Jesus sends us to all peoples
Jesus sends us to all peoples. The question that our passage helps us answer is “why?” Why does Jesus send you and me to all peoples? Our passage provides three answers to that question: 1. That they will turn and believe. 2. Because some are seeking 3. He makes clean.
My wife, Andrea, doesn’t watch TV. But every once in a while, when we travel and stay in a hotel, I can convince her to watch a show and in those rare moments, Andrea always chooses something on HGTV. My theory is that watching HGTV is most tolerable for her because if she can’t be productive at least she can watch someone else be productive. Andrea’s favorite part of any episode on HGTV is the big reveal; when you see the stunning before and after transformation of an average house into something truly stunning. The entire episode slowly moves toward the stunning big reveal. Acts chapters 9-10 are the books big reveal; everything has been moving to this point. Let me explain. The big idea of Acts is that Jesus is alive, reigning, and working from heaven on earth to expand God’s kingdom to new peoples and new places through His servants. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told his first followers that they will be his witnesses not just to Jews, but to Gentiles, all peoples. And all of Acts has been moving toward this big reveal when the gospel will actually reach the Gentiles. In Acts 2, the gospel advances to Jews who aren’t actually from Jerusalem. In Acts 8, the gospel advances to half-Jews in Samaria. Later in Acts 8, the gospel advance to an Ethiopian who isn’t ethnically Jewish, but is culturally on the path to Judaism. But now in Acts 9-10, we see the big reveal as the gospel advances to Cornelius, a full-blown Gentile. Jesus really is for all peoples! That brings us to the big idea of our passage this morning: Jesus sends us to all peoples. Jesus sends us to all peoples. The question that our passage helps us answer is “why?” Why does Jesus send you and me to all peoples? Our passage provides three answers to that question: 1. That they will turn and believe. 2. Because some are seeking 3. He makes clean.
THAT THEY WILL TURN AND BELIEVE (9:32-43)
Our passage begins by reintroducing us to Peter, one of the leading Apostles in the earliest church. And as we are reintroduced to Peter, we see that Jesus is alive, reigning, and working to expand God’s kingdom by healing the sick and raising the dead through Peter. Acts 9:34 paints the picture: And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you, rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. There are a lot of reasons why Luke goes out of his way to record healings throughout Acts: healings remind us that Peter is an apostle, so we better pay close attention to him. Healings remind us that Jesus is Lord of sickness and death, so that we’ll depend on Him in suffering. Finally, healings in Acts are like previews of coming Kingdom attractions so that we’ll set our hope fully on the Jesus’ coming kingdom where we’ll never suffer or die. However, I think that there is an even more ultimate reason why Luke records these miracles here. Notice what Luke celebrates right after each miracle: many people turn to the Lord Jesus and believe. Luke is reminding us why Jesus sends Peter to all peoples: that they will turn and believe in Him. The healing is a sign-post that points people to Jesus so that they can turn and believe in him.
Let’s begin to take this personally. Who has Jesus obviously sent you to? Who do you live with? Who do you work with? Who are your neighbors? Who do you hobby with? Who do you go to school with? Who is hurting and suffering around you? Pause for a moment and allow names and faces to fill your mind. Whoever it is, you’ve certainly been sent to them for a host of reasons. You’ve been sent to love them, lead them, educate them, raise them, learn from them, provide for them, mentor them, follow them, do business with them, relieve their suffering, and enjoy them. And every one of those reasons matters because every one of them matters to Almighty God! Do them with all your might. And let all of those reasons be signposts that point people to Jesus. The ultimate reason why Jesus has sent you to them, our ultimate mission as a church is to gossip the good news that Jesus lived, died and was resurrected to save all who turn to him and believe. As John Piper says, are mission is to relieve all suffering, especially eternal suffering. Jesus has ultimately sent you to all the people in your life so that they will turn and believe in him. Will you joyously partner with his ultimate purpose in sending you to all peoples? The second reasons why Jesus sends us to all peoples is…
BECAUSE SOME ARE SEEKING (10:1-8)
Acts 10:1-2: At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. Cornelius is a bona fide Gentile, he’s not Jewish. Cornelius is a powerful, Roman military man in charge of one hundred other Roman soldiers. But, unlike most Romans, Cornelius wants to know the one true God rather than serving the Roman pantheon of gods. He fears the true God, he prays to the true God, and he works hard at being a good person by giving generously to the poor. Cornelius is seeking God, hasn’t found him yet, and the true God makes good on his promise that all who seek him will find him. Acts 10:3-6: About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “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 house is by the sea.” Cornelius’ genuine seeking is perhaps best seen in the last verse in our passage when he speaks directly to Peter. Acts 10:33: So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord. The reason why Jesus sends us to all peoples is because there are Cornelius’ out there; because some are seeking. Theologically, we know that in reality no one seeks God without God first seeking them and softening their hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Again, let’s take this personally. Some of you aren’t yet following Jesus. I’m so glad that you’re here. I want to encourage you to consider taking your cues from Cornelius. Though it probably makes Cornelius a bit strange and unpopular among his Roman contemporaries, he’s honestly seeking the true God by praying and learning about Him. Would you honestly seek God? Nothing could be more urgent or worth your time. Will you find a Peter, a follower of Jesus who can teach you about the Jesus that you’re seeking? Like Cornelius, will you seek truth rather than seeking to have your previous assumptions or lifestyle affirmed? Seek Him but remember that sincere seeking doesn’t save. Jesus didn’t come to take you from bad to good, but from dead to alive. The point isn’t the journey, the point is the destination and that destination is Jesus. As GK Chesterton once wrote, the object of an open mind is to shut on something solid. Friend, seek Jesus, find any number of Peter’s here to help you, and embrace Jesus. Now, a brief word to my fellow followers of Jesus. When Jesus sends a vision, he sends an evangelist. The angel of God doesn’t preach the gospel directly to Cornelius, rather, the angel tells Cornelius to find a Christian. Friends, all over the world and right here in Philadelphia, Jesus is creating seekers by sending grand visions and simple spiritual hungers, but how will they hear the gospel of Jesus unless you speak to them and, like Peter, even have the courage to challenge their spiritual assumptions with the gospel. Keep your eyes opened to those around you who are interested, hungry, seeking, and speak the gospel to them. Jesus is sending you to all peoples because by his sovereign grace, some are seeking. How encouraging! Third and finally, Jesus sends us to all peoples because…
HE MAKES CLEAN
After Cornelius’ vision, he sends two of his servants and one of his soldiers to ask Peter to meet him in Caesarea. There is just one problem. Peter is a Jew and doesn’t associate with Gentiles. Peter explains as much to the two servants and the soldier in Acts 10:28a: And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation…” For Cornelius to receive the gospel, Peter has to receive a vision of his own. So, the day after Cornelius receives his vision, Peter receives one of his very own. Peter’s vision is of a blanket descending from heaven with all sorts of animals that the Old Testament law declared unclean for Israel to eat. As the pigs in a blanket descend, a voice from heaven commands Peter to kill and eat the animals. Peter protests, saying that he has never eaten anything unclean but God gets the last word. Acts 10:15-16: And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. As soon as Peter comes out of the trance, he’s a bit confused by the meaning, and immediately there is a knock at the door: the Gentiles that Cornelius sent have arrived. The Spirit tells Peter to accompany them to Cornelius without hesitation. The next day Peter and the men travel to Caesarea and meet Cornelius and his entourage. Cornelius tries to worship Peter, but Peter refuses all that and what Peter says next confirms that Peter knows that his vision was about even more than God overturning the dietary laws that governed Israel in the Old Testament. Acts 10:28: And he said to them, “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.” The food was an object lesson; Peter should not call any person unclean or common because Jesus cleanses. Jesus is exposing the lie that Peter believed. Jesus sends Peter to all peoples because Jesus cleanses and there is no unclean in God’s family.
Now, before we can take all this personally, we have to understand just a little bit more about Jesus and the dietary laws in the Word of God, specifically the Old Testament. When God created everyone and everything, he made all foods clean. That’s what Paul means when he writes in 1 Timothy 4:4-5: For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. In God’s original creation all foods were clean. But then everything went wrong. Our first parents disobeyed and ignored God in the world he created and were removed from the Garden of Eden. From there things went from bad to worse, culminating in the whole world uniting against God in rebellion when humanity sought to build a tower into the heavens to make a name for themselves. As a result of the rebellion at the Tower of Babel, the Lord scattered the nations. But God did not give up on the nations or his original plan to fill the earth with his image. Instead, the Lord chose one man, Abraham, who the Lord promised to make into a great nation that would bless all the scattered peoples of the earth. Genesis 12:1-3: Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Israel was the great nation that came from father Abraham. God set Israel apart as his special possession, to be holy and different from the nations around them, so that the nations would see the difference God makes in a people and worship Yahweh. And part of what was to set Israel apart, according to God’s law, was Israel’s clean/unclean food laws. Sadly, Israel massively failed the mission of being a blessing to the nations and instead imitated the nations around them. Israel, often called God’s son in the Bible, failed to bless the nations, so God sent his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, so that anyone from any culture, any nation, any race, and any background who believes in Him will not perish but receive the blessing of eternal life. And since God’s new people in Jesus are from every tribe, tongue, and nation, the food laws that governed Israel no longer govern God’s people in Christ. As Mark 7:19 says: [Jesus] declared all foods clean. And just as Peter can now receive all foods, he can receive all people and bring the gospel to them, regardless of background, because Jesus makes us clean. Here’s the point: Jesus sends us to all peoples because Jesus makes clean.
Let’s take this final part of our passage personally. What we see happening in this passage could almost be described as a second conversion for Peter. Peter has already been truly converted to the gospel, but now he’s awakened to the implications of the gospel for mission to all peoples. Have you had such a conversion? Have you come to believe, deep in your heart, that in since you’ve come to Jesus, then you’ve been sent by Jesus to all peoples? If not, don’t be discouraged. Peter is an apostle and he’s just starting to get the implications of the gospel for missions to all people. Don’t be discouraged by your past, instead, turn from it and ask Jesus to awaken you to the wonderful reality that Jesus is sending you to all peoples. This is a prayer that Jesus loves to answer. And as Jesus answers, as he awakens you to the reality that he’s sending you to all peoples because he cleanses, you’ll begin to see a few beautiful things happening in your life. First, you’ll begin to turn from your old patterns of only spending time with and bringing the gospel to people who are similar to you and you’ll begin to have a heart to move toward all peoples at work, school, or wherever else you find yourself. Secondly, you’ll begin to love learning more and more about Jesus so that, like Peter, you’ll be ready to answer the Cornelius’ in your life when they ask you what you believe and why you believe it. You’ll probably want to attend the evangelism class next week. Finally, you’ll begin to have a growing passion for the unreached nations of the world. Some of you will go to the nations, some of you will give your money so that others can go, and still others will go out of your way to befriend people from less reached nations who are right here at home. Will you ask Jesus to give you such a conversion to mission?
The reason why Jesus loves to answer the prayer that he will awaken our hearts to the reality that he is sending us to all peoples is because Jesus died so that all peoples, Jew and Gentile, can be clean and one in Him. Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes this reality in Ephesians 2:11-14: Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated form the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has ushered in a new era where all divisions and biases are removed. Through his death, the Lord Jesus Christ tore down the dividing wall of hostility among peoples, thereby removing the clean/unclean distinction between nations and compelling us, his followers, to go and preach peace to those who are far off and those who are near. What a privilege: Jesus sends us to all peoples.