Week commencing 16thApril 2017   With a PDF found here

Notes for next week’s sermon on Acts 10-11 – Grappling with freedom grace brings # 1

We last spent time in the Acts of the Apostles in 2015. We worked our way through chapters 1-9 under the heading “New Beginnings”. We saw the exciting way the church grew under the leadership of the Apostles who were turned around from being locked up in an upper room scared for their lives, to being bold leaders of the church which grew very quickly. What turned them around? Two things. They saw Jesus alive and well having been raised by God from the dead. And they received the Holy Spirit to enliven, transform and empower them to be the people of God. When we last left this amazing account of the early years of the church following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, we read of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. It was an amazing display of the grace of God to a rebel who had been fully occupied killing Christians!

We’ve called this new series “Saved by Grace” because these chapters will explore how the early church wrestled with the implications of God’s grace through the Lord Jesus which to the great astonishment of the Jews, extended now not only to Jews, but also to Gentiles.

DAY 1: Read Acts 10:1-23a                       

What stood out for you from this passage? Note that from the beginning, this whole account is planned and arranged by God himself! God doing something amazing in this Gentile’s life and family. It is difficult for us to grasp the impassable gulf between Jews and Gentiles and how surprising this whole account both to Peter the Jew and Cornelius the Gentile! Israel twisted the notion of them being God’s chosen people into one of favouritism and so they had become filled with racial pride and hatred, despising Gentiles as ‘dogs’ and developing traditions which kept them apart.

We do well, however, to remember that God’s original purposes back in Genesis 12 when he first chose and appointed Abraham as the father of the nation of Israel was that through him and the nation of Israel, all nations would be blessed. Here in this account, we are seeing that promised being fulfilled!

Peter is to be God’s instrument in this development, for Cornelius was instructed to send for him. An angel appeared to Cornelius in a vision, which understandably, terrified him! He was told to send men to Joppa, about 50kms away, and bring back with them one Simon Peter. But how would the Lord break down Peter’s deep seated racial intolerance? What we now learn is that this story will be as much about Peter’s awakening to the grace of God as it will be about Cornelius’ awakening to the grace of God!

Now it was Peter’s turn – some 50km away – to have a vision – 21 hours after the vision Cornelius received. The lowered sheet contained evidently a mix of clean and unclean creatures calculated to disgust any orthodox Jew. The three-fold vision left Peter confused. And yet the vision of the food and the removal of the distinction between clean and unclean food helped him make the leap to no longer making a distinction between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ people and therefore heading off with the delegation to meet Cornelius the centurion.

Note how perfectly dovetailed God’s working is, in Cornelius and in Peter. While Peter was praying, and seeing his vision the men from Cornelius were approaching the city; while Peter was perplexed about the meaning of what he had seen, they arrived at his house; while Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him that the men were looking for him and he must not hesitate to go with them; and when Peter went down and introduced himself to them, they explained to him the purpose of their visit. God is sovereignly overseeing these developments to open Peter’s eyes to the riches of God’s grace. Do you see?

DAY 2: Read Acts 10:23b-48

So, Peter heads off to meet Cornelius – out north along the coastal road to Caesarea. It would have taken a good ten hours on foot, so it was the following day that they arrived. Cornelius was expecting them and had gathered not only his personal household but also his relatives and close friends (v24). He threw himself at Peter’s feet but Peter immediately refused such adoration assuring him that he was only a man. Of course, entering the Gentiles home was unacceptable for a Jew to do, so Peter is already crossing new boundaries as he wrestles with all the implications of God’s grace. Here is how John Stott puts this: “Peter refused both to be treated as if he were a god, and to treat Cornelius as if he were a dog”.

When Peter asks why he had been summoned, Cornelius tells the story of his vision. Note how ready and open he is to see and learn new things in v33! What a wonderful attitude! Peter begins sharing with those so eager to listen, the news that he too has been open to learning new things. He has realised that God does not show favouritism or partiality. And from there he goes on to share the news of Jesus who is Lord of all. He tells of what Jesus did in word and deed and relates the account of his crucifixion and resurrection. He proclaims Jesus as the one God appointed to judge the living and the dead. But here is the great news (v43) that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name!

Then one more amazing thing happened. The holy Spirit came upon those who heard the message. The Jews (the circumcised believers) were astonished that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Gentiles. Peter was quick to draw an inevitable conclusion: since God had accepted these Gentile believers, the church must accept them too!

Friends – we Gentiles have received God’s Holy Spirit! His grace extends to us! Rejoice today that everyone who believes in Jesus, receives the forgiveness of sins and receives God’s own Spirit!

DAY 3: Read Acts 11:1-18

Peter’s in trouble because of what happened at Cornelius’ place! He had actually eaten with Gentiles in their own house! Unthinkable! So Peter tells the story and we get to hear it again, this time from Peter’s own perspective. We now live through the experience with him and learn just how God had shown him that he should not call anybody impure or unclean. It took four successive hammer blows of divine revelation before his racial and religious prejudice was overcome! (1) the divine vision (vv4-10), (2) the divine command (vv11-12) to accompany the three men’ (3) the divine preparation (vv13-14) – as Cornelius told them how God had prepared him for their visit and (4) the divine action (vv15-17) of the gift of the Holy Spirit as Peter was still speaking! These divine hammer blows were all aimed deftly at Jewish racial prejudice and especially at Peter’s! Together, they demonstrated conclusively that God had now welcomed believing Gentiles into his family on equal terms with believing Jews. As Peter said to his critics If God gave them the same gift as he gave us… who was I to think that I could oppose God. The argument was irrefutable.

If Peter had been convinced by the evidence, so now was the Jerusalem church: they had no further objections. Literally, they remained silent and praised God. As one commentator put it: “their criticism ceased; their worship began”.

I wonder if there be any racial or other prejudice in your life which you have to reconsider in the light of this? If there be those you regard as second class citizens? Pray through that issue today, considering God’s love and generous grace to all!

DAY 4: Read Acts 11:19-30

We may not get to this section in next Sunday’s sermon, but we can explore it a little here! At the end of yesterday’s passage, we read the summary statement So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life. That was landmark! Yet in this passage, we see that independently, some of Jewish Christians scattered out of Jerusalem at the time of Stephen’s death, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also about the good news about the Lord Jesus. It is not that evangelism among the Jews must now stop, but that evangelism among the Gentiles must now begin! As Paul is later to write, the gospel was intended ‘first for the Jew, then for the Gentile’ (Romans 1:16; 2:9-10).

Note again, that when this news reached Jerusalem they sent Barnabas to check up on it. Note what he discovered! V23 – the evidence of the grace of God! What a beautiful description. Wouldn’t it be great to be checked up on by church leaders and have them rejoice because they see evidence of the grace of God. May that be the case in our church! May we see more and more evidence of the grace of God!

ßResources: The Message of Acts by John Stott and Acts by I. Howard Marshall in the Tyndale series.