Sunday, March 8, 2015

Double Shot of Purpose, Please!


Last week’s sermon was about transition & purpose. I was fortunate to see a few Soldiers throughout the week and because I ran into a few of you, two things happened. The first was that I got some ideas on tweaking our service. That’s a good thing. The second was that I felt led to further develop what I said last week on “Purpose.”

Last week’s Scripture was Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” And like I said, after speaking with a few of you, I really started thinking about things. I asked God if I had spoken clearly enough for his people to hear and understand the intent of the message that He had put on my heart? More importantly, did I allow his words to come through my mouth so that ears could hear what He wanted said? I pondered these things more than once over the course of the week.

I prayed and my prayer was for clarity. We all want clarity. We all want to understand and be understood. Maybe that’s why we question our own purpose at times. I want to assure you that God is not a God of doubt. We’re human. We doubt but there is no doubt in God.

Anytime I think of doubt, especially when I’m preparing for a sermon or doing a study or something in God’s Word, I instantly think of the story of the demon possessed boy and his dad in Mark 9:21-24?

21 “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father. He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” 23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

By this point Jesus has been doing ministry for a while. He’s healed the sick. He’s made the lame to walk. There really wasn’t any reason why this guy should doubt. I think what he was really saying is that he didn’t believe that Jesus would do this thing … for him. How many times have you asked for healing for yourself or for a friend? How many times have you asked for deliverance … from addiction, the nightmares, whatever… you know your demon? How many times have you asked for a blessing? “Just this once God, give me that miracle! Please!” Maybe it doesn’t happen … or maybe it doesn’t happen in your timing or the way you’d expect it. Maybe the father felt like his prayers had fallen on deaf ears. “I believe but help me overcome my unbelief.”

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13). And what are we told about God? God is Love. So the greatest thing is love which really translates to God. What if you replace your lack of faith – your lack of hope – your doubt with love … with God?

I wish I could call him my friend but I’ve never met Andrew Peterson. He’s a Christian singer, songwriter, author, etc. He wrote a song that I always come back to when I’m talking about doubt. It’s called “Only Love Remains.”

This is not another song about the mountains
Except about how hard they are to move.
Have you ever stood before them?
Like a mustard seed that's waiting for some proof

I say faith is a burden, it's a weight to bear
It's brave and bittersweet
And hope is hard to hold to
Lord, I believe, only help my unbelief
Till there's no more faith and no more hope
I'll see your face and Lord, I'll know, that only love remains

Have you ever heard that Jesus is the answer?
Or thought about the many doubts you hide?
Have you wondered how He loves you
If He really knows how dark you are inside?

I say faith is a burden, it's a weight to bear
It's brave and bittersweet
And hope is hard to hold to
Lord, I believe, only help my unbelief
Till there's no more faith and no more hope
I'll see your face and Lord, I'll know, that only love remains

So I will drive these roads in thunder and in rain
And I will sing your song at the top of my lungs
And I will praise you dear Lord in glory and in pain
And I will follow you till this race is won
And I will drive these roads till this motor won't run
And I will sing your song from sea to shining sea
And I will praise you Lord till your Kingdom comes
And I will follow where You lead
 
Till there's no more faith and no more hope
I'll see your face and Lord, I'll know
Till there's no more faith and no more hope
I'll sing your praise and let them go ...
Cause only love, only your love remains
only love ...

But let’s jump back to your purpose. Read Jeremiah 29:11 if you haven’t in a while. ““For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”” This was news for the prophet Jeremiah to share with Israel. God’s purpose was for Israel to be in captivity for 70 years. Why? So they would come back to him! Remember that God’s purpose is all about repentance and redemption.

Let’s continue with more from Jeremiah.
 
“In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land” (Jer. 29:12-14).

Know that God’s purpose for you – his will for you – is good. He knows his plans for you. His plans for good. His are not plans for disaster. His are plans for a future. His are plans for a hope. What’s your part? Pray and He will listen. Look for him wholeheartedly and you will find him. He will be found by you. He will end your captivity. He will restore your fortunes. He will gather you up and bring you home. You may struggle with the certainty of his purpose for your life but rest in the assurance that you were created for good works. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

            This week’s sermon title is “A Double Shot of Purpose, Please!” Christ’s purpose is spelled out throughout Scripture. Our Scripture reading for today is Philippians.

Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor And gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:6-11).

            Stories are used in sermons to help pastors clarify a message. The story I’d like to share with you is titled, “Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.”


This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.


This week has been a tough week. I have been routinely reminded about “Purpose.” I’ve even questioned my own purpose while being deployed as a chaplain. Others have questioned their purpose. Sadly, some have even questioned their own existence. Even worse, a few have questioned God’s existence.

For the record, God does exist. He existed long before our concept of existence was around and will exist long after we’ve left this earth. Look at the Book of John.

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:1-5).
 
The darkness will try to extinguish the light. Look at what’s happening in our neck of the woods right now with ISIS/ISIL; the killing children, beheadings, destruction of anything and everything that is not Islam. The world is a dark place that seems to be getting darker and darker. Lies flourish in the dark. Evil flourishes in the dark. And on a more personal level, the darkness will try to tell you: you’re not worthy, you have no purpose, you shouldn’t even exist, and your God doesn’t exist … there is no hope. That’s what the darkness does! It tries to extinguish the light.

But guess what? The Word assures us that darkness can never extinguish the light! Because the light has a purpose much greater than the darkness. God’s purpose is much greater and his purpose will be accomplished.
 
God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son (John 1:6-14).

Scripture affirms over and over again that God’s purpose for Jesus was, is and will always be redemptive.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died – from the time of Adam to the time of Moses – even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:12-21).

God wants to give us the right to become his children! That’s huge because we’re just a bunch of jacked up broken pieces. Some think they’re not fixable and are going to get thrown away. Others think they’re not going back to their original spot in the puzzle or in the Lego construction. The reality is that Christ is the only way that all our pieces can ever come back together … for a purpose. Whether they’re the pieces of our broken lives. Or they’re the broken pieces of our collective lives, churches, communities, etc. God wants us to lift up our broken pieces to him.

I have a couple of friends named Kevin & Janet Bowling. They’ve got a few kids. This story is about their oldest, Sean. Now I’ve never met Sean that I can remember although I think I might have at a Tennessee Tech Homecoming rugby match. Either way, Kevin and Janet have lived their faith in front of their kids and their community. Sean was involved in Young Life while he was in high school and when he graduated, he moved out to Hawaii to go to school. What do young guys do when they get to Hawaii? They learn to surf. Sean was no different. He picked up surfing.

One day last year, a wave threw him. Unfortunately, he landed on the reef or the ground – either way, the water was shallow and he landed on his head. From what I’ve been told, he went in to a coma. He was transported to a local hospital where he was on life support while Kevin and Janet made their way out to sit with him in the hospital.

First off, I can’t imagine finding out my son sustained a life threatening injury. I can’t imagine how they made it from Tennessee to Hawaii without losing their minds; wrestling with the possibility of having to say, “Do not resuscitate.”

Something happened during the time of Sean’s accident to the time Kevin & Janet made the announcement to all their family and friends that they had given Sean back to God. They were hurting, no doubt, but they also trusted in God’s bigger picture. Sean’s death was, without a doubt, a tragedy from which most people might never recover. Kevin and Janet chose to trust that Sean’s relationship with Jesus had him in those very arms when we breathed his last. They also trusted that God would use what was absolutely devastating for good.

You’re hearing about Sean’s death and his family’s faith. God’s purpose goes beyond what we might ever see – like Moses and the Promised Land – or expect. Don’t limit God. Go back to the Old Testament. Isaiah 53 paints a haunting picture of Christ hundreds of years before he was born. God’s purpose for Jesus was given to mankind long before He came to this world as a man.

Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels (Isa. 53:1-12).

That’s pretty clear for Jesus but what about me? What am I supposed to do with all this? In my function as a chaplain this week, I met with a number young Soldiers who seemed so lost – like they had no purpose. They were devastated by their circumstances. They could only see their immediate problem. I’m not trying to minimize their issues by any means but that’s just it … they were only focused on those particular issues … nothing else. They had no “Big Picture” thinking.

When we lose sight of the “Big Picture” we make it all about what’s happening right now. In these Soldiers’ cases, it was devastating them! They could not successfully negotiate the obstacle. They could not look beyond the seen to the unseen.

That’s the most frustrating part of helping anyone through a situation. The person has a breakdown … an inability to negotiate an obstacle … and they “seek” assistance. My five and six year old do that as well. They come to me for help but like a lot of people who don’t understand the “Big Picture,” they are immobilized and can’t wrap their heads around the fact that somebody does have a proven way to negotiate the obstacle for a successful outcome. And what happens next? They won’t allow me to help or think that once I open my mouth they have all the answers immediately. They forget to listen and then act.

We have failed at teaching young people about “The Big Picture.” They have failed to learn about “The Big Picture.” Some have gone so far as to turn from God rather than turning to him; as if God wants the end state your life to be bad. If that were the case then there would be no need for a savior!

So what are you supposed to do with all of this? Figure out where you fit – what your purpose is – in God’s redemptive plan. Only you can do that and only you will know it. No one else can discern what God’s purpose is for you. While the immediate situation or circumstance may seem overwhelming or devastating … DO NOT LOSE SIGHT OF THE BIG PICTURE. I challenge you to go home and read 1 Corinthians 12:12-22; 27. Focus on verse 12 which says, “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body.” The Scriptures speak of spiritual gifts but I believe there to be a principle from which we can all learn. I don’t know if God has gifted you with any of the things listed in these verses but the point being that God has a purpose for each of us. He has called us for his purposes and it takes all of us working together to accomplish his purpose.

Seek the treasure! First things first: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-30). Once you’ve done that, then “let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:16). Finally, we all need to remember that each of us plays a specific part in the redemption story. “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Rom. 12:4-5). Similarly:

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. ~ Ephesians 4:3-6

You may not understand the specifics of your purpose but your overarching purpose is to share in the redemptive work of Christ. You are a child of God!

 

 

 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Acts 10



Good morning everyone!

LAST WEEK’S RECAP

For those of you who might be new today, we have been preaching through the book of Acts. Last week we were in Acts 9. Two major themes were going on in Chapter Nine: the conversion of Saul, which gets the most attention in Christian circles, and the story of Peter healing Aeneas and raising Dorcas from the dead.
Saul, who became Paul, was a zealous Pharisee.

Acts 7:58 RSV: Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Acts 8:1-3 RSV: And Saul was consenting to his death. And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samar′ia, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Acts 9:1 RSV: Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Paul was a zealous Christian; so much so that there were two plots to kill him.

Acts 9:22-25 RSV: But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night, to kill him; but his disciples took him by night and let him down over the wall, lowering him in a basket.

And then the Hellenistic Jews tried to kill him in Jerusalem because he was “preaching boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:28-29 RSV). Finally Christians took him to Caesarea and sent him back to Tarsus (Acts 9:30 RSV). Peace in the church & it grew stronger (Acts 9:31 RSV).
In Acts 9:32-43 RSV, we are told about Peter healing Aeneas and raising Dorcas (who was also called Tabitha).And Peter said to him, “Aene′as, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose”(Acts 9:34 RSV).  Acts 9:40-41 says:

But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive.

Why do I tell you all this again? Because two major things were happening: 1) God was still in the business of dramatically changing lives and 2) God was still in the business of working miracles. What’s interesting is that this all happened after Pentecost. This was after Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven and now things were going beyond the Apostles

THIS WEEK’S OVERVIEW

This week we’re going to look into Acts 10 and I want to do a quick overview before we get down to brass tacks and bare knuckles. Acts 10:1-8. We’re introduced to the Roman army officer, Cornelius.  He was the Captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a God-fearing man as was his entire household. He was a man who understood authority / service. God has also given him a vision. An angel told him that the Apostle Peter was going to be coming for a visit
Acts 10:9-16 tells us about Peter, who was on a rooftop and then falls into a trance. He too has a vision. His was a vision of sheet and various animals. Peter, still true to his character that was revealed throughout his time with Jesus, was stubborn. God tells him to rise, kill and eat but Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (Acts 10:13 RSV). God told Peter three times, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10:14 RSV). Acts 10:17-23 conveys what Cornelius had charged his servants to explain to Peter when he asked them to come to his house: who they were, under whose authority they came, and the expectation that Peter return with them to their master.
To make a long story short, Cornelius had sent men to Peter to bring him back to his house per the directive of God. Unlike Peter, it only took Cornelius once to execute a command given to him by God through the vision. Peter returns with the men and then Peter and Cornelius meet. This is what happens next.
Please stand for the reading of God’s Word …

READING OF GOD’S WORD

They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.

Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”

Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”
Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel – that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all – the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.

Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.

Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days (Acts 10:24-48 RSV).

PRAYER

Heavenly Father … we come to you today with our hearts and minds completely fixed on you. We ask that you give us ears to hear and eyes to see. Lord, we thank you for your Word and we believe in our hearts that your Word has been with you since the beginning. The Word was with you and the Word is you. God, you created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. Father, we thank you that through your Word, your light shines in the darkness … and the darkness can never extinguish it. Amen.

THE SERMON

Does anyone remember the old Louis Armstrong / Ella Fitzgerald song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off?” If you’re like me, you might have a better memory of Christopher Walken and Jimmy Fallon performing this song as a sketch on Saturday Night Live.

You say either and I say either,
You say neither and I say neither
Either, either neither, neither
Let's call the whole thing off.

You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto.
Let's call the whole thing off[1]

Words - it’s all in how they’re said and the meaning behind each one. Scripture tells us quite often to choose our words wisely – the power of life and death are in the what? The tongue (Proverbs 18:21 NLT). Alistair Begg teaches, “Three things come not back: the spent arrow, the spoken word and the missed opportunity.” I bring this to your attention simply because I sometimes fall into the trap of preaching when I should be teaching and teaching when I should be preaching.

PREACHING vs. TEACHING

Merriam-Webster defines “preach” as “To make a speech about religion in a church or other public place : to deliver a sermon.”[2] That’s what we attempt to do here every Sunday to encourage you to live your faiths throughout the week. Merriam-Webster also says these about the definition of preach: “to write or speak in an annoying way about the right way to behave.” [3] That definition reminds me of that old Madonna song, “Papa Don’t Preach.”
Merriam-Webster defines “teach” as “To cause or help (someone) to learn about a subject by giving lessons.”[4] It’s clear what the Bible says about teaching in the church. “Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1 NLT).
I want to preach this morning. Why? “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news … who proclaims peace … who brings glad tidings of good things … who proclaims salvation … who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7 NKJV; spacing mine). Paul refers to this scripture in Romans 10:8-15 NKJV when he’s explaining righteousness through faith … rather than by the Law.

But what does [Scripture] say? “The word is near you in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”(Romans 10:8-15 NKJV; emphasis mine).

So I pray … I pray… that you hear me as a preacher today.

REMEMBER THE SETTING

Remember where we were at in the story: Peter had just been brought to Cornelius’ house by two servants and one soldier who served Cornelius – men under authority. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As a matter of tracking things, at some point, Cornelius had become a believer. Remember, he was a Roman – a Gentile – who had claimed the name of Jesus. Now he and his household were gathered. Do you remember what the Bible says about the gathering of saints? “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20 NKJV). So God was already there … as He is here right now.
Let’s look at Acts 10:25-27. “As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” (Acts 10:25-26 RSV). Peter had to do an on the spot correction. Reading this makes me wonder if Cornelius was a Young believer. Maybe he was a little over zealous. Maybe he was a little bit ignorant to this new “Christianese.” Maybe he wasn’t. In our world right now, ISIS is killing Christians in Iraq. It may have been that the culture in which this “new faith” was growing was one of violent persecution and they were fearful that too much of a good thing might draw undue attention from the persecutors. Either way, Peter may not have been the brightest light in the lamp but one thing is for certain … he knew that he wasn’t God. He may have denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed … and maybe he was a bit aggressive (remember the ear incident in the Garden) … but he wasn’t going to say he was God.
Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me” (Acts 10:28-29 RSV). Peter finally got it! We are all God’s children! It wasn’t about the law given through Moses and compounded by the religious hierarchy. It was about the grace given only through Jesus Christ. Think about this folks. Peter was living out what you and I and millions of others have been reading about for the last 2000 years. We have the advantage of hindsight. We have the advantage of generations of scholarly work to better understand the Bible. We have the luxury of being armchair quarterbacks – more so than any other time in history. But God doesn’t call us to be armchair quarterbacks, does he? God calls us to be starters; first string play makers. Peter lived this!
Paul gets all the accolades for taking the Gospel to the Gentiles but through Peter, God was about to blow his “children’s” minds and their whole belief system. This was absolutely radical. For centuries, the Israelites – the Hebrew children – had distanced themselves from “unclean” things and were now about to be blown out of the water! Verse 12 says, “Four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.” Peter had to be thinking, “Are you serious God?” Verse 14 says, “But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”” Now if Peter was saying, “No,” imagine what the truly zealous Jews would have said!
But as much as this is about Peter receiving this kind of revelation … we have to recognize that ultimately, he was obedient to God’s commands. Folks, when God speaks to you … are you obedient? When you pray and are seeking his will … are you receptive to hearing God’s answer? What about when He gives you an answer you don’t want to hear? Do you debate what’s being said? Do you make excuses … or do you execute? Jesus said, “If you love me … obey my commandments” (John 14:15 NLT).

THE GENTILES HEAR THE GOOD NEWS

 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.  In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35 RSV). Peter was finally getting it! If you jump back to John 10, Jesus was trying his best … to get his disciples to understand this … when he shared the parable of the Good Shepherd and his Sheep. Let’s start at John 10:6:

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep (John 10:6-15 NLT).

Here’s the key …

 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

That’s the key …

 The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded (John 10:16-18 NLT).

We continue in Acts.

This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel That there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee After John began preaching his message of baptism.  And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all … the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name (Acts 10:36-43NLT).

Peter is basically telling this gathering of people that this is what the Gospel is all about: Jesus is alive – He is the Risen Messiah.  He is – I AM. I AM yesterday, today, and forever. “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1 NLT). “Heaven and earth will disappear but my words will never disappear” (Matthews 24:35 NLT). “I am the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come – the Almighty One” (Revelation 1:8 NLT).
Remember … these people are gathered and they are hearing the Word of God and faith comes by what? Hearing. And hearing by what? The Word of God. And God was already present because believers were gathered … so what happened next?

THE GENTILES RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT

 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message” (Acts 10:44 RSV). And faith comes by what? Hearing. “The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too” (Acts 10:45 RSV). The Holy Spirit is not a Jewish thing … He is a God thing!

For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God. Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:46-48 RSV).

So I ask you this dear Christian? What or who is the Holy Spirit? A second question might be: what are some of the attributes of the Holy Spirit? The Psalmist alludes to the Holy Spirit as that force that keeps him in God’s presence (Psalm 51:11). John lists him as the Advocate or Helper (John 14:26). Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). Jesus was baptized by the Holy Spirit, led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and walked in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4). Every sin can be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31).
These people – first the Jew and then the Gentile – were experiencing the fullness of God’s manifestation of his Holy Spirit. On this particular occasion, speaking in tongues was the evidence that they had received the Holy Spirit. They had the power of God in them. They had the Spirit of Truth. They had the Advocate and they were GENTILES. They weren’t Jews. Again … this was radical in that day and age. God had chosen to manifest his presence outside the society of Jewish believers. God wanted and continues to want the world to know that He is I AM – that He is the Living God – that his power is freely given to those who believe. “Peter said: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35 RSV). Whether Jew or Gentile, man or woman, slave or free man … anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. The Gospel is not bound by our limited idea of who God is. God is infinitely more than we can ever imagine.

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT).

We have the Bible – his Word – that He has freely given us so that we might know him and his love story throughout the passage of time

SO WHAT?

What do we do with this now? Again, we have the luxury of 2000 years of studying this Word by experts. We’ve been guided by theologians who know how exegete and extrapolate truth based on source documents, presuppositions, and years of rigorous research. But the simple answer is this: “You will seek the Lord your God and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29 RSV). Because God is truth, try it this way too; you will seek the Truth and you will find it if you search after it with all your heart and with all your soul.

SEVEN TAKE AWAYS

God wants us together // the First Church
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47 NKJV).

God wants us to know that He’s God and we’re not // The Rich Young Ruler
Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:16-17 NKJV).

God wants us to be obedient // Abraham & Jesus
Abraham
This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies (Genesis 22:16-17 NLT).

Jesus
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8 NLT).

God wants us to be under authority // The Roman Centurion
I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it (Matthew 8:9 NLT).

God wants everyone // Longsuffering
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9 NJKV).

God wants to answer your prayers // the Psalmist
You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our savior. You are the hope of everyone on earth, even those who sail on distant seas (Psalm 65:5 NLT).

God wants you to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit // Jesus’ Last Command & Paul’s encouragement
Jesus’ Last Command
And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven (Luke 24:49 NLT).

Paul’s encouragement
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13 NLT).

RECAP

1)      God wants us together; He wants us in fellowship
2)      God wants us to know that He’s God and we’re not
3)      God wants us to be obedient
4)      God wants us to be under authority
5)      God wants everyone
6)      God wants to answer your prayers
7)      God wants you to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit

PRAYER

God … you brought us here today to share in the hearing of your Word. I pray that your Word did not fall on deaf ears or hard hearts. I pray that the Holy Spirit has stirred hearts this morning as I pray he does every day in the hearts of those who serve you. As we walk out of this sanctuary, I pray that your Spirit empowers us to be the church outside these walls. Encourage us so that we can encourage one another. Bless us so that we may be a blessing. In all these things, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.