Our current message series is Church Without Walls. Today, May 17 is the ninth Sunday that we have not been able to meet in our church building for worship. The good news is that next Sunday, May 24, we’ll be able to meet together again. Last Friday, St Louis County guidelines came out that allow our church to begin meeting again as other businesses begin to open up beginning May 18.
We are going to open up in a safe way for everyone, following Phase 1 guidelines from St Louis County, the state of Missouri and guidance from the Assemblies of God. We will be practicing social distancing in our seating and how we enter and exit the church. We are working to have masks and hand sanitizer available for those who wish to use them. In this beginning phase of reopening the church, we will only have the Sunday worship service at 10 am meeting. We are working on having overflow seating available in the lower level with the live service upstairs streamed through a television monitor if we have more people than we can safely seat in the sanctuary. In order to keep everyone safe, we will not have children’s ministry or refreshments.
We are going to continue with our online small group meetings. We will also continue to have the Sunday message streamed live on Sunday morning at 10am on Facebook and Youtube. Ballwin Police Chief Doug Schaeffler is our point person helping us to follow guidelines to have safe and secure meetings for everyone. He will be available for questions on how we will be handling the reopening. We’re excited about being able to open back up next Sunday and encourage you to plan on coming and invite a friend.
Today’s message is entitled “For All People.” One of the reasons that I believe God allows things such as this pandemic to happen is to turn people’s hearts to Himself. People asked Jesus why certain disasters in their time was happening. Here is Jesus answer to them.
Luke 13:4-5 (ESV) Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
In this disaster a tower collapsed and killed 18 people. The people were wondering if the people who died were being judged because they were particularly bad sinners. Jesus said, no, the people who died were not worse sinners. But rather than trying to figure out why it happened, Jesus said there is a lesson to learn in disasters. The lesson is that death could come to anyone of us at any time. We need to repent and put our faith in Jesus before it’s our time to go or we will perish. To perish is to spend eternity in hell apart from God forever.
So, in the same way, this pandemic is a wake-up call to the world. I believe that many more people are thinking about eternity and seeking God because of this pandemic. As believers, God wants to prepare us to reach out to them. God is using this crisis to motivate people to seek Him, some for the first time and others to get back to God.
Today, we’re going to learn how God can use us to reach seekers. First of all, we need to be motivated to …
Acts 10:1-2 (ESV) At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.
In Acts 10, we are introduced to a seeker, Cornelius, who was a Roman soldier. Now, we need to understand that it was Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus. Cornelius was not Jew, he was a Gentile and he was a seeker after God. These verses tell us three things about his seeking. He feared God along with his whole family, which indicates that he followed the Jewish faith, but was not circumcised or baptized. He also gave regularly to the synagogue to help the ministry and prayed regularly. Was Cornelius saved? Absolutely not, he was seeking after God but knew nothing about Jesus.
Acts 10:3-4 (ESV) About the ninth hour of the day he 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?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.
When someone is genuinely seeking after God, God will reveal Jesus to them. In Cornelius’ situation, God sent an angel to speak to him. The angel told him that his prayers and giving had been noticed and appreciated by God. The common myth that God doesn’t hear the prayers of unbelievers is not true. Because of Cornelius seeking, God gave him supernatural revelation. The angel continued and gave Cornelius instructions to invite Peter to come to his home and gave directions as to where Peter was staying. Not only was Cornelius praying in Acts 10, but so was Peter. In the midst of his prayer time, Peter also had a vision from God …
Acts 10:11-13 (ESV) and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
Peter refused to obey the voice, as the animals in the sheet were unclean. The Old Testament law forbade the eating of unclean animals.
Acts 10:15 (ESV) And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”
God was indicating to Peter that the Old Testament laws about unclean animals and as we’ll see unclean people was no longer applicable. Just as the vision ended, men from Cornelius knocked on the door of Peter’s home in Joppa. The Spirit told Peter to meet the men and accompany them to where they wanted him to go. The men told Peter the story of Cornelius vision and they traveled to the home of Cornelius. In the Jewish law, is was also forbidden to go into the homes of Gentiles or to eat with them. Yet, Peter was beginning to realize that something had happened since the resurrection of Jesus. The distinction between Jews and Gentiles was removed in Jesus. Everyone needed the Gospel, it was for all people.
What principles can we learn from this story as we reach out to seekers in our world? In this story, we see God’s supernatural preparation of both the seeker, Cornelius and Peter, the witness for Jesus. While God does not give everyone supernatural visions, He does prepare the hearts of the seekers that He wants you to reach out to. As you read the entire story in Acts 10, which I encourage you to do this week, you can see Peter’s hesitation and worry about God’s guidance.
When God leads you to reach out to a seeker in your world, you also will probably sense some hesitation or concern about it. But as you obey the Lord, He will open the doors to reach out with His words. Who are the people today who are most prone to being seekers? In the current crisis, it will be people who are in need. Some have lost their jobs or know people who are sick or may even have died. Yet others are very fearful and afraid of what may happen to them, either health-wise or financially through job loss.
An easy way to open the door to a spiritual conversation is to offer to pray for them. Expect the Spirit to guide you as you pray for and reach out to seekers.
Acts 10:34-35 (ESV) So 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.
By this point in the story, Peter’s worldview has been changed by the Holy Spirit. He now understood that all people could become part of God’s family. There is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile. Everyone person must put their faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Since that is the most important thing, Peter then begins to talk to Cornelius and his household about Jesus.
Acts 10:38 (ESV) 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.
Peter tells the Gentile seekers about Jesus’ ministry while He was here on earth. Jesus was the anointed one, the long-awaited Messiah, who was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Peter summarizes Jesus life as doing good. In other words, Jesus only did what was good, there was no evil or sin found in His life. Jesus also healed those who were oppressed by the devil, either through physical sickness or demonic possession. Peter than continues with the final chapter of Jesus’ ministry in …
Acts 10:39b-40 (ESV) … They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear,
Jesus was crucified on a cross, but that was not the end of the story. God raised him from the dead on the third day. And the risen Jesus was seen by many witnesses, including Peter himself. Jesus gave Peter the mission of preaching about Jesus, both to the Jews and the Gentiles. Finally, Peter ends with an invitation to his listeners.
Acts 10:43 (ESV) To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
He calls on Cornelius and his household to believe in Jesus to receive forgiveness for their sins. Peter is used by the Holy Spirit to lead the seeker Cornelius and his family to Jesus.
When God gives us opportunities to talk to seekers, we can learn from Peter’s witness. Peter focused on the life and ministry of Jesus and so should we. It’s so easy to get side-tracked on difficult questions that have no easy answers. Such as “why is there evil and suffering in the world.?” Or how can man have free will and God be sovereign at the same time? There are answers to those questions and many other questions that people ask.
But the important thing to remember is that first and foremost, seekers need to answer the question “who is Jesus.” That’s what we can answer simply for them, just as Peter did. Talk about Jesus’ ministry, His death and resurrection. Then about what the risen Lord requires of people, to repent and put their faith in Him. As Peter was a witness to the risen Lord, so we too are witnesses to the risen Jesus, for He has changed our lives. God will give us more opportunities to lead seekers to Jesus as we ask Him. Finally …
As Peter was witnessing to Jesus, something unusual happened that completely shocked Peter.
Acts 10:44-45 (ESV) While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 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.
The people listening believed in Jesus as Peter had explained. Then the Holy Spirit baptized each one of the new believers. Peter had come into Cornelius’ home with other Jews and they were all amazed that these Gentiles had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. The Jews had thought that Spirit baptism was just for Jews. As you cannot be baptized in the Spirit unless you are a believer in Jesus, this experience demonstrated to the Jews that these Gentiles were true believers. How did the Jews know that these Gentiles were Spirit baptized?
Acts 10:46 (ESV) For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
The initial evidence of Spirit baptism from the day of Pentecost onward is that the person speaks in tongues. Tongues are speaking or praying in a language that the speaker has never learned. Tongues may be in a known human language or an unknown or angelic language. When one speaks in tongues, he is often praising or praying to God.
Acts 10:47-48 (ESV) “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. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
Cornelius and his household had been saved, Spirit baptized and now just one thing remained for their spiritual foundation to be laid. They needed to be water baptized in the name of Jesus and so they were. Peter stayed with them for awhile to teach them future about following Jesus. God made sure that these new believers were filled with the Spirit’s power.
These three foundation stones of a believer’s life are presenting by Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38. They are again belief in Jesus, water baptism and then Spirit baptism, usually in that order. Obviously belief in Jesus must come first. In our story today Spirit baptism came before water baptism, showing that those orders can be interchanged. Not only did Spirit baptism come first, it seemed to come spontaneously, rather than being prayed for as in other accounts. Why did it happen that way?
In this case, Peter did not expect the Gentiles to be Spirit baptized, so he never would have prayed for them. God simply did the work for them. Normally in the book of Acts and in life today, people seek for Spirit baptism through prayer before receiving. As we have opportunity to lead people to Jesus, whether seekers outside or within our families, let’s make sure that we encourage them in water and Spirit baptism. We must learn to share the Spirit’s power.
Next Sunday, we begin meeting together again on Sunday mornings. I believe that in this time of crisis, God is working in people’s hearts to cause them to seek Him. Let’s pray that God will help us connect those seekers, either through our physical meetings and through our online presence. Reaching out to seekers is for us as a church family and for each of us individually as well. Ask God to give your divine opportunities to minister His love and grace to hurting people. Lead them to Jesus and share the Spirit’s power. As we follow Jesus, He will help us reach many others for Him.