Good morning! I have good news for you this morning. In 1 Tim 1:15 the Apostle Paul writes to his young friend and student pastor, Timothy, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…”
Any sinners among us this morning? Yeah, me too. You’re in the right place. Paul goes on to write – “Of which I am the worst!” We aren’t going to compare stories to see who is the worst sinner among us this morning. The Bible tells us we are all sinful and there is only one degree of full. From beginning to end, top to bottom, we need a Savior and we have one. His name is Jesus.
Let’s open our Bibles to Acts 10. Our story is about three people, Cornelius and Peter. One is Jewish, the other Gentile. One has a reputation of being a good man, highly respected in his community, the other - well, he’s Peter, ex-fisherman, apostle, rough edges and all.
One of them walked with Jesus, the other never heard of Jesus. But Jesus knew them both and loved them both, just like he loves you and every person in this room this morning.
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world” – the whole world! From the radical left to the ultra-right. I find it frustrating listening to the news and all the blaming going on for the chaos in America today. Both sides are wrong. Each side claims their cause is more righteous than the other. The root of all this evil this is not political, it’s spiritual. There is only one remedy.
We need someone with the power to save us from ourselves. We need a Savior. His name is Jesus. He makes bad hearts good. He forgives and cleanses so we can start over. He has the power to restore peace through his cross because he is the Prince of Peace.
Back to Peter and Cornelius – Acts 10. “In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” Acts 10:1-2
Caesarea was 60 miles NW of Jerusalem on the Mediterranean coast and the headquarters of the Roman occupation army. Cornelius was a Roman military officer in charge of between 100 and 600 men comparable to a captain or a major in the American army.
Centurions were known for their leadership and moral integrity. It was another centurion who openly said as Jesus died, “Truly this man was the son of God”. Which was amazing since the Romans officially declared that only Caesar was the son of God.
Luke tells us that Cornelius was a God-fearer. He believed in the God of the Jews even though he was a Gentile. He respected and kept the morals and ethics of the Jewish faith. He was generous. He prayed regularly according to the customs of the Jewish faith.
One day as he was praying at the traditional 3 pm prayer time, he was startled by a vision of an angel. The angel called him by name, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” Acts 10:4-8 Joppa was a two day walk south of Caesarea. Cornelius immediately sent three men to fulfill the angel’s command.
The next day at noon down in Joppa, Peter was on the roof of Simon’s house praying. Simon was a tanner and since he worked with dead animals, he was technically unclean according to Jewish law. This would make anyone who stayed with Simon unclean. We can assume that Simon was a Christian or Peter would not have been staying there.
While Peter was waiting for lunch to be served, he fell into a trance…“He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied, “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Acts 10:11-14
I can’t believe he said that! Everything in Simon’s house was technically unclean! Peter makes out like he’s the most lily white of the lily white! The honesty of the Scriptures is mind boggling. I’m sure Luke got this from Peter himself. Obviously the irony here is intentional!
This vision and Peter’s refusal happened three times in a row. Then while Peter was trying to figure out what it meant, the Holy Spirit said, “Simon, three men are looking for you. Get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” Acts 10:19-20
So Peter went down to meet them. He invited them to stay overnight and the next morning they all headed for Caesarea. When they arrive Cornelius had gathered a houseful of family and friends. When Peter entered the house, Cornelius fell at his feet. Peter quickly pulled him up. “Stand up,” he said, “I’m only a man like you!” Meaning, “I, too, am a sinner like you!”
What happens next is really a double story. Peter stands in front of this group of “unclean” Gentiles and tells them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” Acts 10:28-29
I can’t help but wonder if Jesus rolled his eyes. “Sure you did, Peter! After I showed you the vision three times and you refused to obey me three time? But, yes, you did eventually go! Good job!”
Then Cornelius tells Peter about the vision the Lord gave him! He says to Peter, “We are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” Acts 10:33
Isn’t the Lord amazing! Now listen up! What would you say if you were in Peter’s sandals? Would you say, “I think you should talk to my pastor or would you be able to answer Cornelius’ request?” Or would you have an answer for why you believe in Jesus? Here’s 4 suggestions to help you be ready to share your faith with them.
1. Pray. Ask the Lord to teach you be a witness for him. Ask him to send you people to share with.
2. Write out your faith story on paper or your computer. Why I believe in Jesus!
3. Get involved in a Bible study where you listen as others share their faith and you can learn to share your faith with them.
4. Sign up for the Tres Dias retreat.
There’s still time for this fall. Go to the Tres Dias Montana website or give Pastor Ralph or me a call.
As a result of Cornelius’ testimony, Peter has an awakening. “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all… All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins in his name.” Acts 10:34-43
Don’t be surprised by the people Jesus is calling to himself. While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and his friends. The Jewish Christians who were with Peter were astonished. They heard these Gentiles speaking in tongues and praising God, just like they had done a couple years earlier on that first Pentecost back in Acts 2!
So Peter ordered that they be baptized right then and there. Minor point - did they immerse them, pour water over them, or sprinkle them? We don’t know. It’s not the amount of water that matters. It’s water used together with God’s word and at his command. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe is condemned” Mark 16:16
Baptism is not magic, without faith it’s just a bath. In his Small Catechism Luther asks the question, “How can water do such great things?” He answers it this way, “It’s not water that does these things, but God’s Word with the water and our trust in this Word. Water by itself is only water, but with the Word of God it is life-giving water which by grace gives the new birth through the Holy Spirit.”
Luther is referring to what Jesus said in John 3, “You must be born again.” Baptism means more than having our sins washed away. It’s being drowned and raised to life. Paul writes “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Rom 6:4
It doesn’t matter if you grew up in a Christian home or a pagan home. Doesn’t matter if you’ve known the Lord all your life or just now responding to his call. Doesn’t matter if you were baptized as an infant or an adult – what matters is where you are with Jesus today.
No matter what spiritual background you may have had, he knows you and loves you. He sent his one and only Son to forgive your sin. He wants to fill you with his Holy Spirit. He wants you to be part of his forever family. He’s calling you to respond to him this morning.
If you’ve never responded to his call, do it now. If you’ve known the Lord for a long time, renew your commitment to follow him. Every day, morning by morning, ask him to take control of every area of your life.
Your conversion, your baptism is not just a once and done event. Just like there is much more to a marriage than just a wedding, there is more to a life of faith than just the day you were converted or baptized. A life of growing faith involves daily dying to our old nature and being raised to life to follow and serve Jesus wherever he may lead. Your baptism began at a point in time, but it is an ongoing event until the day he calls your home.