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God Opens Doors

Acts  10:24-48

There are two common mistakes Christians make when God opens his doors:

·         Some Christians don't wait for God - they want to crash the doors on the run, not allowing Him to do the opening. Prayer is still a prerequisite to action.

·         Other Christians find that God has opened a door - through which they are not prepared to go.

This section of Scripture shows us the right way. For that alone it is worth serious study.

(Acts 10:24-48 NIV) The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. {25} As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. {26} But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself." {27} Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. {28} He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. {29} So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?" {30} Cornelius answered: "Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me {31} and said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. {32} Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.' {33} So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us." {34} Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism {35} but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. {36} You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. {37} You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached-- {38} how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. {39} "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, {40} but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. {41} He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen--by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. {42} He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. {43} All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." {44} While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. {45} The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. {46} For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, {47} "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." {48} So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

The Church Divided

The church today is much more fractured (and fractious) than the church of the First Century. This is understandable in view of our history; but even at this time the Gentiles had begun to hear the Gospel.[1] The church as whole, however, had not faced "the Great Divide." In this passage Peter faces and conquers it, as we see. But we also need to look at ourselves in the light of this passage.

Church Divisions Today

Most church congregations today will tell you that all are welcome in their worship services. If this is so, then, why do we see such divisions in our churches? It's my privilege to teach at a large church which emphasizes outreach. Even so, we can easily see the divisions which exist in the church today:

·         Historical institutions - the most common source of division. There are groups of churches today whose doctrines are almost indistinguishable - but who came from different movements at different times. It is almost a point of pride with some that they will not speak to the others.

·         Wealth - we don't like to admit it, but when you come to a particular congregation, you either "fit in" or you don't. Social class, even defined indistinctly, can be a barrier. Some congregations even take a particular pride in their social status (or lack of it). The Bible specifically enjoins us against such prejudice, but it still keeps creeping in.

·         Ethnic background - Sometimes this is as obvious as racial prejudice; sometimes it's as subtle as a bias against those who say, "Y'all." What is so interesting about it is this: those who practice it often honestly believe that they don't. It is a lesson to us that we need to examine ourselves.

·         Language - Sometimes this seems an insurmountable barrier (after all, not all of us can speak in tongues). But we see an encouraging sign now in that many churches sponsor a foreign language congregation, meeting in the church building.

True Common Ground

The plain fact of the matter is this: most "professional experts" in church growth will tell you that these divisions are perfectly normal, quite acceptable and the only way to mount an evangelism effort. I disagree. These things are simply "common ground" divisions. The issue is not whether or not human beings will gather together on the basis of common ground; they will. The issue is, which common ground? There is only one common ground in the church.

·         First, we are all sinners. Not one of us is righteous.

·         Therefore, we are all in need of salvation. We all need Christ - who is our "common ground" - or, as the Scripture puts it, our foundation.

·         Therefore, we need to see the "different" not as those who do not belong in our building but rather as an opportunity.

Much of our attitude in this regard comes from our attitude towards the church itself (by which I mean the church universal). If we view the church as primarily an institution which is there to bless us, then the "different" are an impediment. If we view the church as an opportunity to serve our Lord, the different are just another opportunity, aren't they?

Barrier Busters

Brick walls, for people like me, are the necessary obstacles of life. We see here, however, the kind of people who are capable of breaking down the barriers in the compartments of the faith:

·         Humility - Peter clearly tells Cornelius that he is only a man himself, not to be worshiped (an interesting comparison may be made with the Pope in that regard). This is humility: knowing who is man and who is God.

·         Obedience - despite the strangeness of the request, Peter is obedient.

·         Prayer and good works - it is no accident that God has selected Cornelius - who combines the inner faith with the outer works.

·         Readiness - Cornelius does not know what Peter will say. But he is ready to listen.

God Opens Doors

Isn't it amazing how God opens doors? This is the crack in the door that will open wide to the Gentiles, but it comes in God's own time. Even Christ had very little to do with the Gentiles; in most instances in which he met one, they came to him. But now things change. We need to be alert for the timing of God.

God's Timing

There is a key phrase in the text: "While Peter was still speaking these words…" In other words, God interrupted Peter. He did not let him finish before the Spirit came upon these people. Why?

·         First, to show it is not Peter who saves - it is Jesus Christ. All authority resides in him.

·         Next, to show that it is not baptism that saves. Normally the gift of the Spirit is presumed to come at baptism. The Spirit comes and goes as he wills. It is the Spirit, not baptism, which gives life.

·         Finally, because they are speaking in tongues - the first gift given to the Apostles themselves - no one could miss the conclusion that the Gentiles had an equal share in the Gospel.

God's Door

God opens doors for his people in two ways, as seen here:

·         He opens them with his providence. Why was Peter nearby? Was it not a chain of "coincidences?" God will lead the obedient to the place of service.

·         He also will deal with us miraculously, as he did here with Peter and Cornelius.

The Work of the Spirit

In this passage we can see three of the primary tasks of the Holy Spirit:

·         First, there is the "indefectibility" of the church. This is a long word which means simply that the Spirit will not allow the church to continue in error. The Spirit corrects the church; not always immediately, but in God's own time. The church was commanded to reach to the world at the Great Commission. She had not really done so. So the Spirit provides a correction.

·         The Spirit provides revelation to the church, in this instance directly, in our lives through the inspiration of the Scripture. To allow the Spirit to work in our lives this way, we must read the Scripture - and listen to the Spirit speaking.

·         One Spirit, One Lord, One Church - baptism is the sign of entry into the church. By the oneness of God we are kept one in the Spirit.

God's Method

The simple truth is that God wants the Gospel spread person to person. We may see the value in mass advertising, but God sees the value of person to person communication - the function of the church. We are to make disciples, not sway mass opinion.

Indeed, one of the most striking things about this passage is the simplicity of Peter's message to the Gentiles. We might do well to hear its main points:

·         First, that we are witnesses to Jesus, the Christ. That which we have seen in our own lives, we must testify to.

·         Next, he recounts the miracles and actions of Christ. As history alone we need to immerse ourselves in the Gospels.

·         Get to the point: Peter speaks of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and the power it has for all who believe.

·         He proclaims the truth that Jesus is returning to judge the living and the dead.

·         He tells them that all the prophets point to the Christ - as the one who is able to forgive sins.

That's not a bad message. It has lost nothing in the telling over the years.

The Challenge to Us

May I leave you with three things today? Three challenges in your life?

·         Are you able to present a "ready defense" of the faith? Peter was not given a message here by the Holy Spirit - because he already had one.

·         Are you a witness to the power of the Resurrection in your own life? Has Christ made a difference to you? If so, be ready to testify to that difference. If not, ask yourself why not.

·         Are your habits subject to the lordship of Jesus Christ? Are you the humble, obedient, ready person of prayer and good works? When he calls for a change, will you respond, "Yes, Lord."

[1] Acts 11:19-20

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