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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2016-05-22

Text: Acts 10:25-37 

During a television interview in 1997, the well-known American evangelist Dr Billy Graham made this statement, “God is calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don’t have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they’re saved and they’re going to be with us in heaven.”

 

This strange idea that a person can be saved without knowing Jesus Christ is gaining popularity today. It is known by names such as ‘Religious pluralism’, ‘Universalism’, ‘Universal reconciliation’, ‘Ultimate reconciliation’, and the ‘Gospel of Inclusion’. One verse from the Bible that is often used by them to support this idea is Acts 10:34 – “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons…” To be a respecter of persons is to practise discrimination, favouring certain people and not others. So they say that according to this verse, as long as a person has some basic concept of God, and tries to do good works to please Him, God will surely accept him.

 

But what exactly did Peter mean when he said these words? Did he mean to say that God will save all regardless of their religious beliefs, and without them believing in Christ alone for salvation? No. As we study the passage where these words come from, we will find that all that it means is that God does not exclude anyone on the basis of race, class, culture, social background or position. Let us turn our Bibles now to the passage in Acts 10:25-37.

 

This passage reveals three important truths about the Lord’s plan for all men. These truths help us to understand in what sense God is no respecter of persons.

 

1. Christ Welcomes All

 

This truth is found in verse 35 – “But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.” Peter said this in the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion just before preaching the Gospel to him. You may recall from last week’s sermon that Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile who had done plenty of good works, but he still needed to hear the Gospel in order to be saved. Thus, it is not true that anyone can be saved without knowing Christ at all. What Peter meant when he said that God is no respecter of persons is that God has chosen those who are His people, not from one nation alone – which is Israel – but that He has also chosen to save people from all nations of the earth.

 

This salvation of people from all nations was actually God’s plan right from the beginning. It was revealed from the time that God called Abraham and said to him, “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 22:18) The future fulfilment of this promise is seen in the heavenly praise will be given to Christ in Revelation 5:9 – “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.”

 

In the Old Testament, we have the example of Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18,19 – “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth.” We see another example in Job – “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” (Job 1:1) Job and Melchizedek were both outside the nation of Israel, and yet they knew God and were saved by Him.

 

The most striking example of God’s concern for Gentiles in Old Testament times is found in the book of Jonah. God sent the prophet Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh that they would soon be judged for their wickedness. But the Ninevites repented quickly, and God spared them from destruction. This demonstrates that God’s mercy is not confined to Israel but is shown to Gentiles as well. Therefore God is no respecter of persons. He does not exclude anyone on the basis of race, class, culture, social background or position.

 

When God came down into this world two thousand years ago, He showed the same openness towards Gentiles. Mark 7:25-29 records that “…a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet:  The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought Him that He would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled [referring to Israel]: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs[referring to Gentiles]. And she answered and said unto Him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And He said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.”

 

Another Gentile that our Lord welcomed was a Roman Centurion. We are told in Matthew 8:5-11, “And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, [referring to Gentiles] and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.”

 

All that we have seen should make it clear that God does not exclude anyone on the basis of race, class, culture, social background or position. Whoever you are, Christ welcomes you as long as you come to Him in repentance and faith. His loving arms are open wide to receive you when you come to Him for salvation. How wonderful it is to know that He is no respecter of persons! We go on now to consider the second truth which shows in what sense God is no respecter of persons.

 

2. Christ Brings Peace to All

 

Before Christ came 2,000 years ago, there was no peace between the Jews and the Gentiles. Gentiles from almost every ancient civilization hated the Jews and despised their customs and beliefs. A Gentile prime minister once persuaded his king to exterminate all the Jews in the Persian Empire. He said, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed…” (Esther 3:8,9)

 

About 200 years before Christ, the Jews suffered a lot under the Greeks who tried to force them to renounce their religion and worship the Greek gods. When the Romans took over control of Judea, the Jews were denied any right to rule themselves. They were also taxed heavily by the Romans. Such hostility against Jews has been a recurrent theme in history, even until today.

One reason for this long-standing hostility is the exclusiveness of the Jews. God had made a Covenant with them at Mount Sinai and the Gentiles had no part in it. So the Jews always looked down on the Gentiles and kept themselves away from them. The Law which God gave through Moses specifically commanded them not to participate in any binding alliances with Gentiles, whether in marriage, in business or in politics.

 

But in their zeal to keep these commandments, the Jews added on a lot more restrictions for themselves. For example, whenever they returned home from doing any business transaction with a Gentile, they had to immerse themselves in water to get rid of all the defilement they contracted through that transaction. Having meals with Gentiles was absolutely forbidden. Jews would never enter into the house of a Gentile because doing so would make them unclean for seven days.

 

This restriction can be seen when they brought Jesus to be tried at Pilate’s judgment hall in John 18:28 – “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” In our passage we see Peter not only entering into the house of a Gentile family, but after they were saved he stayed in their home for several days.

 

Therefore it is not surprising that after Peter returned to Jerusalem from the house of Cornelius, the Jewish believers there confronted him. Acts 11:2-3 tells us, “And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.” To them, there was only one possible way for a Gentile to be accepted as a believer: He must first become a Jew. This was not easy. It involved a long process which includes circumcision for males, and being bound after that to observe the many legalistic regulations about food, Sabbath keeping and ritual purity.

 

Before all that happened in Acts chapter 10, the apostle Peter himself had the very same attitude to Gentiles as all of them. He testified about this when he came to the house of Cornelius in v.28, “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

 

How was this shown to Peter? It came through a vision that he received when he was praying on a rooftop in Joppa (10:9-20). In this vision, Peter saw a large sheet being lowered down to earth on which were all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds – including all creatures that were forbidden for Jewish consumption according to the dietary restrictions of Leviticus chapter 11. Then Peter heard God commanding him to make a meal for himself from the meat of these animals, because it was lunchtime and Peter was very hungry.

 

But he reacted in the same way that any law-abiding Jew would – “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” (v.14) Perhaps Peter might have thought that God was just testing him to see how obedient he was to the Law. But the Lord’s reply to him was, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (v.15) These words must have struck Peter like a bolt out of the blue – “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”

 

This was a really huge paradigm shift for a Jew! It meant that Peter now had to stop regarding any animal, reptile or bird as being unclean. But there was more than just a change of diet involved here. Since this vision was followed immediately by a request from Cornelius to come and visit him, it also meant that Peter now had to stop restricting his social contact with Gentiles. If he continued to regard them as common and unclean, then he would be rebelling against God’s decree and denying the work which God has accomplished through Christ – His glorious work of bringing peace between Jews and Gentiles.

 

In verses 25 and 26 we see the blessed moment when they came together. Here comes Peter with some Jews from Joppa. And here comes the Gentile centurion welcoming them into his home. “And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.What a powerful picture of peace this is! After so many centuries of hostile animosity, we see a Gentile paying homage to a Jew. And after so many centuries of looking down on Gentiles, we see a Jew lifting up a Gentile to stand with him as a fellow man!

 

This wonderful peace has been wrought by the Lord Jesus who is the Prince of Peace. He has demolished the wall that separates Jews from Gentiles. This is described by Paul speaking to Gentile believers in Ephesians 2:13,14 – “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us…”

 

During World War II many Jews were mercilessly slaughtered in concentration camps by the Nazis. Just after the war, one of these Nazis came to a little village and boasted to all his friends there about how he killed hundreds of Jews. But what he did not know was that one of those who heard him boast was a Jew whose wife had lost all her family members in these concentration camps. However, this Jew and his wife were Christians, and instead of hating him and seeking revenge, they shared the gospel of Christ with him and forgave him for killing her whole family. When this German soldier saw that, he was moved to tears, realising how sinful he was. With full repentance, he knelt down and asked Christ to save him.

 

From that time onward he loved God’s people and no longer hated anyone. When he found peace with God, he also found peace with his fellow men. It is really exciting to see people who would normally hate or despise each other because of differences in race, culture, nationality or social status, now becoming the best of friends because they now love and serve the same Lord Jesus!

 

All distinctions that divide people from one another are dissolved only when they come to know the Lord as their Saviour. In Galatians 3:28, God’s Word tells us: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Since we are all one in Christ, we must lay aside all class distinctions and learn to accept one another, even those who carry some social stigma.

 

There was once a church that started a ministry to ex-offenders. By God’s grace, some were gloriously saved, and they started attending the church. But when the church members saw these ex-offenders, some of them felt uncomfortable to have them join them in their worship and fellowship. So they approached the pastor and asked him, “Pastor, we are so thankful that these ex-offenders are saved and attending our church. But we would like to ask whether we can start a separate service for them.” If I were the pastor my response would be, “Well, if we want to do that, then why not start having separate services for men and women? Or for collar workers and white collar workers? Is worship in heaven compartmentalised?”

 

Dearly beloved, my question to you this morning is this: Do you show discrimination towards believers who are different from you? Or would you welcome them and help them to integrate into God’s family? Since Christ welcomes all and brings peace to all, how can we do anything less than that? These are important truths we have seen about the Lord’s plan for all men. We shall go on now to consider one more truth which shows in what sense God is no respecter of persons…

 

3. Christ Must Be Preached to All

 

Christ must be preached to every nation with a sense of utmost urgency, because millions of souls are perishing without Him. Without knowing Christ, there isn’t even the remotest possibility of salvation for them! Whatever knowledge of God they may have from nature is insufficient to save them. It is only sufficient to judge them. God’s Word in Romans 1:20tells us plainly – “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…”

 

Instead of leading men to fear God and worship Him, this inadequate knowledge has only leads them deeper and deeper into sin and false worship, as stated in the next three verses – “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”

 

Besides this knowledge of God from nature, God has also given all men a conscience that enables them to know the difference between right and wrong. Romans 2:14-15 refers to this God-given conscience by saying, “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.”But the end result of being directed by one’s conscience alone is still condemnation.

 

There is only one kind of knowledge that can bring sinners to salvation: It is the Gospel of Christ! Cornelius understood this very well. He had abandoned the pagan idol worship of his own country and he was seeking for God earnestly. But even though he was a very devout man living a good moral life, he was still unsaved. Thus he fasted and prayed that God would give him the knowledge he needed. And God answered his prayer by sending the apostle Peter to his home. Let us see what Cornelius said to Peter in vv.33 –“…thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.”

 

Here Cornelius reveals his great need to hear the Word of God – he had prayed so hard for it, and he had waited so long for it. Now the moment had finally come for him to receive it. Then Peter said in verses 36-37 – 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…”

 

This ‘word’ that Peter mentioned here is none other than the Gospel of Christ which must be preached to all. If Cornelius needed to hear it in order to be saved, then every other Gentile in the world also needs to hear it. That is why Christ has given us the Great Commission, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations…” (Matthew 28:19) The word for ‘nations’ here is ethnos, and that would include every tribe, language, and ethnic group, regardless of whatever beliefs they already have. There is therefore no doubt that the Gospel of Christ must be preached to all. All men are lost; all men need to be saved; therefore all men must hear the Gospel, or else they will not be saved.

 

And this also includes people whom we may not be so comfortable to witness to because of certain prejudices that we hold. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul provides a list of people: Fornicators [referring to all kinds of sexual sins], idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind [These two terms refer to practising homosexuals], thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners. But after all that he adds, “And such were some of you[the Christians in the Corinthian Church] but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

 

This means that God is able to save anyone. No one is too unrighteous or too unholy to be saved. The question is, ‘Who will bring the Gospel of Christ to them?’ Are we willing to overcome our own personal prejudices in order to be effective witnesses to anyone at all who needs to hear the Gospel? This is not an easy question for us to answer. But then neither was it an easy question for the Jews in the early church to answer because of their long-standing alienation of Gentiles. We must be convinced that God is no respecter of persons, and this means that Christ welcomes all regardless of race or social distinction, Christ brings peace to all and Christ must be preached to all.

There is one question that many people ask: How about those who die in infancy and those who have no mental capacity to understand the Gospel – Can they be saved? Are they totally denied salvation just because they lack the capacity to understand the Gospel?

 

It must be admitted that God’s Word does not speak very much on this matter. But Jesus did say in Luke 18:16 – “Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” And in 2 Samuel 12:23 King David expressed confidence that he will see his deceased infant in heaven one day – “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

 

But there is a definite limit on what we may legitimately say on this matter. Some would speculate that all infants who die in infancy are automatically saved because it is claimed that they have done nothing to deserve judgment. But the Scriptures teach the sober truth that we are already sinners not only from birth, but even from the moment of conception, even though no actual sins have been committed yet. David testified in Psalm 51:5 – “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This sinful nature can be seen even in a newborn baby – He learns quickly how to be naughty and how to get what he wants. And so infants are sinners in need of salvation.

 

The best answer we can give is that since God is no respecter of persons, He is able to save anyone whom He has elected, and that includes those who cannot hear or understand the Gospel. The Westminster Confession expresses it well:  “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word.” (WCOF Chapter X, para 3)

 

All that is stated here is that by the same divine election that we have been saved, those who are incapable of hearing the Gospel can also be saved. It does not speculate how this happens, or whether they include only the infants of Christian parents or also those of non-Christian parents. All whom God elects are ultimately saved, and their salvation is wrought by God through Christ alone.

 

But what is good for us to know out of all this, is that their incapacity poses no barrier at all to God’s work of salvation. That puts them on the same level as everyone else. And this gives us tremendous hope and comfort if we ever have loved ones who are in such a state – a child who dies in infancy, or one who is born with some abnormality which makes him mentally handicapped (e.g. due to the Zika virus). Let us do our best for them, knowing that God can somehow save them. Let us pray for them, communicate Christ to them as simply as we can, and then leave the rest up to God.

 

The truth of the matter is that we too were once just like them. Ephesians 2:1,5 tells us that before we were saved we were all dead in sins. That means we were totally incapable of responding to the Gospel of Christ until the Spirit of God worked in us. Jesus said in John 6:44“No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” If God had not worked in your heart, and drawn you to Christ, would you be saved today? I am sure you would say, “No, I would not be saved.” Therefore, if you are saved, please be sure to thank God for it. He deserves all the glory for your salvation

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

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11