Summary: God's plan was always to reach the world. Yet by Acts 10, the Gospel had gone no further than Jews & a few Samaritans. Why? racism & bigotry. In Acts 10, God changed all that in the story of Cornelius, leading to a dramatic salvation that changed history.
When God Changes a Bigot’s Heart
August 9, 2015
NOTE: A PowerPoint presentation of this sermon is available upon request by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TEXT: Speaking of the saints and angels around the throne of God in heaven, Revelation 5:9-10 says, “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
(Now please turn in your Bibles to Acts 10.)
God’s design for salvation always included much more than just the Jewish nation.
• Jesus had said that God sent Jesus to die for the WHOLE WORLD (John 3:16).
• When giving the Great Commission to His disciples, Jesus spoke of teaching, baptizing and discipling to “ALL nations.”
• A few days later, Jesus said to His disciples to be witnesses not only in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, but also to the “uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
However, up to this time in Acts the only believers were Jews, and though they’d heard the Great Commission, they still thought of salvation as being a strictly Jewish phenomenon. But in Acts 10, God is about to change all this.
In chapter 8, you’ll recall, the Gospel had already gone to the Samaritans, an ethnic group that was the result of intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles, and whom the Jews traditionally had despised as half-breeds. When Peter and his Jewish companions saw the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 8, they were astonished. Reluctant though they were, they DID make it across that barrier to the Samaritans.
That was a first step to a worldwide witness, but to reach out to Gentiles was unfathomable! To understand this, you have to grasp the extreme bigotry that existed in that day:
• For example, a strict Jew would not allow himself to be a guest in a Gentile house.
• Nor would he invite a Gentile his own house.
• A scribal law said that the dwelling places of Gentiles were ceremonially unclean.
• Even the dirt from a Gentile country was considered unclean. – So whenever Jewish travelers left a Gentile country, they would always shake the dust off their feet so they wouldn’t bring Gentile pollution into Israel.
There were many other evidences of this bigotry:
• For instance, milk drawn from a cow by Gentile hands was not allowed to be consumed by Jews.
• Bread and oil prepared by a Gentile could be sold to a stranger, but could never be consumed by a Jew.
• No Jew would ever eat with a Gentile, and if cooking utensils were brought from a Gentile, they had to be purified by fire and water.
The Old Testament neither taught nor encouraged any of this. These were all what Jesus referred to as “the commandments of men” and Jesus never had anything good to say about the commandments of men.
Now, to be fair, you should realize that Gentiles were just as prejudiced as the Jews: They scorned the Jews. Circumcision, the Sabbath day rest, worship of an invisible God, abstinence from certain foods, and all the other aspects of Jewish life, culture and religion were points of derision among the Gentiles.
So this was the social climate that Peter and his companions and co-workers lived in.
This is also the social context that a Roman soldier by the name of Cornelius was a part of.
So in order to break down the Jewish prejudice and bigotry and racially-centered perspective, God had to do something big to fulfil His ultimate plan.
That’s what Acts 10 is all about.
This morning, note three points with me, and then let’s consider two applications.
I. FIRST NOTICE WITH ME GOD’S PREPARATION IN VERSES 1-16
When God does something big, He always prepares the way.
We see God’s preparation in two ways in our text:
• First note with me the preparation of THE GENTILE.
In verses 1-2 we see that God took note of an honest seeker named Cornelius – “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.”
Verse 1 says that Cornelius was a centurion—a soldier in charge of 100 men, which would be roughly equivalent of an Army captain today.
Note particularly his character: Verse 2 tells us much about Cornelius’s character: We are told that he was a devout man (that is, he was religious). He also feared God, probably meaning he worshiped the one true God of Israel, but had not yet become a Jewish proselyte. He was also an unselfish, giving man, because we’re told that he “gave much alms to the people.” Finally, he “prayed to God alway”—he was a man of prayer.