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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Opening Doors and Hearts (Part Two)

Acts 10:34-48

(Compare this week’s illustration with the previous week’s.)

            What was going on the week prior to May 18, 2020?  Do you remember that time?  Here are a few headlines to refresh your memory:

- Governors continue push to reopen their states as COVID-19 deaths near 90,000.

- Nancy Pelosi said President Trump's firing of the State Department's inspector general, "could be unlawful."

- Bernie Sanders said his supporters will vote for Biden “at the end of the day.”

- Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said full economic recovery could take 18 months.

- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swore in a new government.

- In a commencement address President Trump criticizes former President Obama

- The newly formed U.S. Space Force sent its mystery space plane, the X-37B, into orbit, on an undisclosed mission.

- A federal judge denied disgraced pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli's request for release from prison.

            Does anything on that list spark you in any way?  There must’ve been something that happened that week that sparked Frank Hart, pastor of New Church in Katy, Texas because on May 18, 2020, Pastor Hart preached a sermon entitled, “Jesus has Overcome the World for You.”  I want to share a brief excerpt from his sermon as it pertains to our passage this morning and puts to words something I’ve been feeling.

            Hart’s sermon was based on John 17 which records some of the last things Jesus had to say to us before He went to the cross. “This is my command: Love. Each. Other. I could stop there if we had any idea what he actually meant by loving each other. But our mouths are open and our hearts are closed.

            “We have to love each other. I know, you think you already know that. But you need to love people even if people don’t love you back. And they’re not going to love you back. The world isn’t going to love you back. We gotta stop watching the news and getting all bent out of shape.

            “Stop being surprised that pagans act like pagans. Stop being surprised that the world is full of terrible people doing terrible things. Stop being surprised that it’s a dark place full of pain and misery and death and violence. That it hates God, hates you and everything important to you. The world is an awful place. It’s kinda the whole point of the Gospel.

            “Earlier in the Gospel of John Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save it.” He wouldn’t have done that if it didn’t need to be saved. So He sent Jesus and Jesus did the unthinkable thing that needed to be done to save it. To save us. That’s the Gospel. Jesus saved the world by giving His life. Jesus has overcome the world.  And then the world says, ‘It doesn’t look like He saved it. It still seems like a mess to me.’”

            I’m coming to the decision that the only way to win the “culture war” is to refuse to fight.  Instead, we need to tell the truth in the most loving way possible.  I’m not advocating compromising God’s standards; I’m talking about opening our doors and our hearts by loving people.  This is not a winning political strategy; it is an attempt to do what God commanded us to do.  And remember, we already know God wins, so relax.

Sometimes momentous changes begin with God’s momentous actions.

1. Peter’s message opened the door of salvation. (34-43)

            Verses 34-35, 40 show Peter learned the lesson of the vision; anyone can be saved. THEN PETER REPLIED sounds like nothing special, but in the Greek, it literally reads, “Opening his mouth, Peter said.”  This is a standardized introduction to a weighty topic, rather like, “Sit up and pay attention!”  “I SEE VERY CLEARLY” indicates Peter has become more convinced of the truth as time has gone by. 

            This is the truth: GOD SHOWS NO FAVORITISM.  Where He used to favor one nation, Israel, He now accepts persons from any nation.  This adds another virtue to God’s character: impartiality.  He does not have two standards for judging the morality of people’s character or actions; He judges all of us by a single standard.

            Where you are born does not determine whether or not you are saved!  Now, regardless of ethnicity, God ACCEPTS (regards as righteous) people who characteristically do two things: FEAR HIM AND DO WHAT IS RIGHT.  This may sound like salvation by works, but the Bible teaches that people who FEAR HIM have the beginnings of wisdom and only those who have faith can possibly DO WHAT IS RIGHT.  These two qualities do not replace salvation but are evidence of it.  In other words, God does not accept us because we are good, we can be good because God has accepted us.

            In verses 36-40, Peter recounted Jesus’ ministry.  It truly is THE MESSAGE OF GOOD NEWS, the best news possible. The GOOD NEWS was first given to the PEOPLE OF ISRAEL but is now being offered to all nationalities.  The GOOD NEWS is available THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.  Peter’s survey of Jesus’ ministry is geographically organized (baptism in the Jordan, ministry in Judea and Galilee, passion in Jerusalem).  Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is the time many believe Jesus was anointed with the Spirit.  His baptism is the event that inaugurated His three years of ministry.  Jesus used His power to do good works such as HEALING ALL WHO WERE OPPRESSED BY THE DEVIL.  Doing these miracles were evidence that GOD WAS WITH HIM.  Jesus represented God the Father the entire time He ministered on Earth.  Despite all the good He did, the earthly authorities PUT HIM TO DEATH BY HANGING HIM ON A CROSS.  This was God’s plan all along, Jesus being the eternal sacrifice for sin.  The completion of God’s plan of salvation was to raise Jesus to LIFE ON THE THIRD DAY, as He had promised.

            Peter avoided the extreme views that only one nation is saved or that all nations are saved.  His GOOD NEWS is that people from any nation may be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Vs. 36-40 explain how Jesus did it.  YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED assumes the crowd Cornelius gathered for the occasion were familiar with the main points of Jesus’ ministry.  This may’ve been because of Philip’s earlier visit (8:40) and/or the fact that Caesarea was located in Judea and they would’ve naturally heard things about Jesus.  Peter testified that Jesus’ authority was based on who He was and on God the Father having ANOINTED God the Son with God the Holy Spirit and with POWER.

            In verses 39-43, Peter set forth the role of the Apostles (including himself) in testifying to this GOOD NEWS.

- V. 39 = The Apostles were WITNESSES of Jesus’ ministry THROUGHOUT JUDEA AND IN JERUSALEM.  (Again, to Israel first.)

- V. 41 = The Apostles were WITNESSES to Jesus’ Resurrection.  The fact that they ATE AND DRANK with the resurrected Jesus (Luke 24:42-43) supports the special status of the Apostles. It is also evidence of the physical resurrection of Jesus.   The selection of the Apostles was not based on their merit, but on God’s choice of them IN ADVANCE.  (This is similar to v. 43, where Jesus is the Messiah, in fulfillment of prophecy.)

- V. 42 = The Apostles were WITNESSES to the coming Judgment Day, where Jesus, enthroned, would judge all people.

- V. 43 = The Apostles were WITNESSES of two essential facts.  Jesus fulfilled every prophecy about the coming Messiah and Jesus is the only source of salvation.

2. Peter’s message was validated by the faith of the new Gentile believers. (44-48)

            The gift of the Holy Spirit was evidence of their faith. (44-46)  No invitation was given, no altar call.  Before Peter got to his conclusion, the Holy Spirit was given to those who listened to his message.  This is the fourth outpouring of the Spirit recorded in Acts (2:1-4; 4:3; 8:17).

            How did Peter and his friends know the Spirit had fallen on the Gentiles?  Verse 46 gives two signs of the receipt of the Holy Spirit.  First, THEY WERE SPEAKING IN OTHER TONGUES. This was just as Peter and the other 119 believers in the upper room had experienced it on the day of Pentecost.  TONGUES refers to the supernatural ability to speak in languages the worshiper does not know (either earthly or heavenly languages).  In Acts, the appearance of this Gift of the Spirit was proof positive that someone had received the Holy Spirit, evidence of genuine faith.  This does not, however, imply or prove that TONGUES fulfill the same function in our own time.  That is a question for another time.

            Second, because they praised God.  Genuine worship is evidence of a genuine faith.  1 Corinthians 12:3 affirms this fact: SO I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT NO ONE SPEAKING BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD WILL CURSE JESUS, AND NO ONE CAN SAY JESUS IS LORD, EXCEPT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.

            This was a dramatic, sudden, and intense experience.  It left Peter and his companions utterly convinced that God had put His stamp of approval on the faith of these Gentiles.  They were AMAZED to see that the HOLY SPIRIT was POURED OUT on these Gentiles, just as He had been poured out on them on the Day of Pentecost.

B. Their baptism confirmed their receipt of the Spirit. (46-48)

            Peter turned to his Jewish brothers and asked if they had any objections to these Gentile believers being baptized.  To Peter, baptism was the sensible follow-up to their receiving the Spirit; “NOW THAT THEY HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE DID?”  Why?

            Jesus ordered His followers to baptize new disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), so Peter is being faithful to that command. It may be that Peter did not conduct any baptisms but ordered others to do it.  This would be much the same as Paul’s practice (1 Corinthians 1:14-17).

            Cornelius asked Peter to STAY WITH THEM FOR SEVERAL DAYS, presumably to continue teaching them.  The fact that Peter (and presumably his companions) agreed to stay settles the matter.  They were fully convinced that God had granted salvation to these Gentile believers and had verified that by giving them the Holy Spirit.

            As we see in Acts and Galatians, Peter occasionally lost his nerve and wavered on this point, but that was all on him; God provided proof positive on this occasion.  Indeed, starting in the very next verse, Peter is called upon to account for this event and the way he handled it.

Sometimes momentous changes begin with God’s momentous actions.

            This event was, in some ways, a repeat of the historic events at Pentecost.  Where Pentecost involved Jews exclusively, this event involved Gentiles.  In giving His Spirit to the Gentile believers, God began a transition process where the nature of the Church changed from being an offshoot of Judaism to being inclusive of people from any nation who chose to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

            Last week I suggested that, as always, we need to follow the good example set for us in Scripture.  We need to open our doors and our hearts to allow God to use our love to bring salvation to as many people as possible.

            This is a difficult thing to ask, to love people without condoning their behavior.  It’s difficult to condemn sin without sinners feeling condemned.  It’s a challenge to set forth the truth without exposing falsehood.

            The answer must be more than being positive and benign.  If we work too hard to avoid giving offense, do we ever end up saying something with authority?  Don’t we make it easier for critics to ignore and marginalize us?

            I can think of six things we can do to strike this balance between excluding everyone unlike us and approving everyone.

            First, quote the Bible as much as possible.  Use God’s words more than your own because they carry more authority and make it clear the things you’re saying aren’t mere opinion.

            Second, speak more often about principles and common sense than about politics and laws.  The latter tend to be universal and uncontestable while the latter tend to be controversial and in the eye of the beholder.

            Third, pray before, during, and after conversations you have on spiritual topics.  Ask God to help you listen carefully and speak only helpful words.

            Fourth, respect the person especially if you don’t agree with their beliefs or approve their actions.  They think they’re just as smart as you think you are; it’s not your job to convince them otherwise.

            Fifth, leave the outcome of the conversation in God’s hands.  You only have to offer yourself and His words.  If they are to make a decision in that moment, it’s because God has led them to it. 

            Sixth, find and emphasize things you have in common, which is most everything.  Concentrate on building bridges, not burning them.

 

RESOURCES:

            Frank Hart, retrieved from https://newchurch.love/franks-blog/2020/5/18/jesus-has-overcome-the-world, on 22 May 2024.

            Messages #288 and #891

            Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 1998, pp. 355-361.

            William J. Larkin, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, Acts, 2006, pp. 476-480.

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