Cornelius: Conversion Of The "Unworthy" (2)

Acts: To The Ends Of The Earth  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:33
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When I was a kid, my dad built me a wooden house on stilts. Kind of like a treehouse but not in a tree; it was on stilts and had two entrances, one with a slide and the other a ladder, and two windows. There was a sign over the entrance at the ladder that my mom made for me. “Boys Club - Boys Allowed Only.” But then in parenthesis at the bottom it said, “(Girls Welcome Too)”.
I was sometimes puzzled over the sign. Is it a boys club or is it not? As a ten year old, I wanted boundaries. We couldn’t accept girls into a boys club. Couldn’t she see that was a slippery slope? Let girls in and then what’s next?”
We like to draw circles that exclude people who are different. Our circles include those people we like, those people who are like us. God draws a much bigger circle. He does not show partiality.
Liberal Christians would say there is no circle with God; no boundaries at all. God has no expectations, and everyone is saved and in right relationship with God already.
But we say there is a circle - a circle that is wide enough to contain everyone who will ever place faith in Jesus Christ. There is a circle, but an infinitely large one. God’s circle includes the people that we would like to exclude. Anyone who is willing to humble themselves, turn from their sin, look to Jesus in faith — anyone who is willing to do this, God accepts. And who God accepts, as His people, we must accept.
The sermon title is “Cornelius: ‘Conversion Of The Unworthy’”. Cornelius — with His conversion, the door to relationship with God the Father swung open wide to the Gentiles. No longer were non-Jews excluded from the people of God. In fact, none of us would be Christians today or be in this building, had it not been for Cornelius’ conversion. Nothing could be more monumental or impactful than salvation coming to Cornelius and then to the Gentiles.
And yet, it’s also true that nothing could have been more confusing and frustrating to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. “God wants to be in relationship with the Gentiles? The non-Jews? Just as much as with the Jews? This is about them, too? Gentiles are unclean, unworthy of grace (see the contradiction?). But now they’re being brought in?
We struggle with this too. We don’t have any formal groups of people that we shun; it operates below the surface in our tones of voice; the words we use and don’t use; the looks we give. We have our “unworthy” converts too. May this passage open our hearts and expand our circles.
Cornelius, the “unworthy” Gentile. How did God bring Cornelius to saving faith? That’s what we’ll explore with this sermon. Five steps in the on the road to the conversion of Cornelius, the unworthy Gentile. TFive steps on the road to conversion:
Steps on the road to conversion:
God prepares messenger & hearer
God brings messenger & hearer together
God uses the preached gospel
God seals the believer by the Spirit
God certifies the believer through baptism
These five steps are the same steps God used to bring us to faith, and He will use them with all those who don’t yet believe. Notice with me first, God prepares messenger and hearer.

Step 1: God prepares both messenger and hearer

God prepares both the messenger and the hearer.
[SLIDE: Roman cohort]
A Roman “cohort”:
A Roman military unit
Made up of 600 soldiers
600 soldiers divided into groups of 100
Cornelius was a centurion, over 100 soldiers
The first way we see that God prepares the hearer is found in verses 1-8. Cornelius is a centurion. That means he is not only a Roman citizen; he is also an officer in the Roman military. Cornelius is not a Jew. That’s significant. Cornelius was not part of the people of God, of Israel, like Peter had been.
But Cornelius is seeking God. Look with me at how he’s described in verse 2: “A devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” Something about the God of Israel was appealing to Him. He was drawn to the Israelite faith. He was drawn to God. More accurately, God was drawing Cornelius. When we seek God, church, we are only seeking Him because He has first begun to draw us. Cornelius is seeking God because God is drawing Cornelius. That is to say, God is preparing Cornelius for what is about to happen.
An angel shows up and addresses him by name: “Cornelius!” the angel says. Verses 4-6: Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose household is by the sea.”
So Cornelius does what he was told. He gets two of his servants — he’s a wealthy man in 1st century Rome, so he has slaves — and he sends these men to Joppa to get Peter. Cornelius, the hearer, is prepared. What about Peter, the hearer?
Look at verse 9. We’ll see here that God also has a vision for Peter. And notice the timing of this vision: “The next day, as they were on the journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray” (Acts 10:9 ESV). God’s fingerprints are all over this. God is orchestrating these events down to the minute details of time and location. Right as they are about to enter the city to speak with Peter, Peter is given this vision. And God gives him this vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, and on the sheet are all these animals.
And Peter sees the animals and he is confused because a voice from heaven says, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13 ESV). Peter’s initial response is: “By no means, Lord.”
The reason Peter is hesitant is that some of those animals are unclean. Under the Jewish law, some animals were clean and some animals were unclean. Peter is a Christian, yes, but Christianity up to this point has been very Jewish. Peter is a Christian but good Jew. The old covenant has passed away and all of those laws have been fulfilled in Christ. But Peter doesn’t quite understand that at this point. So he objects. “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!” Peter replies in verse 14, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” Look at the response: “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV). Three times Peter is told to do this.
Why has Peter been given this vision of these animals, told to kill and eat them? He doesn’t know yet, but we do. Peter is given this vision in which God tells him that he no loner considers unclean animals unclean. But it’s not just about animals. It’s about Peter’s mission. Peter is about to be summoned to the house of a Gentile, Roman military officer who wants to hear the gospel. So when the voice says, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”
If you’re here and you’re an unbeliever, you haven’t trusted in Christ for your salvation, God may be drawing you and seeking you not necessarily through dreams but maybe through someone else who is speaking into your life. Or God may be drawing you by giving you a deep, persistent, gnawing hunger for more. Do you have an emptiness that you just can’t fill? Do you have a sense that something is missing in your life? God is seeking you. Come talk to me if that’s you.
God prepares both messenger and hearer. That’s step one. Now notice with me step two: oGod also brings hearer and messenger together in a divine appointment.

Step 2: God brings the messenger and the hearer together in a divine appointment

What do I mean by divine appointment? I mean that God orchestrates the details of our lives to bring them together at just the right time to accomplish what He wants to accomplish in their life and in the wider church all the way down the ages of history to us here today.
The fact that Shannon and I met in the nation’s capital because at the same time we did the same thing — applied for an internship in arts management because both of us were music majors realizing there really wasn’t much we could do with our degrees. The fact that I came to Buffalo to be your pastor in January 2020 was a divine appointment (at least I think so — hope you guys feel the same way!).
Don’t you see, church, that every aspect of your life is a divine appointment; God is orchestrating your circumstances down to the tiniest details for our good and His glory. We see the divine appointment with Cornelius and Peter here, and we see it particularly in the timing.
We already saw the timing in verse 9. Just as Cornelius’ men are about to get to Peter, God gives Peter the vision to help him understand why those men have come. Now look with me at the timing in verse 17: “Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold” — notice the timing — Peter has just received this vision and he’s scratching his head trying to figure out what it means and — what do you know? — that’s what “behold” means, verse 17, “the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there” (Acts 10:17-18 ESV).
The rest of it’s pretty straightforward. Peter goes down to the men; they explain that they’re here because a man named Cornelius was directed by God to go look for Peter and bring him back and hear a message from him; Peter invites them in, in typical 1st century hospitality style, and they stay the night; the next day they make the trip back to Caesarea together.
Peter and his friends from Joppa, and the three men of Cornelius’ household, they arrive at Cornelius’ house, and there’s a crowd assembled. Waiting for them. Look with me and read along with verses 24-27, and notice how Luke, the author, communicates the suspense: “And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him” — it’s translated “worship” but he may just have been paying respect to Peter, but maybe it was worship, given Peter’s response in verse 26: “But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up, I too am a man.’” — don’t worship me, dude — that’s not what this is about — I’m a man just like you. And then notice the suspense: “And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered” (Acts 10:24-27 ESV).
This is a hard situation for Peter. How is this hard for Peter? “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
[LEV 20:26 slide]
Leviticus 20:26 ESV
You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.
Why is this a big deal for Peter? Because Gentiles are unclean. “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation.” Now you might be wondering where Peter is getting that from. Is the Bible telling us that racism is okay? No.
There was the OT law of God on the one hand, and man’s interpretation of it on the other. Much like there is the actual United States Constitution, and then there are interpretations given by judges and lawyers concerning what it means. The whole OT had stressed that the Israelites were to be different from the ungodly nations around them. “You shall be holy to me”, the Lord said to Israel in the law, “for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Lev. 20:26 ESV).
What does “be separate” mean?
Live differently
Don’t be influenced
The Jews thought it meant: avoid all contact and treat as subhuman
Separate means different than. “Be separate” means don’t be influenced by them. “Be separate” from non-Jews never meant “treat them like they’re inferior”. It meant love them, serve them, minister to them, but don’t adopt their practices. Be different than them, be holy for me, because I am holy. But the Jews had taken that text and others like it to mean that non-Jews must be spiritually, physically, ethnically, racially inferior. d
“I used to think this way”, says Peter to the large crowds of non-Jewish, Gentiles eagerly awaiting his message. But no more. What changed? Second part of verse 28: “But God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” God gave Peter a new understanding. That’s God’s part. But then there’s our part. Our part is to take what God shows us and live it out. And so Peter next says this, verse 29: “So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
Peter had gone into the house of a Gentile. Not just any Gentile - a Roman officer, a servant of the godless, secular, pagan imperial power of Rome. Caesar was his commander in chief. And not just in his home. Peter has come to Caesarea. What’s wrong with Caesarea? You won’t find the city of Caesarea in the OT. Do you know why? Because Caesarea wasn’t built until after Rome came in and occupied Israel. Caesarea was a city built by King Herod to be headquarters of Roman occupation of Israel. It was even named after Caesar [Lexham Bible Dictionary loc. cit.]. You couldn’t even enter the city without being reminded from every direction that Rome is in charge. The Jews hated Caesarea. It represented everything they were against.
Peter is surrounded by Gentiles, in the home of a Gentile man who is also a Roman military officer, in the city built for the Roman emperor.
Now let’s just go ahead and be honest and say that for a lot of evangelical Christians, this would be like entering the house of a gay man in a black neighborhood made up primarily of democrats. And these Gentile men and women assembled in this house are a willing, captive audience, about to hear the gospel from a man who ought to hate them. Why doesn’t he? Because God has changed him.
I came across this quote this past week.
Exalting Jesus in Acts (Scene 1: Introduction (Acts 9:32–10:8))
What is the most despised location in the world to you? Which nation, city, or part of town could you do without? — I would add this: what is the demographic that gets you all riled up? — Take a moment to consider why you feel that way. Now, imagine traveling to that location, working to befriend those you meet there, and offering them the good news. That’s Peter’s assignment. — And I would add, it’s our assignment.
Church, God is seeking men and women to be His worshipers from every nation, tribe, language and tongue. That includes the countless illegal aliens who are in our country, state, and city. I’m not getting into the politics of that so don’t go home and talk about how I took a position on it. Here’s my position: whatever you think about illegal immigration and immigrants, my plea to you is this: do not put your Christianity aside when you see them, think of them, or talk about them. No matter how they’ve gotten here, they’re here. Can we love them? No matter how long they’ll be here — whether they’re deported or what have you — they’re here now. Can you love them?
God prepares both messenger and hearer; God brings messenger and healer to

Step 3: God uses the preached message of the gospel

Cornelius is seeking God. And, Cornelius is not a believer in Christ. He isn’t a Christian yet. That means he is not yet in a right relationship with God. That means he is still in his sins.
Now you say, “Pastor Dustin, wasn’t Cornelius already saved when this whole story began?” “After all,” you say, “Luke tells us that Cornelius was a man who did the right thing and feared God.” Acts 10:34
Acts 10:34–35 ESV
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
“Anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him” — Is Peter saying salvation isn ‘t necessary, that good people go to heaven? Does that mean that we don’t need to do evangelism? Are we right with God only if we earn it by good works?
I don’t think so. Wait — I know it’s not the case. Here’s why. Look at the verse on your screen, Acts 4:12. This verse was found earlier in Acts as part of a sermon Peter preached. This is how he ended his sermon. This is Peter, same guy. Ends one of his sermons like this, Acts 4:12.
Acts 4:12 ESV
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Then turn over with me to the next chapter of Acts, Acts 11:14. Peter — again, same guy — is retelling this story about Cornelius. And he gives us a detail there that he doesn’t give us in chapter 10.
Acts 11:13–14 ESV
And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’
So no, it can’t mean that Cornelius is already saved. I think it means that no one — clean or unclean, black or white or brown, happy or sad, easy to love or difficult, funny or annoying, self-aware or not — no one is to excluded as unworthy of our love, unworthy of the gospel, unworthy of a place among God’s people and in heaven.
The circle is wide; it has enough room for every single person who has ever lived or will live. But only those who fear God. Only those who trust in Christ. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone is automatically saved and no one needs faith in Christ? No. He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him has eternal life.
Peter himself says this again in verse 42: “And He” — that is, Jesus — “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead.” And here it is: “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone…receives forgiveness of sins through his name” — is that what it says? No. Some of us may wish it says that. But it doesn’t say that. It says “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”.
God uses the preached message of the gospel to save the unworthy.
Romans 10:17 ESV
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
God uses the gospel, but not only the gospel — God uses the gospel as spoken by human beings to brings people to faith in Jesus.
Think about it: Why didn’t the angel just tell Cornelius the gospel? It would have saved a lot of trouble and a lot of time. The angel does not preach the gospel to Cornelius; no, the angel rather asks Cornelius to arrange the complicated process of going to get Peter and then returning with Peter.
How many of you pride yourselves on saving time and being efficient? This is not very efficient, is it?
Eliminating racism from my heart and yours
1. We must glimpse God’s heart of love for all races
2. We must come into relationship with people of other races
Yes. God wants to save Cornelius, yes, but God is also concerned about Peter. Peter also needs to grow. Peter needs to let go of his prejudice. We can say Peter was a racist. Peter would go on to play too important of a leadership role in the work of God to go on seeing the world through the lens of his racial prejudice. His heart must change. Our hearts must change.
How does that happen? How does racism go away? What will root racism out of the human heart? It only happens if two conditions are in place: 1) Peter glimpses the heart of God for all races, and 2) comes into contact and then into relationship with someone of a different race. For most of Peter’s life, he had looked at people like Cornelius and automatically assumed there was nothing God could do with them. Peter was wrong. And so are we. God wants to expand Peter’s heart, not just renovate Cornelius’ heart. And he wants to do the same for us.
How do you talk about people who are part of different groups?
Pay attention this week to the ways you talk about people who are part of different groups. This could be people who are of a different race, different political party, who live in a different part of town, etc. Jesus caused shockwaves to reverberate through creation when He said “Love your enemy”. It was revolutionary; no moral teacher taught love for the enemy. If that’s our calling, to love those who are different, how often do your words and your tone communicate love? How often do they communicate contempt?
God prepares both messenger and hearer. God brings both messenger and hearer together in a divine appointment. God uses the preached message of the gospel channeled through a human preacher. Fourth step? God seals the repentant hearer by pouring out the Holy Spirit.

Step 4: God seals the repentant hearer by pouring out the Holy Spirit

Verses 44-45: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”
If you have been born again, friends — if you’ve trusted in Christ for your salvation — the Holy Spirit of God is your permanent possession. He has come to live inside you. The Bible says, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit”.
The apostle Paul says the Holy Spirit is a downpayment. How many of you have bought a car or a house in the last two years? Did you put down a downpayment? What is the purpose of the downpayment? It’s 1) the first installment and 2) a guarantee that the rest is coming.
The Holy Spirit is a downpayment on our future as believers. We will spend eternity with God, in His presence where there will be no pain or death or sickness or sadness. But we don’t have to wait until then to experience God. The Holy Spirit is God - He’s the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is God Himself coming and moving into your heart. Could there be any stronger statement, any more proof, that God not only loves you but likes you? In the Holy Spirit God is saying “I want closeness with you. I want a real relationship with you.” No other religion besides Christianity dares to say that the personal Creator and Judge is also one who wants to be close to you.
God prepares both the hearer and the messenger; God brings both hearer and messenger together in a divine appointment; God uses the preached message of the gospel, through a human channel; God seals the new believer with the Holy Spirit; and lastly, God certifies the new believer through water baptism.

Step 5: God certifies the new believer through water baptism

The first thing that takes place after Cornelius and his household trust in Christ for their salvation is — they are baptized. Peter commands that this should happen. “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47 ESV).
Baptism is the first act of obedience of a Christian. “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20 ESV). In baptism, we are going public with our faith. We are publicly declaring, “I belong to Jesus, and henceforth I will make it my aim to live for Him; even if I fail every day, I will get back and keep following.
Have you been baptized,? If you have made a profession of faith in Jesus, there is no reason not to be baptized. It’s such a privilege, and such a beautiful picture of our identification with Christ and our death to sin. Baptism is in fact so important that the NT doesn’t have a category for a Christian who has not been baptized.

Conclusion and call for response

I recently heard about a missionary in a dangerous part of the Middle East who started an underground church. Locals tried to discover the location of that assembly in order to persecute the believers there, but they could never find it.
Late one night, however, the missionary heard a knock on the door of the secret church. He cautiously opened it to see a tribesman standing there. The man explained that he had walked for days in order to find the missionary. He said, “I had a vision three days ago that there would be a man standing at this address who would tell me how to get to heaven. Sir, are you this man?”
That tribesman, like Cornelius, was given a vision leading him to an evangelist who would teach him how to cross from spiritual death to abundant life.
An old classmate was recently ministering to Muslims in Washington, DC. One day a Muslim man approached him and asked, “Who is ‘I Am’? I keep seeing ‘I Am’ in my dreams.” After giving a summary explanation, he gave the seeker a Bible and encouraged him to read the Gospel of John. It wasn’t long until he led the man to faith in Jesus, and at that point the convert confessed, “Many of the ‘I am’ statements I read in John I heard first in my dreams!” [Merida p148]
God is seeking men and women to be His worshippers.
John 4:23 CEV
But a time is coming, and it is already here! Even now the true worshipers are being led by the Spirit to worship the Father according to the truth. These are the ones the Father is seeking to worship him.
John 10:16 ESV
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Church family, is God seeking you?
If you’re here this morning and you belong to Jesus, you’ve trusted in Him, you’re job now is to share your faith with the lost. You’re job now is to love the unworthy, to point them to Jesus. I get that when we talk about evangelism we feel guilty almost immediately because we know we neglect it, and yet we’re afraid to do it because we’re afraid we don’t know how. Did you know church family that there is one thing that absolutely anyone can do? If you don’t feel comfortable giving a gospel presentation or sharing your testimony with the lost, you can do this: Invite them to church.
Now I want to speak to those of you who have not trusted in Jesus. What are you waiting for?
Isaiah 55:6 ESV
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
Are you afraid you’re not good enough to be a Christian? Throw that lie out the window because it’s not about being good; we become Christians because we know we’re not good and we need help, and we know that in Jesus we find that help.
Are you putting it off because you want to have a good time now? You’ll worry about believing in Jesus later. Friend, that’s foolish, and arrogant. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. You may not have another opportunity. Do it now.
Are you putting it off because you just simply don’t believe this whole Christianity thing is true? Here’s what you do: get on your knees and honestly pray, “God, show me the truth.” Seek the Lord and He will be found. “Seek the Lord while he may be found,” the Bible says, “call upon him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6 ESV). Seek the Lord and come to talk to me. There are answers to your questions. Let’s work through it together. All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
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