The Gospel for All Nations (Part 2)
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Acts 10:1–11:18
Last Sunday, we began our month-long emphasis on global missions. We covered a lot of ground—all of chapter 10 and half of 11. Acts has entered its third major shift outward: the gospel spread in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria; now it goes to the nations. Basically, we saw that the God we worship is a missionary God. He pursues and saves people from all nations.
Now, I told you last Sunday we’d spend our time today applying what we learned. So today is part two; and here’s the plan. I’m going to read chapter 11:1-18, since it gives us a nice summary of the Cornelius account. Then I’ll summarize the four observations we made from chapters 10-11. Then we’re going to look at four ways to apply this theology in terms of global missions. Let’s begin by reading the summary in 11:1-18…
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."
Summary: God’s Grace Advances to the Gentiles
What did we see God reveal in chapters 10-11 last week? I made four observations. We saw first that God is a God who pursues a people from all nations. He commands angels, he opens heaven, he kills Peter’s prejudice—he does everything necessary to save this Italian named Cornelius. In doing so, God reveals that he shows no partiality. He shows no favoritism based on ethnicity. His grace is for all peoples.
We then looked at the gospel that saves people from all nations. In verses 36-43, Peter preaches the good news of peace. Sin separates people from God. Sin merits punishment. But the good news is this: God has done for man what man can’t do for himself. Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return, God saves people. Jesus takes away the penalty our sins deserved. Anybody who believes this historically true message receives the forgiveness of their sins.
Third, we saw the grace God gives believers from all nations. Way back in Genesis 12:3, God promised to bless all nations through Abraham’s offspring. And here, through Jesus Christ, God lavishes his grace on these Gentile believers. Then finally, we saw the ultimate goal of it all—the glory God receives for saving people from all nations. It all ends on this note in 11:18: “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.” God’s goal in saving the nations is spreading joy in his glory.
That’s the message of chapters 10-11 in a nutshell. Having summarized it, let’s now apply this theology in terms of global missions. We might have a robust theology of missions. But we often need help teasing that out, especially when many of us are called to stay, send, and support. It’s not a matter of who’s called to missions; we all are. Being excited about missions doesn’t make you a missionary; it makes you a Christian. So what’s our role? How does such theology teach us to live?
Our Motivation: Enjoying the Grace & Glory of God
First things first, this theology teaches us about our motivation for global missions. What drives your passion? What keeps you going? What compels us to make disciples of all the nations? I could give you statistics on lost-ness among the Afar in Eritrea and the Dasari in India and the Hamer-Bana in Sudan. I could describe the demographics of regions—I’ll do some of that later for Fort Worth. I could list all the needs of lost communities, tell stories of the greatest missionary sacrifices.
Each of these have their place, but the ultimate motivation for missions is enjoying the grace and glory of God. The whole point of moving Cornelius, and sanctifying Peter, and these Gentiles hearing the gospel was for them to enjoy God’s grace. What happens in verse 46? The Gentiles extoll God. They speak highly of him. They worship him. They enjoy the grace received.
That’s the pattern in Acts: the gospel confronts people in their sin, and those who believe rejoice in God’s grace (Acts 2:47; 3:8; 8:8, 39). Romans 15:9 says that’s the whole point Jesus came: “that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”
When you receive a gift that you truly enjoy, don’t you want to share it with others? You want them to enjoy what you’ve enjoyed in that gift. You’ll share it. Maybe you even go out and buy them one, so they can experience the same joy. The same is true with God’s grace…except that there’s no greater gift to offer people. There’s nothing else that satisfies our deepest longings and answers our greatest need. Missions grows out of joy in God’s grace, and the desire for others to experience grace with us.
The church also celebrates God’s glory. 11:18 says, “they glorified God.” The Giver gets the glory. God didn’t owe the nations anything but judgment. But in his love he lavishes grace on them freely. Salvation by grace alone means the glory belongs to God alone. The church glorifies God. He spreads his grace for worldwide worship.
This is our motivation—that God receive glory for spreading joy in his grace among all peoples. So the formative question we need to take home is this: what motivates you as a Christian? Is it the enjoyment of God’s grace? Is it the celebration of his glory by all peoples? If there’s no desire to spread news of God’s grace, we have to ask whether we’ve truly experienced it ourselves. Those who experience God’s grace can’t help but spread his grace and glory to others.
Missions grows out of delight in God’s grace and glory. Start there, Redeemer. We’ll get to missions strategy in a minute; but don’t start with strategy. Start with rejoicing that you’ve received grace. Start with worshiping the God of all glory, or your missions strategy will fall flat and get all out of whack; and you’ll quit when plans get frustrated and people reject the gospel and friends betray you. Roots of endurance draw from the rich wells of God’s grace and glory.
Where is your joy? Football team? Essential oils? Exercise? Money? Your children? Job success? Next project around the house? It’s often easier to spread news about these matters than it is for us to spread news about God’s grace, because we’re not finding our joy in Christ. We’ve lost the wonder of grace. We’ve traded God’s glory for lesser things. Missions won’t be a problem for a church that’s truly happy in God’s grace and glory. We commend to others only what we’ve come to enjoy ourselves. May that be his grace and glory.
Our Message: The Gospel of Jesus Christ
Second, this passage informs our message in global missions. When given the opportunity, Peter preaches the gospel. What is the gospel? It’s the good news of God saving sinners through the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ.
Listen to it from verse 38. He begins with the life of Jesus: “…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. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.”
He then moves to the death of Jesus: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” Then the resurrection: “but God raised him on the third day and 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.” And finally the return of Jesus: “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.”
That’s the gospel. What happens when people believe this message? Verse 43, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Everybody is born guilty, Romans 5 teaches us. To be forgiven of their sins, people must hear this message and believe in Christ.
Don’t buy the inclusivism of our day that says people are okay with God as long as they’re sincere and devout in faith. Cornelius was a devout, God-fearing man; but he still needed to hear the gospel to be saved. Acts 4:12, adds that “…there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Churches that are weak in evangelism and missions have normally been influenced by some form of inclusivism—the idea that people don’t need to hear about Jesus in order to be saved. But we’ve got to preach the gospel, or the nations won’t be saved. There’s not a person you’ll see this week that will be saved apart from hearing the gospel. We’ve got to remember this. We can get distracted in the mission. I asked other missionaries and church planters how the distraction happens.
One brother shared that we can get so focused on meeting physical needs that we subtly deceive ourselves into thinking that’s enough—“We’re doing our job. We’re ‘embodying’ the gospel. We’re drilling wells and teaching them business skills.” Good things. They may even address suffering. But they don’t address eternal suffering. The gospel must be preached as we do good, because faith comes by hearing.
Another missionary from Central Asia said we develop friendships with the locals, but as time goes by we don’t want to lose those friendships by preaching the gospel. We can fear losing friendships by calling people to repent and follow Jesus; so we stay silent. But friendships save nobody. God uses friendships in saving others, certainly. But it’s not the friendship that saves, but the gospel spoken that saves. And what kind of friend doesn’t care enough to speak to someone’s greatest need for Christ?
Another one wrote this: we can sometimes convince ourselves that by talking generally about “God” and morality and “Jesus loves you” and other vague things, that we’ve shared the gospel. But without explicitly preaching the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—and what those things imply for repentance and faith—we really haven’t preached the gospel at all. These examples aren’t limited to missionaries and church planters. They sound a lot like some of our experiences too.
Take notes as we go through the book of Acts. Notice the gospel the apostles continue to announce. Notice the different ways they announce it. Notice how Paul preaches to Jews and then to Gentiles. The approach may differ, but the message remains the same. The gospel saves, and this is the message we must speak to the nations. Ask our missionaries how they’re sharing the gospel. Ask each other how you’re sharing the gospel at work and school and exercise groups and with family. Ask for prayer in sharing the gospel. Report on occasions you do share the gospel, and celebrate its advance. Even when there’s no immediate faith, celebrate the spread of Jesus’ glory.
Our Manner: Prayerful, Spirit-led, Urgent
Third, this account with Cornelius teaches us some things about the manner we go about the mission. To begin, we must be prayerful. Notice how God’s mission advances to the Gentiles as Peter was praying in 10:9. This fits the pattern developed throughout Acts: God achieves his mission through prayer. Prayer is the means God uses to achieve his saving purpose among the nations.
In this case, prayer was the means God used to transform Peter, so Peter would take the gospel to the nations. The reason some of us stay so inward-looking is that we’re not praying. We’re not seeking God’s will in prayer. Therefore, we remain unchanged, unmoved, fearful, dispassionate about reaching others for Christ. It’s through prayer that we learn to say with Christ, “not my will but yours be done.”
It’s through prayer that God works his will to save people—even in surprising ways. Peter was just hungry, verse 10 says. He wanted some supper—he sits down to pray and it ends up with a vision and Gentiles knocking on his door to hear the gospel. God moves and works when we pray.
We must also be Spirit-led. Did you notice the work of the Spirit in these chapters? Verse 19, “the Spirit said to Peter;” 11:12, “the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction;” 10:44, “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard.” Peter’s guidance and the Gentiles getting saved—none of it could have happened without God’s Spirit. We must depend on God’s Spirit to lead us. We don’t want to just go through the motions of church. It’s awful to go through the motions without the Spirit’s leadership!
There’s a convicting passage in Isaiah 30:1. I remember it clearly, because I read it during a time when I was just making all kinds of decisions in parenting and at work that had nothing to do with the Spirit’s guidance. They were based on fear and personal preference. Then I read this one morning: “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin.” I add sin to sin, when I don’t follow the Spirit. We can’t do the work of God apart from the Spirit of God. We need his leadership.
How do you discern the Spirit’s leadership? By knowing the written word, Scripture, and the living Word, Jesus. Peter doesn’t make decisions based simply on subjective experiences. He discerns everything by God’s objective revelation. When he preaches in 10:43, he appeals to all the prophets. When he re-tells the story of Cornelius, notice what he says in 11:16—“I remembered the word of the Lord…” We discern the Spirit’s direction by the written word and the living Word.
Finally, our manner must be urgent. Verse 42 says that God has appointed Jesus to judge the living and the dead, meaning everybody. Nobody will escape Judgment Day. Either your sins stand forgiven in Christ and you gain everlasting joy; or you stay in your sins and experience everlasting punishment. Judgment strikes a note of urgency.
Our mission is urgent because judgment day is coming. Our mission is urgent because life is short. People are dying. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It’s appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Let’s not abuse the days God has given us. Life is short. This age is passing away. Jesus is coming back. The mission is urgent.
That doesn’t mean we freak out and don’t sleep and forsake rest and long-term discipleship. But it will mean we think strategically about the days God has given us, and how we can be used in the onward march of the gospel to all nations, and that begins right here where we live, work, and play.
Our Movement: Go-and-tell all peoples across cultures
That leads to one final takeaway from chapters 10-11: our movement in the mission. Some churches have the impression that our mission is one of come-and-see. Come and see our church. Come and experience our service(s). The mindset isn’t to share the gospel, but invite people to church where the preacher shares the gospel.
But the New Testament strikes a different note. The mission of the church isn’t come-and-see but go-and-tell. Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” The movement of the church is outward, pushing into new regions, crossing cultures to new peoples. This outward movement of the church becomes clear in the account with Cornelius. God shows no partiality. He’s pursuing people from all nations.
For Peter to get on board, some things in him have to die. He thought Gentiles were unclean—that was part of the culture he breathed as a Jew. God had to kill Peter’s pride. God had to kill Peter’s cultural prejudice. Pride and prejudice are enemies of the gospel; and they don’t reflect the character of God.
What kinds of ethnic pride, or economic pride, or cultural prejudices does God need to kill in us? What barriers are we not crossing to spread joy in God’s grace? What people might we be judging because they don’t like dogs or eat bacon? What has more sway over who we associate with—the good news or FOX News?
The opportunity to reach the nations in Fort Worth is pretty remarkable. Again, when the Bible says “nations,” it’s not talking about nation-states. It’s talking about ethnicities, peoples who are defined by a shared culture and language. According to peoplegroups.org, there are 11,741 peoples worldwide.
For missions strategy, organizations like the IMB put just over 7,000 of those people groups into a category known as “unreached”—which basically means there’s less than 2% of an evangelical witness. 3,178 remain unengaged, which is way worse. Not only are they lost, but no Christians are looking for them. Mostly, they live in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. There are obvious challenges to reaching them, of course—isolated regions not easy to travel to; government hostility to outsiders, and so on.
But here’s the remarkable opportunity we have. God has brought many of these unreached and unengaged people groups here. Over the last 3 years, we’ve seen many refugees settle in Fort Worth from Myanmar, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, and Syria. At various locations in the area, I sit down with people from El Salvador, Nigeria, Serbia, Turkey, Vietnam, and the Philippines. A man from Croatia lives down our street. TCU has 650 students from over 90 different countries. Almost 11% of the students at UT Arlington are internationals. Normandale Baptist, just up the road, started hosting Swahili worship services. God has brought the nations to our doorsteps.
So what are some steps we can take to reach them? I’m not saying to ignore the people who may already share your ethnicity and culture. I’m simply saying that some of our neighbors belong to people groups who have no access to the gospel; and God intends for them to sing his praise. Moreover, Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all the nations, not just the ones we’re most comfortable with.
So what can we do? Start with worship. Who are you worshiping? If we’re worshiping the true God who shows no partiality—if we’re worshiping the God who promises to flood the earth with a knowledge of his glory—then we will become like him. His passion to save all nations should become ours.
Such worship will also lead us to repent from any form of ethnic pride or cultural prejudice. You will encounter ethnic and cultural differences in the mission. Some of them may offend you or annoy you or disgust you because you think your way is better and more efficient. Some of them may scare you because of the stereotypes you hold. Some of them will make you not want to live next door.
But who are we to make such judgments? What does that convey about the God we worship? He’s not just the God for middle-class Americans; he is Lord of all and he sent his Son to redeem all. We must repent from any attitude or fear or stereotype or favoritism that would keep us from taking the gospel out. Peter’s Jewish culture set up barriers to the gospel. God was pleased to tear them down. May God tear down ours too as we humble ourselves and repent.
Worship God, repent, and then open your eyes. Many of us don’t have to book international flights to reach the nations; we simply need to look around. That’s what Jesus had to tell his proud, Jewish disciples in John 4. They had no dealings with Samaritans, but here’s Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman. Here’s Jesus welcoming a Samaritan village. And what does he tell them? “Lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). There never a harvest problem for Jesus; there’s just worker problems. The workers need new eyes.
Look around you. What people has God already placed in your life; what others could you go find. Find out where people gather and play. What restaurants are in town run by internationals? Frequent stores or shops that draw internationals. Hit the nails salon. Teach an ESL class. Universities have English-exchange partnerships, where international students just want to hear you talk; it improves their English. It’s a perfect doorway for the gospel. There are soccer leagues in the area teaming with internationals who play the real football. Or, easiest of all: show hospitality. Invite people who aren’t like you over for a meal, and share Christ over some Texas home cooking.
Lastly, prepare to become all things to all men, in order that you might save some. That’s the way Paul puts it in 1 Corintians 9. Wherever he needed to flex and not compromise the gospel, Paul flexed. If a Muslim comes to dinner, don’t serve pork. If your neighbor from Mexico serves Menudo, eat it to the glory of God. If you have to move into a neighborhood to build trust with the people you’re trying to reach, do it. Learn their language and worldview. Work hard to know them so that you can communicate effectively. The point is this: don’t require lost people to come and find you inside your culture; we’re commissioned to take the gospel to them in theirs.
Maybe God has you at a university right now to befriend internationals, and send them home with more than just an education, but with salvation. Maybe you’re working at a company with engineers from other nations, and God has put you in their lives not just to build a company but to build his kingdom. Maybe you’ve already retired and God has given you all kinds of time. How will you spend it to spread the gospel to the nations? Could you travel to encourage our missionaries?
We have a family in Southeast Asia right now. They’re making tea as a business platform to stay in country. But they need help. They need a business man. You don’t even have to move there. They just need someone who can help them improve sales, think through distribution, sort out finances, just give them input, and so forth. If you’re that kind of man or woman, come see me after the service.
These are some examples. Some will work for some of you, and some of them won’t. The point is to find your place in the mission to all nations. Do it with all the might God gives you. Then trust him to spread his grace for worldwide worship.