A Church For All People

  • Helenists and Hebrews
  • The Despised (Samaritans) and Outcasts (Eunuchs)
  • The greatest of sinners (Saul)

Now we come to the question that the entire book of Acts hinges on. Is God’s gospel big enough for all people. Is the church big enough for Gentiles? Remember Theolphilus? Theophilus is a Gentile in Rome and his question is not unlike the question I ofter heard when I lived in China and Japan - is the gospel for my people. They think the gospel is a European religion. Well, Theolphilus has the same question - is the gospel for my people … but Theophilus is european - Roman. That’s because Christianity at that time wasn’t a European religion - it was to the Romans mind an Eastern religion, ties up in the curious Semitic people they called the Jews. 

This chapter marks the difference between Christianity being a tribal religion and a global religion.

Before I read the story, I want to ask you the question: what drove Jonah to Joppa? You know Jonah, the prophet and the whale guy. the book of the Old Testament that bears his name begins: 

Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

So the Lord speaks to Jonah, and tells him to go to Nineveh, but Jonah runs to Joppa, on the coast of Samaria, to catch the first boat out of there, away from the presence of the Lord. But what was it that drove Jonah to Joppa? Why did he not want to go to Nineveh, in obedience to God’s command?

Well the answer is found at the end of the book. See the story goes on to tell of how God redirected Jonah to Ninevah, and after they Nineties surprisingly miraculously repented, Jonah was angry, in fact the Bible says he was exceedingly displeased and angry, and he rails out to God and says, see, that’s why i didn’t want to come here. 

2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 

Jonah wanted the people of Nineveh to die. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the enemy of the Jews. Hatred drove Jonah to Joppa. 

Now the book of Jonah was written to call the Jews to repentance over their prejudice toward the Gentile nations around them. It’s written as a satire, the last line chiding any racists among them that if they can’t have compassion for the people, at least they should have companion for their livestock. But not much had changed in the Jewish attitudes toward the Gentiles around them in the hundreds of years since. You read the New Testament, and Gentiles are routinely called dogs, being lumped with sinners and “tax collectors”. Jewish culture forbade the Jew even to enter the home of a gentile, and all their traditions their foods and their customs kept them apart. The apostle Paul speak of the barrier between jew and Gentile as a “dividing wall of hospitality” and you can but that both sides were doing their part to build that wall. As one pastor said, it would take a miracle to bring them together. And this chapter is the miracle, and part of the story begins with the Lord speaking to his servant in Joppa of all places, and it will end with the full inclusion into the church of gentile believers, the walls coming down, prejudiced removed. 

Peter was in Joppa because of his ministry of strengthening the church in Samaria, and at the end of Act 9, he settles in Joppa, in the home of a tanner named Simon. 

Acts 10:9   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.

I want to go back to something Luke records for us. Luke records the interesting note that “He became hungry and wanted something to eat” and then he has a vision about food. The entire ethnic makeup of the early church hinged on a hungry person’s daydream about food. How do we know this “vision” is from the Lord? And so a big part of Luke’s purpose in these chapters - and he takes at least three chapters to tell this one story - is to show, step by step, how the Holy Spirit led the church into the conclusion, confirming Peter’s vision.

These confirmations are in the book of Acts because the stakes were high, so God records for us the standards so that we know that this radical change in the early church was not any of the apostles thoughts, but God direct instruction. (these are cumulative, not sequential or all there)

  1. The Persistent Vision: (Acts 10:9-16: Especially 16) three times. Peter resisted the vision.  God continually puts a word, thought, or scripture in your life and you can’t shake it.  That in itself is not the test, but that persistence might drive you to probe. 
  2. The Timely Meeting (10:17-18) Acts 10:17 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,3 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?”

    Just as Peter is inwardly perplexed and pondering the vision, there’s a knock on the door. Circumstance. Going to China
  3. The Intriguing Prospect: 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. Look at the introduction we are given to Cornelius. While he is a centurion, and thus obviously a gentile, he is spoken of glowingly in this entire chapter. He is described as upright as to his character, a God-fearer as to his piety, well-spoken of by the whole Jewish nation as to his reputation. Earlier in the chapter he is described as a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. He is an intriguing prospect. He’s what i call a good Gentile. God is not leading Peter too far beyond where he is at - but leading to the next step. That’s how prejudices are broken. Peter’s testing the waters, testing the vision, and God is leading him slowly into deeper waters.
  4. The Holy Collaboration: 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.” Acts 10:30   And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, 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.”

    God has been speaking to others about the same thing (30-34) the Spirit is speaking to other spiritually discerning people and is putting the same things on their heart.
  5. The Theological Reflection: Acts 10:34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

    Peter understood the gospel before, but know he understands the gospel in a new light. It is sometimes said that the missionary is the first convert, and Peter stands converted here in his mindset toward the Gentiles. Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him … he is Lord of all … To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
  6. The Spirit’s Approval (10:34-45) Acts 10:44   While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
  7. The United Consensus:
    Acts 11:1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order:

5 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 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?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Conclusion: The New Vision in Joppa: Exactly what Jonah did not want to hear. The Gospel is a gospel for all.

Conclusion: the Spirit’s guidance is clear, yet the church must test all prophesy. 

1) Seatbelts Do Not Threaten Movement, They Are Necessary For Movement

Some of us get very nervous when we speak about hearing God’s voice or sensing his leading in our lives because we’ve met people or heard of churches or movements in which people have done kooky things while claiming to be following the voice or divine guidance. 

2) The Higher the Stakes, the Higher the Standards