PENTECOST 2021 : NR 2
Scripture: Acts 9: 32 – 11: 18
Theme: Delivered from religion and prejudice
The hinge upon which the entire book of Acts hinges is 1:8 – “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
From Jerusalem, the proclamation of the Gospel message goes out in wider and wider circles and cross borders – like the waves in a pond circle out.
Remember, the Jews were under the mistaken impression that God’s kingdom belongs to them and their nation. They shuddered to the soles of their feet to think that a Gentile (non-Jew) could become a child of God.
That is why it was such a far-reaching thing that – after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – the kingdom broke out to all nations. That is also the reason for all the many miracles which underlined the truth of the teaching of the Apostles, which we read so much of in Acts. It is as if the Lord gave extra authority to the preaching for that commencement stage of the expansion of the NT church – exactly like in the time of the OT prophets Elijah and Elisha.
That is also the reason why there is often – as we see in Acts – when a new boundary is crossed (as in Acts 10) – languages from all different countries are miraculously spoken, without the people being conversant with them (as happened on the day of Pentecost). The speaking of tongues was a sign to the Jews that salvation is meant for all nations – not only Hebrew speaking people – but it was also a judgment over the Jews who rejected the Messiah and did not want to be part of this salvation (see 1 Cor 14:21-22).
Something of this – of how the miracles manifest when new boundaries are crossed and a minor “Pentecost” again and again takes place (while the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not repeated) – one sees at the end of chapter 9 when Aeneas is healed in Lydda and Tabitha is raised from the dead in Joppa. They are not miracles in the eyes of the Lord, but from a human point of view, they certainly were. By performing a miracle, the Lord every time validates Peter’s sermon. Because look at the results: people come to faith in the Lord – the actual miracle, greater than the physical raising of the dead – is when people who were dead in sin come alive in Christ.
You see, the resurrection of Tabitha from the dead and the healing of Aeneas were signs of the spiritual healing and resurrection that takes place when a person becomes included in Christ.
In chapter 10 we read of an even greater miracle: the first great boundary between Jew and Gentile is crossed with the conversion of Cornelius. He was an Italian. And remember the separation and discrimination between Jew and non-Jew were ENORMOUS! How will 1:8 ever come to fulfillment if this boundary is not crossed? How shall God’s great intention be fulfilled? Apart from 1:8 also Eph 1:10 – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Before that can happen another miracle must first take place: the Jewish Christians must undergo a heart-conversion, namely supernatural deliverance from their built-in prejudices towards non-Jews.
Before Cornelius could come to faith, Peter (the Apostle – and ethnic Jew) had to repent of his prejudice against non-Jews – which he carried since childhood and which prevented him from taking the Gospel over the boundary of Jewry! Because Cornelius could not be saved until he had heard the Gospel message. And who had to preach it to him? Peter. But Cornelius was uncircumcised! A Gentile! An Italian!
But Peter would never have gone to Cornelius until he has not undergone a conversion, even though he was already a Christian! In his heart, there was a barrier of prejudice keeping him away from Cornelius.
And we are not talking about something insignificant! The Jews wanted NOTHING to do with non-Jews. They did not enter the house of a non-Jew, what still to say have a meal together! (V 28). In the eyes of the Jews, non-Jews were unclean and cursed. In the same way as some kinds of food were not considered kosher, the non-Jews were not considered to be kosher. To us, that is inconceivable, even with our own SA history behind us.
Therefore take note: the two great humanly impossible divine miracles in Acts 10: (actually FOUR miracles): Peter’s conversion and deliverance from prejudice (1st miracle) resulting in inclusive (all-inclusive: non-Jews included) mission work (2nd miracle) AS WELL AS conversion to Christ of the religious Cornelius (3rd miracle) which resulted in an inclusive church (saved Jews and non-Jews) (4th miracle)!!
It directly affects us all today. It is as if the words in Acts 10 could leap out of the pages and become PART of us, because (struggle no 1) we sometimes struggle with prejudices against other people. We also struggle to reach out with the Gospel message to certain people who are different from us (struggle no 2). We think that religious people do not need radical conversion (struggle no. 3). Deep in our heart, we do not want a church who consist of different kinds of people, only our kind (struggle no 4).
Can you see? The 4 miracles described in chapter 10, concerns all of us. May the Lord by His Spirit do these 4 miracles in our midst.
It becomes clear that the Lord by His grace had chosen Cornelius. There was however only one way in which he could be saved in the Lord Jesus Christ: his ears had to hear the message and he had to react to what he hears (10:22). See also Romans 10: 14-17.
And the content of the message must be the only Message of peace that Jesus is Lord of ALL (meaning not all people, but Jews as well as non-Jews) (v36). That Jesus was killed by being crucified and was raised from the grave (v 40) and that the apostles afterward ate with Him and are witnesses that He lives (v 41). He is the Judge of the living and the dead, and everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His Name (v 43). That Jesus is not Lord of only a certain nation/group. That no one is superior.
But how will Cornelius hear this salvation message? Peter had to come and speak. That is the only way. The message had to be communicated. Not hand out soup and sandwiches and demonstrate the love of Jesus. Not set a good example so that Cornelius can see Jesus in Peter. No, Peter had to go and PREACH. He had to go and COMMUNICATE the Gospel message with words.
Meantime the Lord is preparing Peter to go to Cornelius’ house. Thrilling how it happened!
Peter is praying and becomes very hungry. Suddenly he sees the vision of a large sheet coming down from heaven. In the sheet are all kinds of animals, as well as reptiles and birds that Jews are forbidden to eat – unclean animals. Not Kosher.
Then the Lord said: “While you are so hungry, kill and eat!” (10:13). Peter falls back with revulsion: “Never! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The Lord says: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” – referring not to animals and birds, but people: non-Jews. All people – whom God regards as pure.
“How dare you regard people from another nation/language/race as impure if God does not do it, Peter?” If the Lord accepts someone, how dare the Lord’s people not do the same?
Can you see the meaning of the sheet? It has nothing to do with food and eat. It is a Godly declaration that the dividing wall between Jew and non-Jew has been broken down by the coming of Jesus.
The Lord lowered the sheet three times because the sin clung so deep in the heart of Peter (as Christian). And just then Cornelius’ men were knocking at the door! The Lord then tells Peter: “Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them”.
That is how Peter ended up in the house of Cornelius and said: “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. God does not discriminate. He saves everyone who calls on His Name. That is why I am here!”
The Lord brought Peter to a place where he had never been in his life, or ever wanted to be. A significant change of heart has taken place in him. His old life is dead. His eyes have been opened.
Meantime a crowd has gathered in Cornelius’ house. They were filled with a great expectation – all ears at what Peter is going to say. Because it is by hearing the words that God enters one’s life.
And that is exactly how it happened. While Peter was still preaching the message of Jesus, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message (v 44).
You see, the Holy Spirit accompanies the preaching of the Word. It is by the preaching of the Word that the Spirit comes on people. That is why we know it is happening here tonight also.
Peter was overcome with astonishment when he saw how non-Jews are receiving the Holy Spirit, and how they are coming to repentance and receiving Christ. And because the BOUNDARY to the non-Jews was crossed (the 1:8 waves circling out), there are also the visible signs of the Spirit, for example, the speaking in tongues that they have never heard before.
Now God’s divine plan for the world will come into fulfillment! The blockage has been removed from the heart of Peter and he becomes ready to include all people in his outreach/evangelizing work – not only the Jews.
That results in a religious Italian being released from his religion and discovering a new life in Christ.
That again leads to the opening of the eyes of the other church leaders in Jerusalem when Peter explained to them what had happened (11:1-18).
And that again leads to the Lord’s church/congregation becoming all-inclusive – a multi-national/cultural church that does not any longer consist of only one nation/culture.
Suddenly the Acts-church starts to look the way the eventual church on the new earth shall look: one family/ no divided humanity any longer, different people, different personalities/ characters/ ages/ backgrounds/ cultures/ races/ kinds/ types/ languages.
What an enormous and far-reaching turnabout! The greater miracle than the resurrection of Tabitha!
Do you understand why the words of chapter 10 leap out of the Bible pages and become part of us?
What happened here, is an ongoing process – until today. Even though we are not Jewish, the very same prejudices are sometimes in our hearts and keeping us away from other people so that, while we are prepared to reach some people with the Gospel message, we rather avoid others. In direct opposition to the Lord’s plan for the world as set out in Acts.
Yes, if the Lord had to give us a vision of the sheet lowered from heaven, there surely will not be unclean animals and birds in it. But what shall be in it? Think for yourself. Everything that irritates us in other people who are different from us. But the Lord’s words remain the same: “do not call anything impure that I made clean. Look at the cross, that is where the walls were broken down” (Eph 2:14).
In closing, I wish to refer back to Cornelius’ conversion.
There is something strange which we should not miss. And that is namely the question: why did Cornelius need Peter’s message and why did he need conversion to Christ at all? Because we read in Acts 10:2 that he was already devout and God-fearing and that he prayed regularly to God.
And yet Peter later tells the church leaders in Jerusalem that the message that he preached to Cornelius led to his salvation (11:14). He was – therefore – unsaved before! Religious, but unsaved.
Therefore before Peter came to him, Cornelius was on the way to eternal damnation. He was seriously religious/God-fearing/praying on the road to eternity as lost!
How can someone be lost while God-fearing and praying? Is it then possible that a person can be deeply religious without knowing the Lord?
Well, that is exactly where Cornelius was! He thought that he knew the Lord God, but did not know Him! The turn-about came when he – despite his serious God-fearing – discovered that Jesus’s death on the cross and resurrection is his salvation and he placed his trust in that! As simple as that and yet very far-reaching.
But first, he had to hear the message which Peter brought, and be convicted by the Spirit that he, despite his devotion, is lost without the Lord Jesus Christ. While the Lord heard his prayers and saw his compassion towards the poor which he performed as UNsaved – because remember that his name was written in the Book of the Lamb before the creation already. He was not yet saved in Christ, but he was part of those whom God had chosen for salvation already before the creation (Eph 1:4). That is why the Lord saw his good works which he did as an UNsaved person.
Do you see the gripping Word of God in Acts 10?
People are drastically delivered from their prejudices against people of a different kind.
People are delivered from their exclusivity – to exclude certain people from their evangelizing work.
People are delivered from church-exclusivity – and the church becomes multi-national/cultural.
People are delivered from a Christ-less religion and start life anew out of Christ’s cross-salvation.
Can you and I with full conviction say that we are not merely praying/God-fearing, but are living with complete faith-assurance out of the Lord Jesus’s deliverance?
Translated by Marthie Wilson