Alignment with God’s Heart
Sermon Theme: Our great ambition must be to have alignment with God.
Pure and undefiled religion is sometimes found where we least expect it. Wherever the fear of God rules in the heart, it will appear both in works of charity and of piety, neither will excuse from the other. Doubtless Cornelius had true faith in God’s word, as far as he understood it, though not as yet clear faith in Christ. This was the work of the Spirit of God, through the mediation of Jesus, even before Cornelius knew him, as is the case with us all when we, who before were dead in sin, are made alive. Through Christ also his prayers and alms were accepted, which otherwise would have been rejected. Without dispute or delay Cornelius was obedient to the heavenly vision. In the affairs of our souls, let us not lose time.
The prejudices of Peter against the Gentiles, would have prevented his going to Cornelius, unless the Lord had prepared him for this service… God knows what services are before us, and how to prepare us; and we know the meaning of what he has taught us, when we find what occasion we have to make use of it. When we see our call clear to any service, we should not be perplexed with doubts and scruples arising from prejudices or former ideas. Cornelius had called together his friends, to partake with him of the heavenly wisdom he expected from Peter. We should not covet to eat our spiritual morsels alone. It ought to be both given and taken as kindness and respect to our kindred and friends, to invite them to join us in religious exercises…. these were ready to hear what Peter was commanded of God to say.
Acceptance cannot be obtained on any other ground than that of the covenant of mercy, through the atonement of Christ; but wherever true religion is found, God will accept it without regarding names or sects. The fear of God and works of righteousness are the substance of true religion, the effects of special grace. Though these are not the cause of a man’s acceptance, yet they show it; and whatever may be wanting in knowledge or faith, will in due time be given by Him who has begun it. They knew in general the word, that is, the gospel, which God sent to the children of Israel. The purport of this word was, that God by it published the good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ. They knew the several matters of fact relating to the gospel. They knew the baptism of repentance which John preached. Let them know that this Jesus Christ, by whom peace is made between God and man, is Lord of all; not only as over all, God blessed for evermore, but as Mediator. All power, both in heaven and in earth, is put into his hand, and all judgment committed to him. God will go with those whom he anoints; he will be with those to whom he has given his Spirit. Peter then declares Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and the proofs of it. Faith has reference to a testimony, and the Christian faith is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, on the testimony given by them. See what must be believed concerning him. That we are all accountable to Christ as our Judge; so every one must seek his favor, and to have him as our Friend. And if we believe in him, we shall all be justified by him as our Righteousness. The remission of sins lays a foundation for all other favors and blessings, by taking that out of the way which hinders the bestowing of them. If sin be pardoned, all is well, and shall end well for ever.
The Holy Ghost fell upon others after they were baptized, to confirm them in the faith; but upon these Gentiles before they were baptized, to show that God does not confine himself to outward signs. The Holy Ghost fell upon those who were neither circumcised nor baptized; it is the Spirit that quickens, the flesh profits nothing. They magnified God, and spoke of Christ and the benefits of redemption. Whatever gift we are endued with, we ought to honor God with it. The believing Jews who were present, were astonished that the gift of the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the Gentiles also. By mistaken notions of things, we make difficulties for ourselves as to the methods of Divine providence and grace. As they were undeniably baptized with the Holy Ghost, Peter concluded they were not to be refused the baptism of water, and the ordinance was administered. The argument is conclusive; can we deny the sign to those who have received the things signified? Those who have some acquaintance with Christ, cannot but desire more. Even those who have received the Holy Ghost, must see their need of daily learning more of the truth.
The imperfect state of human nature strongly appears, when godly persons are displeased even to hear that the word of God has been received, because their own system has not been attended to. And we are too apt to despair of doing good to those who yet, when tried, prove very teachable. It is the bane and damage of the church, to shut out those from it, and from the benefit of the means of grace, who are not in every thing as we are. Peter stated the whole affair. We should at all times bear with the infirmities of our brethren; and instead of taking offense, or answering with warmth, we should explain our motives, and show the nature of our proceedings. That preaching is certainly right, with which the Holy Ghost is given. While men are very zealous for their own regulations, they should take care that they do not withstand God; and those who love the Lord will glorify him, when made sure that he has given repentance to life to any fellow-sinners. Repentance is God’s gift; not only his free grace accepts it, but his mighty grace works it in us, grace takes away the heart of stone, and gives us a heart of flesh.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- Are you listening for a repeated knocking? The vision of the sheet didn’t happen once, it happened three times. Look for what God keeps bringing back. What opportunities keep presenting themselves to you? What challenges keep tugging at your heart? What people does God keep putting in your path? God will always persist when he has a plan.
- Who is performing the pre-salvation work on a sinner, leading to salvation? Since man is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-4), salvation cannot and does not begin with him (cf. John 1:12-13; John 6:37; Ephesians 1:4; Acts 13:48). Cornelius was a seeking heart; he had lived up to the light he had, and God was about to give him more. This is the necessary balance to divine election, that God responds to the seeking, willing heart (cf. Isaiah 55:6-7; Jeremiah 29:13; John 7:17). Divine election and human responsibility are both the clear teaching of Scripture. Salvation is both accomplished by God and commanded of sinners. Although our limited comprehension does not allow us to harmonize them, there is no conflict in the mind of God. God knew Cornelius’s heart, that he was a devout man, worshiping Him to the best of his knowledge. Despite Cornelius’s sincerity, and devotion to the true God, he could not be saved apart from a correct understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). For there is a divine time when the Spirit works in the heart of the sinner (cf. John 16:8-11; Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25). That work produces a person who has a fearful reverence for God and does what is right, and who is welcome or acceptable (dektos) to God. That word means “marked by a favorable manifestation of the divine pleasure,” as used in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you’; behold, now is ‘the acceptable time’, behold, now is ‘the day of salvation.’” This text shows that the welcome or acceptable time is the time of salvation. No matter what the age, race, sex, or social strata, when the heart hungers for God and for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), it is the welcome time for salvation. God not only sovereignly called Cornelius to salvation but also prepared Peter as the means to accomplish that. God’s sovereign call of individuals for special service is well-documented in Scripture (cf. Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:5; John 15:16; Galatians 1:1). God not only sovereignly prepared Cornelius and Peter but also sovereignly determined and arranged the timing of bringing them together.
- Have you ever noticed that the guy driving slower than you is always a jerk, whereas the guy driving faster than you is always a maniac? By fallen nature, we’re all prone to justify ourselves and to condemn those who are different than we are. We are all prone to prejudice in some form or another and it is devastating to any ministry. But for God to use us effectively in His purpose, He must break us of our prejudices. But the fact is, even committed Christians, even godly men like Peter, have prejudices. Like Peter, we’re probably blind to those prejudices until the Lord shocks us into seeing them. We are quick to exclude from our group those we deem undesirable — those who fail to flatter us, support our opinions, reinforce our prejudices, boost our pride, or feed our egos, or whose style of life is significantly different. The world in general expresses its intolerance and bigotry in conflicts at every level, from silent prejudice to outright war. Even in His church, those of another culture, skin color, social status, educational group, or income level often find themselves as unwelcome. Such intolerant exclusivism grieves the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose purpose and prayer was that believers “may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). In the church, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). So do not be prone to judge others according to outward characteristics, rather accept them on an equal par with us as individual human beings made in the image of God. For we are to be obedience in aligning ourselves with God and His will — walk in His ways.
- Are you willing to break out of your comfort zone in order to obey God when reaching anyone who has a need for God? God is gracious to gently break us of our prejudice so that He can work through us. God sent an angel to Cornelius, and the angel knew the gospel perfectly well. He could have explained the way of salvation to Cornelius and left Peter out of the loop. But instead, he gave instructions to Cornelius on how to contact Peter so that Peter could go and preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Isn’t it just like God, that when He is pleased to open the gospel to the Gentiles, He picks a Gentile who represents something that every loyal Jew hated — a military commander from the occupying Roman forces. Peter had to break out of his comfort zone in order to obey God. And Cornelius would have had to overcome any prejudice that he may have had against contacting an uneducated Jew to explain spiritual truth to him. Thankfully, the Lord works gradually and gently with us in spite of our many shortcomings and sins. He teaches us by putting us in uncomfortable situations, where we have to challenge our blind assumptions and grow to be more like the Lord Jesus, who was the friend of sinners that others were prejudiced against. For God’s purpose is to spread the gospel through us so that He will be glorified among the nations. So let us then be like Peter and be obedience to the Lord.
- Peter states in Acts 11:17, “If God therefore gave to [the Gentiles] the same gift as He gave to [Jews] also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” Who wants to argue with what the Lord has done? If God is no respecter of persons, then shouldn’t we be also? The word which is used here is found for the first time in the New Testament and is a translation of the Hebrew phrase “to lift (someone’s) face,” which meant “to show favor” and hence “to show favoritism.” God does not have favorites. This means that, on the one hand, evil-doers cannot hope that he will show partiality to them at the judgment (Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17; Deuteronomy 10:17), and, on the other hand, that no man need fear that God will not receive him out of partiality. Christians must display the same spirit (James 2:1; James 2:9). If people fear God and do what is right (cf. Micah 6:8), then they are acceptable to him — Paul teaches this in Romans 2. This does not mean that salvation is possible apart from the atonement wrought by Jesus Christ, but rather that on the basis of his death and resurrection the gospel is offered to all people who are willing to receive it and recognize their need of it.
- What are some common evangelical Christian prejudices? Have you prayed for God to show you your prejudices? When He does show you, obey Him by putting your prejudices to death and by showing His love and offering His gospel to those whom you might not naturally be inclined to like. He will use it to exalt His name among the nations! Should we not view ourselves as beggars whose job is to show other beggars where to find God’s free bread? Too often we find it difficult to believe that God can accept other people without these others first becoming like us. Yet God does accept them. And it is good he does, because if he did not, you and I would never have become Christians. We would have been excluded. The only reason we are believers is that God does not show favoritism. As Charles C. Morrison said: “The Christian church is the only society in the world in which membership is based upon the qualification that the candidate shall be unworthy of membership.”
- What precipitates the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a believer? The Spirit’s coming required no petition, no confession, no water baptism, and no laying on of hands. In Acts 10:44, He came as they listened and believed. That is clear from Peter’s inspired testimony in Acts 11:17 that God had given them the Holy Spirit, “after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.” For we can never align ourselves with the ways of God without the help of the Holy Spirit. There can be no such thing as a Christian without the Holy Spirit, since He is essential to the Christian life. The Holy Spirit grants power to witness (Acts 1:8) and pray (Romans 8:26). Through His ministry comes assurance of salvation (Romans 8:16), since by Him believers are “sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30; cf. Ephesians 1:13). He is the “pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14) and also our teacher (1 John 2:27).
- How does a person come to know the will of God? How does God lead people? How am I to know whether or not I should do this or do that? Donald Grey Barnhouse gives an answer on “How to Know the Will of God.” He made the point that God leads in three ways and that when you get all three of these in line you can be sure that it is God who is leading you. 1) “You need to be willing to do the will of God even before you know what it is.” God does not give options, allowing us to choose one or another or even choose whether we want to follow a specific course of action. He waits until we are ready to obey him. Then he tells us what we should do. 2) “God speaks through Scripture.” God never leads contrary to Scripture. So, if we are to be led by God, we must be men and women of the Word. We must know it and understand its principles. 3) “You need to look to God on a regular basis — daily and, at times, even hourly.” Barnhouse referred to Psalm 32:8, which says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Barnhouse said that if God is to guide us with his eye, he must catch our eye. So, we need to look to him regularly through periods of personal Bible reading and devotion.
- What was the point of Jesus’ dying? Jesus was God’s messenger. He is the one to whom we should listen. Why should he have died and not have remained alive to teach us? And why is his death such an important part of the gospel proclamation? The answer is that He died for us, in our place. This is how He made peace between ourselves and God the Father, the truth with which Peter started (Acts 10:36). Jesus made peace, as Peter’s fellow apostle Paul says in another place, by taking the law that we have broken and that condemns us and “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Our sin is like a great wall between God and us. We cannot bridge it in order to make peace with God. We are on the far side of this wall, fighting God all the time. How can that wall be removed? The cross is God’s answer. At the cross God took our sin, placed it upon Jesus Christ, and punished it there. Jesus did not die for himself; he had not sinned. He did not die merely because He was a man. He died for us. Jesus is God and infinite, his death had inexhaustible value. When we trust him, coming to God on the basis of his death, our sin is removed. And what was before a relationship of hostility becomes a bond of peace.
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