Good News for All Peoples
As we continue looking at how God brings together people groups, we see that His gospel is good news not just for Israel, but for all the peoples of the earth. It is an inclusive truth claim.
Acts (The NIV Application Commentary), Ajith Fernando
We’re in something of a “Part 2” in our series of sermons through the book of Acts. Last week we started looking at this issue of how different people groups can be brought together. We saw God send Peter, a Jewish Christian, who thought of himself as one of the “clean” people, to a man named Cornelius, a non-Jew, which the Jews of the time called a Gentile, and also a non-Christian, who Peter would have thought of as “unclean.” In response Peter went and associated with a man he’d considered unclean for his entire life, and today we’re going to find that Peter actually proclaimed the same message to him that Peter proclaimed to his own people. Today it’s common to suggest one should not do that. A set of beliefs can be true for you individually or perhaps even for your culture, but they should never be forced on another culture. While Peter doesn’t force his beliefs on Cornelius, he does proclaim them to Cornelius as true, only instead of excluding Cornelius, Peter’s message includes him; it brings together two people groups that had been separated for centuries, because the gospel is good news for all peoples. It’s good news for all peoples because of the content of the gospel itself, it’s proven to be good news for all peoples by the fruit it bears, and then we’ll close by talking about the responsibilities that places on those who believe it. The content of the gospel, the fruit of the gospel, and the responsibility of gospel-believers.
The content of the gospel
The gospel message itself necessitates that it be good news for all peoples, and we hear this message from Peter in our passage, so let’s just walk through it. He starts with this statement that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him. At the beginning of chapter 10, we read that Cornelius was in fact such a man: He feared God, gave alms to the poor, and prayed to God, though he was a Gentile, so Peter is saying here that you, Cornelius, are acceptable to God, despite not being Jewish, because God shows no partiality.
He doesn’t say Cornelius is already accepted by God. He still proclaims the gospel to him and tells him about how to receive forgiveness of sins. In chapter 11, verse 14, we read that God sent Peter to Cornelius to proclaim to him a message by which he and his household would be saved. So Cornelius wasn’t already saved, but his Gentile status did not prevent God from hearing his prayers, seeing His good works, and responding by sending Peter to him so that He could be saved. God is impartial; He doesn’t judge by appearances or take bribes. Whether you’re black, white, poor, rich, old, young, “weird,” or “normal,” if you fear God and do what is right, He will send someone to you to proclaim the gospel, and in fact if you’re here today that’s what He’s already done.
But you do still need to hear the gospel to be saved, just as Cornelius did; so let’s get into it. Right there as he begins in verse 36 Peter describes the gospel as a word God sent to Israel, not to Cornelius a Gentile, and then proceeds to tell it to Cornelius anyway, because though the good news was sent to Israel, it wasn’t just sent for Israel. It’s good news of peace, and who doesn’t need peace? I once had opportunity to meet a Muslim man from the Sudanese people group in Indonesia, one of the last reached people groups in the world, who had converted to Christianity. He told me that for years Western Christians would talk to him about Jesus, and they’d tell him how they used to get drunk, but then they got saved, and now they don’t get drunk. It made no difference to him. It wasn’t good news to him, because he was a good Muslim: He didn’t get drunk. But then one came to him and told him that when he became a Christian, he finally had peace. This Christian told him what Jesus did to make peace with God possible, and that was the good news this man heard and believed. The biggest problem every human faces, no matter their people group, the problem to which all of our other problems are mere symptoms, is that from the moment we were born we’ve been in conflict with our creator, and we will not have true peace until we have peace with Him through Jesus Christ.
The heart of the gospel is good news of peace through Jesus Christ, whom Peter then calls Lord of all. In other words, the content of the gospel is good news of peace through a person, a person who isn’t you, but a person who is also Lord of all, so that through Him, this peace is available to you, whoever you are. If peace with God was through you, it would only be good news for people like you. If peace with God was through Judaism, as Peter previously assumed, it’d be good news for the Jews, but not for all peoples. If peace with God was through your goodness, it’d be good news for the “good” people but not for all peoples. But if peace with God is through Him, and He is Lord of all peoples, the gospel is good news for all peoples.
The rest of Peter’s gospel presentation starting in verse 38 then shows us why it is that peace with God is through Jesus Christ. He was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power, and He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. God’s anointing of Him and presence with Him in His good works and healing demonstrated that He was the divine Son of God, but then He was hung on a tree. Peter could have said nailed to a cross, but the reference to hanging on a tree alludes to a passage in an earlier part of Scripture, where God says that anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed. Central to the gospel is not just that Christ died, but that He died a cursed death, bearing the curse the sins of all peoples deserved.
Then God raised him on the third day and made him appear to those appointed to be witnesses, of which Peter was one. They ate and drank with him, Peter says, indicating this was a real, bodily resurrection. Then Jesus commanded Peter and the others who saw him to preach to the people and testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to judge the living and the dead. “The living and the dead” means everyone alive now and everyone who has died: All peoples. Then there’s the summary in verse 43: Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins in his name. Once again, all peoples: Peter, Cornelius, you, me, if we believe in Him, receive forgiveness of sins in His name.
To summarize, then: Jesus is Lord of all. It’s His identity. I’m Mike, husband to Lorielle, father of Rowan, pastor at Citylight Church. You can say, “Well I prefer to think of you as Dave, single without kids, lawyer,” but that wouldn’t change the fact of who I am. People do that with Jesus though, right? They say, “Well I prefer to think of Jesus as prophet, wise teacher, and so forth,” but that doesn’t change the fact of who He is. Not only that, but the good news concerning Him, the content of the gospel, is news about facts that took place in history. If the gospel was good advice instead of good news, we could say, “Well that works for you but not for me,” but news is a report of something that happened. You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. God did testify to Jesus’ identity by anointing Him with the Holy Spirit and power, enabling Him to do good and free those oppressed by the devil. He was hanged on a tree. He did rise on the third day, and therefore He is Lord of all, judge of all, and forgiveness of sins is available to all through belief in Him. The gospel of peace through him is good news to all peoples.
Do you hear the good news? The path to peace is not through your work; it’s through His work. It’s got nothing to do with who you are; it’s got everything to do with who He is. There’s only one Lord you ultimately need to serve. There’s only one judge whose opinion of you will matter in the end, and this same judge is also a Savior, who died under the curse of sin so that everyone who believes in Him would be forgiven of all their sins: past, present, and future. I’ve heard people say before that Christianity is “just not for me,” but here’s what’s true of every person: You were created by God to live for His glory, and you haven’t done it; neither have I. We are therefore guilty of sin and stand in need of the forgiveness of our sins if we are ever to have peace. Until your sins are forgiven, you’ll always feel like something’s wrong with you, you’ll look for people to affirm you, and no matter how many times they do, you’ll never have peace. But the gospel is good news for you: Jesus has accomplished everything necessary for your forgiveness, living, dying, and rising again for you, and He stands ready, willing, and able today to save any who believe in Him, even you. The only way you can be excluded is if you exclude yourself. Don’t do that any longer. Believe in Him, and your sins will be forgiven in His name, you will have peace with God in that moment, the peace you need more than anything else, and when He comes again to judge you, He will not condemn you. The content of the gospel itself, because it’s a message of peace through a person, because it’s based on facts of history and not advice, and because it presents one Lord, judge, and Savior of all, means the gospel is good news for all peoples. And the proof that this is the case is the fruit of the gospel.
The fruit of the gospel
Fruit is what comes experientially as a result of the gospel, and we see this in verse 44: The Holy Spirit falls on all who heard the word. Here’s the proof that the gospel is for all peoples: God pours out the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles. The Holy Spirit is fully God, so God pouring the Holy Spirit out is God saying, “I am now coming to live in you. You have peace with me.” The guilt of our sin was a floodgate, keeping the Holy Spirit from being poured out on us, but with the death of Christ for our sins and His resurrection from the dead, the floodgate has been opened, and the Holy Spirit can be freely poured out by God on all peoples. It’s the fruit, the result, of the good news of what Christ has done for us, and the fact that He pours His Spirit out on the Gentiles here shows that the gospel of what Christ did was good news for them too.
Then with the coming of the Holy Spirit, other fruits follow. In verse 46 we heard that the people were speaking in tongues, which likely means they’re speaking in a foreign language as happened earlier in Acts. Unfortunately, some have taught that tongues are a necessary sign of having received the Holy Spirit. That’s false. As Scripture unfolds, we see that tongues are a gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t give the same gift to every Christian. The key then, the real fruit of the Spirit as it were, is what they do with those tongues: They extol God. One of the first evidences of the Spirit’s presence in your life is that you’ll have a new desire to praise God: You’ll want to sing about Him, tell others about Him, and proclaim what He’s done in your life. You may face fears as you do that, but the desire will be there.
So if you want to know whether the Holy Spirit has come into your life, don’t ask whether you’ve ever spoken in tongues, don’t ask if there was an extraordinary experience of the Spirit in your life, ask whether the fruit of the Spirit is present: Do you want to extol God with your words? Do you want to gather with His people to do that? Do you sing to Him when you do come to these worship gatherings? Do you identify with Christ publicly? If not, you may not have yet received His Spirit, but this gospel is still good news for you today. Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins in His name, so you will too if you believe.
Maybe you’re here today and there have been some fruits of the Holy Spirit in your life, you have publicly professed your faith, sang God’s praises with God’s people, but you’re weary or wandering from Christ. Maybe it’s been a while sing you sang. When that happens, it’s easy to feel like there is no good news left for you. You kinda already believed once and have blown it since. But look, everyone means everyone. Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins in His name; you’ve got new sins to be forgiven of; believe in Him and receive a fresh forgiveness of those sins. There is not a single example in all of Scripture of anyone coming to Jesus in faith who Jesus turns away, nor will there ever be. Come to Him again today. Ok; let’s say you believe this good news; where’s that leave you? We’ll close by talking about the responsibility of gospel-believers.
The responsibility of gospel-believers
The first responsibility of those who believe is introduced in verse 47: Baptism. In verse 48 we read that Peter commanded all those on whom the Spirit fell to be baptized. If you believe, God commands you to get baptized. It’s not an optional step. In baptism, God signifies to you your union with Christ in His life, death, and resurrection; it is an initiatory rite into God’s family, set up by God Himself. To not do it would be like trying to join the Sixers but refusing to wear the uniform. Maybe a superstar could work a deal like that with a team, but coming to Christ isn’t like that: It’s not a negotiation, where you say to Him, “Ok I’ll take forgiveness of sins but what I can’t do is the baptism thing.” Coming to Christ by faith is a full surrender to Him as Lord, so what would stop you from getting baptized? What stops most people is fear of getting up in front of people and admitting they need to get baptized. But again, if you actually believe this stuff, if the Spirit of God is in you, haven’t you already admitted that you’re a sinner in need of forgiveness? Don’t you want to now extol God publicly? Don’t let those sorts of concerns stop you from obeying God’s command to get baptized. We’re going to be doing baptisms on Easter Sunday here at Citylight, so if you’re interested, check that baptism box on your connect card and let’s start the conversation at least.
Now I know one other reason for some of you is the idea that you were baptized as an infant. A lot can be said about that, honest Christians disagree on it, but at Citylight our elders agree that baptism of an infant is not baptism, and I’ll just point out one evidence here: In verse 47, Peter suggests baptizing the Gentiles because he first saw evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives. What evidence do we have of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the lives of infants? Are they extolling God? Can they communicate their desire to do so? Of course not, and therefore they are not the proper recipients of baptism. If you haven’t been baptized since the Holy Spirit came upon you and you came to personal faith in Jesus, you haven’t been baptized.
So that’s the first responsibility of gospel-believers: Get baptized. The flipside of that is that those who are already gospel-believers have a responsibility to baptize whoever God chooses to save, and not get in the way of their full inclusion in the church. Peter expresses that desire in verse 47, but then in chapter 11, verses 2-3, we meet this group called the circumcision party, who criticized him. They were probably a group of Christians who assumed what many assumed at that time, that for someone to have peace with God, they’d have to not only trust Jesus, but also get circumcised and convert to Judaism. So they criticize Peter for eating with the uncircumcised, a sign of Peter having fellowship with them.
Peter responds by recounting the story of what God did: How God showed him this vision of all animals now being clean, ending the division between clean and unclean foods, which in turn ended the division between clean and unclean peoples, and then how he preached the gospel to Cornelius and his household and how the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household. He talks about how basically what he saw happen to Cornelius and his household is the same thing that happened to them when they believed in Jesus. So here’s his conclusion, verse 17: “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” The next responsibility of gospel-believers is to not stand in God’s way. Deciding who gets saved, baptized, and brought into the church isn’t your job; it’s God’s, and He has a people He will save, who as a result will want to get baptized and join the church. Don’t stand in God’s way.
We stand in God’s way when we refuse to proclaim the gospel to people to whom He’s sending us. We say, “That person would never believe,” but how do you know that? Or we say, “that person would never listen to me,” but again, how do you know? The gospel is good news for all peoples; don’t rule people out. But we also stand in God’s way when people do believe, and we refuse to embrace them. He’s bringing them in to His people, and we’re saying, “I don’t know; can we keep them out?” The church is a weird thing you know; it’s this community to which you belong if you’re a Christian, but you’re forbidden by God from choosing who else belongs. If God saves them, now they’re your brother or sister, even if you don’t like them, even if they aren’t who you’d have chosen to hang out with, even if they haven’t been circumcised as in this passage.
There’s a common temptation in communities we appreciate to want to “keep the circle tight.” It’s especially common in a place like Philly; people tend to move a lot, so you want to kind of find your 3-4 friends who you can actually count on for stability, huddle up, and lower the hatch. I’ve certainly felt that in my short time here, but I Mark Dever, a pastor in Washington, D.C. once said: “The desire for a wrong stability & permanence in this life and its circumstances beckons and must be resisted as an idol.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting stability, but there’s a desire for a wrong stability and permanence in this life, on this earth which is not our home, which must be resisted as an idol. That desire for stability and permanence in this life is often what makes us stand in the way of God as He’s saving people and bringing them in. Resist it. It’s the responsibility of gospel-believers to get out of God’s way by going to whomever He sends us and welcoming whomever He saves.
And finally, it’s our responsibility to rejoice in the saving work of God. That’s where our passage ends, verse 18: They glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” I played football for a year in high school, and I was awful at it, but I remember that year a senior on the team was trying to motivate us younger players. He referenced a big hit in the last game, and said we should have been pumped about it instead of indifferent. Let me be that senior to you today. When God saves someone, when you see someone get baptized and hear the story of how God saved them, you should be pumped about it. You should talk about it and praise God for it. I’m not talking about praising the person; notice here, they glorify God, not Cornelius and his household. They don’t say, “Isn’t Cornelius such a good God-fearer and doesn’t he do so many good works?” They glorify God for what He did in Cornelius and his household.
You know why? Because even repentance itself is something God has to grant. The gospel is good news for all peoples, but in order to actually benefit from it and receive forgiveness of sins, remember verse 43 said you have to believe? Maybe some of you felt this then, but there’s a kind of tension there: What about those who won’t believe? How can we expect all different peoples to respond to the same message? What if there’s someone who thinks they already have peace, don’t think they’re a sinner, or don’t even believe in God? Wouldn’t it be impossible for them to repent and believe the gospel? Yes. But, it would be impossible for any of us to repent and believe the gospel unless God granted us repentance that leads to life. That means when anyone gets saved, Jew, Gentile, sinner, God-fearer, Asian, European, African, rich, poor, anyone, it is our responsibility as gospel-believers to glorify God for it. The only reason they got saved is because God granted them repentance leading to life.
The gospel is good news for all peoples. Jesus is who He is: He is Lord of all. Jesus did what He did: He lived, died, and rose again for people from all the peoples of the earth, ensuring that with their sins now paid for, the Holy Spirit will come and grant repentance unto life to people from all the peoples of the earth. Get out of His way. Believe in Him today for the forgiveness of sins, welcome all those He’s saving, and worship Him for all He’s done.