Monday, June 6, 2011

The Gospel Goes to the Nations!

The Gospel Goes to the Nations!

Acts 10:1-11:18                         

The LORD by the gospel has worked to cut through all culture from Judaism to Hinduism, all socio-economic status, so that kings and military commanders as well as princes and peasants have been wonderfully transformed. So far we heard of the conversions of thousands – business people as well as travelers. Princes and peasants have been transformed by the gospel. It was able to work powerfully on Sadducees then and now is able to work on the skeptical among us. It has penetrated through the minds of the formalists as much as it did among such Pharisees as Saul of Tarsus.
The Christian church was meant since its inception to be universal, composing of all the nations and peoples and languages, from the west and east and north and south – all gathered and admitted into one church with Christ has its Head on an equal footing, without prejudices. This is what it shall be like when we shall be forever with the Lord.
Initially the gospel was to be preached to the house of Israel in terms of God’s plan of priority (Matt. 10:6; 15:24). The commission was to start from where they were – in Jerusalem. But it was not to stop them, that was only the beginning, they were to go all the nations and proclaim the good news. And the good news was the same, with the same subject and reaching out to all the people.
1)     The subject of the gospel: Jesus Christ
The gospel is not about the sacrifices or circumcision or ritual, it is about, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power”.  The Subject of the Gospel is the doctrine of Christ Jesus, the Son of the Living God – Jesus and Him crucified. The Gospel is about Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is about Christ the only Mediator between God and man. The gospel is about the one who was dead but is now alive, able to save to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him. This is the gospel that must be preached to all, whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free. Remove Jesus from the gospel and it will not be the Gospel at all. Peter preached that it Jesus who saves in Jerusalem as well as in Caesarea. He told the Jews, “… let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, … there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Act 4:10,12). And he described to the Gentiles, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power …To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”.
2)     The scope of the gospel: to all the nations
Consider the gospel is preached to all without partiality since God Himself is not partial. The choice of God for the nation of Israel, was not because He is partial but it was in order to reveal His grace. This is because even then in his covenant He had other nations in mind. For example, He told Abraham that, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” (Gen 17:5)
The great commission was to have a starting point in Jerusalem but it was to reach extensively ‘all nations’ (Matt.28:19; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).
3)     The nature of the gospel: peace through Jesus Christ
Do we have the Jews receiving a different gospel from the Samaritans or the Gentiles? Not at all, for Paul gives a very strong disclaimer about having another gospel, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8). So the question then would be whether Peter preached the same gospel to the Jews to that he preached in Caesaria? And if we compare his two sermons during the day of Pentecost and the one he preached in Cornelius’ house, you will discover that the outline is the same theme, that Jesus was the Messiah and the only Saviour. He who believes on Him will have eternal life. Just like the custom of the apostles then, they traced Jesus ministry from John the Baptist’s ministry to His resurrection. This is the pattern of Mark’s gospel which was closely related to Peter. The gospel of Jesus is the same for the Jews and for the Gentiles. And it him who believes it who will be saved.
The power of salvation comes through the proclamation of the good news. He who believes the gospel is saved. You have had the opportunity to hear the gospel preached to you many many times. Although you have heard the gospel, you continue to refuse to submit to it. Look at this very influential person, a person over a hundred men and was a senior officer of the of the Italian Cohort (maybe the chairman of six centurions). When he heard the gospel, he did not hesitate or postpone, He believed immediately and so the Spirit of God came upon him and his household. Why do you keep on postponing your own salvation. How can you keep on neglecting such a great salvation when you are not needed even to pay for it? Please I urge you to  believe and repent of your sins and be saved.
As I have pointed out to you salvation offer does not come with conditions to anyone. We are told here that "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality”. He does not even ask where you come from or what is your background. The offer of salvation is for all who ask God to save them! I do not suppose faith is the condition because no one is able to manufacture faith by himself, he must get it as a gift to God. However, it is your responsibility to plead with the Lord to save you. why not and salvation offer is for all.
What is his description before his conversion? The Scripture records that he was, “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (10:2,3). And these same words are repeated, one to corroborate the other. "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say."(10:22). Notice that this sort of language is never used of an unbeliever – this was not an outward religion but the true and the undefiled religion. This language does not even in the least imply that Cornelius followed natural religion like our ancestors. He conformed to the Jewish way of life – centered around the covenant keeping God, Yahweh, through His revealed Word. He was devoted to one God and to his neighbour in his religion – therefore fulfilling all righteousness. He pleased God in acts of righteousness for his prayers and alms had gone to God as genuine and therefore had been accepted. His faith was genuine because he did not trust in circumcision but on the Lord and so pleased Him – Heb. 11:6.
What were the circumstances around which this officer was saved?
This is a message that show that Jesus is Lord of all in the way He works salvation in the lives of all people without any partiality. Here we have one who is Gentile alienated from God and from the commonwealth of Israel. (C.f. Lev. 20:24-25; Eph. 2:12). He was by profession a Roman soldier, estranging him even further from the people. Here is a Gentile soldier, called Cornelius and yet the Lord Jesus graciously saved him, granting him repentance unto faith.
Being a Jewish proselyte, he became a Christian convert. God gathered so many means to execute the salvation of this man. One day at Caesarea, about  200Km north of Jerusalem, a Roman officer had a vision instructing him to send messengers to Joppa to one Simon Peter who was being accommodated by another man called Simon who was a tanner by profession and his house was just outside the city gates by the Mediterranean sea. The next day while the messengers were on their way and just about to arrive in Joppa, Peter went up to the house top to pray at noon. Then Peter, a very prejudiced Jew, was hungry and as the food was being prepared, he had his own vision as well –relating to the state of his stomach. He saw a huge sheet descending from heaven containing all sorts of animals with the command from without commanding him to kill and eat. And being a prejudiced man objected with saying he has never eaten such unclean meat and was not going to do it today. But the voice insisted that "What God has made clean, do not call common."
For three times this happened and he was taken to task to think about its implications. Then he is called down to talk with the two messengers and the soldier and immediately he grasped the meaning of his vision. Because this is what he told them while back in Caesarea that, And he said to them, "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.(Act 10:28)
The offer of the salvation to the Gentiles was the evidence that the dividing wall of hostility had been demolished. That there was neither Jew nor Greek but one man in Christ. “For He (Christ) Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Eph 2:14-16)
So if he had died the way he was could he have been saved? Yes, if he had not heard the gospel just like Abraham and all the Old Testament believers were saved. No, if he had heard the gospel and spurned the Saviour, though I don’t think that he would have refused the gospel. When the gospel was preached to him, he immediately submitted to its offer and demands without hesitation. He is a case of those who were in the transition between the old and the new dispensations and acted according to the share of light he had. Had died then he would have been counted together with the cloud of witnesses who died in faith, not having receiving the promises, but having seen them from afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. And being a believer was justified as such and was brought to the full light of salvation in the right time.
The events here were important because the perfect salvation of Cornelius himself was outworked and it was made fully clear to the church that the middle wall of hostility was removed. We are therefore to treat each other not on the basis of where we come from, in terms of tribes or socio-economic status but on the basis of being in Christ.
Here the Holy Spirit is poured to the Gentiles like He was poured on the day of Pentecost. We have a number of parallels to show that this is not given as an example of a second experience But as a mark of the gospel going to a new height.
First of all like the Pentecost experience, the Holy Spirit came suddenly cut short Peter’s sermon. This was the very same thing that happened in Pentecost when the Spirit of God came as a rushing wind. Secondly, they all spoke in tongues as a sign to the outsiders. To the Pentecost it was a sign to the nations and to the Cornelius house it was a sign to the Jews that the Gentiles had been admitted into the commonwealth of Israel. Thirdly, all those nearby were amazed at what God was doing because it was an historic occurrence.
Fourthly, Peter himself draws the parallels of the Cornelius house experience with that if Pentecost, not that of the saving of the three thousand. And rightly so because at this point, the new covenant had been extended to the nations and the Jews had to accept this and so the outward  mark of tongue speaking was necessary. In fact this is the way Peter himself interpreted the experience as not so much a second Pentecost, standing alongside the first, but as the participation of the Gentile believers in the experience of the first Pentecost. Paul also agreed with this when he said, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1Cor. 12:13).
 You notice that this is not the usual normative order but is unique. This is not the order in the rest of the Scripture nor is it the order given by Peter himself on the day of Pentecost in his sermon. For he had said that the sequence of initiation into the new community of believers is conviction of sin, repentance and faith, baptism in the Name of Jesus for forgiveness of sin and then receiving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-41).

The hearts and minds of Cornelius and his household were transformed and they added to the community of believers –the church. this was marked by the fact that they were baptized immediately. Note that they were not expected to undergo a baptism class then be baptized but as soon as they believed they were baptized. Baptism is not for each and everyone but for those who believe. There are those who use household baptism as the reason for baptizing infants. There is not proof that there were children in Cornelius’ house! All those who were baptized were so changed that they immediately glorified God. This is a church that was founded in Caesarea. Here we notice three things in the new Gentile believer for our own instruction.
1.      The church of Christ is universal and comprises all believers of whatever country, colour, race language, socio or economic status etc. from the statement, “God shows no partiality” this is made very clear that we belong to Christ on the basis of our faith, nothing less nothing more. There we are to show no partiality as we are told by James 2:9 lest we try to rebuild the wall of discrimination where our Lord has destroyed it and so defy Him who has loved us with an everlasting love. We are to remove all prejudices against other believers.
2.      Moral life cannot save a man because this is not what is commended here. we know that without faith it impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Whatever virtues are commended here for Cornelius, justice, charity to the poor, were the fruits of his religious life like fear of God (he was very conscious of being in the presence of God -10:33), the faith of God’s truth evidenced in his habit of prayer and the manner in which he responded to God’s revelation. People propose that God will accept those who are civilized may be as a result of education but here Cornelius is accepted on the basis of His God-pleasing faith although it is not mentioned. In any case Peter does not list Cornelius good works as the basis for the forgiveness of his sins but he told him that, “… that everyone who believes in Him (Christ) receives forgiveness of sins through His name." (Acts 10:43)

3.      He we are put to shame by the godliness of Cornelius though he had not received the full light of the gospel. Peter was also praying when he had the vision at noon. Brethren it does not seem to me as if we pray enough. Is it because we have too much to do with work, family and … name it? Are you not accepting then that you are giving God a secondary place? How prayerful are we? Do you have a specific time of prayer?
How much time are you giving to your family devotion? Here Cornelius taught his family the Word of God and brought them to the Apostle to hear him. how about you? Are we willing to give your own property to the use of others? Are happy to
How a gracious God we have! For He brought us to His household, into His commonwealth, into His grace! We should not neglect this wonder position that the Lord has given us. We are to find all our delight in this household of God in the believers. Soon we shall be together and it shall be a time of refreshing with our God. this is what we are told: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Rev 7:9-10)

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