Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

Decisive Moments - Sermon on Acts 10:34-48

Sermon on Acts 10:34-48
Pastor Andrew Belt

“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.”  

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ.  Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who has poured out his Spirit now on us. Amen.

If you were given a chance to answer, what would you say is the greatest event in human history?  What moment in time forever changed the trajectory of mankind’s destiny here on earth?

As you sit and think I can ruminate a bit myself.  If you know Christian European history, then perhaps you would state that if the great Emperor Charlemagne’s grandfather Charles Martel of France had lost the battle of Tours in 732 AD, then you and I would most likely be Muslim right now.  

Maybe the Lutheran in you would say the posting of the 95 theses 1517, or the presentation of the Augsburg Confession in 1530, or the publishing the of Book of Concord in 1580 are the definitive moments of world history.  This congregation certainly wouldn’t be here if not for that.  

Or perhaps the American History buff would say it was the “shot heard around the world”. The fight at Lexington and Concord lit the powderkeg of the American Revolution and would eventually lead to our country’s independence as a decisive moment in mankind’s history that forever changed human events.    

Or what could be bigger than one small step for man but one giant leap for mankind?  When man set foot on the moon last century, this was the first time that a human being ever walked on a surface not on earth.  Pretty remarkable.  It forever changed how we view ourselves and the world.  

So what is it?  What is the biggest event that forever changed the course of human affairs?  Believe it or not, but our text from the book of Acts gives us perhaps the best candidate for a moment that forever changed human history.  

On the surface I will grant you that it doesn’t appear like much.  But what if I told you that the biggest event that forever shaped world history and that of your salvation in Jesus Christ started when a simple fisherman named Simon Peter went and opened his mouth at a Roman Soldier’s house one day?  

I suppose it sounds pretty lack luster when you put it that way, a walk on the moon seems to far outshine what I just said.  But this moment in the Scripture changes everything.  You wouldn’t be here today, you wouldn’t have faith in Jesus Christ, and you would have no hope of salvation, if God had not done what he decided to do here as our text describes it.

So now that I have really amped this text up.  I think we are ready to begin.  

We need to start today by remembering who the people of God are.  

In the Old Testament God chose a man named Abraham.  And God chose Abraham to bless him and to make a great nation from him.    

And from Abraham came the people of Israel.

These people were at one point made slaves in Egypt until the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remembered his promise to Abraham and decided to rescue them.  In the book of Exodus, God redeemed these Israelites and saved them from the power of Pharoah with a mighty hand and outstretched arm by which he shamed and defeated the gods of the nations.  

After God rescued the Israelites, he brought them to a mountain called Sinai.  And there, God made a covenant, a pact, a contract with the Israelites.  

In this covenant God made it clear that he had made the Israelites exclusively his people and they were to only have him as their God.

Throughout the pages of the Old Testament the Kings, Prophets, and Priests will rejoice and give thanks that God has chosen the children of Israel to be his own people.  

God Himself in the book of Deuteronomy says that he delighted to choose the Israelites because of his great love.  God will even say in the Prophet Isaiah that God trades in other nations and kindgoms in order to rescue and redeem his chosen people.  The Prophet Malachi notes that God made the Israelites his treasured possession.

Even in the New Testament Jesus will tell the 12 apostles when he sends them out on a missionary journey to go no where among the nations but only to the lost sheep of Israel.  Jesus will tell the woman at the well in John 4 that salvation comes from the Jews.  When the Syro-Phonecian Woman in Matthew 15 comes with a request to Jesus, Jesus at first ignores her and tells the twelve that he was sent only to the people of Israel.  Paul in the book of Romans makes note that it is the Israelites that have possession of God’s promises, laws, and salvation.  

While God is the God of the universe and is responsible for the Creation and lives of all people and nations, the Bible makes a startling announcement that the only people that God considers to be his people are the children of Israel.  These are the people God chose.  The Gentiles and pagans and nations are on the out.  If you are not Israel, you have no chance.  

But tragically, Israel rejected their God who saved them.  Jesus noted that their rejection would mean others are now invited.  

And with this in mind, we come to the book of Acts chapter 10.  

Peter, an Israelite, comes to a non-Israelite’s house.  In fact, the man whose house Peter comes to is a Roman Centurion, a soldier who was in charge of a 100 men.  The Centurion’s name is Cornelius and being from the Italian Cohort, he is from the heart of pagan Rome itself.  We are told that he actually fears the God of Israel and he actually donates alms to the Jewish Synagogue.  But despite the giving and the fearing he is not apart of God’s people, he just wasn’t born into it.  
One day, at one of these occasions of Cornelius praying, an angel visits Cornelius and tells him that the God of Israel that he has been praying to has heard his prayers and has seen his almsgiving.  So this angel instructs Cornelius that he needs to send for a man named Simon Peter.
Now while all this is happening to Cornelius, Simon Peter is in the next town over praying on the roof of the house where he is staying.  He too is given a vision from God and in this vision God teaches Peter that Peter should not call something unclean that God has now made clean.  
Peter is confused by all this and wonders what it means.  And while he sits pondering this, the men that Cornelius had sent out to get Peter arrive and they tells Peter who is an Israelite that Cornelius a Gentile has summoned Peter to come to his house, which already is a big cultural no-no.  And Cornelius wants to what Peter has to say.  

So Peter and a number of other Christians, who at this time in the history of the Church, are all Jewish, went to go with Peter.  

Peter arrives at Cornelius’ house and Cornelius gathers together his entire household.  His family, their slaves and servants, and even his friends are there with him.  Cornelius then relates his vision to Peter and then asks for Peter to preach.

And this is where our text starts.  With Peter opening his mouth to talk and preach.  And here is where the trajectory of the world changed.  

Peter proclaims Jesus Christ.  He starts by how God sent Jesus to Israel, how Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  How Jesus was given the Holy Spirit and power to preach and bring the Kingdom of God.  That Jesus healed many people and exorcised demons from those possessed.  

But this Jesus was rejected by the Israelites, this Jesus was hanged on a tree.  But Jesus vindicated his Son by raising him from the dead and making him appear to the people that God had chosen.
And then Peter says that this Jesus commanded those who believe in him to preach to the people and to give a witness that it is Jesus Christ who has been appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead.  And Jesus Christ is the one whom all the prophets in the Old Testament bear witness about and that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ receive the forgiveness of sins through his name.  

That is what Peter preaches on that day.  And those are the words that change everything.  
What changes is that we are told that all of these non-Israelites, these pagans and Gentiles who we think do not belong to Israel are now given the Holy Spirit.  Just like on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit falls down upon all who heard Peter speak.  They are filled with the Holy Spirit and are given the ability to speak in other languages, just like the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost.  

And we are told that Peter and all the rest who came with Peter are amazed.  They are amazed because God had never done anything like this before.  The Spirit of God had never rested on a Gentile before.  But now here were these non-Israelites, these people who are not God’s people who are now being chosen by God to receive His Spirit.  

For the rest of the book of Acts, this moment changes everything.  The Church is now tasked with going to the nations.  St. Paul is specifically tasked with going to preach to the Gentiles.  All of the books of the New Testament focus on this stunning moment in history.  

This is why Paul in the book of Romans states that God is now taking non-Israelites and grafting them onto the people of Israel.  This is why Paul also writes in Galatians that Gentiles now have the same access and status before God as the Israelites.  In the book of Ephesians Paul writes that through the body of Jesus Christ, God has broken down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles and has made one people.  Also in Ephesians, Paul will note that God had hid this mystery from the beginning of creation that one day God would include all nations.  This was always God’s plan.
In fact, this moment is so important, that God let it slip multiple times in the Old Testament.  Ruth, a Moabite, an ancestor to Jesus himself, is granted access to be apart of Israel.  Rahab, another ancestor to Jesus, had bound herself to the people of Israel before Joshua and the people conquered Jericho.  The Prophets Isaiah and Zechariah envisioned the day when all people and nations would stream to the God of Israel and that Gentiles would grab hold of a Jew and beg to go with them to worship the one true God.  

Even Jesus noted that his mission would include all people, that the Israelite rejection of their own Messiah would include our inclusion into God’s people.  

This is why Peter in his epistle lesson will write to Gentiles and say to them that once we were not a people and once we had not received mercy, but now through faith in Jesus Christ we are now extended the hand of fellowship by God and made full fledged members of the people Israel.  

This text from Acts is the reason why Paul goes to the nations, why Revelation depicts people of all nations and languages standing before the Lamb.  This is why the Gospel came to Europe and Africa and Asian in the first century.  This text led to the Gospel coming down through generations and people.  This text leads us here to this moment right now.  Now we stand here again today.
And once again, someone is opening their mouth today.  It just happens to be me.  So hear these words again.

Dear fellow Gentiles, truly God shows no partiality.  But in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  As for the good news that we preach.  You know how Jesus Christ was sent to this earth by His Father.  How he healed and did good because God was with him.  This Jesus was rejected and put to death but the Father raised him from the dead and caused him to appear to many people that he chose.  

This Jesus is appointed by God to one day raise all the dead and to sit as judge over all the earth.  And to all who put their faith and their hope in him has the forgiveness of their sins through the power of Christ’s name.

That is the message of the Christian Church.  This is the message that is the most decisive moment in the history of our race.  A message that is for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.  It is the hope that we have in this Jesus Christ that now gathers us in and to all who hear this message we pray that God would grant his Holy Spirit through these means of Word and Sacraments so that you too will live and extol the mercies of our God.  

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and appointed one of the God of Israel.  Amen.  
The grace of your Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the Communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.  Amen.  

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