- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- How does it comfort you to know that God is in control of all people, all things, and all nations (see Daniel 2:20-23 and 4:34-45)?
- People in joyful covenant with God are infiltrating the systems of men bringing redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. People and churches at peace with God and one another through Jesus Christ are applying that peace to all of life. Where are you seeing this happen? Where do you see the need for the kingdom of God to bring peace through faith in Jesus Christ?
- What does it mean that God shows no partiality to persons but accepts those who fear him and do what is right?
- Will God accept you or reject you? Why?
- For Peter, he must learn to stop giving preference to Jews over Gentiles. We must ask ourselves if we are showing partiality. What standard do you use to judge a person acceptable or unacceptable? Do you judge a person according to skin color, political position, or wearing a mask? Like Peter, we need to prayerfully consider if the standards we are using are God’s standards.
- If Acts 10:35 does not establish a righteousness apart from repentance to God and faith in Jesus Christ what does Acts 10:35 establish?
- How does the fact that Jesus is Lord of all remove the ability to show partiality to one nationality over another?
- What is the gospel? How do you define the gospel and how do you stand firm in the gospel?
- How do Peter and the other witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus strengthen our faith?
- How are you right now experiencing peace through Jesus Christ?
- Do you tend to over-emphasize or under-emphasize judgment? How does this negatively impact your witness to your neighbors?
- Do you tend to over-emphasize or under-emphasize forgiveness of sins? How does this negatively impact your witness to your neighbors?
*Since we did not get to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the actual sermon preached is different from the manuscript.
Main Point: The Holy Spirit leads his people to accomplish his will.
We are back in Acts 10 this morning and the account of Peter and Cornelius. Two weeks ago, we looked at these verses from the angle of the God who makes clean. God shows no partiality to different ethnic groups or nations. Anyone who repents and believes in Jesus is made clean. The Old Covenant barricades of temple, circumcision, food laws, and the Sabbath have come down. All may come in because the promised work of Jesus is complete. It is a glorious truth that any of us can right now become a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man; the only way to the Father is through personal faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; 1 Tim 2:5). Jesus alone has the worth and Jesus alone has completed the work that bring us back to God. A woman or a man cannot go through a people or nation to God; a person must go through Jesus to God. It is God who makes clean and it is Jesus who creates a people, a holy nation.
Today we pick up the encouraging theme of the God who directs. All throughout Scripture we see God loving and therefore leading his people. So, we need to drill down today into the question of how does God lead his people. We are going to look at how the Holy Spirit directed Cornelius and Peter then make some connections to how the Holy Spirit will direct you.
This is how I make sense of God’s various dealings with his people. Just as we see an increase in the sign and healing miracles with each new phase of redemption, we also see an increase in visions, interactions with angels, and voices with each new phase of redemption. We should expect exactly what we see as the New Covenant advances in Acts 10. We should expect exactly what we see in our day as we wait for the close of this age, little to no visions, interactions with angels, and voices. But I believe, the closer we get to the return of Christ at the end of this age we will again see a spike in these types of directives.
Turn to Acts 10. Let’s look at what happened then and what is happening now. Read Acts 10:1-33.
I. Visions, angels, voices, and the Holy Spirit
- The direction to send for Peter
The story of an angel directing Cornelius to send for Peter is repeated in 10:30-32 and 11:13. Seeing that angels are, Hebrews 1:14, “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation,” it makes sense to see an angel directing Cornelius to Peter for the gospel that saves. God directs his people through angels.
After the vision of an angel comes
- The vision of the animals
Look back at Acts 10:10, “And Peter became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.”
Did you notice the difference between Cornelius’s vision and Peter’s vision? Cornelius receives a vision of an angel and the angel speaks to him to give him direction. Peter receives a vision of a sheet filled with both clean and unclean animals according to Old Covenant reckoning.
Here Peter receives something like a parable but instead of the parable coming in words that teach a lesson, this parable comes in images that teach a lesson. Peter must think about the vision; the full lesson is not contained in the vision; the vision is about more than food. Peter must think and the Spirit must interpret. In Acts 15 we see the church testing these events against God’s Word.
So, Cornelius has a vision of an angel, Peter has a vision of a sheet full of animals, and then comes
- The direction to rise, kill, and eat
My immediate point here is to show you the variety of ways that God is directing his people as they struggle through the shifting of the covenants.
Now we’re looking at Acts 10:13, “And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise Peter; kill and eat.’” Peter responds with “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”
By saying “Lord,” Peter recognized the voice as the voice of Jesus his Lord. It is Jesus directing Peter just as Jesus directed Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5).
God directs through visions, angels, the resurrected Jesus, and through the Spirit
- The Spirit sends Peter
Keep reading down in 10:19, “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”
Peter is stunned by the vision and Jesus’ direction to eat unclean food. He is thinking deeply because he is perplexed, wondering and doubting. What does this vision mean? As Peter is thinking, the Holy Spirit gives Peter the direction he needs in order to live out the purpose of the vision. The Holy Spirit doesn’t tell Peter what it means. The Holy Spirit tells Peter what to do next and it is in the doing that Peter gains understanding.
There is a direct connection between obeying God’s will and understanding God’s will. Jesus said, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God for whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17). Understanding God’s will is built on the commitment to obey God’s will.
So, in the movie Frozen, Anna got some stuff wrong, like she falls in love with Hans for crying out loud! But in Frozen 2, Anna did have enough wisdom to know that when you are confused you need to do the next right thing. Peter struggled because doing the next right thing would mean disobeying his conscience. If Peter struggled to eat an unclean animal, then he will certainly struggle to welcome an unclean Gentile into the family of God. But God makes all people clean through the gospel of Jesus Christ. A person’s ethnicity and diet is not a factor. Peter must retrain his conscience according to God’s unfolding plan of redemption.
Look at what Peter says in 10:28, “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. So when I was sent for, I came without objection.” What Peter once counted as out of bounds and unacceptable, he now sees as good, right, and pleasing to the Lord. Peter is praying, studying, listening, and obeying. Peter is sorting it out.
It’s been over a decade, but I remember Paul Henebury warning us that one generation’s help for sanctification can become the next generation’s rule for salvation. What one generation finds helpful the next generation could count as necessary. Nowhere in the Bible is a Jew told to never associate with or visit a Gentile. There are rules about what foods can be eaten and rules concerning cleanliness (Lev 11-20). There is the rule that a member of God’s people cannot marry anyone who is not a member of God’s people. But never associate or visit is taking the cleanliness rules to another level. Now, does avoiding all contact make it easier to remain ceremonially clean? Sure, that can be helpful, but avoiding all contact is not a command. Peter must retrain his conscience. He should not count it sinful to visit Gentiles or even eat what was once counted as unclean.
Like Peter, we need to be careful that we keep up with the covenants and do not go beyond God’s Word. We all have opinions that we have found helpful for following Jesus and avoiding sin. One person may refuse to own a TV, computer, or smart phone in order to avoid pornography; that can be a great help. Another person may choose to never drink any alcohol in order to avoid drunkenness; that can be a great help. One family may choose to school their children completely at home and with no outside help in order to obey Deuteronomy 6; that can be a great help. Are all of these helpful directives for some individuals? Yes, those are right and good positions. Are they commands to be imposed on all others as evidence of faith in Jesus? By no means. We must train our consciences according to God’s word and our particular needs while giving freedom to our brothers and sisters.
I’ve already started to make practical application, so let’s keep going with
II. Lessons for discerning God’s will
How does a Christian know what to do? How does a Christian determine the next right thing when it comes to obeying God’s commands or listening to one’s conscience? Here are some more lessons. First,
- Be always praying
Did you catch this about Cornelius and Peter? Cornelius, verse 2, prayed continually to God. Verse 9 tells us that Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. The point of these references is that Cornelius and Peter prayed continually.
Philippians 4:6 says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray without ceasing.” Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow to instruct us to always pray (Luke 18:1).
I want to give you a help for prayer, not a command for salvation, so be careful with it. If it is helpful for you, adopt the simple prayer that you can pray constantly, “God help me do this with thankfulness and for you.” Eat the oatmeal or granola, before you respond to a text message, before you pick a show to watch, as you are working, before you discipline your child, “God help me do this with thankfulness and for you.” It is good to cultivate a hunger for God’s will.
And listen to your conscience. Listen to your biblically informed conscience. Here’s our next lesson
- Study the Word and your situation
From the beginning, since Adam and Eve, the people of God are marked by knowing and obeying God’s Word. It is therefore essential that we study God’s Word. Who is God, what has God done, what is God doing now, what does God promise, and what does God command? If you want to know God’s will it is essential that you study God’s Word. Healthy Christianity is built on the simple discipline of every day read and pray.
What does God say about food and missions and family and government and spending money? Coming with a commitment to obey, study the Word in order to know God’s will and study your situation so you can figure out how to best obey God’s will.
God told Peter to go with the three men. God did not say how to go. On a horse, on a donkey, or by foot? Here is where we think about the best possible means of obeying God’s will. During the stay at home order, I finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy and I was struck by how much time the characters spent thinking about their situations. I fear that I think too little, assume too much, and mess up a lot.
Test the options, run through the scenarios, and give grace to your brothers and sisters. What works for you might not work for me and what works for me might not work for you. That’s great! We are supposed to be united we are not supposed to be identical. When it comes to discerning God’s will, pray, study God’s word, study your situation, then
- Trust God and doubt yourself
I tend to trust my feelings and doubt God’s Word. It’s Satan’s oldest trick, “Did God really say you shouldn’t do that?” “Does God really have your best in mind?” “Is God really going to be there if you step out in faith and follow him?” It is so easy to trust ourselves and doubt God.
When it comes to discerning God’s will, it necessary to start with the assumption that when our wants disagree with God’s Word then we go with God’s Word every time. Peter felt this struggle. Peter didn’t want to rise, kill, and eat, but Peter had a prior commitment to obey God’s Word. Therefore, Peter was able to trust God, doubt himself, and
Remember this essential ingredient for discerning God’s will. God intends for you to obey his Word. If God calls you to be single, then you need to obey God’s will. If God calls you to be a pastor or a missionary, then you need to obey God’s will.
Maybe you are stuck today at the jumping off point of obedience. You know the right thing to do but you are struggling to do it. Would you stay late today and ask some brothers or sisters to pray for you? Wouldn’t it be great to see this room and the foyer full of brothers and sisters encouraging one another and praying for one another? Be praying, be studying, be trusting God, and be obeying.
Let’s wrap up with this quick question
III. Should we expect visions, angels, voices, and the Holy Spirit?
- Acts 2:17-21
Acts 2:17-21 promises that with the New Covenant will come the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, prophesies, visions, dreams, wonders in the heavens, signs on the earth, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun and moon will be turned to blood and it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
When Jesus ushered in the last days there was an increase in these signs. I believe when Jesus brings these last days to an end there will be another increase in these signs. This is the age of the New Covenant, so these elements are present but currently rare. Visions, dreams, and voices are rare, but the Holy Spirit is not. That takes us to
- Romans 8:12-14
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Visions, dreams, and voices are not universal among the people of God but the Holy Spirit leading is universal. The Holy Spirit leads us to rest in the righteousness of Jesus. The Holy Spirit leads us to rejoice over the glory and goodness of Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit makes the Word of God living and active. That living and active word in our minds shapes and trains our consciences to figure out God’s will. The Holy Spirit gives us strength and courage to obey. The Holy Spirit convicts us when we disobey. Is the Word shaping you? Is your conscience convicting you? Are you putting sin to death? Do you find yourself praying for help to obey? Take heart, this is evidence of the Spirit’s leading.
Remember this, the Holy Spirit leads his people to accomplish his will. Do not look for visions, dreams, or voices. Look to God’s word. Study it daily. Think about what the Word means and how the Spirit is guiding your situation. And pray for help to obey. Let’s pray and ask for God’s will to be done in this church and in our lives.
Pray-Thank God for his Word and his Spirit
As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together today, I want to emphasize that in the Lord’s Supper we have a call to unity around the resurrected Jesus. In our day it can feel like everything is a call to divide. We must divide over immigration and police reform. We must divide over skin color and wealth. We must divide over politics and nationalism. We must divide over face masks and social distancing. The world says we must divide.
God’s Word says we must unite around Jesus. Around this table, the Holy Spirit leads us to come back together. It is ok to disagree over how a person, a city, and even a nation should handle these things. But it is not ok to divide with a Christ-bought brother or sister over schooling choices, wearing a face mask, or the best approach to police reform. The Lord’s Supper is a call to turn away from showing partiality in order to love your neighbor as yourself. Let us consider what it means to be united in Christ. Let us rejoice that Christ has made us one body. The one loaf is a powerful image of who we are and how we must live with one another. We don’t get the option to divide. We must answer the Holy Spirit’s call to come together around our shared faith in Jesus Christ. Remember your first love. Remember how you used to delight in Christ. Remember how you used to delight in your brothers and sisters. Repent and do the works you did at first.
Let’s examine ourselves and then come together to eat the Lord’s Supper as one body.
Christ is our life, our unity, and our goal. Let’s celebrate Christ together.
At the Name of Jesus
It is crucial to remember that God is working and leading according to covenants. Think about the covenants like the phases of parenting. As a child develops, the ways of parenting change. I do not treat my 14-year-old the way I treated her when she was 14 days old. So aspects of the covenants change as the phases of redemption move forward. Two clear examples of the phases of redemption moving forward are the place of sacrifice and marriage. Throughout the Old Testament, the acceptable place for people to offer sacrifices moved around until it was centralized in the tabernacle and the temple. After Christ and his perfect sacrifice outside of Jerusalem on the cross, the people of God no longer need an altar for sacrifice. The place of sacrifice changed according to the phases of redemption.
The other example is marriage. From the beginning of creation, marriage has been a part of God’s plan, but marriage is not everlasting. Jesus makes clear that on the new earth, after this age is complete, there will be no marriage (Mt 22:30). What is good for this phase is not necessary for the next. These examples in no way imply a change in God but the advancing of the phases of redemption.
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- What do you think when you hear a person say, “God told me to do something,” “God gave me a vision,” or “I heard a voice say I should so something”?
- What instruction does 1 John 4:1-6 give for situations when a person claims to have heard from God?
- Peter had to retrain his conscience. What was once counted as unacceptable is now acceptable (eating what was once considered unclean food or accepting Gentiles into the people of God without circumcision). In what ways have you had to retrain your conscience? Think about family rules growing up and specific commands given by the church not found in Scripture.
- I recommend adopting the following prayer that you can pray constantly, “God help me do this for you and with thankfulness.” How can this prayer be helpful? How can this prayer become dangerous?
- Do you tend to think more about God’s Word and avoid thinking about your situation, or do you think more about your situation and avoid thinking about God’s Word? What does a healthy balance look like for you?
- Think about a time when you doubted God’s Word and trusted yourself. How will you do things differently next time?
- How can your church help you obey? How can you help your brothers and sisters obey?
- How is the Holy Spirit leading you these days? Where is the Spirit leading you to put sin to death?
Main Point: Walk in a manner worthy of God.
Dads, it is our high calling to teach our children how to build their lives on Jesus. We must raise sacrificial sons (Eph 5:25) and fearless daughters (1 Peter 3:6). When your child is afraid, it is your responsibility to help him/her know how to trust Jesus. Dad, you get to demonstrate the strength of Jesus’ love and mercy and truth. They need to see you building your life on the rock of Jesus Christ.
How are your children meant to know the word of God and remember the word of God? You teach them. What about the promises of God? Do your children know all of his promises? Do they see you holding on and are they following your lead? Where are we leading our families anyway?
I want to hear my children say “I build my life on God.” I want to see my children build their lives on the strength of Jesus’ love, mercy, and truth. I must lead them there. You must lead your family there.
We need to ask three questions today. What is God doing? What are pastors doing? And what are fathers doing? God is calling, the church is equipping, and fathers are teaching.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-12 gives us these good answers. Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
I. What does God do?
Look at the end of verse 12, “God calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” This is what God does
- God calls us into his kingdom and glory
I stick my head out the back door and I call my children to come inside and get a bath before bed. In the evenings, I call my wife and children together for family worship. They are outside and I call them inside. They are doing their thing and I call them to gather with me to read, sing, and pray. The call moves my children.
My authority to call my children is a small reflection of God’s authority to call men and women into his kingdom and glory. I say I am a small reflection because while I can teach for obedience and discipline for disobedience, I cannot create the desire to obey. Creating the desire to obey and giving strength to obey is God’s prerogative alone. When God calls us to submit to his rule, he gives us the ability to know him and trust him.
So, God doesn’t call us to submit by putting his knee on our necks. God calls us to submit by sending his Son into our brokenness, emptiness, and rebellion. God enters into our struggle to redeem us. God calls us through the superior worth and sacrifice of his Son. Jesus brings God to us, and Jesus brings us to God. By looking at and studying Jesus we see love and happiness and holiness and truth and grace. By reading and thinking of Jesus we see the glory of God. Jesus is the way into the kingdom. God is calling.
To answer God’s call is to come home to an all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving Father. You don’t come to God as an equal; you come as child who needs the help and care of a Father. No matter how old we get, we always need the help and care of our Father. Come to his kingdom. Submit to his care.
Colossians 1:13 says God delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. The transfer, the call, into God’s kingdom happens through faith in the redemption and forgiveness won by Jesus Christ. If you want to enter the kingdom of God, you must trust the King’s Son to bring you in.
What about glory? When God calls a person to his glory, he calls a person to see and be satisfied with God’s all surpassing greatness. And the glory of God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6). God calls us to his glory by calling us to see and trust Jesus. John, in John 1:14 says, “we have seen [Jesus’] glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the display of the glory of God. Jesus is the means by which you and I can share in God’s glory. Are you looking at Jesus?
When is the last time you said, “Hey, come and look at this!”? We say that when we have found something wonderful. When God calls you to his glory, he calls you to come and look at Jesus because Jesus is wonderful. But more than “come and look” God calls us to come, look, and live because of Jesus. God wants to share the glory of God with us, the glory of the Father, Son, and Spirit, so he calls us out of selfish darkness and into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13).
Friend, you need to know that Satan is trying to keep you from seeing the glory of God (2 Cor 4:4). Think about your children. Satan is trying to blind their eyes with the best of this world so they will not turn to Jesus. Our enemy will throw all kinds of good things in our way to keep us from the Word of God and prayer. Satan wants you to have a good job so it will keep you from seeking the glory of God. Satan wants you to have a smart phone so it will keep you from seeking the glory of God. Satan is working to keep you away from the Word. We’re all like Zacchaeus the wee little man who had to run and climb in order to see. What is blocking your view of the glory of God? How are you helping your family to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?
What does God do? God calls us to his kingdom and glory and
- God is witness
Look back at 1 Thessalonians 2:10, “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct towards you believers.” The church saw and could testify to Paul’s conduct among them. God saw and could testify to Paul’s conduct among the church.
The big truth here is that God sees. Yes, that includes God sees what you do wrong; that God sees our sin is fearfully true. But wonderfully more than that is God sees us.
Paul was being accused of wrong. Some were saying he was greedy. Some were saying he was lazy. But like Hagar in Genesis 16:13, Paul knew that God is the God who sees. God looks after and cares for his people. Yes, God makes his sun rise and his rain fall on the just and the unjust. There is a sense in which God loves and cares for all people. But there is a fatherly love and personal commitment that God exercises only over his covenant people.
So listen, you have been called to God’s kingdom and glory. God sees what is going on. God knows your weakness and your need. God is witness. God cares for you. Rest today knowing you are in his kingdom and under his care. This is what God does. God calls and God cares.
Here’s our second question
II. What do elders do?
To be clear, elder is another word of pastor or preacher. By recounting what he did among the church, Paul gives us a picture of what elders are supposed to do. First,
- Elders proclaim the gospel of God
Let’s look at 1 Thessalonians 2:9, “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked hard night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Elders are heralds. Elders proclaim the gospel of God because God calls us into his kingdom and glory through the gospel. The gospel is your invitation into the family of God.
Think about the phrase the book of Tim, “Here is the book of Tim.” Do I mean the book that belongs to Tim, the book of Tim is Tim’s book? Or, does the book of Tim mean the book is about Tim? It can go either way.
The gospel of God can be viewed from the same perspectives. For starters, gospel is another word for good news. So, is the gospel of God the good news about God; is God the subject? Is God the good news? Or, is the gospel of God the good news of God; is God proclaiming the good news?
We get our answer from verse 12, “God calls you to his kingdom and glory.” So, yes, God is the gospel. We have the good news that we can enjoy the presence of God, the ruling care of God, and the wonderful glory of God. We get God and we get God because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. God sent his Son to live in our place, die in our place, and rise in our place so that he can bring us to God. Jesus is our redemption; he is the way out. And Jesus is our righteousness; he is the way home. The gospel of God is the good news that we get God because God has made a way for us to come home.
Our core values include the supremacy of God, the authority of Scripture, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are pastors and a church committed to the gospel of God. But it’s not just words
- Elders pursue holiness
Back to verse 10, “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct towards you believers.”
Paul is pointing to the fact that he and Silas lived pure lives in the eyes of God and man. Paul and Silas were not greedy or lazy. They faithfully preached the gospel of God and they labored night and day to earn money for their food and board.
Faithful preaching and sinful living are utterly incompatible in a pastor’s life. Hypocrisy is not acceptable. Holiness is required.
So, what should you do? Pray for our elders to be men who are holy, righteous, and blameless in all our conduct. If you have a concern, bring it to us. 1 Timothy 5:17-20 instructs the church concerning faithful elders and sinful elders. Expect elders to proclaim the gospel, pursue holiness, and
- Elders function like fathers
Back to 1 Thessalonians 2:11. I’m going to read it this time from the New American Standard because I think it has the best translation of this verse, “you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” Exhorting, encouraging, and imploring are all tied to the brothers and sisters walking in manner worthy of God. Elders function like fathers.
Paul and Silas were among the church in Thessalonica leading the members to live in a manner worthy of God. Faithful pastors are concerned about every member of the church living life with God. This means there needs to be clarity concerning what God requires. This means the work of a pastor goes beyond inviting you to give your heart to Jesus. A faithful elder explains how the gospel shapes all of life.
As we’ll see in a moment, 1 Thessalonians touches on several areas of life including suffering, sexual immorality, relationships, and the return of Christ. The God who calls you to live under his benevolent rule is the God who gives you pastors to help you live all of life as a reflection of God’s worth. The gospel of the kingdom effects everything.
What do you need? You need pastors who will love you, exhort you, encourage you, and urge you on to faithfulness. Exhort and encourage are very similar. These words demonstrate that pastors cannot simply tell you what God expects; pastors are called to help us realize what God expects. I say “us” because I need pastors as badly as you. Along the way, along the hard road, we will need someone to tell us to keep going. We will need to be exhorted. Along the way, we are going to get bumped, bruised, hurt, and grieved. We will need to be encouraged and comforted. Along the way, along the hard road, we are going to want to drift away or get lazy. We all need to be implored to stick with Jesus.
Pastors are like loving fathers who come alongside of us and help us. Pray for us. Pray for your pastors and when we come alongside of you, 1 Thessalonians 2:7, gentle like a nursing mother, and 1 Thessalonians 2:10, like a father with his children, we pray you will welcome us and be blessed by our care. God calls. Pastors preach and care. Now what about fathers?
III. What do fathers do?
Here’s the big picture dads, what your child believes and how your child lives is your immediate responsibility. It is not the school’s job to parent your child. It is not the church’s job to parent your child. Fathers, it is not your wife’s job to parent your child while you provide the financial support. Dad, your child is your responsibility. What can we learn from the apostle Paul acting like a father? Here we go
- Fathers teach Christ
Dad, you must feel the responsibility to teach your children the Scriptures giving careful attention to showing how the Scriptures point to Jesus. Read the bible with your baby, with your toddler, with your child, with your tween, and with your teen. From the earliest moment, dads must be praying for their children and teaching their children. Ephesians 6:4 puts the father’s role in plain terms, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.”
Dads, we must faithfully and consistently teach our children how to trust Jesus. We must correct our children when they head the wrong way. We must discipline them so that they learn to listen and obey. We must set a worthy example for them to follow. We must encourage them, comfort them, and implore them to keep following Jesus. Men, stop hiding behind your wife. Man up and be dad.
But you may not know how to be dad. You need to be discipled so you can know how to focus every aspect of life on Christ. Do you know how to teach Christ from all of Scripture? That’s what discipleship is for. Do you know how to live a life worthy of imitation and are you getting the encouragement you need to live a life worthy of imitation? That is what discipleship is for. Does your child run the family, or do you lead your family to Jesus? Do you know how to correct and discipline because of Christ and pointing to Christ? Is your encouragement full of Christ and is your comfort centered on Christ? The church exists to equip you to be a Christ-centered father. Ask for help. I will introduce you today to men who are ready to help. Come to the Thursday morning men’s Bible study. We are in this together. Father’s teach Christ and
- Fathers teach children how to live a worthy life
Look over at 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” We need to be taught how we ought to walk and please God. A quick survey of 1 Thessalonians reveals the following topics: how to live with Jesus when life is hard (2:13-3:10), how to live a sexually pure life (4:3-8), how to love the church (4:9-10), how to work (4:11-12), how to think about Jesus’ return (4:13-5:5), the advantages of sobriety over drunkenness (5:6-7), and how to live as a church member (5:12-15).
What I am saying dads is it is your job to teach your child how to live and it is your job to show your child how to live. The domain of darkness is actively teaching our children how to live without God and how to fuel their sexual appetites. Are you answering with a clearer, more compelling, and more worthy way? Is God using you to call your family to his kingdom and glory?
Dad, your family’s ethic (how they live) is your responsibility. What our children do with their bodies, hearts, and minds is our responsibility. The father’s role is show and tell; show them how to live a worthy life and tell them how to live a worthy life. Here’s how we roll.
- Fathers teach with conviction and comfort
In verses 11 and 12, Paul said he was among them like a father with his children. Paul was exhorting them, comforting them, and urging them on. With conviction, Paul was pointing them forward to Christ and life with Christ. Look over at 5:14, “we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” This is what should be happening in the church. You should receive a gracious push when you get lazy; admonish the idle. When you are hurting, you should receive comfort and encouragement. When you are weak, you should receive strength and help to continue. In all these areas we must be patient with one another. You should be engaged in the ministry of patiently correcting, encouraging, and helping. Be patient with us all.
Dads, are we bringing patient correction when our children are lazy? Are we bringing patient encouragement when our children are weary and hurting? Are we bringing patient help when our children are weak? Dads, do we even know what our children need?
I’ve said a lot so let me try to summarize and simplify. Dads, this is what your children need: pray for them, teach them, and show them how to live all of life with Jesus. If you need help getting started or if you are stuck as a parent, please let me know. As a church, we want to equip you for the important ministry of fatherhood. Stick around and let’s talk. Now let’s pray.
God I pray that you would call men and women, boys and girls, into your kingdom and glory. Show us the glory of Jesus and help us to trust him with every minute of our lives. I pray that even today we would hear people confess Jesus as their Lord and ask to be baptized.
Pray for fathers to walk in a manner worthy of God
Fathers lead the way in repentance and faith
Fathers to turn away from selfishness and materialism in order to enjoy the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Make us men of the Word
Make us men who lead our families according to the gospel and in the joy of God’s kingdom and glory
Pray for slow and steady, everyday, mundane times of family worship that build sacrificial sons and fearless daugthers.
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- Explain how God, the church, and the family work together to raise sacrificial sons and fearless daughters.
- What is God’s kingdom and how is a person called into it?
- How does knowing your heavenly Father sees you and cares for you bring hope to your situation?
- Elders proclaim the gospel of God. List the times and ways your elders have shared the hope of the gospel with you.
- Explain how Jesus is the way into God’s kingdom and glory.
- The church is God’s plan for discipleship. Through the church, we learn how to live a life worthy of God. How can you get involved in discipling your brothers and sisters?
- Where are you struggling to live worthy of God? Who can you get with that will exhort, comfort, and help you follow Jesus?
- The church equips fathers and fathers teach their children. What happens when these roles break down?
- How can you grow as a father or how can you help fathers grow?
- When you pray through the church roll, make it a priority to pray for fathers to encourage, comfort, and implore their families to live worthy lives.
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- Look at the people you eat meals with beyond your family. Are there any barriers that would keep new Christians from joining you for a meal?
- Can you tell the story of God’s people using the covenants (covenant with creation through Noah, covenant with Abraham, covenant with Israel through Moses, covenant with David, and the New Covenant)?
- Explain how each of these covenants points to Christ.
- What makes the New Covenant new is that unlike the Old Covenant, all the people in the New Covenant have new hearts and the Holy Spirit in order to know, love, and obey God (Num 11:29; Deut 30:6; Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:26; Joel 2:28). What is the distinguishing mark of every member of the New Covenant?
- How does Peter’s vision prove the newness of the New Covenant?
- Is Cornelius clean and acceptable to God before he repents and believes in Jesus? Why?
- Is there any person or people that you think are unclean or impure and therefore should not come into your house? How does 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 call us to live?
- How can you work to keep the blessing of new hearts and the Holy Spirit central in the church?
Main Point: Cornelius needs Jesus, not Judaism.
I am thankful for the way AWANA helps families evangelize and disciple their children. I am grateful for the men and women of this church who invest in my children so that they can grow in their knowledge of Scripture which makes them wise for salvation. Moms and dads, we are here to help each other and if you don’t have a church family, we want you with us. Come back tonight. Come back next week as we look at the blessing and calling of fatherhood.
AWANA leaders, we are here to make disciples. We are not baby-sitters and we are not passive listeners. We are ambassadors for Christ, witnesses of Jesus Christ. As I preach Acts 10:1-8 today, I want you to be praying for the children you teach in book time each week. Ask God to pour out his Holy Spirit on these families so that we feel our need for Jesus, understand the work of Jesus, and trust ourselves to Jesus. We are labors working to win souls. Let us continue to love and serve and give so that others can know the hope and joy we have found in Jesus Christ.
Here’s where we are heading today: knowing Scripture is good but knowing Scripture is not enough. Fearing God is good, but fearing God is not enough. Giving to others is good, but being generous is not enough. We need Jesus and he is ready to come to us and give us his life, his Holy Spirit, and his future.
Let’s dig in to Acts 10 together. Acts 10:1-8.
I. Who was Cornelius?
- Cornelius was a solider
Verse 10 tells us that Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian Cohort. A centurion was a commander of a hundred troops. Five of these groups of 100 made up a cohort and the Romans put these cohorts in their major cities to help keep the peace. They are in Caesarea, about 60 miles north west of Jerusalem and about 30 miles from Joppa.
In the first century, soldiers were not known for being upright fellows. When soldiers came to John the Baptist and asked what repentance looked like, John the Baptist said to the soldiers, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Lk 3:14). When you saw a soldier walking on the street, you would be tempted to duck into a shop or go the other way. Soldiers were notorious scoundrels, but not Cornelius
- Cornelius was a devout man
Look with me at Acts 10:2. Cornelius was “a devout man, who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.”
Devout is used throughout the book of Acts to describe upright moral people who are connected to the worship of the true God (3:9; 13:43; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7). It appears that Cornelius was as close to becoming a Jew as a person could be without actually joining the people of God. He and his household held the true God in high esteem. Like Tabitha in Acts 9:36, they were aware of their neighbors and gave generously to those in need. We’re told that Cornelius prayed continually to God. In a sense, Cornelius had a Jewish or an old covenant faith. He had these things, but he didn’t have Jesus. And Jesus is everything.
So, unlike the average soldier, you would want Cornelius to be your neighbor. You would want Cornelius to be your neighbor but not a church member because
- Being a God-fearer is not enough
Up to this point in the Book of Acts, the people of God have proven that holding to the ceremonies of the old covenant is not enough to remain in the people of God. These Jews are like a woman who is engaged but refuses to get married; marriage is the point. Christ, the bridegroom has come to bring the promises of God to their fulfillment, and they reject him. Jesus is the fulfillment and the blessing of the old covenant, but they don’t want him. The point is this, a person cannot reject Jesus and remain a member of God’s covenant people. Jesus is the purpose and the source of God’s covenant people.
Peter makes this point when he reminds these Jews, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people’” (3:23-24). Jesus is this prophet, a better prophet than Moses, and being the covenant people of God requires faith in him. The Jews must repent of their wrong ideas about Jesus and believe in him, the resurrected promised Son of God. Jesus is the cornerstone and the people of God are built only on him (4:11-12).
Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled and lost access to God, humans have been tempted to earn their way back to God by keeping the rules. But salvation has always been through faith and not through works. Just as the old covenant people were saved by looking forward to what Jesus would do, so we are saved by looking backward at what Jesus has done. The Jews cannot be saved by keeping the rules. Cornelius cannot be saved by keeping the rules any more than you can be saved by keeping the rules. God’s laws preserve God’s people; God’s laws do not save God’s people.
II. What happened to Cornelius?
- Cornelius saw an angel
Look at Acts 10:3, “About the ninth hour of the day (that’s 3 pm) Cornelius 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?”.
God, in his mercy, has placed Cornelius on the right track, but Cornelius has not arrived at the destination. One important point to note here is that the full inclusion of Gentiles, without requiring them to submit to the old covenant regulations, is all God’s doing. It wasn’t Peter’s idea to go to the Gentiles. God initiated the work in Cornelius and God initiated the work in Peter. God brought the Gentiles in and God brought the Jews in. So, the apostles didn’t reason from the word and their experience that God would accept the Gentiles solely on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. God is bringing all of this together. God is working his plan and directing his people. And God uses angels to work his plan. Hebrews 1:14 gives an angel’s job description, “they are ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”
The angel is serving Cornelius and his family but notice that the angel doesn’t preach the gospel to Cornelius and his family. Faithful preaching for the salvation of souls is your job not the job of the angels. Cornelius saw an angel and
- Cornelius was heard
Look at what the angel reports in Acts 10:4, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” Look over at Acts 10:34, “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.’”
Is Cornelius saved by his God-fearing, alms-giving, and prayer-saying? Is Cornelius saved by works? No, people are only saved through faith in Jesus. The big question here is, must Cornelius go to step one, submitting to the old covenant regulations, before he can go to step two, living as a new covenant believer? Does God listen only to the Jews and so you have to become a Jew first? Must a person become a Jew in order to become a Christian? No, God hears and saves those outside the old covenant just as he hears and saves those inside the old covenant. Conversion to old covenant Judaism is not required. But also, and this must be said clearly, being a God-fearing religious person is insufficient for salvation. If Cornelius is good as is then Peter has no reason to go preach Christ to him. Cornelius does not have to become an old covenant Jew, but he must become a Christian.
Please do not read Cornelius being heard by God and Cornelius being acceptable to God as Cornelius is saved without faith in Christ. Acts 10 proclaims a consistent message: Cornelius does not need to become an old covenant Jew, but Cornelius must depend on Jesus.
III. What does Cornelius need?
Lord willing, we will look at each of these needs in detail in the weeks ahead. For today, I want you to see the big picture of conversion and what is lacking in Cornelius and his family. We need to grasp these truths because what is lacking in Cornelius and his family may be lacking in each of us and our families. I say it again,
- Cornelius does not need to become a Jew
What the early church will struggle with from Acts 11 through Acts 15 is the question of what do we do with the old covenant ceremonies? Jesus is the full and final sacrifice for sins so animal sacrifices are no longer needed (Heb 10:14). Stephen’s preaching and teaching in Acts 7 is the faithful outworking of Jesus being the fulfillment of the temple of God. The stone temple in Jerusalem is no longer a necessary feature in living together as the people of God. What Jesus promised in John 4 about the expansion of worship far beyond the temple is now being realized by the people of God.
The question that comes next is what about the law and in particular what about circumcision? Are the people of God required to be circumcised, keep the food laws, and observe the Sabbath and other holy days? Remaining a member of the old covenant people of God required circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath. In order to remain in the people of God, a family must observe these aspects of the old covenant.
Now that Jesus inaugurated the new covenant through his death and resurrection, do the old covenant requirements stand? Must a person submit to the old covenant in order to enter the new covenant? The resounding answer is no. Cornelius must not submit to the old covenant because the old covenant is fulfilled in Jesus. So, what is required of us all is union with Christ, not submission to the old covenant. What we do now is look at Jesus, listen to the apostles, and work out what is abiding about the old covenant. Jesus is the fulfillment and the right interpretation of the old covenant.
So, Cornelius and his family do not need the temple, circumcision, the food laws, or the Sabbath. Cornelius, his family, you, and your family, need Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and baptism.
- Cornelius needs Jesus
When we talk about Cornelius needing Jesus and our neighbors needing Jesus and each of us needing Jesus we are talking about knowledge of Jesus and union with Jesus. Acts 10:34-43 is the record of Peter preaching the Jesus we all need. We need to know Jesus is Lord of all. Jesus is not just a man. Jesus is fully God. Jesus lived a life of righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was crucified and raised on the third day. He proved his resurrection by appearing to, eating with, and drinking with the apostles. Jesus is the judge of all people and the focus of all Scripture. Everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
You have to know these facts. You have to know these truths. You have to know and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Salvation requires a knowledge of the gospel. Fearing God, giving to the poor, and praying to God are not enough. A person must understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and a person must depend on Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the source and the goal of all that is truly good. What we need is union with and dependence on Jesus Christ. The demons understand the gospel. The demons know that all who trust themselves to the resurrected Jesus will be perfectly and eternally saved. However, the demons do not depend on Jesus. The demons do not want to be saved. The demons do not want to live in union with Christ. There must be union with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. So,
- Cornelius needs the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit fell on all who heard Peter’s word because previously they did not have the Holy Spirit and because they need the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us understanding of the gospel and it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to embrace the gospel. It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, who unites us to Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit gives us a heart, mind, and will to embrace Jesus Christ for life. It doesn’t matter how much you fear God, pray to God, give to the poor, and follow the law. If you are not led by the Spirit of God, then you are not a child of God (Rom 8:14).
So, the people of God are no longer marked by the temple, circumcision, the food laws, and the Sabbath. The people of God are marked by the power and presence of the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit of Christ who circumcises our hearts, leads us in purity, and gives us our Sabbath rest. The Spirit brings the very life of Jesus to the people. We do not need mere laws. We need the new covenant promise of the Holy Spirit given to every member of the people of God. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to understand and obey. We need new hearts that are cleansed by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Cornelius needs the gospel, the Holy Spirit, and
- Cornelius needs baptism
Look over at Acts 10:47. After the Spirit falls on this family, Peter asks, “‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Why does Peter command Cornelius and his family to be baptized? It is because baptism stands for and demonstrates a person’s union with Christ. Baptism puts the person’s faith on display. The person being baptized is confessing, “I have died with Christ. I have been buried with Christ. I have been raised with Christ. I will live with Christ.” Baptism in water is tied to baptism by the Holy Spirit because it is the Holy Spirit who enables this life-giving confession. Circumcision marked a person as belonging to the line of Abraham. Baptism marks a person as belonging to Jesus.
And baptism links the Christian with the church because the church is the body of Christ. Baptism is not a meaningless ceremony. Baptism stands for one’s union with Christ and therefore one’s union with Christ’s church.
Cornelius has a lot and for that we are thankful. But let’s not damn Cornelius to hell by saying he doesn’t need Jesus.
IV. Truths we need to remember
- Being religious is not enough
Maybe you know a Cornelius. Maybe you are Cornelius. Cornelius is a good person. When you talk to him you hear a concern for others. He loves his family and wants to help people. When you talk about God, Cornelius is right there with you affirming the greatness and glory of God. Cornelius is even constantly in prayer to God. But a problem arises when you get focused and clear on the essential Jesus. Cornelius has as much religion as a dead man can have. Cornelius is a good person bound for hell.
I don’t want to belittle these characteristics in Cornelius. These are good and right things. Cornelius is proof of what Paul says in Acts 17, that God places us in cities and families so that we would seek God (17:26-27). We are thankful for any movement toward God, but we must not confuse a move toward God as union with Jesus Christ.
Church, religion is not enough
- We must live with God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit
A grown person, like Cornelius, who can talk about God, prayer, and good works but cannot talk about life with the resurrected Jesus is not a Christian. A grown person, like Cornelius, who prays constantly and fears God but does not have the Holy Spirit is not a Christian. Children who grow up in the church going to Sunday school and memorizing verses in AWANA are in a great place, but they are not thereby in the people of God. We must live with God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.
A person, like Cornelius, who can talk about God but cannot talk about life with Jesus and being led by the Spirit, is a person in need of conversion. Is that you today? Do you have a fear of God and a desire to pray and do good to others? That’s great and we’re glad you’re not a scoundrel, but we will not lie to you and say you’re ok. You’re not ok; you need Jesus. The best news is that Jesus wants you.
Today, all dressed up and with your AWANA award, if you will believe in Jesus you will receive forgiveness of sins in his name. Get clear on Jesus; the righteous, crucified, and resurrected Son of God will take you in and make you new. Ask him. Ask Jesus to save you. Ask Jesus to make you pure. Ask Jesus to give you his Holy Spirit so you can know him and follow him. Will you do that now as we pray? Repent to God put your faith in Jesus Christ and as we sing come ask to be baptized.
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- Why must an old covenant Jew depend on Jesus in order to remain in the people of God? See Acts 3:23-24 and 2 Corinthians 1:20-22.
- The old covenant is temporary but purposeful preparing for Jesus and the new covenant like an engagement is temporary but purposeful preparing for marriage. Explain the insufficiency of staying engaged but refusing marriage.
- Explain why entering the new covenant after the old covenant is similar to entering marriage after an engagement.
- How do we see Hebrews 1:14 fulfilled in Acts 10:1-8?
- Whose job is it to preach the gospel to the nations? Do the angels preach or do God’s people preach? How does this effect the way you look at your neighbors?
- Does a person have to submit to the old covenant rules in order to enter the new covenant? Why or why not?
- Is a simple knowledge of who Jesus is and what Jesus did sufficient for salvation? What is required for salvation?
- What is the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation?
- Why does Peter command Cornelius and his family to be baptized?
- What is the difference between a move toward God and faith in Jesus Christ?
- How did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- What is required for a church to come together as a church? What gets in the way?
- What is required for a church to come together to eat the Lord’s Supper? What gets in the way?
- What attitudes and actions are fitting for the Lord’s Supper? What attitudes and actions are out of place at the Lord’s table?
- What is the difference between Christians gathering for a Bible study or prayer and a group of Christians gathering as a church?
- Are you drawing lines to keep out people who are not like you. Or are you clarifying the gospel and inviting people to come in and follow Jesus with you? Give some examples.
- How does selfishness ruin the supper and how does sacrifice sweeten the supper?
- In what sense is the Lord’s Supper a memorial? In what sense is the Lord’s Supper a fellowship in Jesus’ body and blood? How are these concepts distinct and how are they complimentary?
- Read 1 John 4:12. How does your love for the members put God’s love on display?
- What does it look like for you to examine yourself, take the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner, and discern the body?