Into the Deep

Scripture: Acts 23b-48

Title: Into the Deep

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Peter approaches Cornelius as an equal
  • Conclusion

Watch the Week 2 Self Denial ‘Into the Deep’ DVD clip…

https://www.tranzsend.org.nz/week-2-video-prayer-and-self-denial

Introduction:

The headline for this year’s Tranzsend Prayer and Self Denial campaign is: ‘til the nets are full’

  • This is a reference to the story in Luke 5, where Jesus taught the crowds from Simon Peter’s fishing boat
  • When Jesus had finished speaking to the people he said to Simon Peter…
  • ‘Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets to catch some fish’
  • When Peter did this they caught so many fish their boats were on the verge of sinking. Afterwards Jesus says to Peter…
  • “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be a fisher of men.”
  • In other words, ‘Peter, I’m calling you to catch people for me – to bring men & women into the kingdom of God’

This story from Luke forms the back drop of Tranzsend’s Prayer & Self Denial campaign this year

Today’s sub heading is “Into the Deep”

  • Please turn with me to Acts 10 verse 23 – page 164 toward the back of your pew Bibles
  • In this passage we read how Peter ventures into the deep to preach the gospel among the Gentiles
  • This was a fishing spot Peter hadn’t imagined God would use – but one which would become very fruitful

You may remember from last week how Cornelius had sent 3 of his men to invite Peter to his home in Caesarea, after receiving a vision from God

  • God gave Peter a vision as well, assuring Peter he should go with them
  • We pick up the story from the second half of verse 23 – top of page 164

Read Acts 10:23b-48

 

May the Spirit of Jesus give us understanding

Peter approaches Cornelius as an equal

There was a Scottish farmer who did not believe the gospel story

  • The idea that God would become a man seemed absurd to him
  • His wife however was a devout believer and raised their children in the Christian faith
  • The farmer sometimes gave her a hard time, mocking her faith and belief
  • “It’s all nonsense”, he said. “Why would God lower himself to become a human like us?”

One snowy Sunday evening his wife took the children to church while the farmer stayed home to relax

  • After they had left the weather deteriorated into a blinding snow storm
  • Then he heard a loud thump against the window
  • Then another thump and another
  • He ventured outside to see what was happening
  • There in the field was the strangest sight: a flock of geese
  • They’d been migrating south & had become disorientated by the storm

The farmer had compassion on them

  • Wanting to help he opened the doors of his barn and stood back, hoping they would find their way in for warmth & shelter – but they didn’t
  • So he tried to shoo the geese in but they scattered in all directions
  • Perplexed, he got some bread and made a trail into the barn but they didn’t catch on
  • Nothing he did got them into the warmth and shelter of the barn

Feeling totally frustrated he exclaimed…

  • “Why won’t they follow me? Can’t they see this is the only place where they can survive the storm? How can I possibly get them to safety?”

He thought for moment and then realised they wouldn’t follow a man – the only way would be for him to become a goose

  • If he were like them he could speak to them in their own language and they would trust him and follow him anywhere

At that moment the farmer realised the implication

  • “If only I could become like one of them, then I could save them”
  • At last he understood God’s heart towards humankind [1]
  • God became a man (in the person of Jesus) in order to save us

In the Tranzsend DVD clip we saw earlier, Richard & Sally told us about Nondita – a young woman who had graduated from their Bible school and made the decision to work in a garment factory, from the bottom up

  • Nondita did this to understand the way the garment workers think, to fully appreciate where they are coming from
  • This is very much the incarnational model of Christ

That word ‘incarnation’ essentially means that God became a human being in Jesus

  • In other words, God approaches us on equal terms or on an even footing
  • He puts himself in our shoes, not talking down to us in a language we can’t understand, but walking & talking with us (alongside us) as one who has entered into our experience and shared our suffering and knows the joys and pains of being human

As a Bible College graduate I imagine Nondita had options, but (like Jesus) she laid her options aside and chose to approach garment workers on an even footing, on equal terms, as one alongside

We see Peter take a similar approach in Acts 10 with Cornelius

  • From verse 25 of Acts 10 we read…
  • As Peter was about to go in, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and bowed down before him. But Peter made him rise. “Stand up”, he said; “I myself am only a man.”

John Stott observes here that…

  • Peter refused to be treated by Cornelius as if he were a God
  • And he refused to treat Cornelius as if he were a dog. [2]

In other words, Peter approaches Cornelius on equal terms

  • Peter does not look down on Cornelius and he does not allow Cornelius to think of himself as inferior
  • Peter makes it clear that the ground is level at the foot of the cross
  • Evangelism (telling others good news) is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread
  • Peter has the humility to understand that they are both beggars and God is the baker
  • Just because Peter knows where the bakery is doesn’t make him superior to Cornelius
  • To the contrary, it makes Peter responsible to pass on the good news

As Richard Rohr points out, Jesus referred to his followers as salt and light

  • Salt is not the whole meal and light illuminates something else [3]
  • Peter knows he’s not the whole meal – he is simply there to illuminate the way for Cornelius

Peter says, “You yourselves know very well that a Jew is not allowed by his religion to visit or associate with Gentiles. But God has shown me that I must not consider any person ritually unclean of defiled.”

  • Now, from a Gentile point of view, that might seem offensive to us
  • It kind of comes across like Peter is saying, “I’m better than you”
  • But I don’t think Peter means it like that – he’s not being offensive
  • Actually he’s taking responsibility for one of the excesses of his own people, the Jews
  • He’s basically admitting that the Judaism of his day had got it wrong by becoming too exclusive

Now let me be clear – a certain amount of exclusiveness is necessary to maintain cultural identity and purity of worship

  • If we become too inclusive we end up losing our distinctiveness and blending in with everyone else
  • The Jewish exiles needed to work very hard at being distinctive from the nations around them in order to stay faithful to Yahweh
  • They just took it too far
  • The Jews were meant to use the light they had been given to illuminate the way for the Gentiles, but instead they hid their light under a bushel
  • We hide our light under a bushel when we don’t associate with people who are different from us – when we don’t let others see our light

Of course it’s not just the Jews who have made the mistake of becoming too exclusive

  • Different branches of the Christian church have done the same thing at various times over the past 2000 years – including the Baptist movement

A little exclusiveness is necessary then, to maintain our distinctiveness from the world

  • But inclusiveness is also needed for people to taste the salt & see the light

After Cornelius has explained his reason for inviting Peter, Peter then goes on to give his sermon and he begins by saying…

  • “I now realise that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis. Whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him, no matter what race he belongs to…”

The implication here is that Cornelius’ Gentile nationality is acceptable to God and so Cornelius has no need to become a Jew [4]

  • This does not mean that Cornelius’ own righteousness was adequate for salvation – if it was then Cornelius would have no need to listen to Peter

Peter continues his sermon in this affirming tone, acknowledging what Cornelius and his household already know

  • Verse 36: ‘You know the message… of peace through Jesus
  • Verse 37: ‘You know of the great event that took place…
  • Verse 38: ‘You know about Jesus of Nazareth…

This is quite lovely of Peter really

  • It’s like Peter is saying to Cornelius, you’re not starting from scratch here mate, you already know much of the background
  • It’s a way of acknowledging what Cornelius brings to the conversation
  • In doing this Peter is finding common ground
  • And the beautiful thing is Jesus is the common ground

Having acknowledged what Cornelius already knows about Jesus, Peter then goes on to talk about what Cornelius doesn’t know – in particular…

  • Jesus’ healing ministry
  • Jesus’ death and resurrection
  • Jesus as judge of the living and the dead
  • And Jesus as the means of salvation
  • For as the prophets (of the Old Testament) said…
  • everyone who believes in him will have his [or her] sins forgiven.  

As Peter spoke the Holy Spirit came down on all who were listening and they started speaking in strange tongues, praising God’s greatness

To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is to receive something of God himself

  • The gift of the Spirit is proof of God’s acceptance of us personally
  • It’s sort of like God’s authenticating signature on the portrait of our lives
  • Or His water mark on the currency of our soul
  • Or, to use a more 21st Century analogy, His electronic identification chip in the passport of our heart

There is more to the person of the Spirit than that of course, but you get the point – the gift of the Spirit seals the deal. Nothing trumps the Spirit.

Speaking in strange tongues in this context means speaking another language (one you don’t know)

  • Like being a native English speaker and then suddenly being able to speak fluent Cantonese or German or Afrikaans or whatever

Speaking in strange tongues is not the only sign of the Spirit

  • God’s Spirit can express Himself through us in any number of ways
  • But on this particular occasion God’s Spirit expressed Himself through tongues, most likely for the benefit of the Jewish believers who were witnessing it
  • You may remember in Acts 2 how God poured out His Spirit on the Jewish believers and they started speaking in strange tongues too
  •  Acts 10 is sort of a repeat of the Pentecost of Acts 2, only it is the Gentiles’ Pentecost this time

Peter had already said Cornelius and his household were on an even footing with him – now God confirms it with the gift of the very same Spirit & tongues

  • God couldn’t be more clear – He accepts people of all nations
  • Peter recognises this and orders the Gentiles to be baptised with water in the name of Jesus

Throughout the book of Acts Christian conversion normally involves 6 things…

  • The gospel about Jesus is preached, in particular his death & resurrection
  • The listener is convicted of their sin
  • And they put their faith in Jesus to save them
  • There is baptism with water (in the name of Jesus)
  • And the Holy Spirit is given to seal the deal
  • The new believer also starts sharing life with other Christians – they become part of the church in other words

These things don’t always happen in the same order and they don’t necessarily happen on the same day – they may happen over weeks, months or even years

The text of Acts 10 implies that Cornelius’ conversion happened over the course of a number of years

  • It appears that Cornelius felt a conviction of sin well before he met Peter
  • Cornelius lived a very pious life, praying and performing acts of charity, which suggests to me he was conscious of his wrong doing and wanting peace with God
  • Cornelius’ faith is seen by his obedience to God in asking Peter to come to his home and in listening to Peter’s message
  • That Peter preaches the good news about Jesus to Cornelius is quite clear in today’s reading
  • Next comes the gift of the Holy Spirit
  • Closely followed by baptism in water
  • And then they share life together as Cornelius invites Peter and the other Jewish believers to stay a few days
  • Eventually (as we shall hear next Sunday) the Jewish church in Jerusalem also accepted the Gentile believers as part of the wider Church universal

That’s the way it happened for Cornelius

  • Maybe it happened a different way for you?

Perhaps you were baptised as an infant but didn’t really begin to live out that baptism until much later in life when God made Jesus real for you by His Spirit

Or maybe your conversion is still a work in progress

  • Maybe you have prayed the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus into your heart but have never got around to being baptised in water
  • Maybe that’s something to think & pray about?

Or perhaps, like Cornelius, you have lived with a feeling of guilt (the conviction of sin) for many years and you long for peace with God

  • As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied
  • Maybe God wants you to lay down your burden, to stop doing your penance and put your trust in Jesus
  • If that’s you then there will be someone to pray with you at the front by the water cooler after the service this morning     

 

Conclusion:

Today we have heard how Peter ventures into the deep by approaching Cornelius on equal terms

  • Peter won’t allow Cornelius to feel inferior
  • Instead Peter makes it all about Jesus
  • And God confirms the Gentile believers’ equality with the Jewish believers through the gift of the Holy Spirit

One thing in all of this (which is pretty obvious but still needs to be said) is that the initiative with conversion is always with God

  • God got Cornelius to invite Peter to his home
  • And God changed Peter’s point of view so that Peter could see it was a good idea to go to the home of a Gentile
  • Peter preached, but God interrupted Peter’s sermon with a message of His own – the gift of the Spirit
  • The initiative was always with God – Peter was just doing his best to keep up

The application for us is we need to wait for God

  • If we go out into the deep of mission work without God we are courting disaster
  • If we try to rush people into making a decision for Christ before they are ready we can do more harm than good

By the same token we don’t want to lag too far behind God either

  • When God calls us out into the deep then we must act
  • What we learn in the process is that God owns the deep
  • When someone is ready to receive Christ (as Cornelius was) simply sharing our story of Jesus will probably be enough

The question for us is: what is God doing and how can we work in harmony with Him?

Let us pray…

[1] This story comes from J. John & Mark Stibbe’s book, ‘A Bundle of Laughs’, page 39.

[2] Refer John Stott’s commentary on Acts, page 189.

[3] Refer Richard Rohr’s book, ‘Things Hidden’, page 44.

[4] Refer John Stott’s commentary on Acts, page 190.

Advertisements