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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2016-05-15

Text: Acts 10:1-8; 21-24

Since the beginning of this year we have been studying the Acts of the Apostles which is an exciting account of the Gospel’s progress. Just before our Lord Jesus ascended up to heaven He revealed His master plan: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8) The first part of this plan was accomplished only eight days later – the disciples received the power they needed to be witnesses when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. Shortly after that, Acts 6:7 relates – “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly…”

Then, within the next four years, the next part of our Lord’s master plan was put into action – the Gospel went all the way to Samaria. This is recorded in Acts 9:31 – “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.”

You will notice that all these places were within the land of Israel. Following the master plan, the Gospel had progressed from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, but it had not yet reached ‘the uttermost part of the earth.’ This was the most difficult part of the Lord’s master plan because of the many geographical, social, political and cultural barriers that stood in the way. And so, in Acts chapter 10 we see the early church reaching a very critical juncture. Would they be able to get through it? Yes they would, and the rest of the book reveals how the Gospel was launched to the rest of the world. The fact that we in Singapore are now enjoying the blessings of salvation is a powerful testimony that the witness of Christ has reached the uttermost part of the earth!

But the work is not finished yet, and we must all do our part in advancing the Gospel now to the uttermost part of the earth. And as we study the rest of this book in our morning worship service, may the Lord stir our hearts to fulfil His plan for the world of sinners that He came to save. Let us turn our Bibles now to Acts 10. This is the account of the salvation of Cornelius. This event is so important that it is related two more times – first by Cornelius himself in Acts 10:30-33 and later by the apostle Peter in Acts 11:4-15. It was truly a very significant event that had important lessons for the early church. I would like to highlight two lessons for us to learn from this account:

 

1. Everyone Needs to Believe in Christ for Salvation.

That includes people who are good and have distinguished themselves by good works. Perhaps you may know someone who is not a Christian, but is even better than most Christians in his conduct and his attitudes. Perhaps you may have thought to yourself, “This person is already doing so much good to others. He is so kind and considerate, always putting others before himself. Does he really need to believe in Christ to be saved?”

Well, according to what we read in our passage of Scripture, Cornelius was someone like that. He was a Roman, but he had turned away from idolatry. In ancient times the Romans were known to be pagan idolaters, worshipping the many gods in their many temples. But Cornelius was an exception – he worshipped only the living and true God. He is described in v.2 as “a devout man, and one that feared God.”

Besides that, Cornelius was a Roman centurion. This means that he was a military commander of at least a hundred men. A centurion is equivalent to the rank of a captain today. In verse 1 we are told that he was assigned to the Italian band or regiment at Caesarea. Caesarea was the capital of the Roman province of Judea in Israel, which was a trouble spot because of frequent uprisings by the Jews. Thus the soldiers assigned to this regiment were Romans from Italy as they alone would be loyal, experienced and skilled enough to maintain the Roman domination of Judea. In such a situation, a Roman centurion could easily abuse his power over the Jews. But Cornelius did not do this. His own household servants described him as “a just man, and one that feareth God, and ofgood report among all the nation of the Jews…” (v.22a) Cornelius treated everyone so justly and fairly that even the Jews spoke highly of him.

They were utterly amazed that though he was not a Jew, he had done so much to help the poor among their people. Verse 2 tells us that he “…gave much alms to the people.” And he took time to render such help to them despite all his official duties. As a centurion of the Italian regiment, Cornelius probably had many great responsibilities to attend to. But that did not stop him from setting aside time for prayer. In the same verse we are told that he “prayed to God alway.” This indicates that he was habitually seeking for God’s help even in the midst of his daily work.

Despite his great responsibilities Cornelius also found time to be a helpful influence on his family, on his servants, and on his soldiers. Here we are told that he “feared God with all his house,”which refers to his family members and household servants. According to v.7 at least one of his soldiers had become devout like him, because he was a personal attendant of Cornelius. His good influence even extended to his relatives and friends, as they were all waiting eagerly with him for God’s messenger to come, as seen in v.24 – “And Cornelius waited for them, and had called togetherhis kinsmen and near friends.”

Thus we have seen what an exceptionally just and god-fearing man Cornelius was, even though he was a centurion from an utterly pagan nation. Someone may then say, “Such a man surelydeserves to have a place in heaven!” But the truth which is so clearly revealed in this passage is that despite all his good works, Cornelius still needed to be saved, and the only way he could be saved was through hearing the Gospel.

This can be seen in Acts 11:13,14 in which an angel spoke to Cornelius, “Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.” This means that Cornelius was not saved yet, despite all the good works he had done! Notice that the angel did not say to him, “Congratulations to you Cornelius! You are such a good man and you have done so well that God is pleased to reward you now with eternal life in heaven!”

Instead of congratulating him, the angel actually gave him a warning from God! This is mentioned in the message that Cornelius told his servants to relay to Peter in v.22 – “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.”

This warning from God implies that Cornelius would be in great danger if he did not get to hear the Gospel. He would then receive what he deserved, which is eternal death! But how can this be? What had he done to deserve eternal death? Let us understand that like every one of us, Cornelius was a sinner. This truth is stated in Ecclesiastes 7:20, which says, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” No matter how good Cornelius was, he was a sinner. He himself probably knew about certain sins he had committed in his heart and in his thoughts. His conscience would have convicted him of things he had done which he should not have done, and things he had not done which he should have done.

But someone may ask, “Shouldn’t all his good works at least count for something?” Many people mistakenly think that God must surely be pleased with all the good works they have done. Little do they know that God is not at all pleased, but angered by their works. The apostle Paul wrote about this in Romans 10:3 concerning his fellow Jews – “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, butnot according to knowledge.” Let us understand that without having the right knowledge from God, all our best efforts to be good and to do good for others, or even for God Himself are but filthy rags in God’s sight. Isaiah 64:4 tells us “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags...” Whatever zeal or sincerity we have would be misdirected if they are not according to the knowledge of God’s Word.

If you have been relying on good works to save you, please understand that this is impossible. Good works can never save any sinner. And since all men are sinners, all men will stand condemned before God. Perhaps you may wonder why God has set such an impossible standard for us to reach. Why will He not lower His standard and make it a little easier for us to have eternal life in heaven? The reason is that God is a holy God. And because He is holy, He requires us to be holy like Him, and that means to be sinless. By His very nature, God cannot tolerate any sin in His sight.

Perhaps God may be warning someone here today, just as He warned Cornelius, “You need to hear the Gospel in order to be saved!” How will you respond to this warning? I hope you will take it seriously. That’s what Cornelius did. He quickly sent out his most trusted men to fetch Peter from Joppa so that he could hear the Gospel. Then when Peter came, Cornelius was able to learn from him all that he needed to know about Christ in order to be saved. Let us see what Peter said about Christ in vv.36-43 –

“The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (He is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; [This introduces the Gospel which is about Peace with God and with men, by Christ]

“…How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem [That summarises the entire Life of Christ]…

 “…whom they slew and hanged on a tree [i.e. the cross]: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed Him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead. [That summarises the death and the resurrection of Christ.]…

 “…And He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. [This looks forward to the return of Christ]…

“…To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” Here Peter concludes the Gospel with the free Offer of Christ to save sinners. I want you to look at the words, “whosoever believeth in Him.” Do they sound familiar to you? Where have you seen them before? In John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” What a great offer of salvation to sinners is found in these words!

When Cornelius and all his family and friends heard this Gospel message, they began to believe in Christ to save them from their sins. This is indicated by what happened next. Acts 10:44 – “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. The Holy Spirit is given as a sign and seal of salvation. Dearly beloved, perhaps you may have heard that word, which is the Gospel of Christ many times before. But have you truly believed in Him alone for your salvation? Have you personally received Him into your heart as your Saviour and Lord? Or are you still hoping that your own good works can save you?

Please listen to what the Word of God says in Ephesians 2:8,9 – “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of GodNot of works, lest any man should boast.” You have just seen that Cornelius received salvation as a gift of God. He was saved not by works, but through faith in Jesus Christ alone. If you are not saved yet, God wants you to trust in Him alone for salvation from sin and eternal death.

This means that your faith must not rest on anything else – not on your good works, not on your family background or your Christian upbringing, not on your membership in Life church, etc. Jesus and only Jesus must be the sole object of your faith. So let me urge you now to put your faith entirely in Him. And if you do that, then one day you will look back and be amazed at the way that God brought you to salvation. You will see how marvelously God had worked to bring you in contact with the Gospel through someone.

In this passage we see how two unlikely individuals, who had never met each other before were amazingly brought together. If Peter and Cornelius were left on their own they would never have met or even talked with each other, because one was a Roman centurion and the other was a Jewish apostle and they were 48 km apart from each other. And yet, through the wonderful working of God their paths converged and brought about the blessed encounter. This brings us now to the other important lesson that we can learn from this account:

 

2. God Sends the Gospel of Christ to Bring Sinners to Salvation.

In verse v.3 God first sent His angel to the centurion’s house right at the time when he was praying. The first thing we see is that the angel of God called him by name: “Cornelius!” Can you see what a wonderful truth is revealed right here? Cornelius did not know God yet, and was still seeking after Him. But God already knew him, and was even calling him by his name, “Cornelius!”

When I look at all of you from here, I can see many people whom I know by name, but I also see some whose names I do not know, but hope to get to know one day. But it is very different when God sees you, for He already knows every one of you here by name, and He also knows everything about you. There is no detail about you that escapes His attention – God knows everything you did in the past week. He knows every person you have helped. He knows every prayer that you have uttered. But more importantly, God knows exactly how sincere you were when you made each prayer. How do we know that all this is true?

Look at what the angel said to Cornelius in v.4 – “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” Why did God regard his prayers and his almsgiving so favourably?  I believe that the answer can be found in what our Lord Jesus said about prayers and the giving of alms in Matthew 6:2-6 – “…when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

From this we understand that what God sees in secret matters more to Him than outward appearance. He sees the heart rather than the action. And so when God saw the prayers and almsgiving of Cornelius, He saw a heart that wasn’t trying to impress anyone, but that was genuinely and sincerely seeking after Him. In fact, the word that is used in v.2 of the original Greek text to describe the way that Cornelius prayed literally means ‘to beg.’ Cornelius prayed with the heart of a helpless beggar, crying out for God’s help. God will not despise a broken and contrite heart. As Jesus said in John 6:37 – “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.”

This promise is good news to anyone who earnestly seeks to know the Lord – He knows you and He knows your deepest needs. And if you seek after the Lord with all your heart, He will be found of you. He will welcome you when you come to Him in faith, especially when you ask Him to save you from sin. When Cornelius prayed, God answered his prayers. He directed Cornelius through an angel to fetch Peter to Caesarea.

Cornelius obeyed God immediately – He sent three men to Joppa to look for the apostle Peter. But what if they could not find Peter? There were many houses in Joppa which was an ancient port city 48 km south of Caesarea. All they were told is that Peter was staying at with “Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side” (v.6) That’s really not much of an address they could use to find someone they don’t even know. What if they could never find the place at all, and returned home empty-handed? Well Cornelius surely believed that God would somehow guide his servants to the right house, find the apostle Peter there and bring him to Caesarea within a few days’ time, because he proceeded to gather all his family and close friends into his house to wait for their return.

I think this shows how earnest and sincere Cornelius was in seeking after God. His prayers were answered four days later when Peter arrived at Caesarea and brought the Gospel of Christ to him and his family. They believed in Jesus and were gloriously saved, and they were baptised immediately!

And all this was possible only because God had prepared the way so well. First He brought Peter to Joppa providentially. The preceding chapter (9:36-43) relates that a certain disciple named Tabitha had died. She had done so much to help the poor widows in Joppa that they hoped that she could be raised back to life. When they heard that Peter was 15 km away at Lydda, they sent two men to fetch him. After Peter restored Tabitha’s life miraculously, he stayed on for some time at the house of Simon the tanner, and he probably planned to return to Jerusalem soon.

But God had other plans for Peter. It was at that time that Cornelius sent his men to fetch him from Joppa. When they reached the city, Peter was praying on the flat rooftop of the house. Under normal circumstances, no Jew would ever accept an invitation to go to a Gentile’s house. Hence Peter would probably refuse to go with these men to the house of Cornelius. But just before they arrived God gave Peter a vision on that rooftop. And that vision (which we will study next Sunday) changed his attitude to Gentiles drastically. And God brought the men of Cornelius to the house at the right time – at the moment when Peter’s vision ended. Because of that he welcomed them, let them stay there overnight, and then went with them willingly to Caesarea the next morning. Everything was timed to happen with amazing clock-work precision.

The way that God worked to bring the Gospel to Cornelius through Peter is absolutely marvellous. And God continues to do the same work today – He continues to send the Gospel of Christ to bring people in every place to salvation.

Twelve years ago there was a family living in Ang Mo Kio. The mother who was a Christian prayed that God would lead her to a church where she and four her children could grow spiritually. After praying for a few months she was visited by her ex-colleague. Remembering that this ex-colleague was a Christian, she asked her what church she attends. She said that she attends a church located in the western part of Singapore. But the mother felt that it was too far for her and her young children to commute, and so that night she asked God to provide a church that is nearer to her home.

Not long after that, the family shifted to Toa Payoh, and one Sunday afternoon the mother found a Gospel tract placed at the metal gate of her flat. From the address and location map printed on the back page she realised that it was not far from her home, and she immediately gave thanks to God and promised to bring her children to worship Him here in Life Church. Since then, the Lord has been working in their lives in marvellous ways as each of them experience the wonderful grace of God in salvation.

Today, God continues to open the hearts of sinners to seek after Him. He answers their prayers, and He prepares the way for the Gospel to reach them. But at the same time, God wants us to be involved in His work. You may notice that in vv.5-6 of our Scripture passage, the angel of God told Cornelius to send men to Joppa to bring Peter who would then come and tell him what he must do. This begs the question, Couldn’t that angel just straightaway tell Cornelius what he must do? That would have been a lot easier, and Cornelius would not have to wait for four days to receive the Gospel.

But in our Lord’s master plan, the ones who are to bring the Gospel to sinners are not angels, but people. It was the disciples who were told,  “…ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” God’s plan is to use believers like you and me as His witnesses, His means of communicating the Gospel message.

If God is really working through our circumstances to bring the Gospel to people, then let us be always on the lookout for the opportunities that He provides. Who knows that He may bring us into contact with someone like Cornelius? So let us be ready to share the Gospel anytime, as we are told in 1 Peter 3:15,  “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” May the Lord help us all to be His faithful witnesses.

 
 
 
 

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25