Sunday, November 27, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Even the Gentiles"

“Even the Gentiles”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
November 27, 2011
Acts 9:32-11:18
For those of you who were participating in “the guess the title contest” that we weren’t really having, the title of this message is not Peter or Aeneas or Dorcas or even Cornelius.

It is this: “Even the Gentiles.”

And I get that from the NIV’s rendering of Acts 11:18 which will be our last verse this morning: “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

Even the Gentiles.

So far, in our study of the book of Acts, the gospel has spread like wildfire in Jerusalem and in Judea and even in Samaria. We’ve seen that in Acts 1-8.

And in chapter 8, we also saw the gospel of Jesus Christ spread to a proselyte, the Ethiopian treasury official who was probably Gentile but had apparently converted to Judaism.

But now in Acts chapter 9, after the arrest and salvation of Saul, we are going to see the gospel of Jesus Christ move beyond Jews and half-breed Jews and converts to Judaism to bona fide Gentiles.

And that is amazing.

You and I don’t truly comprehend the barrier that existed between Jew and Gentile.

The observant, pious, godly Jew was supposed to be separate from all things Gentile.

But that is about to change.

And the change is orchestrated by the Holy Spirit of God.

God’s empowering presence – the Holy Spirit orchestrates a plan to connect a Gentile who is ripe for gospel harvest and the lead apostle of Jesus Christ who brings the gospel with him.

That apostle’s name is Peter, and the story turns to him in verse 32.

It’s been several chapters since we were with the apostle Peter. Verse 32 picks up Peter’s trail. He’s traveling in the north of Israel along the seaboard and sharing the gospel and seeing God heal people. V.32

“As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. ‘Aeneas,’ Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.’ Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.”

How exciting!

Healed by the name of Jesus. The power of God is still present and operating through Peter. And people are seeing that and turning to Jesus.

Next, Joppa. That city where Jonah got into his trouble. V.36

“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, ‘Please come at once!’ Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.”

Dorcas must have been a wonderful saint. She cared for people in extremely practical ways.  The Lord loves that kind of ministry!  V.40

“Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.”

And that exciting day leads up to this next story.

Simon Peter is living in Joppa with the other Simon, Simon the tanner.

And the Holy Spirit orchestrates the genuine spread of the gospel even to the Gentiles. Chapter 10, verse 1.

“At Caesarea [which is also in the North, not too far from Joppa] there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”

Cornelius is a Gentile.

He is God-fearing. He is generous. He is a good man, but he is a Gentile, not a Jew.

He is a Roman soldier. A commander of a group of 100 men known as the Boys from Italy.

Cornelius is a Gentile, and God has marked him out to be the bridge from the Jews to the Gentiles. V.3

“One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’ Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.’ When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.”

Got it?

Do you see how the Holy Spirit is orchestrating this whole thing?

Day One: An angel tells Cornelius to send for Peter.

Day Two: While the 3 men from Cornelius are traveling, the Holy Spirit talks to Peter. V.9

“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.”

I’ve said it before that I always imagine this sheet to be red and white checks.

It’s time for Peter’s Picnic. V.12

“It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’”

Do you have the picture in your mind?

Peter’s hungry. And a giant picnic cloth from heaven drops down and has every animal that Leviticus forbids Peter to eat.

But God Himself says, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

What’s going on?

I know one thing. It’s never smart to say, “Surely not, Lord!”

“No” and “Lord” don’t go in the same sentence together!

“I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

Good for you. Do it know.  V.15

“The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.”

Three times!

“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 
“Surely not, Lord.”

“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 
“Surely not, Lord.”

“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 
“Surely not, Lord.”

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

What’s going on?

Is this about food?  Well, yes and no. It’s about food and more than food.

It’s about people.

The Holy Spirit’s timing is perfect. V.17

“While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’”

And guess what? They are not Jews.

“Peter went down and said to the men, ‘I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?’ The men replied, ‘We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.’ Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”

That’s amazing! That itself is amazing. That he would invite these Gentiles in to stay for hospitality. But it gets better than that. V.23

“The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along [witnessess]. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. [Something big is going to happen.] As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.  But Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, ‘I am only a man myself.’”
And both of us are here because of the Holy Spirit.  V.27

“Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”

Did you catch that?

Peter has figured out the meaning of the vision, the meaning of the picnic.

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

“Do not call anyone impure that God has made clean.”

God is doing something new. V.29

“So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?’ Cornelius answered: ‘Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.' So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.’”

Can you feel his anticipation?

Here we are. We’re ready to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.

Give us the gospel!

Okay. Here it is.

“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism
but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news [gospel] of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached–how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses [there’s our word again!] of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen–by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify [witness] that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’”

That’s the gospel, friends.

And it’s going to the Gentiles.

“You will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, in Judean and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” v.44

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message [and believed!]. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. [Remember when that happened on the Samaritans a couple of weeks ago in Acts 8?] For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God [this is FOR REAL]. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”

They were baptized.

Not circumcised. Baptized.

They didn’t become Jews.

They became Christians.

Even the Gentiles!

Now, notice that they still needed the gospel.

Even though Cornelius was a pretty good man, upstanding, generous, seeking God in some real ways, it took the gospel of Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Holy Spirit for them to be saved.

Even Cornelius needed the gospel–but he got it and was saved!

And baptized. If you have never stepped forward in baptism, I want you to notice how important it is in the Bible, especially in Acts.

“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?” (V.47).  They are genuine believers just like us. And genuine believers get baptized with water when they believe.

Even the Gentiles.

Now, we’re not done yet. What Peter has done will be controversial.

There will be people who are Jewish Christians who are not going to be happy with Peter’s actions. They will need some convincing. Chapter 11, verse 1.

“The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”

What. Were. You. Thinking?!!

Peter says, “I know, I know, I thought that the same thing, but let me tell you the story. V.4

“Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened: ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.' ‘I replied, 'Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'”

“‘The voice spoke from heaven a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again. ‘Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.' ‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'

So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’”

Three questions as points of application this morning.


I think that it’s easy to miss the fact that the picnic was about you and me here in Pennsylvania.

How many here are Jewish?


One tenth?  One hundredth?  Anybody know?

Acts 10 should be one of our favorite passages in the whole Bible.

Because this is where we come in.

Now, of course, God has always had a heart for the Gentiles. The whole point of Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles.

But it didn’t always work that way.

And before this point, you had to come into Judaism to come under God’s wings.

But now the even the Gentiles have been granted repentance unto life.

Even—you and me.

I wonder how many of us when we sat down to our Thanksgiving meals this last week gave thanks that we are included in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s not a forgone conclusion. It’s not something to be taken for granted.

It is all grace.

Even us.  Give thanks that you have been included.

Thank you, Lord!


I think that the lesson that Peter learned has a broader application than just that Jews should accept Gentiles as genuine Christians.

The Lord pounded this into Peter’s head:

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

But we do that all of the time when we fail to love other Christians who are different than we are.

Maybe they believe some minor point of doctrine differently than we do.
Maybe their skin color looks different than ours does.
Maybe they are rich or they are poor.
Both sets of those people enjoy excluding one another.

Maybe they talk different or have different traditions they practice.

Maybe they just get on our nerves.

But they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.

Acts 10:28, “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”

Accept those, as brothers and sisters, who are very different from you.
That does assume that you are a believer.

That’s our last point today.


You might think that you are too far for Him to reach, but you are not.

He makes the lame to walk and the dead to rise again!

Be like Cornelius and his friends and family and those folks in Lydda and Joppa.

Turn from sin and trust in Jesus, and you will be saved.

Come to Him, and you will be made clean.

That’s what he was doing when (chapter 10, verse 39), “they killed him by hanging on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and cause him to be seen.”

Turn from sin and believe in Jesus today.

Chapter 10, verse 43, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Even the Gentiles.

Messages So Far In this Series:
No Other Name
Snapshots of the Early Church