Scripture – Acts 10:1-33 (ESV)
Peter and Cornelius
10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4 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. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation,[c] for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 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. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour,[d] and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 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.”
Engaging God’s Word
The prayers of The fervent
As we look at this passage of scripture today we see in the very first verse that Cornelius is a believer but is a roman. This is a critical element to all of us here today. Cornelius, although he was a “God-fearing” man, his place within the context of society was one that was determined to be unclean or common. Unless one went through the Jewish ritual of circumcision, the mikvah (a ritual bath) and an appearance before the beit din (the rabbinical court), one was always considered unclean or common. It did not matter whether you prayed all day or whether placed all that you have and are before the throne of God, you considered a second class individual.
It has often been said by many individuals that they feel less than worthy when they come to church. This could be a perception that the people of the church portray or it could just be the conviction of our Lord upon our souls. Either way it is an element that many face when they enter church, believer or non-believer. If it is the people of the church that portray this element then they need their hearts checked by our Lord. If it is the Lord that is convicting hearts, then praise the Lord. So where am I going with this today? It is in this truth that we can better realize that no matter who you are, God hears your prayers. No matter what you have done. No matter how dirty or convicted you may feel, our Lord always hears the cries of his children. Cornelius was not a priest, he was not found to be in the temple, he was just reaching out to the heart of God, trying to understand his ways, trying to hear his voice and in his moment of spiritual desperation our Lord reached down into his life. The incredible kicker to this passage today is that not only were the prayers of Cornelius heard but they challenged the heart of another man of God and the direction for the church. Isn’t it amazing that you don’t need to be a pastor or the leader within the church to change the direction of the church. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have be within the in crowd to have our Lord move in such a mighty way. I find it very interesting that we feel like we have to be perfect to hear or be heard by our Lord. Our Lord does not place any requirements upon those who will seek his name, all that he desires is for his children to seek his face with all that they are.
Tradition preventing blessing
Peter here in this passage is an individual of tradition who is found to be following the traditions of his people. We find him up on his roof at about 3 in the afternoon praying to our Lord. As I saw this passage in my heart, I was reminded of movie fiddler on the roof. Peter although he was a Godly man, baptized by the Holy Spirit, having preached to thousands of people, having been used by the hand of our Lord to heal the lame beggar; needed his heart to be changed that day. So many of us, including me, look at our traditions as good and in so many ways they are, but when these traditions become so important to us, they prevent the work of our Lord in our hearts or in the hearts of those around us it is then that our traditions need to be removed from our lives. For most of us today we look at this and say “well my tradition doesn’t affect my spiritual life or my witness so it must be okay”. Well let’s take a moment to consider this illustration. Within the context of what was placed before Peter that day it is evident that our Lord prohibited the eating of these animals for the Jews because of the potential hazards associated with uncooked meat. In fact there are many even in today’s society that still refrain from eating these types of meat because of the risk associated with them or just the fact that they were listed by our Lord as unclean. So let’s consider some illustrations of those traditions that prevent the work of our Lord.
- Worship – within this context of our worship, the clapping or raising of our hands may at times feel awkward to us because it does not fit within our religious tradition. The scripture calls us to raise our hands, it calls us to clap our hands to the Lord so why do we feel awkward when we do this? It’s like feeling awkward when we pray. It’s like feeling awkard to yell out amen in the middle of sermon. No we don’t want to create disorder to the house of God, but who are we to think that our traditions are more important the movement of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts and upon the hearts of those around us. When I led worship here and in previous churches it amazed me to watch so many people cross their arms and just wait until the worship portion of the service was done. Why would we want to deprive our souls in worship. Why would we want to deprive our Lord of all the worship that is due to him? The scripture tells us to worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.
- Missions – we all understand being a part of the Nazarene denomination that missions is a critical element to the church. We talk about it, we raise money for it, yet when it comes to experiencing it as individuals it is amazing all the reasons why we can’t engage in missions on the ground. From the unwillingness to leave our country, to the different foods, to the travel, to the unwillingness to step out in faith and share Jesus to those who need to hear his name. These are all reasons that we give, yet our Lord tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, so why do we feel we have the authority to nullify the instruction of our Lord?
As illustrated by Peter in this passage and too often with the church, the traditions of our ways prevent the greatness of God from being experienced in our lives. We hold to the traditions of our church, our methods of worship, our traditions of comfort and lose the incredible blessing our Lord desires to reveal in our lives and through our lives. As our Lord illustrates in verse 15, why is it that we as believers considered that which He has given us not good enough for us.
REVEALING OPPORTUNITY TO RESPONSE
Next in this passage we see as Peter is not only struck by the call from our Lord to abandon this wrong spiritual perspective he has, but that he is given immediate opportunity to respond. In verse 17 we see that while Peter is contemplating this vision the men are found to be at his door asking for him. In verse 19, the Spirit of the Lord, says to him “behold the men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” Our Lord does not waste any time in asking Peter to respond to this change in his perspective, in fact he tells him to act without hesitation.
Our Lord gives each of us instruction upon our lives. Sometimes these are instructions to change our perspectives as believers, sometime they instructions to get up and do, sometimes they are instructions to let go our hurts, our frustrations and sometimes they are instructions to give (financial, time, talent). Each of us are given instruction and in each instruction, our Lord calls us to immediately respond. So why is it that we feel that we need to think about the instruction of our Lord. Why do we need to debate the instruction directly from our Lord? Unfortunately, too often when we think that we can out think God, we lose that which he desires to give us. If you and I desire to experience the moment of Acts in our lives and in our church, we have to stop trying to fit God into our square little boxes of tradition. We need to stop trying to think that we can think better than God.
This past month we had a major problem here in our church. As I mentioned before, the pumps under the elevator and in the sump in the back of the church went out. I knew it was going to be expensive when it happened. Whenever you get elevators involved in a situation, the price always sky rockets. Nonetheless we knew we had to do it, so we left it with the Lord and took care of the situation. After it was all done, the price of fixing the situation was approximately $7,500 for the elevator and $2,500 for the pump replacements. When I discussed this with the board, the immediate discussion was to come to you and ask for money. No I am not coming to you today to ask for money, but what I am coming to you today with is the opportunity to see God work. This past week, we contacted the elevator company and through the hand of our Lord, they indicated that they had made mistake and reduced our bill by over $4,000. Who says God does not provide? Folks I am overwhelmed by the provisions of our Lord. Am I worried about how we are going to come up with the remainder of the money, No! Because God always provides.
If we desire to experience the hand of God in our lives and in our church we need to stop trying to figure it out on our own and just trust in our Lord. When our Lord calls us to move, we move. You don’t have to be the head of the church you just have be a child of God following God’s call upon your life. If you honor and follow the calling of our Lord, He will honor your cries and respond are beyond your wildest imagination. We need to let go of our traditions and just respond authentically to his call upon our lives. We need to stop worrying about what those around us might think, and start thinking what God thinks. Finally, when we are called to respond each of us need to stop trying to argue with God. We need to get up and go and watch as our Lord reveals his heart in our lives that are beyond our imagination. Let’s let God be God and just be his children. It is then that he will reveal his heart in our lives and in our community.