Summary: What a dance God orchestrated here! This is part 2 of The Launching of the Gospel. Part 1 is "The Preacher’s Message"
“And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,” Eph 2:13-14
There is something about the tenth chapter of Acts, that whenever I have turned to any part of it – whether reading from the beginning or landing on some portion in the middle of this chapter – it grabs me every time.
There is so much here to absorb that it just engulfs me with its fullness and richness.
Here we have this amazing cast of characters. The chapter begins introducing this noble Centurion, Cornelius. He is commander over the Italian cohort, meaning he has about 600 men in his command and at his disposal. A Roman soldier and without doubt a loyal patriot of Rome, he at some point has become a God-fearer.
Now this is not just a general term to describe someone who believes in and respects God.
To the Jewish nation a God-fearer was a Gentile who had declared faith in the God of the Jews and expressed a desire to learn Moses and the Prophets and to live by them.
These people had a place to worship set aside for them in the outer court of the Temple. It was called a place of prayer for the nations (Isaiah 56:7), and it was in this court where Jesus found the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals. This was what made Him angry and it is why He drove them out. They had deprived God-fearing Gentiles of their place to worship and had turned it into a marketplace.
So Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile who, in sharp contrast to the Pharisees who cheated the poor and deprived the aging and burdened the downtrodden with ever greater weights of legalism, was described as a devout man who gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.
Next we have Peter the Apostle who is enjoying the generous hospitality of a man named Simon, who has a house by the sea. And we can get this picture of Peter, enjoying the cool, scented breezes coming off the Mediterranean, going to a quiet spot up on Simon’s roof, which would have been that culture’s version of our backyard patio, with chairs, small tables, awnings for shade and a great view of the city on one side and the sea on the other.
Peter has come to this peaceful place to pray while he waits for the announcement that lunch is ready, and he falls into a trance and receives a sort of educational video from God. We’ll talk about that.
And in this amazing account we have angels, faithful servants of the Centurion, Cornelius’ extended family, partners of Peter who are Jews who have also believed in Jesus the risen Lord…
… this chapter has visions and people learning very important lessons… in fact it is a chapter of awakenings! I want us to do what we can to absorb as much of this as possible.
But the main thing I think we need to be certain does not escape our notice, with all of this great scenery and amazing people and surprising events, is that what we really have before us today is a story of God working out all the details as the Master choreographer, from beginning to end orchestrating every part of the account, bringing each person, each circumstance into line so that what works out in the end can be likened to a perfectly conceived and perfectly executed dance – and in the end the very Choreographer Himself is found center stage.
I want to follow an outline that will demonstrate God’s sovereign design in the entire matter, and as we go we’ll also make some observations about these various people and how so many lives were altered significantly and forever all in this one day in history, that marked the launching of the ministry of the Gospel to the Gentiles in the undeniable plan and blessing of God.
PLOWING – Preparing the heart
In Matthew 13 Jesus told the parable of the sower with which most of us should be very familiar, and then in 1 Corinthians 3 Paul draws upon the analogy of the natural process of planting, growing and harvesting to make the point to his readers that while men work, God brings the increase.