This is a summary of the sermon preached on September 1, 2019.
- Date: Sunday September 1, 2019
- Venue: A Sunday service at Tokyo Multicultural Church
- Title: "Live with grace"
- Scriptures: Acts 10:23-11:18
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers 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 While 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 or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone 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: “Three 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 from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of 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 cross, 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.”
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 Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their 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. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds.7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with[a] water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.1
The story of Cornelius which started from the beginning of chapter ten is one of the most important stories in Acts as you can see from the length and detail of the story.
We can also see how important the story of Cornelius is from the fact that some parts of the story are repeated: for instance, the vision of Cornelius is described first in Acts 10:3-6, then repeated in 10:30-33, and 11:13-14.
Usually, when the author of the Bible repeats a phrase, a sentence, or a story, it means that he wants to draw our attention to that particular phrase, sentence, or story.
God loves all the peoples
You’d notice that Peter’s vision is repeated just like Cornelius’ (Acts 10:11-16; 11:5-10). While Cornelius’ vision emphasizes the fact that
Peter’s vision highlights the fact that
These two visions point to the truth which Peter states in 10:34-35,
God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (Acts 10:34-35)
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
This is indeed one of the main themes in the story of Cornelius:
For us today, statements like “God loves all the peoples” or “God accepts anyone who believes in Christ regardless of nationality” may sound almost like a cliché.
But in Jesus’ time, if you say to Jewish people, “God loves all the peoples” or “God accepts you regardless of your nationality,” it was very surprising and counter-cultural for most if not all of the Jews, including the apostle Peter.
That is why the author of Acts repeats the particular parts. But
God's people kept the law
The reason has to do with the Jewish concept of purity, which comes from the Old Testament laws.
For instance, Jews were allowed to eat clean animals but not unclean ones. Leviticus 11 gives us a list of clean animals as well as unclean ones (e.g. Lev. 11:41).
Well, Jews were to consecrate themselves and be holy because God had saved them from Egypt, and because God the Savior is holy (see Lev. 11:44-45).
Putting it in another way,
And not eating unclean food was one of many ways for them to be God’s holy people.
In a way,
In Acts 10, Peter must have seen unclean animals in the vision (Acts 10:11-12). That is why when a voice told him to get up, kill, and eat (10:12), he replied, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean” (10:14; cf. 11:8).
For Peter, it was unthinkable to eat unclean food as God’s people.
Their concern for religious purity as God’s people had affected not only what kind of food they ate, but also what kind of people they associated with.
It had become customary for Jews to avoid as many interactions with Gentiles as possible (cf. 10:28; 11:2-3). The main reason was because Gentiles were regarded to be religiously unclean, and also because Jews thought that if they touch something unclean, they would become unclean as well (cf. Lev. 11:39-40; 15:1-30).
God's people believe in Christ
Therefore, it must have been quite surprising at first for Peter to hear from God Himself that he was to go visit Cornelius, who was a Gentile.
For Peter and many other Jews, not eating unclean food and not associating with Gentiles were crucial in order for them to keep their identity as God’s people.
But now God is telling them that they don’t have to avoid unclean food or people in order to keep their identity as God’s people.
The reason is because
The law for purity had served as a barrier or a dividing wall which had set apart God’s people from others: the Jews were God’s people, but Gentiles were not.
And as long as we believe in Christ, God will accept us as God’s people regardless of our nationality.
This means that
And a visible piece of evidence for God’s accepting anybody who believes in Christ as His people was the Holy Spirit who fell on Cornelius and his relatives and friends (10:44; cf. 11:15).
What makes us God’s people is not the law, but our faith in Christ. There is no dividing wall among us.
This was a big change, even a paradigm shift, for the Jews in Jesus’ time. And it took a while for many of them to really appreciate what it meant to be saved by faith not by work (e.g. Acts 15; Galatians 2:11-16.
We may wonder why they were so slow to appreciate salvation by faith.
But I’d like us to stop to ask ourselves:
Even for us today, I think salvation by faith is still counter-intuitive or counter-cultural because our culture and society are based primarily on a give-and-take kind of relationship (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6-16).
Because if you apply a give-and-take kind of relationship to your relationship with God, it would lead to salvation by work, not by faith: you give or do something to God, so that God saves you in return.
Because we are so used to give-and-take kind of relationships, it is easier to understand salvation by work than salvation by faith.
Think about it.
Like do you not expect others to come to church every Sunday, pray regularly, or serve as a greeter?
If so, consciously or unconsciously, you are judging them whether they’re really saved or not based on their work, not their faith.
Of course, work is important. And if you’re truly saved by grace through faith in Christ, it will show up in your work (see James 2:26).
Here I think if you better appreciate salvation by grace, you’d be able to focus more on God’s grace than on others’ work.
To this end, we shall not forget that
We didn’t deserve it; God didn’t give it because we’ve done something good. But He has given us the life of His only Son Jesus because He loves us. It’s all by His grace.
It’s nothing! What God has given us is way much greater than what we could possibly give to God. The give-and-take won’t work here.
So then what shall we do for God?
Well, I’d say, first and foremost,
We are all saved by grace to live with grace.
Bibliography and Notes
- Peterson, David. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Nottingham, UK; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Apollos; Eerdmans, 2009.
- Witherington, Ben. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids; Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1998.