(Before reading the Scripture I noted that Acts 10 is a pivotal chapter in Scripture. It was after this event at Cornelius’ house that the Church exploded with growth and numerous churches were set up throughout the known world).
(After the Scripture reading and prayer, we showed the following clip from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZLui9Mtr4w&index=4&list=PL32F0A78DC1866504
Begining at time stamp 0.21 and go till 1.45).
I’ve done my research and I discovered that people Really Do Win Prizes in these Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. The good news is that they are legitimate. The bad news is that it is REALLY hard to win the prizes. The giveaways are so famous and so many people enter them that the odds of winning are astronomical.
For example, their $10 Million Giveaway which ended in 2008, offered odds were ten times worse than the odds of hitting a Powerball jackpot. But of course, the advantage is… you don’t have to gamble to win. You simply sigh up. A lot.
What I wanted you to observe from that video clip was how this woman reacted. How did she respond to this sudden gift of $10,000? SHE WAS SURPRISED. And WHY was she surprised? Because she didn’t really expect to win. She’d been entering the contest for years, but the only reason she walked out to parking lot that day was because her boss told her something wrong with her car. It was not a normal thing for her to leave work and get a check for several $1000.
Now hold that thought.
This is the last in our series of sermons called “Thy Kingdom Come”. We’ve looked at the 1st few chapters of Acts from the perspective of Jesus’ promise “Upon this rock I WILL BUILD My church.” (Matthew 16:18) Now I’m sure that the early Christians did many things that helped the church to grow, but each chapter we’ve studied from Acts has shown how Jesus built His church. We’ve looked at His power and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, let’s revisit the story in Acts 10 for a minute. The Church has been in existence for about 3 to 4 years now, and up until this point you could count one thing: every Christian in the church had been a Jew. That meant that every man who believed and was baptized into Christ was a circumcised believer.
Do I have to explain circumcision to you? No? Good, because I really didn’t want to have to do that.
So every new Christian man in the church (up to this point) was a circumcised Jew. And that’s just how things were… up until now. NOW God was switching gears. God’s plan had always been to open the gates for Gentiles to become Christians and now He was setting that plan into motion.
Now, you’d have thought that if God wanted to do something like this that it wouldn’t have been all that hard to do. I mean, He is God after all. But there’s a small fly in the ointment: the Jews despised Gentiles. They wanted nothing to do with them. The Jews referred to the Gentiles as “dogs" (This was NOT an affectionate term – it was an insult). They wouldn’t sit down to eat with them, they wouldn’t spend the night in a Gentile home, and they wouldn’t buy anything from them unless they had to. But if they ever did have to buy something from a Gentile merchant, they would take the item home and wash the filth of that Gentile dog from that item before they ever used it.
And just calling them Gentile dogs wasn’t enough. They had a worse insult. They called them… “uncircumcised.”
That’s just the way things were. But now, (here in Acts 10) God was going to ask the early church - made up of good JEWISH Christians - to allow these “uncircumcised” Gentile dogs to be part of HIS church. And that wasn’t going to be an easy sell. So how was God going to do that? How was He going to sell this idea to Jewish Believers?
Well, 1st He chose a man, who everybody liked, to be His test case. He chose a Gentile that even good Jews found admirable – a man named Cornelius, a prominent leader in the Roman army. Scripture tells us he was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2). Now, how can you not like a guy like that???
Then God had to find just the right man to preach the first message to these Gentiles. And do you know who He chose? He chose the most stubborn, mule-headed, obstinate, messenger that He could find. And who was that? He chose PETER! Why Peter? Because if anybody was going to fight this idea and deny the Gentiles admission into the Kingdom of God… it’d have been Peter. In fact, Peter was so hard to convince, that God had to give him the SAME DREAM three separate times - and each time God ended the dream by saying: “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Acts 10:15
And so … when Peter comes to Cornelius’ home he starts his sermon by saying “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call ANY person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection...” Acts 10:28-29
Now, what’s interesting is that Peter didn’t go to Caesarea all by himself; he had 6 “circumcised” friends who tagged along. The ESV tells us these friends were “believers from among the circumcised”. And when they all got to Cornelius house, Peter begins to tell them all about Jesus and what He had done. He was just getting warmed up when something dramatic took place. The entire room erupts as the Gentiles there began to praise God and speak in tongues. Peter’s friends are shocked, and Peter himself is probably a bit amazed at this occurrence. But Peter recovers quickly and asks “Can anyone forbid water to baptize these folks” and they do. They baptize them into Jesus.
And that’s pretty much the story.
Now, in this chapter (Acts 10) I find three groups of people who are surprised by what God did.
1st there was Peter. Peter is surprised. He’s surprised that God is willing to have him preach to the Gentiles, he’s surprised by how the crowd suddenly erupts in praise and tongues. But he gets over his surprise and takes all these folks down to the water for a mass baptism.
2nd - there’s Peter’s 6 friends. Scripture tells us that “the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were AMAZED…” Acts 10:45
And then 3rd – there’s the folks back at Jerusalem who were surprised that – not only were these uncircumcised Gentiles allowed bot be baptized - but that Peter would have the audacity to eat with these “uncircumcised” folks. In fact they’re not just surprised… they’re furious. Acts 11 says that “…when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.’” (Acts 11:2-3) They pitched a hissy fit because they were surprised! This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t expected. And this was NOT acceptable to them.
Now, let’s go back to our opening illustration. Why was the woman (that Publisher’s Clearing House gave the check to) surprised? She was surprised because - she didn’t expect it!!! It wasn’t normal. In fact, she’d gone out into the parking lot because she thought something was wrong with her car. THAT was something she expected. But not a check for several 1000 dollars. If you could expect that someone would give you a huge check when you stepped out into the parking lot here… I’d be the first one out the door. But, nobody really expects that sort of thing to happen. Thus, this woman was surprised because that was NOT what she’d expected.
In the sermon last Sunday (ACTS 8) we talked about Philip going down to Samaria and preaching to a whole bunch of people who ended up believing in Christ and being baptized into Him. Now this was not something you would have expected. The Samaritans were not Jews. They were half-breeds (their ancestors had intermarried with Gentiles) and Jews despised these folks. Jews made fun of them, they were not welcome in their homes, and they were definitely not welcome in the Temple to worship. BUT… apparently the Samaritans were circumcised. How do we know they were circumcised? Because nobody back in Jerusalem pitched a “hissy fit” when they found out these folks had been baptized. Nobody was surprised or astonished that these Samaritans had become Christians.
What I also found interesting in Acts 8 is that when Peter and John came down from Jerusalem and laid hands on these new believers so that the Holy Spirit came upon them - Peter and John were not surprised. Why wouldn’t they be surprised? Well… apparently they’d done this before. It was a NORMAL thing for them to be able to do.
If you remember the story from Acts 8, Philip (who preached powerful sermons and was able to do mighty miracles in Samaria) Philip couldn’t lay hands on the new believers so that they could receive the special gifts from Spirit. But Peter and John could… because they were apostles. In fact, the only people who are recorded as imparting these special gifts FROM the Spirit (called charismata) were Apostles. Specifically Peter and John in Acts 8… and then Paul.
Acts 19:6 tells us “…when Paul had laid his hands on (those who’d just been baptized) the Holy Spirit CAME ON THEM, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
(see footnote at the end of the sermon)
And in 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul reminds Timothy “…to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands”
So, it would seem that there was a PROTOCOL that was observed up to this point:
o Every new male convert was someone who had been CIRCUMCISED.
o These folks were then asked if they believed if Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God; if they knew they were sinners and were willing to repent of those sins; if they were willing to confess Jesus as the Lord and Master of their lives; and if they were willing to be baptized into Christ.
o Then, at least some of the time, the Apostles would impart special gifts by the laying on of hands.
These things were expected to happen. Nobody would have been surprised when things happened in that order. But when God did what He did with the household of Cornelius, things didn’t go according to the pattern folks had become accustomed to… and they were surprised.
And the missing part of the pattern/protocol was this: Cornelius and friends were NOT circumcised.
It’s interesting that this is the only place in the New Testament that we hear about Christians being referred to as “believers who were circumcised” (Peter’s friends, and later the circumcision party in Acts 11). This phrase never occurs anywhere else in the Bible… but it does here. Peter’s friends (and then the circumcision party) were labeled: “the believers from among the circumcised.” Why call them that? Because, as these men are making way down to Cornelius’ home, they’re sharpening their knives. They don’t mind the Gentiles getting baptized into Christ as long as they’re circumcised FIRST. They expect these Gentiles to have some “skin in the game” before they’re allowed to get wet.
But then… God takes over. God had no intention of letting these Gentiles become circumcised. That was a mark of the OLD Covenant. That was the physical thing that identified people as belonging to God’s covenant back in the day. But now things were going to be changed. Now the mark of belonging to God would be baptism.
Colossians 2:11-12 tells us that Christians are “… circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, BY THE CIRCUMCISION OF CHRIST, HAVING BEEN BURIED WITH HIM IN BAPTISM, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
In other words, baptism in water was to become the new circumcision. The time when the old flesh of sin was removed from a convert, the time when the old man was buried with Christ and rose up a new creation in Christ.
In addition, God was doing something here in Acts 10 that He hadn’t done since Pentecost. Peter told the folks in Jerusalem: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us AT the beginning.” (Acts 11:15).
Note how Peter said this: He didn’t say “SINCE the beginning.” He said “AT the beginning.” What had occurred at the home of Cornelius (with the Spirit coming down upon the Gentiles) hadn’t happened ever since Pentecost. But it happened NOW because God wanted to make a point about Gentiles becoming Christians without being required to be circumcised.
BUT now Peter’s friends are a little confused. They thoroughly expected to use their knives before using the baptistery. Seeing this, Peter cuts through their resistance by stating the obvious: “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47) Why ask that question? Because Peter’s friends were still thinking about withholding baptism for these new converts.
And that’s the story of Acts 10.
What we’re going to look at next is how this all applies to us.
Out on our Church sign we have this statement: “Once you’ve experienced the awesomeness of God, you begin to expect it.” I like that! It’s a powerful statement. And it’s true - up to a point. If you see God do cool stuff often enough… you do begin to EXPECT it.
But I have to admit, that whenever I see God’s power displayed (and I have seen it many times) more often than not I find myself being surprised. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean - after all – if God’s miracles happened every day you wouldn’t call them miracles, you’d call them “normals” or “regulars.” But miracles surprise us because they’re not what we’d expect. So there’s nothing wrong with being surprised when God does something dramatic in our lives. However, it’s what we do next that can make all the difference.
In our story today we have 3 groups of people who are SURPRISED.
There were folks in Jerusalem who were SURPRISED that the Gentiles had become Christians. And their surprise led them to become angry. God hadn’t consulted them on this change. God hadn’t done what THEY thought He should have done. And so they pitched a fit. And they became SO determined to fight this change to their church that they ended up creating one of the first splits in the church.
Now, in case you didn’t realize it… splitting a church is NOT a good thing!!! It’s not a good thing to hurt the church. It’s not a good thing to get angry. It’s not a good thing to demand YOUR way in God’s church. But that’s what happens when people in church don’t get their own way, or they become offended by something that upsets them. They get angry and they end up hurting the church because THEY didn’t get what THEY wanted.
The 2nd group of people who were surprised were the six friends of Peter’s. They were so surprised by what they saw taking place at the home of Cornelius that they literally didn’t seem to know what they should do. It was like they were paralyzed into inaction. They weren’t sure what to do, so they almost ended up doing nothing.
And there are a lot of Christians put there who are like that. They’re SURPRISED by what they hear out of Scripture. They are SURPRISED by what they read about God’s power and they hear about what God has promised them. And they just don’t quite know what to make of it all. What paralyzes them is that they’re NOT certain God would actually do stuff like that for them. They’re not sure the God they read about in Scripture is even real in their lives. And so they go through the motions of attending church, singing the songs, praying the prayers, putting some money in the offering plate, listening to the sermons. But then they go home. There’s nothing here to see, so they just move along, never seeming to believe or expect that God would do anything in their lives. And that’s so sad, because they miss out on so much.
But the 3rd kind of person is like Peter. Peter was surprised by the dreams God had given him, and he was surprised by what God did at the home of Cornelius… but Peter had seen the awesomeness of God before. Once he realized once God was in it… Peter was all for it. Wherever God led was just fine with him.
CLOSE: Now usually I try to close out a sermon with an inspirational story that can sum up what we’ve looked at in the sermon. A nice story that can tie everything up in a nice little bow and give you something to go home with.
But nothing seemed to work for me this time. I couldn’t think of anything that would fit. And it suddenly occurred to me that I should close this sermon with a question: Which of the 3 groups of people are you like?
1. Are you like the circumcisers who would throw a hissy fit when you’re surprised God didn’t do things the way YOU wanted them done
2. Are you like Peter’s friends… you know about God’s power, but you’re not sure God will do anything like that in your life?
3. Or, are you like Peter? Do you really think God CAN do something dramatic in your life/ in our church?
Beginning on Easter (the first Sunday of April) we’re going to embark on a contest to invite people to church. The congregation will be split into 3 teams and we’ll be keeping track of the number of new people each team can invite to Sunday School and Worship. But this isn’t really going to be about a contest between teams. We’re calling this event the “Personal Best”.
In sports like Track or Cross Country different schools compete against each other… but they have a category called “personal best” where the student judges themselves against their past performance. In other words, if a runner loses in the 100 yard dash, and yet accomplishes a better time than they’ve ever done before – they’ve won. They’re not competing against another team, they’re competing against their past abilities. That’s what this contest will be all about. Challenging ourselves to excel in our “personal best” of how many friends and family we can bring to church and Sunday School with us this coming month.
BUT, in keeping with our belief that it is Jesus who builds His church, we want this challenge to be less about our own personal accomplishments and more about the power of Christ in our church. So, what we’re going to do this morning is pray that God “surprises” us. I’m going to ask you to bow your heads and I’m going to give you a period of silence where you can ask God to show His power by opening your eyes to who He would like you to invite to Church next month... and that He would begin preparing the hearts of those you would ask to be eager to come and to be introduced to a God who does surprising things.
FOOTNOTE: In John 7:38-39 we’re told that Jesus said “’Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
That set of verses tells us that the coming of the Spirit in the New Testament age was unlike anything man had ever experienced before. The giving of the Holy Spirit (after Jesus had been glorified, i.e. ascended to heaven after His resurrection) was going to be streams of living water that would flow “within” a Christian. Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us that this Spirit is mark of salvation, the guarantee of our inheritance. And Romans 8:9 tell us that unless we have this Spirit within us … we are not saved.
But Acts 8:16, Acts 10:44 and Acts 19:6 talk about the coming of the Spirit “upon” people. Not “in” but “upon". This is the same terminology used throughout the Old Testament when the Spirit would come “upon” such Old Testament notables as Othniel, Samson, and Saul. (Note Numbers 24:2; Judges 3:10; Judges 14:19; I Samuel 11:6; I Samuel 19:20 and II Chronicles 15:1). These folks did not have the Spirit inside them as a mark of salvation, but the term “came upon” indicated the Spirit’s coming upon people with power. Not for salvation, but to show the might of God. Since the same term "the Spirit came UPON them" is used in the passages in Acts we've noted... it would seem those instances were not the giving of the Spirit for salvation, but for the showing of God's power.