We have seen a couple of pivotal moments in Acts.
- When the Holy Spirit descended upon believers in Acts 2. This moment sparked an evangelistic revival within the life of the early church that allowed it to experience rapid growth. However, as the church increased the persecution it faced also increased.
- When Saul, the man at the center of the persecution, was converted. Jesus appeared to Saul while he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). The Lord turned the church’s greatest enemy into its greatest ally.
- We come now to the third pivotal moment, the conversion of Cornelius.
Read Acts 10:30-43
In book I of Confessions, Augustine prayed “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” I wonder how that quote resonates with you. Is restlessness only a characteristic of atheists? Do Christians know anything about restlessness? Are you entirely content? I think there is a sense of restlessness and searching for peace that we all experience to some degree. Once again, this passage reminds us of our need for the gospel.
I have one aim this morning. It was the aim Peter had when he was preaching to the household of Cornelius. It is to convince you that you will find peace and forgiveness when you turn to Christ alone by faith alone.With the help of the Holy Spirit I trust God will enable me to do that.
First, we will notice how Cornelius was prepared to Receive the Word (30-33). Second, we’ll see how Peter was prepared to Proclaim the Word (34-43).
How to Receive the Word (30-33)
In this first section Cornelius shares his vision with Peter (Acts 10:30-33). God had prepared Cornelius for this moment. He understood that God was present, and that Peter was about to speak a message he received from the Lord (Acts 10:33).
We have mentioned Cornelius’s excitement for the meeting. He had gathered his relatives and close friends (Acts 10:24). Now we see that he has been very clear with them why they were there. They understood what Cornelius was expecting to happen at this meeting.
Cornelius was ready to hear the message. He had been greatly anticipating the fulfillment of his vision. The fact that he wanted to know more about God reveals his need. It was not enough for Cornelius to seek after God. His desire was not proof that he knew God. His longing had to be satisfied by gospel answers. And he expected those answers would come though Peter’s message.
Cornelius was commended for his generosity and fear of God, but that wasn’t enough either. Christianity isn’t about being good enough. The very reason Peter was there was because of Cornelius’s need to receive the gospel. And this was something he was eager to do. God had softened his heart so that he was quick to repent. God had opened his eyes and ears so that the gospel message might be understood.
Cornelius still lacked peace with God. He followed though on the angel’s instructions because he wanted to know that peace. He felt the restlessness of a wandering and searching heart. And he also understood that God alone could provide that peace and rest he sought.
In the next section, Peter will immediately open with a statement about how God doesn’t show favoritism or partiality (Acts 10:34). He doesn’t reserve his love for the elite. He doesn’t prefer one race or ethnic group above another. Anyone from any nation is acceptable as long as they fear God and do what is right (v.35). These were the very qualities Cornelius was commended for.
Do we really believe that God shows no favoritism? When we compare ourselves to others it is easy to think that we are the kind of person God shows favor to. Before long, we are only interacting with people just like us. The Lord gave Peter a vision to correct this mindset (Acts 10:9-16).
“Harry Ironside tells a personal story at this point. It concerns the death of his father. As his father was dying, he kept muttering something, and the family couldn’t quite understand what it was. But finally they got it. Mr. Ironside was thinking about this vision, thinking about the sheet full of animals. He was saying, ‘A great sheet and wild beasts and, and, and…’ He couldn’t quite finish it. A friend bent over and whispered, ‘John, it says, ‘creeping things’ (KJV).
‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘That is how I got in. Just a poor good-for-nothing creeping thing, but I got in-saved by grace.’
Whenever you see yourself, not as the clean animal but the unclean animal, not as the attractive beast but as the creeping thing, as one who by the grace of God got into that sheet and is pronounced clean by the sheer grace of God in Jesus Christ, then you are ready to open your heart and arms to other people. And it does not make any difference who they are. God does not show favorites. If you got in, the gospel must be for everybody.”1
You will find peace and forgiveness when you turn to Christ alone by faith alone. This implies several things:
- Apart from Christ we are at war with God.
- Apart from Christ we are unforgiven.
- Faith is what unites us with Christ.
You have to determine if this is true:
- You may not feel like you are fighting with God, but if you have not submitted to his Son, then you are not at peace.
- If sins can only be forgiven through Jesus’ name, then it doesn’t matter if you or anyone else has forgiven you of your wrongdoing. Until you have forgiveness through Christ, you remain guilty and condemned.
Apart from Christ we do not have peace and forgiveness. Without Christ we are unacceptable. With Christ we are declared righteous.
That is how one is prepared to receive the Word. In the next section we learn from Peter…
How to Proclaim the Word (34-43)
Peter preached the gospel with confidence. He trusted that God was up to something big. And God was up to something big. He was not only working on the hearts of the people there that morning, He was opening a door of salvation to all nations.
He introduced his message as “good news of peace through Jesus Christ” (v.36). Then he speaks of the life and ministry of Jesus from his baptism by John (v.37), to his anointing with the Holy Spirit and power to perform miraculous healing of those oppressed (v.38), then he transitions to Christ’s crucifixion (v.39) and resurrection (v.40).
The apostles were witnesses of all that Christ had done, and it was there responsibility to proclaim the gospel to all who would listen. He emphasizes the fact that they ate and drank with Christ (v.41). The resurrection of Jesus was genuine. This wasn’t the talk you might here today of Jesus “living on in their hearts” as they remembered him. These were not the ramblings of people hallucinating. He truly, physically rose from the dead. “The resurrected Jesus had a real body. They sat down at a real table with this real Christ, and together with him they ate and drank real food.”2
Peter closes with a statement that God has appointed Jesus as judge (v.42), but he is also our source of pardon (v.43). As Guy Waters says, “This Judge died and rose again so that sinners might be saved. The one who will bring judgment at the Last Day bore judgment in his own body on the cross.”3
Peter’s mention of “all the prophets” suggests he was about to begin quoting from the prophets as he had done in previous sermons we have looked at, but God was so active that Peter didn’t finish (Acts 10:44). While he was still speaking about the forgiveness of sin that is found in Jesus, the Spirit came down and filled those who heard.
Dennis Johnson writes,
“What prophetic Scriptures Peter now meant to cite we do not know, for suddenly the sovereign Spirit interrupted his preacher, flooding Gentile hearts with faith at the mention of forgiveness in Jesus’ name and filling Gentile mouths with praises to God in the tongues of the nations.”
From that day forward Cornelius and his household were accepted. They no longer saw themselves as outsiders peering into a faith they didn’t understand. They belonged.
There is something important about that in our makeup as humans. We thrive in communities. It is possible to remain isolated, but that is viewed as one of the more excruciating forms of punishment.
All of us have communities to which we belong, but does your community encourage faith? It is easy to turn to people who accept you for who you are, but without tension and pushback, you will not become who God has created you to be.
There was certainly a shift in the way both Cornelius and Peter thought about God from this day forward. They understood how much they needed God and one another. If God’s mission was going to have an impact upon the world, Peter and Cornelius were going to have to view themselves as friends rather than enemies. Both of them had to experience a conversion. Cornelius had to receive Christ as Lord and Peter had to receive Cornelius as brother. The gospel is the only hope for true and lasting peace.
But the gospel does more than bring peace between two parties of men, it brings peace between God and man. Have you experienced that shift in worldview?
When a heart that is ready to receive the word hears the truth of the gospel, there is an immediate reaction. There is no delay between Peter’s preaching and Cornelius’s conversion. It was instant! That is how God works.
God takes a prepared heart and puts it before the truth of his word, and somehow, through the work of the Spirit—hearts are changed. Lives are transformed. Fighting against God turns into peace with God.
Has the gospel changed the way you view God, yourself, and others?
You may be here this morning feeling tense. Maybe you came because you didn’t want to offend the person who invited you. Maybe church isn’t really your thing. You might not experience anything new or remarkable this morning.
But if that tension your feeling stems from the realization that you are fighting with God, you can find instant peace, even now.
Before I’m through speaking the Spirit of God might open your heart to repent and believe. You don’t have to stand up. You don’t have to come forward. You don’t have to wait for me to finish. You can respond to God right where you are.
- Do you know that you’re a sinner in need of a Savior?
- Do you know that Jesus Christ is the only one who can save you? This same Jesus who…
- Was baptized by John.
- Was anointed by the Holy Spirit.
- Powerfully healed.
- Died upon a tree—not because of his sin, but the sin of his sheep.
- And rose from the dead on the third day.
- Do you understand that Jesus Christ will judge everyone and it is only through his name that you can find forgiveness?
If you know that, then you have heard all you need to hear. If God is working on your heart-don’t delay! Receive the peace that surpasses understanding today! If you have questions about that-ask. If you have doubts-share them. If you think now is not the right time-you’re wrong. Today is the day of salvation!