God’s Plan to Grow His Church, Part 1
Acts 10:1-8 – A “Corny” Plan
18 Jan 2003 – fellowship community
INTRODUCTION: We are beginning a new series today called, God’s perfect plan for His church.
Big Idea for series: WE WILL KNOW GOD’S VISION FOR THE fellowship community, WHEN WE FOLLOW HIS PLAN
GOD IS PREPARING THE HEARTS
OF LOST PEOPLE THROUGH PRAYER
So, let’s open God’s precious Word to Acts 10 and observe God’s perfect plan. (Read verse 1). Caesarea has been mentioned by Luke twice before this time. He mentions it as a mission outpost for Philip in Acts 8:40. The second time, Paul was led down to Caesarea by his friends once news broke that the Jews were looking to kill him in Acts 9:30. Now we see this city the becoming the epicenter for God’s expanding plan for the church – to reach the Gentiles with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 10). But why pick this city?
Historically, we can view some things that might indicate why God used it. Caesarea was known originally as Strato’s Tower, which Caesar Augustus gave to Herod the Great in 30 B.C, according to Josephus – Jewish historian who lived in the first century A.D. In turn, Herod wanted to exchange a kind deed – so he named the city after Caesar to Caesarea. Not only that, Herod rebuilt the entire city. In twelve years, (22 – 10 B.C.), Herod constructed an amphitheatre, public buildings, a racecourse, a palace, an aqueduct, and a magnificent harbor according to modern historians.
As when new construction begins, it attracts many people. Likewise, in Caesarea, new construction brought a wide mixture of Greek culture and Roman influence. The Roman governor had his residence in this city and the headquarters of the Roman army. Although there was the Greek culture and Roman influence, Jews were a strong minority within this city.
Under the authority of the Roman governor were some three thousand troops, among them was an Italian Regiment. Its members belonged to the second cohort of Roman Citizens who had volunteered their service. This regiment served in Caesarea in A.D. 69, and presumably also before that date, to protect Roman interests.
Within this Cohort, was a Centurion – a noncommissioned officer who commanded a hundred soldiers, named Cornelius – a common name among Romans and it points not only to his race – a gentile, but also his citizenship – a Roman. Now, let’s allow Dr. Luke identify some general observations about this man.
First, he was a man of wealth. Luke tells us he had servants (v. 7). In addition, verse 24 tells us this house was large enough to hold his friends and close relatives. We are not sure how many were there, but in verse 27, Luke says, Peter “found many people assembled.” That sounds like double digits to me. Maybe even triple. And that would mean a large home to house such folks.
Second, he was a humanitarian. Verse 2 says he gave many alms to the Jewish people. “Alms” is a word that refers to showing acts of mercy or compassion towards others in need. Jesus uses this word in Matthew 6:2, when he refers to giving to the poor. So he was a humanitarian – a man of compassion.
Third, Cornelius was what we would call today, “spiritual.” Look at verse 2 again. Luke calls him a devout man. Now this is a word Devout (eusebes). (Acts 10:2, 7; 2 Peter 2:1). It might refer to a worshipful pagan (Acts 17:23, sebasmata, objects of worship), but connected with “one that feared God” (phoboumenos ton theon) Luke describes “a God-fearing proselyte” as in Acts 10:22, 35. This is his usual term for the Gentile seekers after God (Acts 13:16, 26;17:4, 17, etc.), who had come into the worship of the synagogue without circumcision, and were not strictly proselytes, though some call such men “proselytes of the gate” (cf. Acts 13:43); but clearly Cornelius and his family were still regarded as outside the pale of Judaism (Acts 10:28, 34; Acts 11:1, 8; Acts 15:7). They had seats in the synagogue, but were not Jews.
From here, let’s proceed to the main thought for the day: God prepares the hearts of lost people through prayer. Prayer prepares lost people to receive His plan and prayer prepares lost people to follow His plan. Let’s pray.
1A. PRAYER PREPARES LOST PEOPLE TO RECEIVE GOD’S PLAN (2b-4)
Luke states, Cornelius “prayed to God continually.” Lost people believe in prayer. That’s something at times we forget as believers. In fact, one recent survey stated that over 91% of people in America believe in prayer. Now we can say confidently, that not 91% of Americans are saved, so that means nonbelievers still pray and believe in prayer. This also tells us prayer is how God prepares their hearts for his plan.
Verse 3 tells us Cornelius prayed everyday at the ninth hour, which was at 3 o’clock in the afternoon (Jewish Time). This was a habit he had everyday. This prayer time started like every other day. But then something different occurred. On this day, Luke says he saw a vision and this vision was an angel of God, who came into the room Cornelius was praying and also began to speak. Notice what the angel says to him – he calls him by his name, “Cornelius.” So, being calm as a cucumber, Cornelius says, “hey, what’s happening,” right?
No, Cornelius stares right at this angel and begins to feel the way we would – “being much alarmed.” He was scared! But, gaining his composure says to angel, “What is it, Lord?” This is the same phrase, Saul used, when he was confronted by the light of Jesus Christ in Acts chapter 9. But here, Cornelius addresses this to the angel. Notice the angel’s response…(read vs. 4b)
“your prayers and alms have ascended into heaven as a memorial before God.” Wait a minute, Fredericks. That sounds like this Cornelius earned some graces in God’s eyes. Isn’t that contradictory to Ephesians 2:8-9? Let’s see if we can explain this.
The word, “memorial” is used by Jesus about the act of Mary of Bethany (Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9). In this passage it refers to the relationship between nonbelievers and God and when they respond to light that has been given to them by God. And it appears to me that what Luke is using a literary device called an Anthropromorphis (ascribing human characteristics to himself), and is saying under the authority of the Holy Spirit is simply this: when non-believers respond to God’s light, God remembers the response of that nonbeliever and then gives that person even more light. They are not earning points with God so much as they are responding to God’s light. How are they responding? By faith! Can you illustrate that Paul?
Salvation is like crock pot. It takes several times for people to hear the gospel and then be able to respond to it. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 3, when he states I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. We see this also supported in John’s gospel. After most of the signs Jesus did that John records, you will see a phrase, “and the disciples believed in him.”
My question, then, is when did they believe: At the first sign or at the last or somewhere in between?
The answer is: Yes they believed at the first miracle of turning water into wine and they also believed when they saw Jesus resurrected from the dead!. And faith becomes a process that culminates at salvation for an unbeliever. God never dumps the entire truck in our laps and then expects us to wade through it all. He gives little by little, knowing what we can digest. Then, as we respond to that light, he gives more (Romans 1:20). However, if one were to continue to refuse that light, God is not obligated to give more. We see this illustrated in the gospels, when Jesus began teaching in parables. Why did he do this? Because the Pharisees and Sadduccees refused the light they were given and as a result, they were not given any more light. And when this occurs, the consequences of Romans 1:21ff are close at hand.
So, from Cornelius, we learn prayer prepares lost people to receive his light, but it doesn’t just end there, because…
2B. PRAYER PREPARES LOST PEOPLE TO FOLLOW GOD’S PLAN (5-8)
The plan was pretty simple. What made is simple? It was simple, because it was specific! Notice the specifics on this plan:
1. dispatch some men to Joppa – a specific city
2. Send for a man named Simon, who is called Peter – a specific person
3. He is staying with a tanner named Simon, who house is by the sea – a specific place within the city.
Although the plan is simple, in the midst of all this, there is a step of faith Cornelius must take. In fact, there are a few. First, he must have faith that this message is actually from an angel and an angel from God. Second, he must do as the angel said and send some men to Joppa to look for a man named Peter. Third, he must have faith these men will understand and obey the directions and actually go, let alone find this man named Peter, and fourth, Cornelius must have faith that Peter will agree to return with these men. So, we see this wasn’t a simple decision. There were some real human emotions involved – doubt on one hand, faith on the other, and a whole lot of questions in the middle.
Ever been there? God presents to you a clear message and you are evaluating it? Questioning it? Pondering it? We’ve all been there, and yet it is at this moment that we have what Henry Blackaby states as the Crisis of Faith.
How would you respond? What would you do? Remember, you’re a Centurion. You’ve got an image to keep. You have a rank that demands respect and any appearance of weakness among your men will prove to be disaster to your respect and to your command? So, what do you do? What did Cornelius do? Prayer prepared his heart to follow God’s plan (read vs. 7-8).
I want to apply this today in very specific ways. That’s why I came up with three words that will help us apply this in our lives today. Those words are: people, prayer, and praise.
First, the word people. I think there is a word of comfort we can give people and that word of comfort is this – that God knows their name. Look back at verse four. The angel said, “Cornelius.” We always appreciate it when folks call us by name. Every time I leave Safeway, I really enjoy being called “Mr. Fredericks.” Why? Because I feel like I am more than a number. I feel like a person. And how much more so for nonbelievers who are hanging by a thread over an eternity in darkness, needing a ray of hope, and we can give it to them by telling them, God knows their name.
The second word is prayer. As mentioned earlier, 91% of Americans still believe in prayer, and after today, we have learned that Prayer is what prepares lost people to receive and follow God’s plan. That being so, what better way to introduce people to Christ than by calling them by name, and then praying for them by name. And when we pray for them, ask them first, “how can I pray for you, Mike, Joe, Mary, Sally. And then pray for them. Then, let them know you have been praying for them, and at the appropriate time, ask them what else you can pray for. This builds a bridge of friendship and closeness that the Holy Spirit will use to prepare that person’s heart to receive and follow God’s plan.
The last word is praise. Look back at verses 4 and 5. Listen again to the words from the angel and ask yourself, why? Why send these men to Joppa? Why look for some guy named Peter, why in heaven’s name go to a stinky tanner’s home and why didn’t the angel give Cornelius the gospel message himself? All these questions can be answered very easily. Because God has not given to angels the ministry of sharing the Gospel with sinners (1 Peter 1:10-12). What a privilege we have in telling the Gospel to lost souls, a privilege angels cannot have! And beloved, we can PRAISE our Lord for this privilege we have been given that even angels are prohibited.
There we have it: People, prayer and praise. And there we have the first part of God’s perfect plan for His Church – fellowship community - that idea is God prepares the hearts of lost people through prayer!
Being prepared to see God’s vision for His church has to start with prayer. There must be open and transparent communication between two worlds: the world of sinfulness which we live and the world of sinlessness, which is the domain of our God. How can these two worlds meet? Through prayer! And it is through prayer we will see God prepare the hearts of lost people.
This week we have seen how God prepares the hearts of lost people and it is exciting to know our great God is doing just that as we speak; preparing the hearts of lost people to hear the gospel. But he needs a messenger. That’s next weeks message. But in order for us to be prepared for that I want to close with this prayer – a prayer that Sir Frances Drake Quoted in an OC Missionary Prayer Letter of Jeanie Curryer, September, 1997
A Prayer for the Future
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.