The Gospel for All Nations (Part 1)
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Acts 10:1–11:18
Gobal Missions Emphasis
If you’re newer to Redeemer Church, September is the month we emphasize global missions—that’s missions with an s. In one sense, Christians are always on mission. We make disciples locally wherever we live, work, and play. But local ministries[i] should never lose sight of global missions. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 says to make disciples of “all the nations.” Both should be part of our church’s DNA: we declare his glory to our neighbors and the nations—local ministries, global missions.
When we talk about missions, we’re talking about making disciples where the gospel isn’t known at all, where there are no Christians gathering and giving and going. As of August 30, peoplegroups.org estimates that 3,178 people groups are still unengaged. That means no missionaries, no evangelical church planting strategy for that people group exists.[ii] Nobody is taking them the gospel, and without it they’re perishing.
There’s no such thing as an innocent un-evangelized person—we’ve got to get that. Everybody is born guilty in Adam, and they must believe in Jesus to be saved. We can’t just relax even with several families and singles already giving themselves to global missions. We can’t just relax with the 130 or so that we have here in Fort Worth. There’s work to be done, disciples to equip, until Jesus saves all his elect from every tribe, tongue, and nation. We’re an equipping hub, where people come to know God more deeply and leave to spread his glory more broadly. Some of you stay and equip here; some of us go to disciple there.
Acts 10-11 Equips Us for Global Missions
Acts 10-11 equips us for global missions. The more we delight in this God of Acts 10-11, the more we’ll spread his glory. We’ll be tackling a bigger chunk of Acts today—66 verses all the way to 11:18. The reason for doing that is very simple: 11:1-18 interprets the events of chapter 10. It hangs together as one piece.
We’re only doing a broad overview. Next week is more specific application. As soon as I’m done, though, Tim Foster will share how God is pursuing the nations in the Congo. You’ll get God’s pursuit of the nations in Scripture. Then Tim will give you one glimpse of what that looks like among the deaf in Africa. So, without further delay, let’s read and see God’s pursuit of the nations.
10:1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4 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. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “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. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” 30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 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. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 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. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
11:1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
1. The God who pursues a people from all nations
Four observations. Number one, we see the God who pursues a people from all nations. When you hear “nations,” think every ethnicity. To this point, we’ve seen God saving Jews or people who became Jews.[iii] Cornelius is different. He’s part of the Italian Cohort. He’s still a Gentile.[iv] He’s still uncircumcised.[v] Jews would’ve considered him unclean, socially unacceptable. You can sense it in 10:28—Peter says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation.” Or in 11:2, when the circumcision party criticizes Peter, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them?!” Cornelius may be honorable, but he’s still unclean.
We must understand that within the Bible’s storyline, there were Jews; and then there was everybody else, the nations. The Law of Moses had stipulations about clean and unclean food.[vi] The Law set apart Israel from the pagan nations this way. But those laws never meant God didn’t have a way for Gentiles to become his people. We can think of instances like Rahab and Ruth, where God saves Gentiles. These instances pointed to the day when God would save all nations through Christ, just as the covenant with Abraham promised.
The problem was that Israel failed to see God’s heart for the nations. In doing so, they also failed to see the food laws were only provisional. They were temporary. They were pointers to the day of true cleansing that comes for all peoples through the blood of Jesus. So, many of the Jews absolutized the food laws. Rather than seeing them as pointers to God’s provision in Christ for all nations, the food laws became points of boasting in their own superiority over the nations. They created customs that bread centuries of ethnic pride and prejudice against the nations.
God moves heaven and earth to save a Gentile
God’s solution is a vision of himself pursuing all nations. We see this in several ways. God moves heaven and earth to reach a Gentile. In verse 3 Cornelius gets a vision of God’s angel who tells him to connect with Peter in Joppa. In verse 11 God opens heaven to give Peter the vision, and then God’s Spirit tells Peter how to meet Cornelius so Cornelius can hear the good news.
God sanctifies his people to reach the Gentiles
God also sanctifies his people to reach the nations. Peter needs to change. He too suffered from ethnic pride. He had prejudices against Gentiles. He snubbed his nose at their offensive habits. But God gives him this vision of the clean and unclean animals, and teaches Peter that “what God has made clean, don’t call common.” This happens three times—you know why? Because three Gentiles are about to knock on Peter’s door, and that’s how God wants Peter to think about each of them. He even says in verse 28, “God has shown me that I shouldn’t call any person common or unclean.”
God shows no partiality
Also, God himself shows no partiality. Peter says in verse 34, “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.” Some have taken this to mean that a person can be saved apart from hearing the gospel and believing in Jesus. They argue, “See, all that Cornelius needed was to fear God and do all the right he knew how to do: pray, give to the poor. And God accepted him. See! Cornelius was already saved,” they argue, “it’s not necessary for people to hear the gospel.”[vii]
But that reads more into the word “acceptable” than what’s actually there. It also contradicts the rest of the passage. It can’t mean that Cornelius was already saved, because Peter says in verse 43 that forgiveness of sins only comes to those who believe in Jesus. Also, when Peter retells the story in 11:14 he says this: “he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved.” It was necessary that Cornelius hear the gospel to be saved.[viii] So “acceptable” can’t mean Cornelius was already saved.
What does it mean, then? Peter is simply clarifying the more positive side to God showing no partiality. He accepts everyone as candidates for salvation without distinction. Anyone among the nations can be saved. Anyone can believe. God doesn’t save based on ethnic background or language or cultural baggage or social status—he saves based on his grace alone. All peoples are acceptable candidates for salvation.
The God of Acts 10-11 is a God who pursues a people from all nations. This fits the Bible’s testimony at large, doesn’t it? We could think of his promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” We could think of Rahab and Ruth and the Gibeonites and the Ninevites. The prophets again and again promise God bringing his sons from afar and his daughters from the ends of the earth (Isa 43:6), of many nations joining themselves to the Lord (Zech 2:11).
The Psalms break forth in song: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy…” (Ps 67:3-4). Our God is a God who pursues a people from all nations. To know him truly is to share his passion to spread his glory among all peoples. To know him truly is to join his pursuit of people from all the nations, from every ethnicity no matter the cost. To know him truly is to hate every form of racism, whether subconscious or explicit, and to cherish the fact that Jesus has purchased for himself a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation—they will reign on the earth (Rev 5:9-10).
2. The gospel that saves people from all nations
Number two, we see the gospel that saves people from all nations. God could’ve had the angel deliver the gospel to Cornelius. God could’ve written the gospel in the vision. But he chooses to use Peter. He chooses to use us to deliver his gospel.
Sometimes Christians will pray that God would give the Muslim and Hindu peoples dreams like he gave to Cornelius. But never should we think that dreams remove our obligation to take them the gospel. The whole point of the dream was for Cornelius to hear Peter’s gospel. Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ! We must go and we must preach to save the nations.
The gospel begins with God
The gospel we take to them appears in verses 36-43, and I want to make just a few observations. First, the gospel begins with God. God stands behind everything Peter announces. God sent word to Israel. God anointed Jesus. God was with Jesus. God raised Jesus from the dead. God chose witnesses. God appointed Jesus to be judge of the living and the dead. The gospel is a message about God acting, God’s initiative. It’s not about man doing for God, but about God doing for man what man can’t do for himself.
The gospel is historically true
Second, the gospel is historically true. Notice the historical apologetic. Verse 37—“you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea.” Verse 39—“we are witnesses of all that he did…” Verse 40—“God made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” The gospel doesn’t promote a closed universe, where God stands aloof from his creation. Rather, the true God works in history. He works through verifiable facts and events and people in history. He even enters history.
The gospel announces God saving people through Christ
Which brings us to a third observation: the gospel announces God saving people through Christ. Peter announces the life of Jesus Christ in verse 38—“he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” Jesus’ life displayed the nature of his mission. He came to heal all that sin broke. He came to conquer Satan and deliver people from his oppression.
He announces the death of Jesus Christ in verse 39—“they put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” Galatians 3:10 says that those who fail to keep God’s law are under God’s curse. Galatians 3:13 says that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Jesus, who didn’t deserve God’s curse, became a curse in our place. That’s why Jesus died. He died to take away the penalty our sins deserved.
Peter also announces the resurrection of Christ in verse 40—but God raised him on the third day. He didn’t stay dead like everybody else. He defeated death. And finally Peter announces the return of Christ in verse 42—Jesus is the one “appointed by God to judge the living and the dead.”
The gospel is urgent and necessary to believe
Which means the gospel is, fourthly, urgent and necessary to believe. Jesus will return to judge all people. Those who are against Christ will suffer eternal punishment. Revelation 14:11 says the wicked will drink the wine of God’s wrath…he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest day and night.” But those who belong to Christ will receive the kingdom of peace. They will enjoy true life in the presence of God forever and ever.
The gospel is for everyone without distinction
So don’t miss this fifth observation: the gospel is for everyone without distinction. Look at verse 43: “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Not just Jews or Gentiles. Not just black people or white people or Asian people or Indian people. Not just rich people or poor people. Not just traditional people or hipster people. Everyone without distinction who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness. All sins wiped clean. All guilt removed. All his righteousness given. All the newness of the kingdom, ours!
That’s the good news. Peter calls it the good news of peace through Jesus Christ. It’s through the gospel that we obtain peace with God.
3. The grace God gives to believers from all nations
Which leads to number three, we see the grace God gives believers from all nations. We’ve seen some of it already. His grace involves the forgiveness of sins in verse 43. True cleansing comes for all people through Jesus Christ.
His grace also involves the gift of the Holy Spirit in verse 44—“the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.” The Holy Spirit isn’t just a power, an energy; he is a person. He is the third person of the Trinity. He mediates the very presence of Jesus Christ to us. All who belong to Christ get the Holy Spirit.
Which Paul says was part of God’s promise to Abraham. I mentioned Galatians 3:13 a minute ago. If you keep reading to verse 14 it says that: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” Here he is—the promised Spirit coming to the Gentiles.
God’s grace also means full inclusion into the covenant people: verse 47, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” In other words, God put them on Jesus’ team and the evidence was the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Therefore, we best give them a jersey!
The Lord isn’t withholding any grace from these Gentiles who believe. His grace is available for all who believe. He gives it freely to believers from all nations. Let’s not withhold the gospel from them. Let’s spread the gospel near and far, that all the nations might enjoy God’s manifold grace with us.
4. The glory God receives for saving all nations
Lastly, number four, we see the glory God receives for saving all nations. In chapter 11, Peter explains all that happened. He concludes in verse 17, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
See, God is saving the nations; the church just needs to catch up. We’ve been called into something he’s already accomplishing. He’s not waiting around on us. His plan to save a people from all nations isn’t frustrated by our disobedience. Either we get on board with God saving the nations; or don’t be a Christian. That’s the options.
Peter sees it; he’s on board. The church sees it; they’re on board. And this is how the whole thing ends in verse 18: “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” They glorified God. That’s the whole point of the mission. That’s the goal of history. That’s why God made the world, to spread the enjoyment of his glory. As John Piper has said it before…
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory…But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish.[ix]
May it be the case that God helps us cherish his glory that we might commend him to others.
[i]Further explanation between “local ministries” and “frontier missions” appears here: http://www.redeemerfortworth.org/blog/post/why-.
[iii]Acts 2:9-11, 41; 6:1; 8:5-8, 27, 36.
[iv]Acts 10:28, 45; 11:18.
[v]Acts 10:45; 11:2.
[vi]Lev 11:1-47; 20:25-26.
[vii]Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and even C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity espouse views similar to this one.
[viii]Also, 11:18 implies that Cornelius and his household obtained eternal life only after they heard the gospel and not before. Moreover, the rest of Acts and the NT clearly asserts that all men stand guilty and must believe in the name of Jesus to be saved (e.g., Acts 4:12; 17:30-31; 26:15-18; Rom 10:13-15). For more discussion see also John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 123-54.
[ix]Piper, Nations Be Glad, 17.