Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

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Acts 10

March 6th, 2010 by Vic

“Cornelius”

March 7, 2010

This chapter records the 3rd Pentecost for Peter.  After Jesus ascended 120 disciples were waiting in the upper room and the Holy Spirit came on them.   Tongues illustrated the need to witness.  After Stephen’s stoning the church was scattered.  Philip planted a large church in Samaria.  Peter went to encourage them and the Holy Spirit came on these half Jews.  Now in this chapter Peter goes into a Gentile home and is surprised that the Holy Spirit comes on them just like He had come in the upper room 10 years earlier.  The people spoke in tongues to praise God and confirm God’s plan that they should be witnesses.

Luke uses a lot of papyrus to tell and retell this story (11,15).  It is a very important event for the Church.  Most of us are Gentiles.  It is especially important to us.  The leader of the Jewish Christians, Peter, goes into a Gentile home and has his cultural assumptions totally upset.  He may have had some reservations about going to Samaria, but Jesus had visited a woman by the well in Samaria.  Samaria was different from Caesarea.  Going to Caesarea is a major paradigm shift for Peter.  For the first 10 years the church grew among the Jews.  The disciples assumed that when Jesus commanded them to go into all the world He was only thinking about the Jews in all the world.  The only recorded exception seems to be the Ethiopian that Philip had shared the gospel with and several proselytes and God-fearers who were at the first Pentecost.  But the Ethiopian’s conversion and the others did not disturb the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  However, when the head of the church eats a meal in a Gentile’s home there are a lot of raised eyebrows.

10:1-8

God sent an angel to deliver a message to Cornelius and he responds in true military fashion.  Angels can only deliver messages.  They are not witnesses.  They are messengers.  They cannot preach the Gospel.  They do not know the joy of sins forgiven

Caesarea was not a little Jewish village.  It was a Roman military capital city built on the Mediterranean 30 miles north of Joppa.  It was a new city built by Herod the Great.  Already the population was the 8th largest in the Roman world.

Cornelius was a Centurion.  That means he was in charge of 100 men.  He was 1 of 6 Centurions in the Italian Cohort, battalion, or regiment.  It was not common for Centurions to be married.  They were moved frequently.  It was more common to have a mistress in every city.

Cornelius was an exception.  He and his household were devout and feared God.  They were well-loved by their community (22) even among the Jews.  In contrast to other Greeks who worshiped every god that might help them or hurt their enemy, Cornelius was a God-fearer.  He worshiped the one God of the Jews and rejected the polytheism, immorality, and mysticism of the Greeks.

He gave generously and prayed regularly.  He was seeking God.  How devout is my devotion?  God accepts people from every nation who fear God and do good (35) even the uncircumcised, the non-kosher, the barbarian Gentile.

God did not send the angel to teach Cornelius some more facts.  Maybe Cornelius had heard Philip’s preaching.  There was a hunger in his heart for more of God.  The angel called him by name at 3 in the afternoon.  Can you picture this situation?  My first thought would be, what have I done wrong?  Cornelius gives him the proper respect.

The angel reports to him the mind of God and tells him to go get Peter.  Why didn’t God use Philip?  Because He wanted Peter to be involved in the coming of the Holy Spirit to these Gentiles.  God knew Peter was stubborn but he was the respected leader.  He uses Roman soldiers and a vivid vision to get Peter to come to Caesarea.  If Peter had been with friends in Jerusalem, would Cornelius have sent soldiers there?  Would Peter have traveled to a Roman military city from Jerusalem?  God’s plan has Peter in a tanner’s home.

Cornelius immediately obeyed.  He did not send his men blindly, but told them why they were going to get Peter.  This is not a military mission.  This is a godly mission.

10:9-22

A tanner’s occupation was regarded as unclean by strict Jews.  Their home had to be at least 50 cubits from any town.  It was usually on a rocky seashore so they could use the sea water in their processing.  This home had a gate (18) which suggests wealth.  The home had a flat roof and may have had an awning.  The Aussies call a large backyard awning a sail.

Rooftops were like a family room.  It was a good place to find a little peace and quiet for prayer.  Noon was not a required time to pray, but Peter prayed and the Lord met him.  Maybe he saw some sail boats on the sea.  Maybe the awning over his head was flapping a little.  In his vision he saw a sail deliberately let down from heaven with all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds on it.  The Lord said, “Peter, I’ve set up a little picnic for us here.  Join me on the blanket and start eating.”

Peter replies with a stupid statement we all have made at one time or another.  “Not so, Lord!”  He identifies Him as Lord and tells Him “no”.

This is such an important event for Peter that it is repeated 3 times.

In the beginning God created the world and it was good.  Everything was common and good.  Then because of man’s sin Noah had to make distinctions between clean and unclean animals.  Moses later clarified how unclean can become clean or common and how the holy can be defiled by the unclean or make the unclean common or holy.

When God makes something clean we better not treat it as common or redefine it by our definitions.  The Bible declares that your body is holy to the Lord.  If you defile your body you will suffer the consequences of disobedience.

Peter was trying to sort this all out.  In 17 he is wondering and in 19 he is still thinking.  He was so focused on the meaning of the vision he did not hear the men calling out at the gate.  God’s timing is always perfect, and the 3 men from Caesarea arrive while Peter is thinking and questioning.

These Romans had the authority to walk right in, but they were respectful of the Jewish custom of separation from Gentiles.  Jews were not to go into Gentile homes nor were they to offer hospitality to Gentiles.

Peter’s vision is not explained by the Spirit, but Peter is told to do something and in the doing, his questions about the vision were answered.  Obedience leads to an understanding of God’s heart.  God can’t steer a parked car.  Obey today so the Lord can direct you to the next open door.

Peter meets the soldiers at the gate and says, “I’ve been told in a vision that you are looking for me.”  The soldiers reply, “Our commander had a vision and an angel gave him this address and said you would come to his home and talk with him.”

Peter had more questions than answers.  What is God doing?  He had just heard the Spirit clearly identify these men as Spirit directed and now they are telling me their God-fearing commander is hearing angels mention my name.  Somehow these events must be connected with my vision of the picnic blanket.

Acts 10:23-43

What cultural conflicts do we have?  What groups do we keep ourselves separate from?  Mexican, Russian, Chinese, unemployed, uneducated, divorced, homos, California seal lovers?  Humans are the same in Caesarea as they are in Jerusalem, Samaria and Joppa.

Peter invites these Gentiles in for lunch.  They stayed overnight.  Peter’s cultural walls were coming down.  Peter selected 6 Jewish believers to go along as witnesses (11:12).  That makes 7 witnesses.  For most situations 2 witnesses is all that is required by Jewish law.  Seven is the number of witnesses required for important legal documents.  The deed to creation in Revelation had 7 seals.

It seems common for many today to assume that one religion is as good as another.  Cornelius was a good man who worshipped God.  Some would say just leave him alone or let him start a new church.  But God does not see it that way.  God wants you to know that Jesus is The Way to salvation and freedom from the shackles of sin.

Cornelius shows Peter respect as the answer to his prayers.  Maybe he respects him as the leader of the disciples.  Maybe in the last 3 days he had done a Google search on who this Peter was that the angel had told him about.  He greets Peter with a bow and Peter says stand up.  There is no hierarchy in the church.  Cornelius met him at the door maybe wondering if Peter would enter his home.

The Evangelical church and the Nazarene church try to motivate people with the Great Commission in their church Discipline or Manual.  Was Peter motivated by this external command that we have labeled ‘The Great Commission’?  It was not in his mind at all.  Notice what Peter says when he finds the ideal evangelistic situation.  He found a large homogeneous group wanting to hear his words.  They were ready to listen, believe, and obey his words.

What was on Peter’s mind was not Jesus last command but the picnic blanket.  Peter reminds them that he was a Jew and brought up to believe that God did not want him to associate with Gentiles.  But God has been talking to him.  “God has shown me clearly that the distinction between clean and unclean foods has been removed.  God has declared all foods clean.  He showed me this vision so that I could see that He has also removed the distinction between Jew and Gentile.  God is changing my perspectives.”  God is doing a new thing among us.

10:29  “May I ask why you have sent for me?”  He knew God was talking to Cornelius just like He was talking to him.  Peter did not feel superior to Cornelius.  He did not assume he could improve on what God had been doing.  Peter was not sure the gospel was for Gentiles.

Cornelius was a God-fearer.  But Cornelius had a hunger in his heart for more of God.  And he repeats the story to Peter, thanks Peter for coming, and says he has just been obeying the vision.  “God is here so everything you say we will listen to.”

Peter senses God’s presence and begins to speak.  “I’m beginning to see that God is pleased with all who fear Him and do good.  His laws are a lot simpler than I was taught.  From the beginning God made it clear that He would bless all nations through Israel (Gen 12:1-3).”  Peter summarizes the gospel story like he does in the gospel of Mark.  This sermon is different from his earlier sermons.

10:39  “We are witnesses.”  Jesus did not appear to unbelievers after the resurrection.  He commanded the disciples to preach and testify (42) to the people that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness.  But the everyone seemed to mean just the Jews until now.

10:44-48

Peter had not finished speaking.  Maybe he would like to tell them why the Jews followed the laws of Moses.  Why the Jews practiced circumcision.  Why Jews fasted and prayed and attended the Temple regularly.  But the Spirit interrupted Peter.  The hunger in the heart of Cornelius and his household was filled by the Holy Spirit and confirmed to the 7 Jews with the speaking in tongues and praising God.

At the first Pentecost Peter had exhorted the people to repent, to be baptized, and to receive the Holy Spirit.  Now God just scrambled Peter’s thinking a little more.  The same Spirit who had come on the Jewish believers had now come on the Gentiles.  No wonder the men were astonished!  They had no doubts that God was present, but this was different.

The gift of tongues confirmed that God was treating Jews and Gentiles the same.  Peter at once recognized that these Gentiles were just like them and could be baptized in the name of Jesus to confirm their oneness in the fellowship of believers.  Peter does not baptize them.  They may have baptized one another.  Maybe the other Jews baptized them.  They did not have to be baptized by a minister.  The believers received believers as part of their fellowship by baptism.

Believers among the Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles have all received the Spirit of God and are now united in the body of Christ.  This is an amazing truth.  Jew and Gentile can be one in Christ.  Jesus is the cornerstone or capstone.  There is no intent here for denominations.  If Jew and Gentile can get along, then Baptists and Liberal Evangelicals can get along.  Jews and Gentiles were really different.  They had different ways of being born.  Different views on abortion, different calendars, different holidays, different legal systems, different militaries, different economies, different clothes, different foods, and yet God sees them as united in Christ Jesus.

The Jewish ways will not satisfy the hunger in your heart.  The Gentile ways will not satisfy the hunger in your heart.  Only Jesus will satisfy your soul.

Being baptized is not the end of the road for Christians.  It is the beginning.  Peter stayed with them several days to share Jesus.  Jesus is Lord of all.  Those who believed on Jesus become brothers to all who believe and follow Him as Lord.

When you hunger and thirst for righteousness you will be filled.  If you are not hungry for God you are too busy or eating too much junk food.  Pray that God will send you a Peter to tell you more about God.

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