Turn in your bibles to the 10th chapter of Acts, and we are going to continue our study in the book of Acts this morning with a very, very important juncture in the history of God’s redemptive unfolding. We come to the time when the gospel is taken to the Gentiles. Peter unlocks the door to the Gentiles. Acts 10 and we’ll begin our study about in verse 20.
A modern missionary, of whom I read earlier this week, was officiating at a communion service in Africa, and beside him there sat an elder who was very old. In fact he was an old chief of the Ngoni tribe by the name of Manly Heart; and there were many Ngoni in the congregation at this communion service. The old chief said that he could remember the days when the young warriors of the Ngoni had gone out to bloody their spears at the expense of other tribes, and they had left a trail of burned and devastated towns and bloodied bodies, and they came back leaving all the blood on their spears as kind of trophies of their killing, and they always dragged all the women back as booty. And the missionary recounted the fact that the two tribes, which the Ngoni were forever and ever fighting against and slaughtering were the Nsenga and the Tumbuka. And now here was a communion service, and gathered about the table of the Lord Jesus was the Ngoni tribe, the Nsenga, and the Tumbuka. Once busily shedding each other’s blood, now one because of the blood of Jesus Christ, they gathered not to fight, but they gathered to share their love. Somehow, in the great grace of God, all the barriers had been broken down. All of the things which built hatred and animosity, all of the walls that had been built between these people, which could only be scaled in hatred, were crushed by love.
Carnal pride in the early church had warped the outreach in a very real sense, of the Jew toward the Gentile. And prior to that, the Jewish standards of interaction for the Gentile was pure zero. You never had anything to do with Gentiles, and that is indicated, as we shall see, by the words of Peter in verse 28. So not only in the early church was there a problem in reaching out to the Gentile, but in Judaism itself there was an isolation from Gentiles. The Jews were especially proud of the law. They were proud of their law-keeping. In fact, they stood on that ground. In Romans Paul says that they think they’re saved because of their nationality because they possess the law. And that’s what they stood on. They considered Gentiles to be pagans. They had nothing but contempt for them, and the years had only widened the gulf, and so even in the birth of the church it was very difficult for the early Christians to reach out to the Gentiles. It demanded special preparation from God. The exclusiveness which had been designed by God for Israel for the purpose of holiness and witness had become a point of pride, and it had been perverted. And you add to that, not only did the Jews hate the Gentiles, but believe me, it came back the other way. The Gentiles equally hated the Jews.
Some Jews had said the Gentiles were created by God to be the fuel for the fires of hell. This is a very narrow view. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl a funeral was held. The Gentiles in return looked on Jews as slave material, persecuted, oppressed, and killed them. In fact the Gentiles commonly called Jews enemies of the human race. You can get a little bit of imagination of this kind of contempt about the Gentile to the Jew when you hear Pilate saying, almost with dripping sarcasm, “I surely am not a Jew, am I?” The disdain in his voice, and you can hear the same sting of Gentile hate in the voices of the owners of the slave girl, you know, who was used to make them money by sorceries. And when Paul and Silas came along and cast out the demon in Philippi, you can remember the words of those leaders. They said, “These men, being Jews, do just exceedingly trouble our city.” There was a great hatred among the Gentiles for the Jews, a deep disdain, as if they didn’t belong even in the framework of humanity.
Well this thing had existed long enough to propose a real head-butting situation in the church, a deep disunity existed, and the Spirit of God had to move in and shatter that kind of attitude before He could weld together the church into one body. The statement theologically is in Ephesians 2:11. Let me remind you of it. Here the Apostle Paul gives the theory of unity in the church. “Wherefore remember that you, being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who were called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made by hands,” – which is a long way of saying, “The Jews keep reminding you you’re Gentiles.” – “That at that time you were without Christ” – this is the state of a Gentile – "without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, without God in the world.” That’s a pretty disastrous situation. “But now in Christ, you who once were far off are made near by the blood of Christ.” Here it comes. “For He is our peace.” Christ is our peace. “Who hath made both one” – both what? Jew and Gentile – “and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” And in verse 15, He has made one new man, one habitation of the Spirit, one family, one building, one body – all the way through Ephesians.
Now this idea of having broken down the middle wall of partition was absolutely vivid to the Jew, and the reason it was so vivid was because it was a visual picture of the temple. The temple was composed of a series of courts, and they started at the outside and they just kept getting smaller and smaller. It was like going through a maze. You just came to one little box and then another one and then another one. And the temple consisted of this series of courts and by definition only certain people could go into certain courts, and the closer you were to God, theoretically by nationality and by your calling to the priesthood, the further in you could get. There was, for example, the court of the Gentiles, which was the extremity. Gentiles could come in the outer court. Then there was the court of the women. Women could only come into the next level. Then the court of the Israelites, as the men entered into that. Then the court of the priests. Then the holy place, then the Holy of Holies. So the sequence just kept narrowing down.
Well the Gentiles were clear on the outside, and the fantastic statement of what – that Paul is saying is simply this: The wall that always separated in the temple the Gentile from the Jew, Jesus Christ has smashed. In fact, if you want to know the truth, when Jesus Christ died, He just took a bulldozer and bulldozed the whole temple and left the Holy of Holies standing free and clear. And every man can enter directly in the Holy of Holies. That’s what the writer of Hebrews says. “Let us come boldly into His presence.” The veil is ripped. It’s rent in twain.
So the wall came crashing down, and Jew and Gentile were free to mingle in the grace of God. Now Paul knew about that wall, believe me. You remember that Paul was arrested in Acts 21 in Jerusalem. I don’t know if you remember this, though. The arrest that led to Paul’s final imprisonment was based on the accusation that he brought Trophimus, who was an Ephesian Gentile, beyond the wall of the court of the Gentiles. That’s why they captured Paul, because he brought a Gentile further than a Gentile was allowed to go. So when the Apostle Paul wrote that thing about, “He broke down the middle wall of partition between us,” any understanding Jew, for that matter any Gentile who had been to Jerusalem, would completely understand what he was saying. And that’s what the design of the body was to do - tear down all the barriers and bring about unity.
Now the theory of that is in Ephesians. The actual history of it is here in Acts 10. So we have theology in Ephesians; we have history here. And they always accommodate one another, because here in Acts 10, we find the first Gentile who’s not afraid or who is called of God to enter into the fullness of all the promise of God. No more walls holding him out. In Acts 10, God directs the momentous, historical event when the church extends itself from the Jews and the half-breed Samaritans to encompass Gentiles. This is the final phase in the expansion of the church.
Now let me say this. Along with the history here, and we could do some tremendously deep study into just that, but along with the history, there’s an undercurrent. And it’s not really an undercurrent, because that sounds like a minimizing of it, but you don’t want to do that, because it is this. We look at this historically and we say, “Oh, great monumental day when the Gentiles got added.” But you know what else it is? This is also the day Cornelius got saved, just plain ole everyday guy Cornelius, and you don’t want to minimize Cornelius and say, “Cornelius is only important because he was a Gentile, and he was the first convert.” No, no, Cornelius is important because Christ chose him before the foundation of the world, and his salvation itself is important, even if he wasn’t the first guy. Right? So we don’t just want to study history. We want to see what God was doing in Cornelius’ life.
So as we look at the history, we’re also going to see the sequence of salvation as illustrated in the life of Cornelius. And I think what we have here is a very general pattern for how salvation happens in the life of anybody. So we not only see history, but so many times we know Scripture’s like a diamond. It has different facets, and every time you turn the light on you see a new one. As we look through here, we’re not only going to see the flow of the history, but we’re going to see what happened in the life of Cornelius. While we’re looking at a time sequence, we’re looking at timeless principles as to how God saves men. So keep that in mind. And the chapter has not only history for us which has passed, it has timeless principles which are active and alive today.
Now the first point in the sequence of salvation is sovereign call – sovereign call. Now this we found in verses 1 through 20, and that’s where we’ve been before, so we’ll not go all over those verses. But the first 20 verses illustrate to us sovereign call. What that means is God sovereignly is active in salvation. It all is initiated by God. It isn’t men running around saying, “Oh, I’ve found that there’s a God somewhere. I think I believe,” all on their own will. No, God is sovereign in salvation. And we saw in the first 20 verses that God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all the available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger; and we learned something else about sovereignty and salvation. God not only chooses who will be saved, but He chooses how. He chooses vehicles to use. Now this is not apart from man’s will, but it is in conjunction with man’s will. Nevertheless, God chose Cornelius, the receiver. God chose Peter, the messenger; and this is how salvation always begins.
Cornelius’ heart was turned toward God. God moved on his heart. He looked toward God. He began to search for God, because God had already searched for him and turned his heart. And then God moved into Cornelius’ life, and God responded by giving him a vision and telling him where he could get the information he needed. He lived up to the light he had. God gave him more light, and God even gave him the opportunity to exercise his faith by being obedient and sending men to find Peter, which he had to do. God never just does things apart from man’s active faith in response, and so Cornelius had to do something. He had to respond to God. Cornelius, then, was prepared by God.
Then God, as we saw, began the preparation of Peter. Now how you going to get a stubborn, died-in-the-wool, traditionalistic, nationalistic Jew to open up his heart and his arms to a Gentile? That’s a tough one. Well God had to do a lot of work on ole crusty Peter to get him to the place where he’d ever pull off this thing, and He did. He sovereignly chose Peter, first of all, because he was available. Remember how we saw earlier in chapter 9 the principle of “I being in the way the Lord led me?” Peter was available. He was active. God just used him. But God had to prepare him; so He gave him a vision. The vision broke down all of his prejudice and prepared the way for the meeting with the Gentile. But you’ll notice Peter had to have active faith, too. The messengers game and got Peter and took him back, as we shall see today.
So sovereign choice was there to begin with in the receiver and the messenger, and then we talked about how sovereign timing brought the two together at absolutely the crucial moment. Peter hadn’t even finished with his vision. The Holy Spirit said, “Wake up, Peter, get on downstairs. The folks are there waiting for you.” Perfect timing. No way it could happen by chance. Mathematical impossibility, if not ultimate improbability. So sovereign choice and sovereign timing. Mark it now, just as a principle, and we’ve gone over this many times, but mark it – God is active initially in salvation. It begins with Him.
Isaiah 65:24, "And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer.” Did you hear it? “Before they call, I will answer.” Before Cornelius knew what he was looking for, God was giving it to him. And, says Isaiah, “While they are yet speaking, I will hear.” In Acts 16:14 – I want to take it a step further so that you’ll understand this principle. In Acts 16:14, listen to this most startling statement in regard to Lydia, “A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple” – and incidentally the city of Thyatira was famous for that – “who worshiped God, heard us.” Now listen – “Whose heart the Lord opened.” Did you get that? Fantastic statement. “Whose heart the Lord opened.” The only power in the universe that can crack the sinful heart of man is God’s sovereign power. Man lost in sin cannot of his own open his heart to God.
In Luke 24:45, “Then opened He their understanding that they might understand.” You see, salvation is sovereign, and understanding of any spiritual truth, as well, is sovereign. It is on God’s part that we can understand anything at all. Another statement that is an interesting one is in John 6:45. “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Every man therefore that hath hearth and hath learned of the Father cometh unto Me.” Jesus said, “The only people who ever come to Me are those whom God has sovereignly, supernaturally taught.” You see? Believe me people, salvation is of God, because the unenlightened, dead, natural man cannot grasp the truth of God. It is sovereignly taught him, and doesn’t that make grace all the more glorious? I mean there I was wandering around, little John MacArthur, in all my stupidity and sin, and God designed to teach me the truth. Praise God for that. I don’t understand why me. I thank Him.
I mean in Ephesians 2, you got a mess in verses 1 to 3. All the vileness of sin, and then in verse 4 all of a sudden, the vileness of deadness and sin is invaded with these words, “But God, who is rich in mercy for His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in sins, hath made us alive.” God moved in. God gave us life. God did it. Don’t ever think that anybody got saved because they were intelligent enough to see that it was the only way to go. “And He raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ. In the ages to come, He will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” You say, well, we haven’t done anything yet. Right. You say, but don’t we have to have faith? Yes, verse 8, “For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God.” What is? Faith. Even that God gave you. “Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
For we are His masterpiece. You didn’t recreate yourself. He’s doing it. Created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath long ago ordained that we should walk in. God is sovereign in salvation. No question about it at all. In 2 Corinthians chapter 4 verse 4, listen to this, “In whom the god of this age hath blinded the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who’s the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” All right, you got a bunch of blind people – watch this – “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shone in our hearts” – listen – “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We wouldn’t know it if He didn’t give it to us. Salvation is God’s activity.
Now, there’s one other verse that just comes to mind at this point that is helpful. It’s 1 Corinthians 12:1. We don’t usually think of it in this context. Listen to this, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. You know that you were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols” – listen to this – “Wherefore I give you to understand that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed” – and then listen to this – “and no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by” – what? – “the Holy Spirit.” We can’t say anything, know anything, or be anything apart from God. So salvation begins with sovereign call, sovereign preparation.
Second point of salvation is submissive will. Now sovereign call is not opposite to submissive will. They fit together in God’s mind, and that we find here in our text, and we’ll come to our message. Verses 21 and following – submissive will. Both of these guys, both Peter and particularly Cornelius, Peter already being a believer, but particularly Cornelius, he responded by his will actively. They obeyed the sovereign will of God. They enacted their will and responded immediately to the command that God gave them. Now you see, a man by his own will must respond to God, and this is where human responsibility comes in. God does all that, and we must respond. God requires obedience. He requires the act of faith that is obedient. This is repeated all over the place. This is true at salvation; it’s true the rest of your life as a Christian. You’re saved by faith; you walk by faith. God expects a faith kind of obedience continuously. For example, in John 8:30 it says, “Many believed on His name.” That sounds real good, doesn’t it? Jesus said unto them, “If you continue in My Word, then are you My disciples” – alēthōs – “for real.” In other words, believing is only valid – it’s only valid faith if it follows in obedience. Right? The devils believe and tremble. True Christians believe and obey. So there must be an active faith in response.
Now in the Gospel of John, this becomes almost thematic. It’s repeated over and over again. It’s like the recurring theme in some kind of symphony. You just hear it again and again. Obedience validates true faith, over and over and over. In 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Simple. Verse 21, same chapter, 14, “He that hath My commandments and obeys them, he it is that loves Me.” Then down in verse 23, “If a man love Me, he will obey My Word.” You see, true faith always issues in obedience, so the will is always active. Over in chapter 15 verse 10, “If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love.” You’re the ones abiding if you’re the ones keeping commandments. Verse 14, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” So the point is obedience is the response.
Now you have the same thing in 1 John. John is on this theme forever and ever, as I said a moment ago, and he’s in 1 John 2:4. He says, “He that saith, ‘I know Him,’ and keeps not His commandments is a liar,” because true faith is obedient. Verse 19, “They went out from us. They were not of us. If they had been of us, they would’ve continued with us. They went out that it might be made manifest they were not of us.” There will be continued obedience where faith is legitimate. James also talks about the same thing in James 1. We won’t take time to read it. Also in James 2 verses 18 to 20, “Faith without works is” – what? – “dead.” Another interesting verse, Matthew 7:21. This is very interesting. Catch this word, “Not everyone that saith unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that” – what? – “doeth the will of My Father.” Not everyone that saith, but he that doeth. Apart from willful obedience, there can be no valid faith. Apart from my will subjecting to Christ, there can be no valid faith. There must be obedience.
Now to teach this principle, our Lord Christ gave a parable in Matthew 21 verse 28. Interesting parable. “But what you think?” He said. Boy, fathers, can you identify with this one. Listen to this, “A certain man had two sons. And he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’” Kid, mow the lawn. Right? “He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward repented and went.” You say, well, I get the first part. Don’t often get the second. This guy said, “No,” and then he repented and did it. “He came to the second and he said the same thing, ‘Go tend the vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ and went not. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They say unto Him, ‘The first.’ Jesus saith unto them” – that’s right – “And verily I say unto you, tax collectors and harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you.’” Mmm, zap. Boy, that’s a shot. I mean the Pharisees were saying, “Yes, God,” and never doing it. The harlots might say, “No,” but God was changing their life, and they wound up doing His will. It’s not the talkers, it’s the doers. That’s the legitimizing of faith, believe you me.
We’re not saying that all of a sudden you’re walking down the street sometime and God goes [makes sound] and you say, “Oh, saved, haha.” See? “The rest of my life, it’s all taken care of.” No, there’s an active part which your will is involved in, willing obedience. Discipleship is obeying. In fact Paul used to talk about himself as a bond slave, didn’t he? What would be the one word that would characterize the life of a slave? Obedience. Sure. He had no will of his own. He just obeyed his Master’s will. That’s really all there is for us to do. I think of another passage. I may never get past this first point.
Luke 9 – that’s okay. It’s all right out of the Word anyway – 9:23, “He said unto them all, ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’” That’s submission. That’s obedient. If you’re going to come after Him – it doesn’t say, “If any man come after Me, let him stand around till God saves him.” No, let him be willing to make a verbal, willing, active faith commitment and move out.
And then he goes down in verse 57 and explains that. “And it came to pass that as they went on the way, a certain man said unto Him, ‘Lord, I will follow Thee wherever Thou goest.’” Oh, I like that. It’s good, isn’t it? Yeah, you’ve said that a few times yourself. “And Jesus said unto him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.’” Not too much in it for you, fella. And the application of the text is the silence that follows indicates the guy trudged off. It’s all over. He wasn’t interested in getting anything that didn’t have any more prospect for the future than that. Verse 59, “And He said unto another, ‘Follow Me.’ And he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’” You say, well, what’s wrong with that? His father wasn’t dead. Let me get my inheritance first. “Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’” Let the spirits of the dead bury the physical dead. “You go and preach the kingdom of God.” First things first, fella. And the indication of silence is, too, this guy trudged off. “And another said also, ‘Lord, I’ll follow Thee, but let me first go bid them farewell who are at home at my house.’” This guy wanted to go home for a little while, get everything straight. “Jesus said unto him, ‘No man, having put his hand to the plow, looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” He knew the character of these guys. They were fair-weather followers. Jump on the bandwagon. Make it in the kingdom. Get the goodies. Their faith wasn’t real.
Legitimate faith will make necessary sacrifices immediately, and in both cases with Cornelius and Peter, their action was what? Immediate. Salvation is a willing commitment to the Lordship of Christ, obedience to Him no matter what the cost. You don’t need to go home and collect your inheritance. You don’t need to make sure you’re going to get some kind of filthy lucre for your activity’s sake. You don’t need to make sure that you’ve set everything in order in your house. You just need to follow in obedience. Cornelius, he was ready, and he started, bang. When God moved, he responded and away he went.
Well we finally got down to verse 21, but we have to preface that for just a minute. Peter had this vision. Right? So the vision is over. The Spirit says, “Go downstairs. Cornelius’ men are there.” Verse 21, “Then Peter went down to the men who were there – who were sent unto him from Cornelius." Remember one soldier and a couple servants. And he said, “Behold, I am he whom you seek. What is the cause for which you are come?” Well he’s all ready. He’s got this whole vision about clean and unclean being no longer a problem. Jew and Gentile are one in the mind of God and so forth. And here this little group arrives, and he faces three Gentiles, which for a Jew prior to this, for Peter prior to this, would’ve been some kind of trauma, and he would’ve thought to make sure they didn’t cross the threshold very likely.
Verse 22, “And they said” – He says, “What do you come here for?” What’s this all about? – “Cornelius the centurion” – remember I told you that’s a guy who had charge of 100 men – “a righteous man and one that fears God” – a God-fearer. Remember we told you that a God-fearer was a class of Gentiles. There were three classes of Gentiles. One just plain old pagan, run-of-the-mill, everyday Gentiles. Secondly, Gentiles who had become proselytes to Judaism, gone through physical circumcision and all the other things, temple, ritual, everything they were involved in. And the third group was the middle group. They weren’t Gentiles in terms of their religious commitment, because they were attracted to the God of Israel. They were not proselytes, because they had not been circumcised and gone through all of that. So they were hanging in the middle, and they had a term, quote God-fearers. Well, Cornelius is one of these who, in his heart, saw the God of Israel as the true God and had lived up to as much information as he had. He was righteous in the sense that his deeds were honest and good and sincere, and he sought to know God. Not only that, it’s interesting here that he was of good report among all the nation of the Jews. Even the Jews thought highly of him, which says much concerning his relationship to Judaism as a religion. He must have been at least involved to the point where they had accepted him as a very outstanding Gentile, a popular Gentile, for that matter.
Well, “[Cornelius] was warned from God by a holy angel to send for thee into his house and to hear words of thee.” Remember, Cornelius with that searching heart wanted more light. I told you last time that whenever a man wants more light, God gives it to him, right? John 7:17, “If any man wills to do His will, he shall know the doctrine.” And so Cornelius wanted more, and God gave him more. God sent him this angel with a message to go find Peter and to hear what Peter had to say. So they got Peter at the house here, and they tell him, “Cornelius sent us because of the angel.”
Verse 23, “Then called he them in and lodged them.” Stop right there. Now God didn’t say to him, “Peter, you’ve got to take the Gentiles into your house and lodge them.” But it just shows that the barrier was coming down. No self-respecting Jew would have done this. Not only was it not done with Gentiles, but least of all was it done with despised occupying Roman soldiers. But he invited them in the house, and the word lodged is a fantastic word. The word exenise means to entertain them as guests. It means to treat them like they were guests. It’s used in Hebrews 13:2 where it says, “Some have entertained angels unawares.” Be careful how you treat people, because some have entertained angel unaware. Well, this is the same word. I mean he just rolled out the red carpet for these Gentiles, which must have been something else for them to experience, and God hadn’t even told him to do that. It was too late to travel back to Caesarea at that hour, so they decided to just stay, and Peter just showed the walls had come down. Well after all, he was living in the house of Simon the tanner, one of the most despised trades imaginable.
All right verse 23, “On the next day, Peter went away with them and” – listen to this – “certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.” You know, it’s the little things in Scripture that excite me. The things that everybody – just kind of go by – some guys went along, um, um. See? But when you start studying that, you find out that is amazing. “Certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.” It’s amazing, first of all, because they went with those Gentiles. It’s amazing, secondly, because that became the very key point to what was going to happen was the accompanying with these guys. But God hadn’t said, “Peter, you go and take certain brethren.” No, God just said, “Peter, you go.” Peter took them without any direct command from God, yet their presence in the house of Cornelius was a tremendous key to everything that happened.
You say, what are you trying to say? Well, here’s orthodox Jews, and incidentally, there were six of them that he took according to 11:12, chapter 11 verse 12. There were six orthodox Jewish Christians. We know they were orthodox Jews, because verse 45 says they were of the circumcision. This became very important. We shall see, if we don’t see it this time, we’ll see it next Lord’s Day, how strategic these guys were to what went on. In fact they became the key to the unifying of Jew and Gentile. You say, what are you saying that for? Just to say this. God not only led Peter through the direct voice of the vision, through the very direct communication medium, but God led Peter through Peter’s own desires and Peter’s own ideas. God didn’t say, “Peter, take along six guys.” No, He didn’t do that at all.
You say, would Peter just wanted to take them along? Yeah, but where do you think he got that desire? God gave it to him, because God knew it was crucial to have them there. Now believe me, people, this is a great introduction as to how God works in the life of a believer. You and I don’t hear voices anymore. If we do, you come to see me. We don’t hear voices, and we don’t see visions, and God doesn’t do great, you know, skywriting and give us all certain visions like in the old days. But how does God lead? He leads through our desires, and here we see exactly that. And mark it, people, it was just as important to have those guys there as it was for Peter to see that vision. But one of those came by God’s direct media, the other came by His indirect media, which is as He works in our hearts by His Holy Spirit to bring what He wants to do.
It was critical that those Jewish Christians go, but there wasn’t any command. That’s how God works in us today. We don’t have the first half anymore. We just have that part. Philippians 2:13, “For it is God” – I like this – “who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Don’t you like that? God is working in me to will and to do of His good pleasure.
How many times have we done something and – we made a little plan, “Well, I think I’ll go over here, Martha, so I’m going.” So you pack up your little thing, go over there. It’s nothing. It’s something you just decided to do. You get there, and you cross some tremendous eternal significant event. You meet some guy who doesn’t know Christ. You lead him to Christ, and the course of his history is changed. Ever had that happen? Or you plan some dumb little thing, and it all falls apart, and you don’t get to go. The car breaks down and something happens. A neighbor comes over and they’re desperate, and you wind up sitting in your living room leading them to Christ. How many times has God not only ordered our desires to do something, but arranged the circumstances to accommodate it? That’s how He leads through His will. He leads the available Christian, not by vision, but by desire and the active will. As He moves on our will, we respond. That’s how He works. The will of God is not given to us some ecstatic way, but rather as He orders our desires. He gives us our desires.
You know, the psalmist said, “Delight in the Lord, and He’ll give you the desire of your heart.” That doesn’t mean He’ll only fulfill it. That means He’ll put it there to start with. A Christian living in the right perspective – this is what’s on the table, understanding the will of God that we did, which I’ve never preached here, but it’s such an important subject. But that’s the key to the understanding of the will of God. If you’re the right person, God will give you the right desires, and then He’ll fulfill the desires He gives you. So Peter had the desire to take along these guys, just thinking in his own heart, “I’ll take them along.” All the time, just working out the will of God though his desires.
People say to me, “John, why’d you go to Grace Church?” And I said, “I wanted to.” And one guy said to me, “You wanted to? You didn’t pray and beseech and” – and he went through all kinds of rigmarole. And I said, “No, I wanted to go there.” He said, “You think that’s selfish?” I said, “Well, I trust that God gave me the desire.” And I think that’s how He works if you’re the right vessel. Now if your desires are all clogged up with your own self-desires, you got problems filtering it out.
All right, so here comes seven Jews to meet a whole house full of Gentiles, and history is coming to a crux, a monumental moment. Two men come together from two different worlds, sovereignly prepared and – listen to this – also submissive in their wills. Cornelius – listen to this – Cornelius completely believed the only vision he ever had. What would happen if you had a vision? You’d say, “Boy, I must have been eating something. What happened?” See? Only vision I’ve ever had - I never had a vision. If I had a vision, I wouldn’t think I had a vision. Cornelius had never had a vision, and he knew he had a vision. That’s faith. He’s going to completely uproot his whole life situation because of this only vision he ever had. He was so full of faith and willing to seek help from a Jew. And look at Peter. No scripture record ever tells us if Peter ever had a vision either. Peter believed the first one he had. And you want to hear something shocking? It cross-grained everything he had ever been taught his whole life, yet he bought it, hook, line, and sinker, and did what it said. Boy, I like that kind of submissive spirit, don’t you? How many times has God moved on the heart of a Christian, “Well, I’ve never done that. I don’t know if I could do” – He is willing to accept the uncircumcised pagans into his house. He’s willing to travel a great journey to some more unknown Gentiles without any idea what’s going on. And, again, we find out as if he had nothing to do, how available he was. So God perfectly puts it together.
Well the arrival comes in verse 25, “As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped him.” Now this is bad news. I like Cornelius’ eagerness. I mean I can imagine those four days were like eons waiting for this thing to come about, and ole Cornelius finding Peter, and he just took outta the house [makes sound] and he fell on his knees and started worshipping Peter. Imagine a Gentile Roman centurion worshipping a fisherman, a Jew no less. Did Peter say, “Yes, my son, you may kiss my foot”? No, no, Peter didn’t say that. No, that’s not what he said at all. Verse 26, “Peter took him up, saying, ‘Stand up.’” Peter grabbed him, “Cornelius, get up. I myself also am a man.” What are you doing on the ground down there? What’s Peter say? He’s says, “Don’t worship me. I don’t want any worship.”
Here, again, we must speak a word of instruction regarding the emphasis of the Roman Catholic church, and just for your information, I picked again from my theological book, which is the German Ludwig Ott’s Catholic Theology, which is not a Protestant book at all, but the Catholic theology itself, and this is what it says. “Christ appointed the Apostle Peter to be the first of all the apostles, and to be the visible head of the whole church by appointing him immediately and personally to the primacy of jurisdiction, which consists in the possession of full and supreme legislative, juridical, and punitive power.”
It’s interesting that they say that Peter is the head of the church. Paul might have an argument with that, since he said Jesus is. Another quote, “If anyone says” – and listen to this – “if anyone says that the blessed apostle Peter was not constituted by Christ our Lord, prince of all apostles, and visible head of the church militant, or that he, Peter, directly and immediately receive from our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honor only and not one of true and proper jurisdiction, let him be anathema.” Paul said Christ is the head.
And I’ll tell you something else Paul said. In 1 Corinthians – no, 2 Corinthians 12:11, Paul said, “I come behind the chiefest apostle in no way.” Paul said, “I’m the equal of every other apostle.” Peter started the popery. You know, he was the first pope. It says this in the same theology, “According to Christ ordinance, Peter is to have successors in his primacy over the whole church for all time. If anyone denies that, in virtue of the decree of our Lord Christ Himself, blessed Peter has perpetual successors, let him be anathema,” which means accursed. If you don’t believe in the successive popery, you are to be accursed according to Catholic theology.
Quote again, “That the primacy is to be perpetuated in the successors of Peter is indeed not expressly stated in the words of Scripture.” That’s for sure. “But it flows as an inference from the nature and purpose of the primacy itself. Peter was subject to death. His office must be then transmitted to others. If anyone says that the Roman pope is not the successor of blessed Peter, let him be anathema.” Then it went on to say this, “The pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra.” That is on the subject of faith and morals. The last quote, “The source of his infallibility is the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit who protects the supreme teacher and church from error.” Now, if the Holy Spirit is protecting the church from error, how did they ever come up with that doctrine? Because you see, you cannot justify the worship of Peter or any other man as the head of the church scripturally at all, and I say that not out of a lack of love but out of love for those people who are trapped in a system that does not honor God. And I do believe there are some people in the Catholic church who really know Christ, and for that, I praise Him. And I think maybe more and more all the time may be coming to Christ as they’re seeing past all of the ritual to the reality that’s sort of been drowned in all of the other things.
But Peter wants no worship. It is wrong to worship Peter. He is no pope. He is nothing to be worshiped. He is a man. Get up off your feet. Quit kissing his toe. He’s a man. He disallowed it at the very start, and no Christian is ever to be worshipped. No saint at all. In Acts 14:14, they started to worship Paul and Barnabas. They were all calling them Jupiter and Mercury and thinking they were gods, and Paul says in verse 15, “What are you doing? We are men of like passions with you. Get up.” What’s all this nonsense?
You want to hear what Isaiah said? Isaiah 42:8, he said this, “I am the Lord. That is My name, and My glory will I not give to another.” Did you hear that? “I am the Lord. That is My name. I am the Lord. That is My name. I will not give My glory to another.” There’s only one in the Bible who ever accepted worship. You know who that was? God. There’s only one in the New Testament who ever accepted worship. Who is that? Jesus Christ. Then who is He? God. Peter didn’t want the worship of anybody.
Verse 27, “And as he talked with him, he went in and found many that were come together.” Here Cornelius had brought a gang together, too, and again, you have the same principle. Nobody told Cornelius to do this. God didn’t say, “Cornelius, make sure you have the whole gang there.” No, again, God had worked through the desires of Cornelius, and he had brought Gentiles in, and it was so very important, because it was important that not just one Gentile got saved. Can you imagine going back to the council in Jerusalem, saying, “Hey, a Gentile got saved.” Everybody’d say, “Huh, exception. Hmm. You know, you’re bound to get one now and then.” No, a whole gob of them got saved. It was very important that all the rest of them be there when the Spirit of God descended. Right? So that this wouldn’t be some exception, but they would see this was the pattern. But God didn’t tell Cornelius to bring them. Again, God worked through his desires. That’s how He works.
Well the moment drew closer to this great thing. Verse 28, “And he said unto them, ‘You know’” – this is Peter talking – “you know that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company or come unto one of another nation.” Boy, you know, it’s just not a normal deal for this to happen. “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” God’s showing me that that whole deal is over. I not only understand that the eating deal is over, but so is that separation. Notice the term unlawful. You know that it is an unlawful thing – athemitos, it means taboo. The Old Testament ceremonial law, of course, didn’t say that, but the rabbis added that. In fact, the rabbis said that defilement by going into a Gentile home was a seven-day defilement.
Now the only seven-day defilement was contact with a dead body, but the Jews believed that the Gentiles put their aborted children down the drains. That when a Gentile woman had an abortion, she put the dead fetus down the drain, and so any contact with a Gentile home was contact with a defilement of a dead body. Therefore, that was a seven-day defilement, and because of the seriousness of such a defilement, Jews would not enter Gentile homes. That’s interestingly enough why all of the people gathered at the crucifixion of Christ at the hall of Pilate wouldn’t go inside to Pilate’s house. They stayed outside lest they be defiled. Can you imagine killing the Messiah and worried about getting defiled by going in Pilate’s house? They were really hung up on these kind of defilements. But here’s ole Peter, goes marching right on into Cornelius’ house, no problem at all. Didn’t look around, make sure there weren’t any abortions lying around. Just went right in.
Verse 29, “Therefore came I unto you without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask therefore, what intent have you sent for me?” He says, “I came. God showed me in a vision that deal is over. Here I am. I came. What do you want?” Boy, I like the fact that he came right away. Psalm 119:60 is great. Listen to what it says. “I made haste and delayed not to obey Thy commandments.” Isn’t that good? “I made haste and delayed not to obey Thy commandments.” Are you a hurry to obey God? I mean a terrific hurry? I mean you can’t wait till you get the next order so you can get on it? Boy, that’s a terrific attitude. That’s what’s known as the spirit of obedience. The spirit of obedience isn’t, “Oh, no, another deal I got to do?” The spirit of obedience says, “Lord, I’m waiting. Where’s my information? I got to get going.” See? That’s the spirit of obedience, and incidentally friends, that’s also known as spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is eagerness to do what God wants. Spiritual immaturity is just the opposite.
Everything that Peter had known has been reversed. Well Cornelius says, “Here’s what I want,” and we’ll close with this. “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour, and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and he said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer is heard. Your alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call here Simon, whose surname is Peter. He’s lodged in the house of one Simon, a tanner, by the seaside, who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.’” He says, “I had this vision, Peter, you know? Four days ago? And this is what the Lord told me to do.” He goes down and runs through his vision. Then verse 33. “Immediately therefore I sent to thee, and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore here we are, present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” We’re here. We’re going to listen, and you’re going to talk. Come on. He gathered all of his family, the whole household. They’re all there.
Oh people, let me tell you something. A man’s salvation is no accident. God orders the whole sequence, but men’s submissive will must move in. Where do you see the submission of Cornelius? In the word immediately. His will was ready. There are the first two things in salvation: Sovereign call and submissive will – submissive will. You know what I love about that verse 33? He says, “We’re here present to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” Cornelius says, “Peter, give us the whole shot. We want it all.” Boy, have you ever had an audience like that? Man, what evangelism. I mean he’s so used to fighting it in Jerusalem. Can you imagine all those open hearts? It must’ve taken him for a moment.
What do we see then this morning? We see how God works in salvation on the one hand, but demands submission in the will of a man. The two come together in the miracle that we know as the new birth. That’s all going to happen next Sunday. Let’s pray.
Father, we do thank You for what we’ve seen this morning in our study. How that Thou art ordaining things. Oh, God, how exciting it is to know that salvation is Thy work in men’s hearts, but that men must respond in willing submission. Thank You for Cornelius’ spirit. Oh, how the Spirit had prepared his heart, and how his human spirit was turned toward Thee. How ready he was. Father, we pray that You would do that work this morning in some who are here. That already having done the sovereign work, already these folks who have lived up to the light they have had are seeking more; and this morning, perhaps, is the day, is the hour when in the conflux of events of eternity and time, they come to know You. May it be so. Father, thank You for being a sovereign God and yet a God who responds to the will and the obedience of His children.
God, make us to be obedient. Make us to delight in Your commandments so that we rush to do them even as Peter did. Father, we know obedience is not just at salvation, but God, teach us to be obedient always, to have that spirit of obedience, to delight in Thy law, to love Thy law, to love to obey, for we know that this is maturity. And Father, speak to those who might be here who have not yet obeyed in the matter of Christ, and if this is the hour that Thou hast prepared, move upon their will by Thy Spirit, and bring them to the knowledge of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
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