On the Day of Pentecost, the Lord’s disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. And when a crowd gathered to see what was happening, Peter explained that the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus Christ had sent his Spirit upon them in order to fulfil the promise God had made through the OT prophet Joel that in the last days he would pour out his Spirit on all kinds of people. All kinds of people would receive his Spirit and would be added to his church.
Later, after Stephen was killed, the believers fled from Jerusalem and were scattered here, there and everywhere. And one of them, Philip the Evangelist, came to a city in Samaria. And he preached the gospel to the Samaritans. The Samaritans were half-Jews and half-Gentiles. And many of them believed and were baptised. And when Peter and John arrived to see what was happening, the Samaritan believers were also filled with the Holy Spirit. God was keeping his promise to pour out his Spirit on all kinds of people. Not just the Jews, but Samaritans too were filled with his Spirit and were added to the church.
And now, in Acts 10, we read how Cornelius and the members of his household were also filled with the Holy Spirit. And, of course, Cornelius was a Gentile. And so, once again, God was keeping his promise to pour out his Spirit on all kinds of people.
Salvation — the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life — salvation and membership of Christ’s church is not for the Jews only. And it’s not for the Jews and Samaritans only. It’s for the Gentiles too.
We began to look at Acts 10 last week when we got to verse 33. And we saw that in verses 1 to 33 there were two visions: First of all, there was Cornelius in Caesarea who received a vision from the Lord. And in his vision he was instructed to fetch Peter so that he could hear a message from the Lord. Then there was Peter was in Joppa who received a vision from the Lord. And in his vision, he was invited to kill and eat animals which he once regarded as unclean. But God was showing him that he wasn’t to regard them like that anymore. But the point of the vision wasn’t really about how Peter should regard animals. It was really about how he should regard people. Once he regarded the Gentiles as unclean. Now, though, he must be prepared to go to them and to preach to them and to welcome all who trust in the Saviour.
So, there were two visions. But there were also two journeys. First of all, Cornelius sent some of his men to find Peter in the city of Joppa. Then, secondly, Peter and some of his companions travelled back to Caesarea with Cornelius’s men in order to meet Cornelius.
And when they got there, they found a large gathering of people. Cornelius had invited his relatives and friends to come and hear this word from the Lord which Peter was commanded to tell them. And we finished last week on verse 33 where we learned three things about preaching. First of all, every minister is called by God to preach his word. Secondly, the congregation must listen to everything the preacher has been called by God to preach. Thirdly, God is with us whenever his word is preached and heard. He draws near to us and he works through the reading and preaching of his word to help us.
Verses 34 and 35
So, the scene has been set. Cornelius and his relatives and friends have gathered together in his house to hear what Peter has to say. And Peter has just arrived and is ready to preach to them. And in verse 34, he begins to speak. Now, his sermon here is very short. It only takes a minute or two to read what Peter says here. And so, this is probably only a summary of what he said. And that’s probably true of most of the sermons we read in Acts. Luke doesn’t record every word which was said. He only summarises what was said. He gives us the main points.
And the first main point Peter makes is to point out to his hearers what he has only just discovered for himself. Verse 34: He now understands that God doesn’t show favouritism. He doesn’t show partiality. And Peter then explains what he means in verse 35: He now understands that God is willing to accept people from every nation. Up until recently, it seemed to Peter that God favoured the people of Israel. It seemed to Peter that God would only accept Jews as his people. But now he understands that God is prepared to accept people from every nation of the world. Salvation is not for the Jews only. It’s for all.
Now, Peter says something a little puzzling at the end of verse 35. He says that God accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. And the commentators spend a lot of time trying to explain these words, because it sounds as if Peter is contradicting what the rest of the Bible teaches. The rest of the Bible teaches that we’re saved not by what we do, but by what Christ has done for us. But Peter seems to be saying that we’re saved by what we do. If we fear God and if we do what is right, then God is willing to accept us. But the rest of the Bible teaches that none of us has done what is right. Every day we do what is wrong and even our best deeds are spoiled by our sin. And therefore, we must trust in the Lord Jesus and in what he has done on our behalf in order to save us from our sins and to make peace with God.
So, is Peter contradicting the rest of the Bible? Well no. Look down to verse 43 and to some words which I often use on Sundays as the Assurance of Pardon after we confess our sins before God. Peter finishes his sermon by declaring that all the Old Testament prophets testify that everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus receives forgiveness of sins. Who receives forgiveness from God? Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose again. Therefore, whatever Peter means in verse 35, he cannot mean that we’re saved by what we do. Acceptance with God is by faith in the Lord Jesus and in what he has done to save sinners.
So, what does Peter mean in verse 35? Well, there are several options, but I’ll just mention one of them. When Peter refers to those who fear God and who do what is right, he referring to the marks which identify those who truly belong to him.
A farmer will mark his sheep in order to show that they belong to him. And the Lord Jesus marks his sheep to show that we really belong to him. And how does he mark us? Well, he enables his true sheep to worship him and to do what is right. Whenever someone worships the Lord and tries to do what’s right, that’s a clue to tell us that that person is a true believer. What they do tells us that this person probably belongs to the Lord.
And so, Peter may be referring in verse 35 to the marks which identify a true believer. God accepts those who worship him and do what is right, not because they worship him and do what is right, but because such people trust in the Saviour. And all who trust in the Saviour are recognised because they worship God and try to do what is right.
And God is prepared to accept such people no matter where they come from. He’s prepared to accept believing Jews. He’s prepared to accept believing Samaritans. He’s also prepared to accept believing Gentiles. So long as someone believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, God is prepared to accept that person.
But if God is going to accept Cornelius and his household, then they must first believe in the Lord Jesus. And in order to believe in him, they need to hear about him. And so, Peter continues his sermon by telling Cornelius and his household about the Lord Jesus.
Verses 36 to 41
Peter refers to the message about Jesus Christ in verse 36 as ‘a message of peace through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all.’ And it’s a message of peace because the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for all our sins and to make peace with God for us.
When one person has offended another person, there is trouble between them. A husband offends his wife — and they fall out. They’re not talking to one another. If what he has done is serious enough, then their marriage is at risk of coming apart. But if the husband loves his wife, then he’ll do whatever is necessary to make up for what he has done. He’ll do whatever he can. And if he’s successful, then he’s managed to reconcile his wife and there’s peace between them once again.
But here’s the thing with God and us: Though we’re the ones who have offended God by our disobedience, remarkably he’s the one who has done what’s necessary to make up for our sins. While we’re the ones who have done wrong, he’s the one who makes the peace. And, on Sunday, as we take the bread and the wine, which speak to us of the Lord’s body broken for us, and of his blood shed for us, we’re reminded once again of what it cost the Lord to make up for our sins and to make peace between us.
That message of peace through Jesus Christ has been proclaimed to the people of Israel, says Peter in verse 36. And from verse 37 to verse 41 Peter outlines the main parts of this message of peace. First of all, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. Peter is referring to the Lord’ baptism when the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. Next, he went about going good and healing all who were under the power of the Devil, because God was with him. The Lord Jesus was able by the power of the Holy Spirit to cast out demons and to heal the sick. However, verse 39: The Jews killed him by hanging him on a tree. While it was Pilate who gave the order for the Lord to be crucified, Peter here blames the Jews in Jersualem, because, of course, the Jewish Sanhedrin had condemned him to die, and the people had urged Pilate to crucify him. And Peter says that the Lord was killed on a tree. Presumably he was thinking of Deuteronomy 21 where we read that whoever is hung on a tree is cursed by God. And the point is that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered the curse of God which we deserve for our sins. He was cursed in our place so that we might receive the blessing of God. He was condemned so that we might be pardoned. He died so that we might have everlasting life.
So, the Lord Jesus was killed on a tree. But, verse 40, God raised him from the dead on the third day. And afterwards he was seen by men. And those men who saw him also ate with him and drank with him — and therefore they were able to testify that this wasn’t a ghost. It wasn’t a spirit. The Lord Jesus, who died and who was buried, was raised bodily from the grave. And they were eye-witnesses to his resurrection.
What Peter says here is very similar to what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
The Lord Jesus died for our sins, taking the curse we deserve. Afterwards he was raised from the dead. And then, people saw him.
So how, according to the Bible, do we know that the Lord Jesus is alive? We know it because people saw him alive again after he had died. And those eye-witnesses have written down what they saw. We have their testimony of what they saw.
When we’re telling people about the gospel, when we go around the district in a few weeks’ time to knock on the doors and to speak to people, we need to turn their attention again and again to what the gospels say about the Lord Jesus. Our message is not:
This is what I think.
This is what I feel.
Our message is:
This is what happened.
We say to people:
Let me tell you what happened to the Lord Jesus. Even though he himself did nothing wrong, he was killed. But afterwards he rose again. And the reason we know this is true is because some of those who were eye-witnesses have written down what they saw with their own eyes. And they have written down these things so that we might know these things for ourselves and believe in him.
The gospel message is not about what you or I think or feel or imagine. It’s about things that really happened. And we need to tell people about these things so that they too will know these things and believe in the one who died but rose again and is coming again one day.
Verses 42 and 43
And that brings us to the conclusion of Peter’s sermon in verses 42 and 43. The Lord Jesus who died and rose again commanded the Apostles to go and preach to the people and to testify that he’s the one who has been appointed by God to judge the living and the dead. In other words, everyone who ever lived will one day appear before him to give an account of their lives. And the message of the Bible is that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. The judgment is coming. But on that day, the verdict on all who have trusted in him will be: Not guilty. Not guilty and accepted by God.
Verses 44 to 48
With that, Peter finishes his sermon. And look at the outcome! In fact, before he had finished speaking, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard what he said about the Lord Jesus. And verse 45: The Jewish believers were astonished. And they were astonished because God was prepared to give his Spirit even to the Gentiles. In other words, salvation wasn’t for the Jews only. It was for the Gentiles too — and for all who call on the name of the Lord.
And in order to make it absolutely clear that the Holy Spirit had come on them, they were enabled to speak in tongues. Since Luke doesn’t add any explanation about this, we must assume that speaking in tongues here means the same as speaking in tongues in Acts 2. In other words, they were enabled to speak in other languages. And in these other languages, they praised God together.
By giving them the Spirit, God was showing Peter and his Jewish companions that he was willing to accept believing Gentiles as his people and that they too should be welcomed into the church of Jesus Christ. And so, Peter commands them to be baptised with water as a sign and seal of God’s promise to wash away our sins for ever. And finally, we read how they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Isn’t that interesting? Once Peter and Cornelius had nothing in common. But now, through Christ, they’re brought together and they have fellowship together. Well, in the reading earlier from the Catechism, it said that before we come to the Lord’s Table we must examine ourselves as to our love. We’re to examine ourselves to see whether we love the Lord who loved us and gave up his life for us on the cross. And we’re to examine ourselves to see whether we love our fellow believers. And the purpose of examining ourselves is so that, before we come to the Lord’s Table on Sunday, we have time to confess our shortcomings to the Lord and to seek his forgiveness. And we have time to put things right and to go to the person we have offended and to ask for their forgiveness too. And therefore we can come to the Table, and enjoy fellowship with the Lord and with his people.