To the Ends of the Earth! (Acts 10:1-35)
Rev. Erik Veerman
To the Ends of the Earth!
As I’ve been preparing this week, I’ve run across an interesting comment… multiple times from different sources. It’s that this chapter, Acts 10, is the most important chapter in the Bible. Wow. Even some well known pastor who I respect have made that note.
I’m not sure that I fully agree. Other important chapters come to mind like Romans 8 on salvation, the Gospel accounts of Jesus death, 1 Corinthians 15 on Jesus resurrection, and certainly Genesis 1 and 2 on creation. But nonetheless, when it comes to salvation in Christ as it relates to us – as it relates to anyone and everyone all over the world - Acts 10 is pivotal.
And Luke, the author of Acts agrees. This section in Acts is the longest in the whole book – it runs to the middle of chapter 11. And the descriptions of what happened to Peter and Cornelius are repeated multiple times both here and later in the book. Repetition and length indicate emphasis in the Scriptures.
It kind of makes you want to sit forward on your chair and take notes.
Yes, this is a transformational chapter in the history of the church. We didn’t read the whole section given its length. And because of it’s importance, we’re going to take 3 weeks to work through it.
• This morning, we’ll focus on the significance of the visions and the interactions between Peter and Cornelius.
• Then next Sunday, we’ll zoom in on Peter’s response to Cornelius’s and his family and friends. And also zoom out to see God’s involvement and the process which brought them together.
• And then in the third sermon, we’ll consider the end of chapter 10 into chapter 11, focusing on the Holy Spirit… and the disciples response as Peter recounted the amazing events.
That’s our three-week roadmap.
And to begin, we need to first see the significance of these verses. We’ll do that by peeling back some of the cultural and ceremonial layers in these events.
Then after that, I want to ask and answer 2 questions
1. What impact does Acts 10 have on our vision and mission as a new church?
2. How does Acts 10 speak in to the current racial tension in our country?
That’s where we’re headed this morning!
The Gospel to the Nations
As you heard, A lot of things happened in this text.
• First, Cornelius was given a vision from God to seek out the apostle Peter, so Cornelius sends three people to find him.
• Second, the apostle Peter was also given a vision from God. This vision prepared him to receive Cornelius, and prepared him to understand God’s grand purpose in salvation.
• Third, after Cornelius’s servants found Peter, Peter welcomed them and travelled with them to meet Cornelius
• And forth, Peter met Cornelius and his household and tells them what he learned.
Let me put it this way - this is it. This is the beginning of the end… the Gospel to the ends of the earth. When I say Gospel, I mean the hope of Christ alone for salvation. It’s for all tribes and tongues and nations. It’s the pivot point in Acts. From here on out this Gospel message is going in all directions. Even beyond what we read in Acts – it’s going north, it’s going south, it’s going east, and it’s going west.
When Jesus said to his disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth – this is the beginning of the ends of the earth. Yes, we saw a glimpse of the Gospel going to the nations with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, but in this chapter, God is setting a firm foundation upon which His church will go forth to all nations.
And before we work through the visions and interactions here, you should know that salvation for the nations has always been God’s plan. We see this way back with Abraham in the first book of the Bible. God established a relationship with him. It was called a covenant promise. God made this covenant with Abraham, then with his family, which grew into a people – the Hebrews, and then a nation, Israel.
But listen to the words that God spoke to Abraham. This is from Genesis 12 “I will make of you a great nation... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” All the families of the earth will be blessed.
Besides the covenant promises, there’s also the prophets. The prophet Isaiah, for example, wrote that God would make Israel a light to the nations.
And then there’s the Psalms. Numerous Psalms also speak of this. Psalm 22 says “All the ends of the earth shall… turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.” Add to that Psalm 45 and 67 and 72, 82, 86, 96, 98, 102, 108, 111, and 117. The promise to the nations is all through out.
And so, when we get to Jesus – He confirms this. He called his people to make disciples in every tribe, tongue and nation would come to him – and called the church to go to the ends of the earth – witnessing to the Gospel. So Acts 10 is not out of the blue. To use the apostle Paul’s words, it was a mystery that was hidden. He wrote in Ephesians that “[the] mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
That’s the first time I used the word Gentile this morning. A Gentile was anyone who was not Jewish. So you were either a Jew or a Gentile. Paul says both are included in the promise of Jesus Christ.
And that brings us to Cornelius and to our text.
Cornelius wasn’t Jewish – that meant he was a Gentile. Yes, he was a God-fearer. Meaning he believed in and worshipped the God of the Hebrews, but he was never circumcised – so he wouldn’t have been considered as Jewish. Cornelius was also a Roman Centurion - he had many men who served him and reported to him. We’re told he was stationed in the port city of Caesarea – which was right on the Mediterranean Sea, 31 miles north of Joppa. Caesarea was named after Cesar Augustus – It was like the capital to the Romans.
I visited Caesarea I think maybe 12 years ago. It was beautiful… the sun was setting on the Mediterranean. It accentuated all the ruins and buildings, some of them partially restored. On the south side, there was a large velodrome. That’s where the Roman chariots used to race. Some of the Roman aqueducts were still standing – you know, their water system. In one place a sign indicated where the apostle Paul gave his defense when in prison.
Caesarea was quite the place. And I bring this up because to be stationed there indicated Cornelius’s importance in the Roman system. He was from Italy and held in high regard by both the Romans and the Jews.
And on this particular day, while Cornelius was praying at the 6th hour, which was 3pm… an angel appeared to him in a vision. And he was afraid. In terror. I think I would have been as well! And the Angel proceeded to tell him to seek out the apostle Peter – who was staying in Joppa. So, Cornelius complied. He called two of his faithful servants. He told them everything… and sent them along with one of his soldiers to seek out Peter in Joppa - about a day and ½ journey.
And we read that as they were getting close to the city… Peter also had a vision. Verses 9-16. It was noon for him, and he was on the rooftop of where he was staying – Simon the Tanner. The roof was a common place to go to get away – and he went there to pray. And while Peter was praying, waiting for food to be prepared, God gave him a vision.
And this great sheet was lowered down from heaven. It’s the same word as a sailboat sail. So picture this huge tarp of sorts. And Peter saw all these kind of animals on it including reptiles and birds. And a voice called to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
And Peter looks at all the animals… some of theme were what they called “clean” meaning the Jewish dietary laws permitted them to be eaten… but other animals were “unclean” meaning that they were under no circumstance to be eaten.
After Peter sees all the unclean animals in there, he responds, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”
Kids, if your mom says to you “Rise, go clean your room” and you say to her “By no means, mom, for I have never wanted to clean my room” …I don’t think it is going to go well for you.
Well, that’s really not what’s happening here. Peter is not talking back to the Lord. Rather, Peter thought the Lord was testing his faith.
And the Lord cleared all that up the second time when he said “What God has made clean, do not call common.” We’re told this happened three times before the sheet ascended back up into heaven. Three times communicated the importance of the vision.
Let me give you a little more context. In the book of Leviticus, chapter 11, Israel is given a list of what was permissible and not permissible to eat. These laws were part of the civil laws of Israel. As I mentioned, some animals were “clean” – meaning they could eat them. And some animals were “unclean” or “common” They weren’t allowed to eat them. For example, they were not allowed to eat anything coming from a pig. Other creepy things and reptiles were off the list. But what these dietary restrictions also did was separate Jews from Gentiles. More on that in a moment.
So Peter saw the vision and heard the Lord speak to him, and he was perplexed! …verse 17.
And here’s where the stories intersect – Right before Cornelius’s servants arrived, the Holy Spirit spoke to Peter and told him to accompany them. So when they arrived, Peter welcomed them. He invited them in! That was the first indication that the Lord was working in Peter’s heart and mind. A Jew wouldn’t have invited Gentiles in for fellowship and to be a guest. Peter was beginning to understand God’s message.
The servants shared about Cornelius. They shared that an angel directed Cornelius to find Peter; and they requested Peter to come back with them. Verse 22. Cornelius’ servants stayed the night and the next morning, Peter along with some of the other believers departed with them for Caesarea.
We’re not told much about the conversation en route… but Peter’s mind must have been racing.
• What did the vision mean?
• what did God mean by saying not to call something unclean that He had made clean?”
• Wondering how his vision intersected with Cornelius.
• Maybe also thinking about many the Scriptures - the promises and prophecies.
• What Jesus had said to them … that they were “to go the ends of the earth.”
And by the time Peter arrived at Cornelius’ home, he understood that the Jew and Gentile divide was no more. Look at Peter’s first words to Cornelius and his whole household down in verse 28, “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.”
Now, notice the change. The vision was about animals, but Peter talks about clean and unclean “people.” You see, there were two levels of clean and unclean. There were the dietary restrictions – the animals. And that lead to people being referred to as clean and unclean. Laws were even established that prevented Jews from fellowshipping with Gentiles. Well, for the Jews, this became a matter of sin.
John Stott, pastor and scholar, describes what happened to their understanding of these civil laws. He said, “The tragedy was that Israel twisted the doctrine… to one of favoritism, became filled with… pride and hatred, despised Gentiles [referring to them as] ‘dogs,’ and developed traditions which kept them apart.”
The Jews saw themselves as superior… and the Gentiles were inferior. There was a lot of pride and prejudice going around.
A few theologians have suggested… that before Acts 10, Peter probably thought the path to Christianity involved first becoming Jewish. But his views would soon change.
Cornelius next unpacked everything that happened. The details of the vision he saw… what the angel said to him. This is where it all made sense for Peter. Then Cornelius said to Peter, verse 33, “you’ve been kind enough to come. Now therefore, we’re all here in the presence of God to hear all that you’ve been command to by the Lord.” It’s been 3-4 days since Cornelius vision. They had been eagerly waiting to hear from Peter. I think this is like every pastor’s dream. A congregation on the edge of their seats. Waiting to hear from the Word.
God had revealed his plan to Peter – the Gospel hope of Christ was to go to the nations – and now Peter would share that with them.
Verse 34. “Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’”
The gates of heaven have been opened wide... to anyone, anywhere who believes in Jesus. Next week, we’ll study Peter’s full message to Cornelius’ household – and it will sound very familiar, because it’s the same Gospel message for both the Jews and the Gentiles.
This is why Acts 10 is so central. All the prophecies and Psalms and covenant promises about the nations… which Christ fulfilled… have now been fully realized here. The tiny mustard seed of God’s kingdom in Christ had been growing… first among the Jews, and then among the Samaritans… but now, it will experience an explosion of growth to all nations.
The Gospel to the ends of the earth.
This Gospel revolution in Acts 10 has a lot to say to us today. As we go through the rest of Acts, we’ll see more and more of its impact. But this morning, as I mentioned, I want to highlight specific 2 areas:
1. What impact does Acts 10 have on our vision and mission as a church?
First, this question: what impact does Acts 10 have on our vision and mission as a church?
The answer is… a lot! Ok, next question. Just kidding.
The full answer is… We are here today, worshipping in Tucker, as a result of Acts 10. The Gospel has come to us. We are part of the nations… as Gentiles. And everything about these verses has affected our vision for ministry, our priorities, and our beliefs.
It’s why missions is important to us. Yes, certainly mission and outreach to our neighbors in Tucker… but beyond Tucker, it’s also why we desire to participate in Gospel ministry to the ends of the earth – to the people here in Tucker and the nations in Clarkston next door – and to the people all over the world.
And Acts 10 shows us that the Gospel – again, meaning the hope of Christ alone for salvation – the Gospel is central to that task. We’ll see more next week – as Peter get’s really clear about what the Gospel is.
As a church, we’re not in the business of social justice apart from the Gospel. I know social justice is a loaded term, today. What I mean is that as a church, all of our service and mercy and love and care for our neighbors - supporting the needs around us – needs to involve in some way or another sharing the love of Christ. And all of the missions that we are involved in through prayer as a church… and hope to soon support in other ways, needs to involve the Gospel going to the ends of the earth.
In other words, Acts 10 gives us priorities for ministry and mission – no matter the people group, the Gospel of Christ is for each and everyone – and is central to that task.
That’s the first Acts 10 application for us at Tucker Pres – a Gospel focused mission.
2. How does Acts 10 speak in to the current racial tension in our country?
The second question is a very different topic…. Many use verse 34, that God does not show partiality, as an entry point into a discussing racial reconciliation. And I do think there is a connection to Acts 10. So my question is this: How does Acts 10 speak in to the current racial tension in our country?
To answer that, I think we should acknowledge a couple of things.
• For one, the prejudice against the Gentiles was a nationalistic one, not so much race, although they are related. And in Acts 10, God is breaking down those barriers. And the way He does it with the Gospel. To use the words of Ephesians 2, “[Jesus]… is our peace, who has made us both one…” it’s talking about Jews and Gentiles “…and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” It’s Jesus and his ministry of reconciliation on the cross that is central to the task. In other words, the Gospel is the key.
• But also, sometimes people leave out verse 35. But it’s critical to applying Acts 10. Verse 35 says “but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’” God’s impartiality is with those who fear him – that’s anyone from any background and nation and race who comes to know him. How? through Jesus. Going back to Acts 4 – it says, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”
So what is the foundation to applying Acts 10 to our situation? It’s the Gospel.
• The Gospel of Christ is why we care for and love each other no matter where we or our family is from.
• The Gospel of Jesus is why we care for and love those in our community and around the world, no matter national or racial background.
• God also tears down prejudice and racism through the Gospel.
• And we can love each other and anyone in our community… and all around the world because of the love of Christ for us.
And the principles of the Gospel – 1) confessing our sins to God and each other… 2) forgiving as Christ forgave us, 3) seeking to be a light and example to the world – those are the principles that our nation needs.
I’m not diminishing the complexities of the racial tensions… nor the sad and painful and sinful realities of the past. But what I am saying is this: as you evaluate answers to racial tension and reconciliation – if they go against Gospel principles… then they are not answers that will bring healing and forgiveness and hopefully lead to true reconciliation with God and each other.
That’s the other Acts 10 application for us at Tucker Pres – a Gospel focused reconciliation.
Acts 10 shows us the way of hope – The Gospel to the ends of the earth.
To briefly summarize, the call to faith in Christ is for all people – all nations – and that has always been the plan.
And think about this - what better foundation could God have established than to show us Cornelius and his whole household coming to faith. God revealed his plan here, not just through words that teach the truth – but by showing that His salvation is meant for all nations.
May we see God’s grace to us… see that we were unclean and common people, may that humble us… but realize and know that God has made us clean through Christ. May you know him… and may we participate in God’s mission to the ends of the earth.