:
– the men from Cornelius arrived at the gate of the home of Simon the tanner
• they called out loud enough for people inside to hear
• right then, Peter was listening to a different voice
◦ while reflecting on the meaning of God’s message, he was given further instructions
– God’s Spirit told Peter to go with these men without misgivings
• we might say, “suspend judgment” or if it is meant figuratively, “with no hesitation”
◦ basically God was saying, “Don’t waste time trying to figure this all out first, just go with it”
• God is carrying Peter into new terrain, so his word is command, not invitation

Vv. 24-33 The initial encounter of the apostle and the centurion

Cornelius had been so prepared for this moment that he fell at Peter’s feet and worshiped
– I love the fact that Peter was really bothered by this
• partly because I know there are pastors it does not bother but, in fact, encourage it
• we are reminded of the crippled who was healed and people crowded around Peter

Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? (Acts 3:12)

– then, when Peter entered Cornelius’ home, his discomfort is palpable
• it is an awkward moment that he spends apologizing and explaining
◦ his aversion to stepping foot in there was as deeply rooted as defiling himself with unclean food
• Peter now understands the vision and the meaning of its message
◦ but he still does not know what he’s doing there

Two times Peter had to ask for explanations (what reason? in vv. 21 & 29)
– he did not know why he made this journey
• all he knew was that the Spirit of God arranged it
– you know, if we live by rules we lose this
• the spontaneity and freedom to follow the Spirit
◦ asking and listening is a skill we develop
◦ and, like a muscle, if we stop using it, it will atrophy
• we can exercise this skill by:

  • listening to the inner voice of God while reading scripture
  • reflecting on our day in the evening or coming home
    ◦ say the Lord’s Prayer before going out the door to run an errand
    ◦ then when return home, ask, “Was I there?”
    “Did I notice? other people? springtime blossoms?”
  • paying attention to our bodies–e.g., Ps. 84:2

Vv. 34-48 Peter’s first sermon to a Gentile audience

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. (vv. 34-35)

Now this is a radical insight!
– and one that may cause us as much difficulty as it did the apostles
• God is not prejudiced against anyone
◦ a person’s race, nationality, culture, or religion do not impress or concern him
◦ lots of evangelistic effort is expended in making people “like us” — they don’t have to be like us
• there is no place that God is not at work
◦ and there are good people everywhere that he accepts (“is welcome to Him”)
◦ the same word is translated acceptable in Philippians 4:18
◦ all through scripture, the goal of worship is to receive God’s acceptance (e.g., Gen. 4:3-4)
– are we able to go this far? haven’t we been told that being good is “not good enough?”
• we cannot dismiss or deny the importance of being a good person (cf. Acts 11:22-24)

Before Peter finished delivering his message, he was interrupted
– God’s Spirit considered his audience ready to receive him
• they had enough information for them to respond with faith
• Peter acknowledged and confirmed their inclusion in Christ by baptizing them
– to convince Jesus’ disciples of the validity of Gentile faith, it would take something this profound
• “the circumcision” is a technical term
◦ it refers to Jewish disciples who stressed that the Gentiles convert to Judaism
◦ their message was, salvation required faith in Jesus PLUS something else (cf. Acts 15:1)
• still today you will meet Christians who add unnecessary requirements

Conc: This episode is a vivid example of how gatekeepers treat outsiders (cf. Mt. 23:13)

But for us, it is not merely a matter of letting others in, but of inviting them in
– we have to learn the difference between what is negotiable and non-negotiable
• for example, many cultural and ceremonial practices are negotiable
◦ but certain theological themes and acts of love are non-negotiable
• a benefit of maintaining these distinctions:
◦ we can stay true to ourselves while accepting others who are not like us
– at some time in our lives, we should risk loving someone we’re “not supposed to love”
• I don’t mean risking our health and safety or approaching someone dangerous
• but someone who is rejected and vilified by the religious subculture
◦ the list has included communists, evolutionists, secular humanists, abortionists, new age, etc.

May God cause us to be aware when we are about to write someone off
For the Lord does not wish for anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9)

One Comment

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  1. Don Eliot Stewardson / Apr 14 2016

    Both Corny [Cornelius] and Pete had this great desire to be part of GOD, no matter what change was needed to find that ! Here they were, these two sort of big shots in their own circles, ready to be exposed !! Those are the kind of men I LONG to hang around whenever possible, lately sensing Jesus Himself available in prayer that way.

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