OPEN: Someone once said:
“I’m just a nobody, trying to tell everybody, about Somebody, who can save anybody”
This morning’s text is a story about the first Gentiles who became Christians. Up until this time the entire Church was made up of Jews who’d accepted Jesus. There were NO Gentiles. But God intended to change that, and so he sent an angel to visit to Cornelius that change the course of the church’s history.
Now, there were several significant differences between the Jews and Gentiles, but one of the major differences was that the Jews were circumcised… and the Gentiles were not.
(Do I need to go into what circumcision was? No? Good… because I really didn’t want to.)
Part of this story has to do with the fact that Peter and 6 of his “circumcised” friends were on their way to preach to these Gentiles, circumcise them… then baptize them. They were not going to baptize these Gentiles UNTIL they were circumcised.
But God didn’t want that to happen, so He interceded in this story in such a powerful way that Peter asks his friends: "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?…” Acts 10:47
Why ask the question?
Because that’s precisely what Peter’s friends intended. Until these folks were circumcised, the Jewish believers with Peter had no intention of letting them get wet.
That’s the background for the story we’ve just read.
But, what I want to focus on this morning is this question:
What can we learn from this story that will help us share our faith in Jesus with others?
Now, the 1st thing I want us to notice here is:
Cornelius was a seeker
He was looking for Jesus.
He sends a delegation of 3 men to seek for Peter and ask him to come preach to his friends and family. So they came looking for Peter to learn about Jesus.
Cornelius was looking for Jesus.
ILLUS: According to some recent research it is estimated that less than 3% of the non-Christian people in the world ever come to a church buildings. Apparently only 3% of this world seeks for Jesus enough to come to church.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t come to you or me to find Him.
And if it happens to YOU… it would be a great opportunity.
I mean, it doesn’t get any easier than this.
To have people come to you looking for Jesus would be great.
All you’d have to do is know what to say.
(pause) Do you think you’d know what to say?
Well, before we get to that question, let’s look closer at some of the circumstances that led up to this event.
First, we need to realize that Peter was NOT REALLY into this. e really didn’t want to do it. In fact, Peter wouldn’t have gone looking for these folks if they hadn’t come to him because these folks were Gentiles. These were not people that Peter would have had over to his house for supper.
In fact, after Peter baptized Cornelius and his household he returned “…to Jerusalem, (and) the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them." Acts 11:2-3
Uncircumcised Gentiles were not the kind of people that good Jewish Christians would eat with. And that poses a problem for us Christians once in a while.
You see, we don’t get to choose the kind of “seekers” that might approach us. Often times, if a person is looking for Jesus badly enough to risk embarrassment of admitting that they have a problem and they need fixed… they might not be someone you’re comfortable with.
ILLUS: In his autobiography, Mahatma Ghandi said that - during his student days - he was interested in the Bible. He especially touched by what he read in the gospels, he seriously considered becoming a Christian.
So, one Sunday he went to a church to see the minister and ask for instruction on the way of salvation and other Christian doctrines.
But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people. He left and never went back.
He said to himself "If Christians have caste differences also I might as well remain a Hindu."
AND THAT’S JUST WHAT HE DID!
Now, that doesn’t seem to be a problem here at Logansport.
I’ve watched your reaction when people who aren’t like you come to church, and I know you’re comfortable with welcoming people who are different. But it’s a good thing to keep in the back of our minds.
But my main point here is this: Peter didn’t want to witness to these folks. He wasn’t comfortable with sharing Jesus with Cornelius and his household. And (you know) you don’t have to be prejudiced to have that problem.
I’m convinced there are some of you here that have difficulty sharing Jesus with anybody. Not because you don’t like the person who’d ask you… but because you just don’t feel comfortable talking about your faith.
Now, if that’s true of you there are a couple of things in this story in Acts … that might just change your thinking.
#1 – if someone comes to you and asks about your faith, it’s very likely that God sent them. When Cornelius sent for Peter, that was not an accident. In fact, it wasn’t even HIS idea. It was God who set this whole thing up
“One day at about three in the afternoon (Cornelius) had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"
Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. Acts 10:3-5
Peter was given the special privilege – BY GOD – to share Jesus with someone. If God would do it with Peter… why wouldn’t he do it with you?
But you might say: “I’m not important enough to talk to someone about Christ! I’m not a preacher. I’m not an Elder. I’m not a Sunday School teacher."
Really? Well, that’s ok.
You’re just the kind of God enjoys using.
I Corinthians 1:27-29 tells us that:
”God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him.”
If you insist on saying you’re not important enough to share Jesus with someone… that makes you imminently qualified to do just that. God isn’t into bragging rights. He’s not into “who is more important” in the church. That’s why He uses the “unimportant” and the weak and the things that aren’t all that impressive to get the job done.
ILLUS: There’s a true story about a church down south where the preacher had been stressing the importance of witnessing to people about Christ.
In that church there was one particularly slow young man who took the idea to heart. And one Sunday he began talking to a skeptic that happened to come to church that day. The boy approached him and asked if he wanted to become a Christian.
The man laughed said: "Oh, Lord, no!"
And the slow-witted boy looked at him for a moment and then responded:
"Well, then you can go to hell." And he turned away and left.
The starkness of the boy’s sincerity and bluntness caused the man to reconsider his denial of Jesus and he turned to Christ.
Now, I’m not suggesting you tell people they can go to hell (usually that’s not said in a nice way). But my point is – if God sends someone to you - your words (even your imperfect words) can make all the difference in whether or not that person accepts Christ.
MY words might not get the job done with that person.
That person came to YOU because they trusted you.
Your opinion matters to them.
ILLUS: Let’s say you’ve come into a large inheritance and you’d like to invest some of it.
You could go to a friend who seems to do well in investing… or to an investment banker that you don’t know.
Which one would you go to?
I might go to both. But the FIRST person I’d talk to would be my friend.
I trust him. Their opinion matters to me.
And if they tell me something that contradicts what the investment banker says I’m likely to trust them rather than the banker.
Someone who comes to you asking about Jesus is the same thing.
They MIGHT come to me.
But they came to YOU… because they TRUST you.
So, if someone comes to you and wants to talk about Jesus, DON’T TURN THEM AWAY!
Now, I’m going to say something else, and I want to be careful in how I say it.
There’s a tendency to kind of cop out in a situation like this.
To duck and twist and go for the easy score.
To simply say “Why don’t you come to church with me Sunday?”
That person is thinking “If I could just get them to come to church, then the preacher, or teacher or somebody more knowledgeable than I can tell them what they need to know.”
Now, that’s not a bad thing… to invite them to come to church with you.
But you need to understand – this person came to YOU.
They may NEVER come to church. And thus, they may never become a Christian.
You may have ONLY onc chance to introduce them to Jesus. Right then. Right there. And your words may be the only ones that would make the difference in their lives.
Don’t pass it up.
So 1st – if someone comes asking you about Jesus its very likely God sent them.
And it’s ALSO very likely they came to you because they trusted you.
2ndly – if someone comes to you… it’s always a good idea to know what to tell them.
As Peter wrote in I Peter 3:15 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Sometimes, Christians don’t feel comfortable talking about Jesus because they don’t really know WHAT they believe.
If someone asked them:
Why are you a Christian?
Why do YOU believe?
They would not know what to say!
ILLUS: Years ago, I had an extended email conversation with an atheist. He kept on asking me that same question: Why do you believe what you believe?
Well, I’m a preacher.
I’ve been to Bible college.
I’ve been raised in the church almost all my life.
Of course I believe. And I KNOW what I believe.
This atheist and I got in a long series of messages back and forth.
He’d challenge Christianity… I’d challenge his atheism.
He was good, but so was I… and I gave as good as I got.
And I know I made him squirm several times.
But no matter how many times I’d pin him down… he’d just keep on arguing.
And one of the things he kept on coming back to was that main question:
Why do you believe what you believe?
Finally he asked the question this way: Why do YOU believe what you believe?
Up until that point I was just arguing doctrine with him.
But he was asking for something deeper and more personal.
He was asking me “to give an answer… to give the reason for the hope that I had”
Jeff, why do YOU believe what YOU believe?
Now here’s the deal.
You and I go to church.
We go to Sunday School.
We go to mid-week Bible studies.
It’s there that we study and learn about God’s will for our lives.
It’s there that we discover and apply God’s Word to our lives.
We learn theology there– ( literally “God’s Words”) and those Words of God help us know what to believe and how to use what we believe to please God.
AND… that’s all good stuff.
We SHOULD study God’s Words so that we can please God and walk in His ways.
BUT that’s not what my atheist friend was looking for.
He wasn’t looking for theology.
He was looking for testimony.
He wanted to know WHY I believed what I believed.
He wanted to know the reason for the hope that I had.
When Peter talked to Cornelius and his household he said to him:
"We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem…” Acts 10:39
He was not just telling Cornelius his theology.
He was telling Cornelius:
I believe this!
I saw this!
I know this is true!
When God brings someone to you for you to witness to tell them WHY you believe what you believe. Tell them what Jesus means to YOU personally.
So, what is the answer to that question: Why do YOU believe what you believe?
I’m going to give a few moments to ponder that very question for yourself.
I’m not looking for you to say anything, I just want you to seriously ask yourself why YOU believe.
(SPEND TIME IN SILENCE)
Once you’ve shared why you believe what you believe, you then can ask them the questions they need to answer:
· Do they believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?
· Do they accept the fact that they’ve sinned and need to live a different kind of life? (Repentance)
· Are they willing to confess that Jesus will now be the Lord and Master of their life?
· And, are they willing to seal the deal by allowing themselves to be buried in the waters of Christian baptism and rising up to be a new creation in Christ?
CLOSE: So, let me tell the story of the answer I gave that atheist.
Years ago, I spent a couple of years at Purdue University and some of the classes I took were in Philosophy. In one of those classes, the professor (who was an atheist) stood up in front of the class and said “Jesus didn’t die on the cross, and I can prove it.”
He said that when a person dies, their heart stops pumping and gravity takes over. Thus, (he said) if you were to die seated at your desk, the blood in your body would eventually settle around your waist.
Now the Bible tells us that when Jesus died, he was nailed to a cross and died there. But the Gospel of John says that when Jesus “died” a Roman soldier pierced his side… and blood and water came out. That proves (said the professor) that Jesus hadn’t died. If he had, the blood would not have been there.
So I went back to my dorm room and prayed.
I’d wanted to be a preacher one day, but my faith was still a little shaky.
I prayed: “God, You’ve got to answer this one. Because if You don’t I’m going to go sell insurance. I don’t want to commit myself to ministry if I can’t depend on Your Word to be true.”
For some reason, I didn’t bother to ask anyone for an answer this challenge. But God was faithful and actually answered my prayer within the next month.
At that time I was in another Philosophy class (you do know Purdue is NOT a Bible college, don’t you?). The class had ended and a few students were gathered around the teacher’s desk. Thinking I might learn something interesting I walked up to the desk just in time to hear the teacher say:
“I just learned the most interesting thing this last weekend. Do you remember in the Bible where it says that Jesus died on the cross? (That got my attention). And do you remember where it says that a Roman soldier pierced His side and blood and water came out? (Now, he really had my attention).”
The teacher continued: “There’s a condition known as Cardiac Tamponade. What happens in cardiac tamponade is that – if a person’s body undergoes enough stress – the heart can literally burst. When the heart bursts in this way, the blood from the heart mixes with the fluid in a sac that surrounds the heart called the pericardium. If you were to pierce this sac what you’d see come out would look like blood and water.
Now that made sense for a couple of reasons.
If I cut your arm, what would come out? Blood. Not blood and water.
2ndly, the Bible tells us that Jesus carried all the sins of mankind to the cross, and that when He died it wasn’t from the stress of the torture of the cross. He literally gave up control of His body. Luke 23:46 says “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.”
Jesus gave up the control of His body, and when He did so, it would have like snapping a rubber band. All the pain and sorrow from bearing the sins of mankind would have born on that mortal body without His divine presence… and it would make sense the heart would burst.
I was seriously impressed.
In fact, I was so impressed that when I went to Bible College the next year, I couldn’t wait to share this insight with my professors. But of course, Bible College professors are professors because they know much of this themselves. When I shared my story with one them, he said “Oh Jeff, it’s even better than that.”
He went on to explain, that when Jesus died on the cross, they put Him on the cross at 9 am and He died at 3 pm. Passover was a significant day of sacrifice and people would have been lined up around the block with their lambs for slaughter.
The first sacrifice of the day would have taken place at 9 am.
The last sacrifice would have been done at 3 pm.
And Jesus was on the cross from 9 til 3.
More than that, with all that sacrifice, there would have been a lot of blood. And the Jews of that day had developed a plan where they pumped water up from beneath the floor of the temple and washed down the altar, the utensils and the floor. And the liquid would have drained into a trench that carried out under the walls of the city into the Kidron Valley (which separates Jerusalem from the Garden of Gethsemane).
The banks of the Kidron are still red from the blood of the centuries of sacrifices of the Jews. Farmers would go down to those banks and carry away it’s mud to put on their fields because of the nutrients in the soil.
Now, if you’d been sitting outside Jerusalem a little after 3 pm on the Passover Jesus died…what do you think you’d have seen coming out of the pipes that drained into the valley?
Blood and water.
That’s great stuff!
If I’d have been God I’d have had all kinds of neon signs pointing to this.
At the very least, I’d have included a book in the Bible explaining how important this was.
But, God didn’t do that.
It’s almost like He left this story languish there as a trap for unwitting atheists.
The only Gospel that records this incident is the Gospel of John… and John isn’t impressed with it. All John wanted to prove was that Jesus had died without having one of His bones broken (because a sacrifice was not acceptable to God if it’s bones were broken). The Gospel only records the “blood and water” incident to prove Jesus was dead.
And that’s it.
End of story.
So, I shared this with my atheist friend… and he never responded again.
Indeed, what could he have said?
That story effectively dealt with his atheism in a way he couldn’t argue with.
Now, I have to admit, that’s a cool story.
But – to God – your story is just as cool.
Your story may be exactly the thing the person who approaches you needs to hear to change their lives. You need to figure out what your story is, and then be prepared to share it with a person who needs Jesus.
But you can’t have a story of any kind until you belong to Jesus.