Meeting Beata 1996 – life changing encounter.
Acts 10 is story about a life changing encounter between two men Peter & Cornelius – which was to a turning point in the history of the church & a pivotal moment in the history of the world.
If it weren't for Acts chapter 10 Christianity might have remained simply a minority sect of the Jewish religion. But because of Acts chapter 10 Christianity is now a worldwide faith of people of every race under the sun, numbering billions of followers.
You see, right from the beginning it was God's intention that the whole world should know him. So in Genesis chapter 12, at the dawn of history, God says to Abraham I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you... and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Again, at the beginning of the book of Acts we see God's recommitment to this promise when the last thing Jesus says to the disciples before he ascends to heaven is you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
However, up to this point in the book of Acts Christianity was still a Jewish phenomenon, all the apostles were Jewish, and all the converts so far in the story of the early church have been Jewish by race or Jewish by conversion. Not a single gentile—that is, a non-Jew—has been converted.
It seems that the gospel has got stuck in the Jewish world. Jews did not mix with gentiles. Jewish culture forbade the Jew even to enter the home of a gentile, and all their traditions kept them apart.
It would therefore take a miracle for God to achieve his promise to bless the whole world through Abraham's descendant, Jesus Christ. Acts chapter 10 is the story of that miracle. It recounts the story not only of the conversion of the first gentile, but in some sense the conversion of Peter as well.
This morning I want to look at three things in particular Acts 10, the importance of faith,
prayer & obedience.
Caesarea, was a city located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, 32 miles north of Joppa. It was the largest & most important port city on the Mediterranean, the capital of the Roman province of Judea, rebuilt by Herod the Great & named after Caesar Augustus. Dominating the city was the grand temple dedicated to Caesar Augustus and the goddess Roma perched on a hill overlooking the harbour. Caesarea represented all that the Jews hated, it was a showpiece for Roman culture & economic & military might.
And living in this city was Cornelius an officer in the Italian Regiment of the Roman army, which consisted of volunteers from Italy, and considered the most loyal of Roman troops.
As a Roman soldier, the occupying oppressors, it would have been natural for the Jews to hate someone like Cornelius – he represented all they were opposed to. But we read in verse 22 that he was someone who was “respected by all the Jewish people.”
The reason for this is indicated in verse 2 which says that Cornelius & his family were ‘devout and God-fearing’ and who ‘gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.’ God fearing is a term used to describe someone who worshipped the God of Israel, prayed in the Synagogue, and followed Jewish religious practices, but was not circumcised and therefore still considered a gentile.
Cornelius’ faith should be a challenge to us all.
First of all we see that God was already at work in Cornelius’ life, even before he came to know Jesus. A reminder that God can work in the lives of other people, even before they know him.
Cornelius was a gentile, neither Jewish nor yet a Christian, and yet he clearly loved God, and demonstrated this by the way he lived. As a Roman soldier he should have been despised by the Jews, but he wasn’t, because of his faith & the way he lived his life. There was an authenticity about him, which people could see.
Can the same be said of us? Does the way we live, reflect what we say we believe? Do our actions back up our words?
For example, if we say we love God, do we demonstrate that in the way we treat others?
If we say that forgiveness is important, are we people who are willing to forgive those who have wronged us, or do we hold onto grudges & resentment?
If we say that the truth is important, are we people who are trustworthy, and can be relied upon to do the right thing?
The Apostle John wrote Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20)
So if someone goes to church faithfully on Sunday morning to worship God, but then on Monday morning goes into work and shouts and bullies their staff, spread false rumours about their competitors, and fiddles their expenses & tax return, then there is clearly a lack of authenticity, a disconnect between what they claim to believe & how they live.
There is a saying ‘Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.' Ultimately our claim to know & love God will be judged by the way we live. Our beliefs, need to connect with how we live.
Cornelius’ Prayer Life
The other thing we see in this text, is the importance of prayer.
It is clear that both Cornelius & Peter were people who prayed regularly. And it was whilst they were both praying that they received their visions (Cornelius v3 & Peter v9).
Regular pattern of prayer vitally important in nurturing our relationship with God. Many of us feel guilty that we don’t pray enough, but we need to find pattern & routine that works for us
- Pray as you can, not as you can’t.
God can speak to us in many different ways, but prayer is often one of the main ways God communicates with us, and it is because Cornelius & Peter developed the habit of prayer that they were able to hear from God.
Forming a good prayer habits is vitally important. In the opening chapter of the book of Job, it describes Job as being blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil… and whenever his sons held a feast, he would go & sacrifice a burnt offering for them, and it says ‘This was Job’s regular custom.’ (1:5) Because Job developed this habit of prayer & worship when things were going well, it enabled him to continue to pray & worship God, when everything was taken from him, so that he was able to say “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Forming the habit of regular prayer is important.
If we were as faithful as Cornelius in our praying and our giving imagine what God could do with us!
The other lesson we learn from Cornelius & also Peter in Acts 10 is the importance of obedience.
As soon as Cornelius received the vision from the angel, telling him to send for Simon Peter, he ‘called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants… and sent them to Joppa.’ V8 There was no delay, as a Roman officer, he was used to giving and receiving commands.
Learning to be obedient to God is at the heart of the Christian faith. Obedience is vitally important, Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21)
Our obedience to God should flow from our gratitude for what he has done for us & should be rooted in trust. I can obey God because I know He is trustworthy.
But we shouldn’t be surprised if we find obedience difficult. We follow the one who ‘become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ (Phil 2.8)
Calling to come to Carlisle – challenging
We never know where obedience to God can lead, but it is the pathway to blessings.
This was a lesson Peter learn.
In v10 we read that Peter fell into a trance, and he saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
As a good Jew, all his life Peter has maintained a strict division between clean and unclean foods. Even to touch the carcasses of unclean animals was to become unclean oneself. This will have been drummed into Peter every single day since childhood.
So Peter, with his years of ingrained teaching, is appalled by the command in the vision. "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean" v14
Three times Peter had this vision, and three times God says Do not call anything impure that God has made clean v15 and as Peter was still wrestling with the meaning of the vision the messengers from Cornelius arrive and suddenly Peter understands what it was all about.
God is not so much concerned that Peter considers no animals unclean as that he considers no people unclean. Peter comes to understand that he must overcome his deeply, deeply rooted prejudices and no longer consider the gentiles to be beyond the pale. And we see that he does this by inviting the men into his house to be his guests. An act which would have been unthinkable for him just a few hours before, and then the following day he journeyed with them to Caesarea.
Through obedience Peter experienced blessings he could never have imagined possible, as God poured out his Holy Spirit on Cornelius & his family, and as Peter came to realise the full scope of God’s mission. The good news of Jesus was not just for the Jews but for all people. V34-35 “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
Through the obedience of Cornelius & Peter, everything changed. With the apostles' prejudices broken down they are now free to obey the call to take the gospel to the very ends of the earth.
Who in the world would you least like to have sitting next to you in church? Whose arrival at church would make you get up and walk out, or at least cause you to get up and sit on the other side?
Well, the message Peter came to understand here, and the other apostles accepted later on, is that there is not a single person in the world whom God would not welcome into his church if he or she came in sincere faith and repentance. No one, absolutely no one, is beyond God’s grace.
Peter could never have imagined God calling him to witness to gentiles.
We are the fruits of the obedience of Cornelius & Peter. We would not be here were it not for them hearing & responding to God’s call.
A question for us all to consider, is who are the people God is calling us to witness to? Like Peter – we may be in for surprises!
When Peter went with the three men to Caesarea, he had no idea what the impact of this visit would be. And when we witness to others about Jesus, we have no idea what the impact it can have.
Hands up who knows who has heard of Albert McMakin?
Because of Albert McMakin well over 2.2 billion people have heard the Gospel, and there are Christians in church here today because of him, but chances are you’ve never heard of him.
Albert McMakin was a twenty-four-year-old farmer who had recently come to faith in Christ. He was so full of enthusiasm that when he heard an evangelist was coming to town, he filled a truck with people and took them to a meeting to hear about Jesus. There was a good looking farmer’s son, whom he was especially keen to get to a meeting, but he was hard to persuade – this young man was more interested in chasing girls, than going to hear about Jesus, and he didn’t seen at all interested in Christianity. But eventually, Albert McMakin managed to persuade his friend to go by asking him to drive the truck. When they arrived, Albert’s guest decided to go in and was ‘spellbound’ and he went back again and again until one night he went forward and gave his life to Jesus Christ. That man, the driver of the truck, was Billy Graham. The year was 1934.
Since then it is estimated that over 2.2 billion people have heard Billy Graham preach, in stadiums, and via radio and television broadcasts – and countless thousands of people have been brought to faith in Christ.
We cannot all be like Billy Graham, but we can all be like Albert McMakin – seeking to bring others to Jesus. And when we do that, like Peter when he visited Cornelius, who knows what the impact will be.