THE DOOR OPENS WIDE
THEME: God shows the church the way to the future through the giving of the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues to the Gentiles. Peter then understands fully his earlier vision that God treats all people equally and he is to do the same. Gentiles are not required to become Jews, but neither are Jews required to become Gentiles. It was a lesson that seems to be required to be “re-learned” periodically throughout the New Testament – and today.
SCRIPTURE: Acts 10: 23 through 11: 18.
I. The Gentiles turn to God through Jesus under the influence of the anointed preaching of Peter (10: 23-48).
A. When Peter (and his 6 witnesses from Joppa) arrive at Caesarea, they find a crowd of people waiting expectantly to listen.
1. Cornelius greets Peter with (too) great reverence and obeisance by bowing to the ground. Peter is embarrassed by this treatment, and teaches Cornelius that human beings are not to be treated as God.
a. This is also meant to teach Peter that he (nor anyone else) is to be treated like God.
b. It is the 1st part of God’s lesson from Peter’s rooftop vision.
c. We see that God is reinforcing the lessons He wants Peter (and the rest of us) to learn.
2. There is a great crowd of people waiting eagerly for Peter.
a. Cornelius had not just waited around for Peter to show up, but had been busy inviting people to join him to hear this message, because he knew it would be very important (life-changing) and wanted to share it with everyone he knew and anyone who might listen. There could have been over a hundred people here.
b. This group likely was composed of Cornelius’ extended family including servants, other Romans who were like him in their relationship to God, his military family which might have been as many as his entire command (probably not, only those who were at least leaning in the same direction as he was).
B. This assembled group understands that they are in God’s presence, that Peter was to be the bearer of God’s word to them, and that they were to be (and were in fact) all ready and open to listen intently.
1. No preacher today could ask for a more ready audience.
2. This group is a great example for us today. When someone comes to us in the name of Jesus to preach and teach the Word of God, we should clear our minds of other concerns and thoughts so that we can readily hear and soak up the message as if it were essential to life itself – because it often is.
C. Peter begins by stating one of the lessons he has learned from his rooftop vision and the direction of the Holy Spirit: (v. 28) “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”
1. This is a huge change of perspective by Peter. This is the start of tearing down centuries of Jewish racism and religious snobbery.
a. The change in Peter was as large as the coming change in Cornelius.
2. Peter is speaking to himself and the 6 Jewish witnesses as much or more than he’s speaking to Cornelius’ group. “God has told me that the old traditional taboo is out the door!”
3. He has come to see that it was entirely inappropriate either:
a. To worship a human as if divine (as Cornelius had tried to do to him).
b. To reject somebody as if unclean (which he would have previously done to Cornelius.
4. “Peter refused both to be treated by Cornelius as if he were a god, and to treat Cornelius as if he were a dog.” (John Stott)
5. He means that God’s attitude to people is not determined by external criteria (appearance, race, nationality, class, financial or social status).
6. God’s attitude toward people is a matter of their hearts, wills, minds, and attitudes solely: (vv. 34-35) “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
7. We should understand this, because God had said the same thing a thousand years earlier: ( 1 Samuel 16: 7) “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
8. The emphasis is that Cornelius’ Gentile nationality was acceptable to Go so that he had no need to become a Jew to be saved, not that his own righteousness was adequate so that he had no need to become a Christian. For God is not indifferent of men’s religions, but is indifferent of men’s nations.
9. The converse is equally true: God does not require Jews to become Gentiles. God does not require Japanese to become Americans, nor Americans to become English, nor Arabs to become Africans. He requires people to be saved through Jesus Christ!!!
D. Luke summarizes Peter’s sermon: It is essentially the same as the Gospel of Mark, which we know from the early church fathers that was the Gospel preached by Peter.
1. First, Peter reminded them of Jesus’ life and ministry throughout Israel.
2. Second, Jesus’ death. Peter shows that Jesus was killed IAW God’s plan, showing the relationship of dying on the tree was bearing in our place the “curse” (judgment of God) on our sins: (Deuteronomy 21: 23) “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”
3. The 3rd point of the sermon was the resurrection. Peter emphasized it was both a divine act and a historical reality (3rd day).
4. Lastly, Jesus has been appointed by God to be the Judge of all humanity with power over life and death. When anyone believes in Him, they therefore repent, and in consequence, everyone receives forgiveness of their sins.
E. As Cornelius, his family, relatives, friends, servants, and soldiers listened, their hearts were opened to grasp and believe Peter’s message, and so to repent and believe in Jesus.
1. So, while Peter was still preaching, the Holy Spirit interrupts him by coming on the believers just like He had on the Jewish disciples and apostles on the day of Pentecost.
2. And the believers continue the interruption, showing the gift of the Spirit of tongues, using them to praise the God who was so gracious to them.
3. It was not only a reconciliation of Gentiles to God, it was a reconciliation of Gentiles to Jews, who for ages had been separated by differences of language and culture.
4. God cut across all lines and all expectations to show that He accepted Gentiles who believed.
5. Peter quickly draws the inevitable deduction. Since God had accepted these Gentiles, then the (Jewish) church must accept them too – and now.
6. So Peter calls for them to be water baptized, even though in a sense their baptism was completed already, for God had done it.
7. The parallel to Pentecost is undoubtable and clear.
F. After the excitement died down, Cornelius asked Peter and his friends to stay and teach them more for a few days. Here was where the rubber really met the road: Would the Jewish Christians really accept the Gentile Christians to the extent of eating with them at the same table and staying in their house? This group of 7 showed that they had learned God’s lesson, at least for a while.
THE DOOR HAD OPENED WIDE – BUT WOULD JERUSALEM SLAM IT SHUT? . . .
II. Peter is forced to defend his actions before the church in Jerusalem (11: 1-18).
A. The word that Gentiles have accepted the Gospel is hot news. It easily precedes Peter and his group to Jerusalem. The news causes a split in the Jerusalem church: there is a group (probably left over from the “hard line Pharisees”) who are more concerned with keeping the traditional Jewish rules than spreading salvation all over the world. Note their real complaint: (11: 2-3) “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
B. In order to try to counter this new splinter group, Peter explains everything that’s happened to him since he took up residence in Joppa. And this faction should not be a surprise, for remember that Peter himself had to be prepared by God to overcome his natural racial prejudice and religious arrogance so he could be used to open wide the door of salvation to the Gentiles. He makes his defense by using the same 4 blows that God used on him.
1. 1st comes the vision of the sheet and mixture of animals, where God specifically shows Peter he is not to label “unclean” or “unfit” that which God has declared acceptable.
a. Peter eventually grasps that the clean and unclean animals were a symbol of clean and unclean, circumcised and uncircumcised persons.
2. The 2nd blow was the Holy Spirit commanding Peter to go with the 3 messengers from Cornelius “without hesitation” or distinction, even though they were uncircumcised Gentiles.
3. The 3rd blow was God’s divine preparation of the scene upon Peter’s arrival at the house of Cornelius.
a. Cornelius told Peter how God had prepared him for the visit.
b. He also notes that Peter is to bring him a message of salvation.
4. Peter had to have been deeply impressed by the chronology of God’s actions.
a. God had been working at both ends.
b. Divine intervention in both Peter’s and Cornelius’ lives is apparent.
c. They both reflected on what they had seen and heard, correctly interpreted its significance, and deliberately chose to obey God’s instructions.
5. The 4th and final divine blow to Peter that he repeats to the Jerusalem church was the divine action by God on the Gentiles while Peter was still preaching.
a. The Holy Spirit came on them just as He had come on the group of Jewish believers on the day of Pentecost.
b. It was the extraordinary similarity of the two events which struck Peter.
c. Here was the Gentile Pentecost – clearly direct from God and corresponding exactly to the Jewish Pentecost.
d. The conclusions are inescapable – Gentiles can be saved without becoming Jews.
6. Water baptism could not be forbidden to these Gentile converts, because God could not be forbidden to do what He had done: give them Spirit baptism.
a. To withhold it would be to stand in God’s way.
7. Once the Jerusalem church hears what God had been doing, this splinter group had virtually no choice but to accept it and move to the greater point: God had accepted Gentile believers just as they were: no circumcision, no food restrictions, no clean/unclean distinctions. (But old habits will die hard).
C. The fundamental emphasis of the Cornelius story is that since God does not make distinctions in His new society, we are not to make them either.
1. The tragedy is: the church has never learned irrevocably the truth of its own unity.
2. Even Peter himself had a bad lapse of prejudice and arrogance in Antioch.
3. The “circumcision party” continued their propaganda; the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) was required to officially solve the issue.
4. Even after that, the same ugly sin of discrimination has kept reappearing in the church.
5. It is still occurring today:
a. Racism (color prejudice)
b. Nationalism (my country, right or wrong)
c. Tribalism (Africa) and Casteism (India)
d. Cultural and social arrogance and snobbery
e. Denominationalism among Protestants
6. These discriminations in the Christian community are both an obscenity (offensive to human dignity) and a blasphemy (offensive to God).
7. Just like Peter, we all have to learn that God does not show favoritism – and neither should we.
8. It is not an easy sin to overcome, because culture influences us from birth to death, but with God’s help we can do it.
WITH GOD’S HELP, WE CAN OVERCOME OUR TEMPTATIONS.
BUT WE MUST REPENT AND SEEK HIS HELP.
DO NOT WAIT TOO LONG TO DO THIS.