If you have a Bible, turn to Acts chapter 10 as we continue with part 12, the last of our series “A.D. Easter was Only the Beginning.” This passage in the book of Acts contains an amazing drama and multiple scenes as the characters engage with one another unknowingly as the Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes. And today we’re going to go backstage and see what God the Holy Spirit is doing behind the scenes. It really is an amazing as we see the Holy Spirit directing the characters in this story so that the mission of Jesus goes forward and lives are forever changed powerfully by the Holy Spirit.
Last week, we also saw the involvement of God the Holy Spirit ministering to the saints through Peter. If you remember we actually saw two great miracles of Jesus Christ from his throne in heaven. One was the miraculous healing of Aeneas and the other was the revival of the dead body of Tabitha. Now today we find that Peter is still in Joppa, but also in the nearby town of Caesarea we’re introduced to another man named Cornelius. What we know about Cornelius is that he’s a centurion, so he’s a military leader, part of a special detachment that is protecting the Roman governor. So this is an important man, a respected man, and a leader of 100 soldiers.
Let’s read the first section of Chapter 10… “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked.
The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea."
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.” NIV
Now here in verse two we discover that Cornelius had abandoned his Roman spiritual heritage. In other words he would have been polytheistic according to his culture, believing in many gods, and that included worshiping Caesar just as every good Roman soldier would. But instead we find that he has mysteriously been drawn to the God and so what we see here is a man serving Caesar in a foreign country when the Holy Spirit begins to convict him.
So Cornelius turns his back on his own religious heritage and begins to seek out the God of the Bible, the one true God, in hopes that he would find peace with God. He had grown tired of the emptiness, the foolishness, and the immorality of the religions of Rome and found something better in the Jewish synagogues… he had found truth… and he accepted the teaching of the one true God.
And this is exactly what Jesus said would happen when the Holy Spirit comes. In John’s gospel at chapter 16; Jesus says, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). So what we see here is the Holy Spirit at work. You see, the Holy Spirit convicts, He takes hearts that are far away from God and begins to work in them to reveal the holiness of God, His repulsion of sin, and an acute awareness that somehow I’m not right with God. So Cornelius had begun to grasp the concept of God’s righteousness. He began to understand that he would stand before God in judgment and be held accountable. And he began to get this even though he wasn’t yet a Christian, because the Holy Spirit was convicting his heart, and so much so, that he had led his whole family to come to the knowledge of the one true God.
Maybe today you are praying for somebody who doesn’t know Jesus. Maybe you’re praying for a father or husband and this passage will be a great encouragement to you. It should give you confidence in your prayers, and maybe even a sense of relief, because it’s not your responsibility to convict people of their standing before God. It’s the Holy Spirit who convicts, you don’t have to convict, and there’s no one who is to hardhearted or too far removed that the Holy Spirit can’t do this work of convicting.
Now let’s continue reading in the 10th chapter at verse nine. We have been introduced to Cornelius and we have seen that he has been led by the Holy Spirit to send men to meet Peter. And so now we find Peter 30 miles away in Joppa…
Verse nine… “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13 Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
14 "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.”
Notice that Peter doesn’t get it and in verse 14 he replied, "Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." Even though Peter's refusal was respectful, it was still wrong. You don’t say “No, Lord.” That is unless you’re Peter. Peter often blurted out the most profound statements didn’t he? You know, he was just one of those guys who every time he would open his mouth he would insert his foot.
Remember when Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. It was Peter who took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:21-22). At another time, the disciples gathered around the table at the Last Supper and Jesus begins to wash the feet of his disciples. And what does Peter do? He refuses and says, "No, you shall never wash my feet." (John 13:8). Later Jesus said, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." (Matthew 26:34-35). And after Jesus’ arrest Peter goes out and denies Jesus three times. “Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:69-75).
Now at this time, Peter didn’t fully understand what Jesus was saying, but it would all come together, he would begin connecting the dots, because God was working. He was convicting, and He wasn’t simply changing Peter's diet; He was changing his entire program! The Jew was not "clean" and the Gentile "unclean," but both Jew and Gentile were "unclean" before God. And now he would understand that “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32).
So Peter receives a direct command from the Lord to rise up, kill something, and eat from the sheet. And what does Peter say? “No, not doing that. Never done that.” But the Holy Spirit’s working, he’s revealing, and it’s amazing how God's timing is always perfect. Just about this time these three men from Caesarea arrived and began knocking at the gate…
And so now we’ll pick up the story in verse 17, “While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them."
21 Peter went down and said to the men, "I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?"
22 The men replied, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say." 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself."
27 Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?"
30 Cornelius answered: "Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.' 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us."
34 Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” NIV
Now do you see what the Holy Spirit is doing in the heart of Peter? Just as Peter was pondering the meaning of this vision, the Holy Spirit commanded him to meet the men, and to go with them making no distinctions between persons. Peter was no longer to make distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. He was no longer to treat anything as impure, or unholy, when God has cleansed it. And so Peter did have enough spiritual discernment to understand that this vision had meaning beyond that of eating non-kosher food. He meets Cornelius and understands what the Holy Spirit was revealing. He understands that he’d been living in a way that was inconsistent with Jesus commands. That somehow he’d missed all that in Jesus teaching, but now through the presence of the Holy Spirit Peter gets it. And the Holy Spirit overcame his blindness, his hard heartedness, revealing to him his own sin and sending him to those who don’t yet know Jesus.
And so now Peter is going to take advantage of this captive audience, he’s going to preach, and he’s ready to hit a homerun this time. No more is he going to be called “three strikes and you’re out Peter”. No more of that and in verse 36 he lets it fly. He says…
“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." NIV
And so Peter is set up here, he has the privilege to proclaim the Gospel to a perfect congregation, each one of them was there because they were seeking, longing for, and hungering to hear the Word of God. As Cornelius said, “We are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us." And this just goes to show that wherever there’s a searching heart God responds. As He said, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
And so Peter preached the gospel, the message of Christ. He preached that Jesus is Lord of all, that there’s nothing that is not under his dominion and authority, and that Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He preached that Jesus lived the perfect life, died a perfect death on the cross paying the penalty for our sin, and physically rose from the grave. He preached that Jesus is the one who is going to judge all people, both the living and the dead, and then he announced the good news in verse 43, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Now Cornelius, his family, and friends grabbed hold of that word “everyone” they believed it, received it, and applied it to themselves. As Romans 10:17 tells us, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Peter proclaimed the Word of God, they heard it, and believed in Jesus Christ. And so then we read in verse 44…
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, in verse 47 "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ...”
While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit interrupted the meeting. And it didn't matter if they were black, white, yellow or brown. It didn't matter if they were Jews or Gentiles, because they had put their trust in Jesus Christ and been “born again” (John 3:3). They’d “received the Holy Spirit” into their hearts, but then something amazing happened here (John 20:22). Just as the disciples and the first believers were “Clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:4; the promise of the “Holy Spirit was poured out” again and they recognized that the Gentiles “have received the Holy Spirit just as we had.” They knew this was the same experience, a subsequent experience to having received the Holy Spirit in their salvation; it was a baptism, an immersion into the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit, “For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” And the realization blows them all away. They were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
As we close I want you to know that this experience of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, this baptism, is when we receive the Spirit’s power and he fills us so full that he just kind of spills out. You know, it’s when you’re carrying a 5 gallon bucket filled with 6 gallons of water and you’re so full of the presence of God that He just begins to get on everything and everybody around you. And so even today we find the promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit available that we may be more than conquerors… that we may be over comers… and as the Spirit is manifested in our lives we experience his supernatural power in spiritual gifts such as prophecy, discernment, miracles, serving, healing, and even speaking in unknown languages. But being baptized in the Holy Spirit is not something you have to qualify for, it doesn’t matter what your theological training is, it doesn’t matter what race you are, what age you are, or who you are. Any Christian can ask and Jesus is ready to do it. He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8).
So who here this morning needs power? Who wants to be more than a conqueror? Listen to what Jesus said, "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened… how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13).
This morning if you want power… if you want victory in your life… if you want to conquer the things in your life, those obstacles that up to now have seemed insurmountable… if you want to experience God in a greater way or serve him in a greater capacity, you can pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit, because the Bible tells us, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:39).
As we go forth this week, let me encourage you, instead of going with our own agendas, let’s go with the agenda of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to fall upon us and fill us to overflowing as we close in worship. Let’s imitate the grace and the love of our God. Let’s seek the way of Christ through humility and service and as we go receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses serving in Jesus name.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
June 21, 2015