18 Oct MVMT 06: Church for everyone
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
It is a privilege for me to be assigned to preach from this chapter. I think Ps Yosia was so tempted to preach this chapter. This chapter is one of the most important chapters in the book of Acts. Or, this could be one of the most important chapters in the New Testament. The reason is in this chapter God revealed something that has been hidden for hundreds years. There is massive change in how people will understand God’s redemption story. In fact, this revelation is the reason why we can gather here right now. What happened in Cornelius’ house in this chapter is a really massive thing for us as christian. Without this, we will not be here. Second reason why this passage is so important is this passage is the reason why RSI pursues a diverse church, multicultural church. We are not only for Indonesian people or young people. This church is for everyone.
What is the revelation? It is a revelation for the gentiles in church. Prior to this, the gentiles are not part of God’s covenant. That’s what happened in OT where being clean or unclean is such a big thing. This rule of clean and unclean is the issue dividing Jews and Gentiles. Before this chapter, there is an imaginary big tall wall dividing Jews and Gentiles. One of the examples is Jews people could not eat in Gentile homes because they consider that they contaminate themselves with unclean.
Before this chapter, the gentiles are considered as unclean, impure and separated from Jews. In this chapter, that wall was crushed by God. Before we continue, it is easy to point to people outside church as gentile. Church, we need to understand that the gentiles who are unclean and impure and do not deserve anything from God is you and me. Those gentiles were once without hope but God is so gracious that He extended that Hope to you and me.
To reveal this massive revelation, God put visions to two different people; one is for Cornelius who is gentiles and another one is for Peter who is Jews. I divided this sermon into 4 parts; Cornelius The Gentile, God’s vision for Peter, Gracious Conversion and Applications.
- Cornelius The Gentile
There are two main characters in this narrative which are Cornelius and Peter. Cornelius is Gentile and Peter is Jewish. Before we continue, I want us to understand that this separation between Gentiles and Jews is a very massive thing at that time. It is like a big tall wall that separates both of them. From their birth, good Jewish boys and girls were taught that the Gentiles were unclean. Who are gentiles? That’s basically everybody that wasn’t a Jew. Jews referred non-Jews as “Gentile dogs” and this is an insult. They wouldn’t sit down to eat with Gentiles. They wouldn’t spend the night in a Gentile home. And, if they had to buy something from a Gentile store, a good Jew would wash that item before they ever used it.
This separation has been there for hundreds years; not just few months or few years but hundreds years. For Jews people, they really hold this tightly for generation to generation. It includes Peter as well.
This clean and unclean rule was a great issue that divided Jews and Gentiles. Before this story, Jews believed that the Gospel is limited to their people. They believe that the Gospel should not be preached to Gentile because they are unclean. In this chapter, we will learn how God tore down this separation that divided both of them. God does this by putting two different visions to Cornelius and Peter. Before we learn about their vision, let’s find out who Cornelius is.
Who is Cornelius? In verse 1-2, it says that 1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. He is a centurion or soldier but he is not a normal soldier. He is like the captain of Roman army. He is quite wealthy. He got paid five times the pay of a normal soldier. He is gentile but he is not like a normal gentile. The Bible says that he is God-feared gentile. What does it mean? At first when I read this verse, I assumed that Cornelius is converted Christian already but he is not. All of us always have that kind of friend who is a really great guy, loves helping other people and donating money to the poor. Cornelius is that kind of guy. He is a great guy. He gives generously to the poor or even continually prays to God. But he is not Christian yet. In his mind, that’s what God wanted. But something was missing in his heart. That something was faith in Jesus Christ.
Church, it is very possible to do all good deeds such as give money to the poor, come to church, visit nursing homes, doing ministry 24/7 but you are not Christian. It is very possible that the world knows you as a very moral person but you are not Christian. Why? Because those things do not make you Christian. You can do all those things but do not believe in Jesus Christ. You can do all those things but do not have a personal relationship with Him. There are still many people today who think that all you need to make it to heaven is to be religious, to live a good clean moral life. Cornelius’ story points out clearly that people can have all of that and still be lost.
So this is a vision from God. Cornelius got the vision from God to send some men to a place called Joppa and ask Peter to come to his place. One thing that is interesting here is why God did not ask Cornelius to go to Peter’s place rather than ask his men to go and get Peter to his place. Do you get it? It is like wasting time. This is something that really amazed me how God thinks every detail in this story. You will find out why later on the passage.
- God’s Vision for Peter
God’s main purpose for this narrative is that God wants to tear down the brick wall that divides between Jews and Gentile. God wants to turn Peter and other Jews people upside down. These are two traditions that God put upside down;
- Unclean and clean Food
In Leviticus 11, it clearly describes clean and unclean foods. For examples; they can not eat dead animals and they do really follow strictly this tradition. They can not eat pork. It means that there is no more pork roll for you. You can not order nasi goreng lestari with roasted pork anymore and there are other more rules.
Then, God gave vision to Peter that really struck him a lot. This is what God says to Peter in verse 12-13, 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” God asked him to eat all kinds of animals which Peter never wanted to touch or eat. The command from God to “kill and eat” does not really make sense for Peter because it violates Jewish Law about unclean foods. You can sense Peter’s heavy heart in verse 14, he said that Lord, I have never eaten this. Why do you ask me to eat these unclean foods? And, in verse 16, it says that “this happened three times”. Wow! Three times Peter had this conversation with God. But it shows how strong the wall that divided Jewish and Gentiles was. This wall seems impossible to be torn down but our God is a big God who put every detail in this story to ensure Peter gets this message.
Can you feel Peter’s feelings at that time? Imagine that you are Peter. You are born in Jews Family who keep Jews laws. You have never eaten pork plus other delicious foods. You perfectly follow these unclean and clean rules. Out of nowhere, God put everything upside down and God said to Peter “Kill and eat because I have made those foods clean”. If I was Peter, I was going to complain to God “Seriously God?! Why don’t you tell me earlier?” It might be what Peter felt as well at that time. But this thing is nothing compared to what is going to come later on. God will reveal something more crazy and unthinkable for Jews people.
And, do you see Peter’s response to God? Peter’s response to God’s command to kill and eat was, “ I have never eaten anything that was common or unclean” (v. 14). Peter was so proud that he had never done that. Today, that is what we called legalism. How many times are we like Peter? We are so proud of what we have done. We think we are saved because of what we have done. This is the difference between legalism and gospel. Legalism says “give me glory” but the Gospel says “give God the glory”. We say “I am a good Christian. Why? I do not drink alcohol, I do not smoke, I do not swear. Plus (like Cornelius) I gave money to the poor.” Church, we are not saved not because of what we have done but what Christ has done for us. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves or earn God’s favor. I think we have to realise that when we look at ourselves, there is nothing on us that can save us. Salvation can only be found in no one else other than Jesus. Salvation is all about God’s grace.
- Jew would never enter the home of a Gentile
For Jews people, gentiles are considered unclean. Into the point that if they come from Gentiles, they have to get rid of the dust before going back. Even, they considered the dust from gentile places as unclean. Therefore no Jew would ever enter the home of gentiles. It is big NO NO for Jews people to come to a gentile house.
Therefore, as Peter entered Cornelius’ house, Peter told them “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you.” Basically, Peter said that I have never done this. I have never been to a Gentile house.
Let’s stop for a moment and see the big picture of this narrative and see how God ordained every single detail. Somehow, it just amazed me. One of the main purposes of this story is God wants to show Peter and other Jews that those gentiles are part of the family. What did God do? He gave vision to Cornelius to send his men to Peter and asked Peter to come to his house so that God could tell His message to Peter. Seriously? Don’t you think that it is like wasting of time or a bit of unnecessary thing. God, can you just give the vision straight to Cornelius to go to Peter? It is all done. But God did not do that. God did that so that Peter can come to Cornelius’ house with something that he had never done before. Church, God’s plan is always more beautiful than our plan or our desire. So often, when everything does not run according to our plan, we are freaking out. We are complaining to God. But God wants us to trust Him. He is sovereign God and He is loving God. He is sovereign over everything.
- Gracious Conversion
Before this story, Peter and other apostles believe that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. But in a practical way, they also believe that for gentiles to be saved, they have to follow Jews law such as circumcision and ceremonial things. Through what happened to Peter, God turned Peter upside down. The wall that divides Jews and Gentiles has been torn down by God. And Peter knows that there is one important thing he needs to do which is preaching to the Gospel to them. That’s what Peter did in verse 34 – 48. Why has to be Gospel? Let me tell you that at this point, Peter is like a rising star. A lot of people know about him. He did miracles and preached to many people and many people got saved. He could just give testimony about himself. That’s normally what we heard; preaching which is full of preacher testimony. Please do not get me wrong. People’s testimony is not wrong or sin but many times preachers focused too much on their testimony and they put aside the importance of preaching the Gospel. Peter knows that Gospel that saved him and only the Gospel has the power to change people’s hearts.
Peter’s preaching to the gentiles teaches us few points
- Salvation centers on Jesus; His Life, Death and Resurrection
36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
Salvation comes to everyone who believes in the name of Jesus; not by what you have done or who you are. Therefore, even if Cornelius is a good man, he still needs to hear about Jesus Christ and believe in Him. Without Christ, there is no Gospel. This means there is no salvation for good people who do not believe in Christ. It means that there is no salvation for other religions who believe in other persons other than Jesus. Believing in Jesus means He is God who gives Himself on the cross for my sins. Believing in Him means that we no longer live according to what we want but according to God’s will. We surrender our life to him. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity to preach Gospel and salvation to people, the focus should not be us; but Jesus. The focus should not be “look at me” but “ look at Him”.
- Preaching True and Full Gospel
Gospel is not just about the Good News. Gospel is also about Bad News. Gospel is good news because there is bad news. Few years ago, in America, few christians were asked about the concept of the Gospel. 95% of them only understand half of the Gospel. Most of them answer “The Gospel is that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. That is true but not the complete Gospel. Some of them answer “ The Gospel is that Jesus can change your life if you ask him to come to your life”. That’s true but that is not complete Gospel. One of preacher; his name is Michael Durham, said this “One of the problems with the Gospel today is that we start in the very wrong place. We start with the Cross of Jesus Christ. We are asking them to accept a saviour that they don’t even know they need. So to me, this is why we have so many false conversions today – we have only given them half of the message”
So often, we love to preach about The Lord being good, faithful and loving but we do not want to preach about God is also Holy and He is the perfect judge. Peter says this in verse 42-43 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” We love to share about God being gracious and merciful but we are afraid to preach about sin and our man’s nature. We are criminals. We are born as sinners who will be judged and because of our nature, we are powerless to change that and we are hopeless. Eternal hell and judgement are what we deserve. We need perfect sacrifice. We need a substitute to take our punishment. Because of His love, God sent His only Son to die to replace us. Not only that, He was raised as a proof that God approved and accepted His Sacrifice. Church, let’s do not take lightly the Gospel. If there is one thing that makes the Church unique to other organisations is GOSPEL. That Gospel is what was needed by Cornelius and his household. There was nothing missing or added. That Gospel has the power to transform people’s hearts.
- Gospel is for everyone
34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.
It is clear that Peter has prejudice towards gentile people. He has his own preference about the church. But, God breaks down that preference and shows to Peter that my church is for everyone including gentile. He was in a gentile house. He was preaching to gentiles. God was converting the gentiles. Peter can see that God loves gentiles like God loves the Jews. Peter can see that God loves all people, regardless their race, nationality, status, or culture.
Can you relate to Peter in this topic? Sometimes, we have our own preferences. Because of our sinful nature, we are prone to justify ourselves and look down others who are different to us. We are prone to judge others. We are prone to pick and choose our friends. Without us realizing, all of us are like Peter. We have brick walls like Peter which God needs to break down. It could be anything. It could be nationality. It could be your preference. It could be language. It could be culture and tradition. It could be a political view. It could be anything.
One example is when we want to invite people to church, we divide people into “easy groups” and “impossible to be saved”. Oh this guy has tattoos in his hands. I think it is hard to get him to church. Another common thing is smoking. Somehow we have the mindset that smokers are not good christian. Just for fun fact, some famous theologians such as pastors Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, CS Lewis, smoked during their time. Please do not use this to ask your parents to buy you cigarettes. I will be in trouble. Church, these barriers must be crushed for the sake of the Gospel. Whatever stands between you and communicating the gospel to a sinner must be broken. Let the Gospel be preached wherever we go.
If you do not know, it is Ps Yosia and RSI’s desire to pursue multinational and multicultural church. Some of you look to the right and left. “Hm.. but I do not see any Australian people or African people. Most of us have black hair and 90% Indonesian. Come on! be realistic. It is going to be hard”. Yes we know it is hard and not only hard but it will be uncomfortable for us. But it does not mean because it is hard, we stop what God wants us to do as church. We will learn together and keep pursuing that.
These are two quick applications for us;
- Be intentional
We all know this is going to be hard and uncomfortable. We know that. That’s why we need to be intentional. For example; if we know that my tendency is to just hang around with my Indonesian friends after church and avoid non-indonesian people, let it be intentional to develop relationships with them and get to know them. Or, we just want to hang around with people of similar age and we do not care for some older, mature or family, let us be intentional to come and introduce ourselves and know them.
- Preach Gospel to ourselves
To pursue this, we need Gospel in our life and in our community. Therefore, we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves day in and day out. When our life has a tendency to favoritism or partiality, we need to remind ourselves that everything that we have is a gift and grace from God. There is nothing about us that God sees better than other people. We need to remind ourselves who we were and where we were when God saved us. We are the same as them. We were lost and hopeless. But God is loving that He sent Jesus Christ to save us. Now, how dare we look down on other people? How dare we have favoritism? We are no better than them. We all are on the same ground. We are one race with one problem which is sin and then united by the blood of Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are one family. We want to open our church for everyone. We want to open our MC to everyone without putting any barriers. Let’s pray.
- What does Paul mean by “devout men who feared God”? Is it possible to de devout and not have salvation? Explain some implications of it.
- Explain how traditions can be both “good” and “bad” at the same time.
- How can we preach the full gospel? What happens when you lean to one side?
- What are the things we can do as a church (or community) to make the gospel available for everyone?
- How would you preach the gospel to yourself?