It's Not A Coincidence!
INTRO: Good morning. Before we begin let me share with you a story about a couple named, Bob and Lynn who weren't what we would consider good neighbors. They were not bad exactly, just oblivious to those living around them. A lot of folks end up that way these days. Anyway they realized after a time that they needed to do better.
One day when they saw a moving van in front of the house across the street, they decided to make an effort.
Lynn prepared some homemade cookies and together they approached the house.
When someone answered the front door, Lynn said, "Hi. We wanted to welcome you to our neighborhood. Here's some cookies for you."
The woman who answered the door said, "Thank you very much for your kindness. Uh...this is embarrassing. You see, we're not moving in. We're moving out. We've lived here 8 years."
When we were in Acts just before the holidays we were looking at how a young Jewish Rabbi named Saul had is his life changed from being a persecutor of the Lord’s church to becoming a preacher for the Way. Like Bob and Lynne in the story he became more welcoming towards people.
What we’re going to see today is one of the most powerful acts of welcoming by God for which we as Christians should be eternally thankful.
Luke presents to us in Acts 10 and 11 a powerful picture of the love of God for all of mankind. Luke’s devoting so much space to this narrative of a single conversion indicates the importance of it.
I. Let’s begin with Acts 10:1-2 – “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” The city of Caesarea was an important seaport, and the centre of the Roman government and armed forces for the area. The city people were made up of both Greeks and Jews but they did not always see eye to eye with each other.
A. It’s in Caesarea that Luke introduces us to a man named Cornelius. Luke says that he was of the Italian regiment as the NKJV puts it or Band or Cohort. While a Cohort was a tenth part of a Roman legion, a detached Cohort such as in Caesarea usually had a thousand men. Cornelius being a centurion meant he was the commander of a hundred men.
1. Luke also tells us about his religious life. He says that Cornelius was a devout, God fearing man, who gave to those who might be in need and prayed to God. Not only was he a God fearing man, his whole household were God fearing people. Here Luke stresses the quality of the household where Peter would open the door of the kingdom to the Gentiles by the only possible 'key' - the word preached in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 16:19).
2. The words “gave alms generously” or in some translations “gave much alms” caught my attention and in the original language the word po-lü's here indicates “many”, “much”, “abundant”, or “plentiful”. This centurion was evidently a person of some means although by his title is a non-commissioned officer.
3. The absolutely unique aspect of the event related in this chapter should not be overlooked. There never is the slightest hint anywhere in the New Testament that what happened at the house of Cornelius was to be considered any such thing as a normal Christian experience. Safeguards against such a misconception appear in every line of the narrative. As a matter of fact, God prepared both the apostolic preacher and the convert himself for the unique event by supernatural appearances to both of them.
II. Acts 10:3-8 – “3. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!'' 4. And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, "What is it, lord?'' So he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5. "Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6. "He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.'' 7. And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.” [NKJV]
A. We know that the ninth hour was a Jewish hour of prayer and it is then that an angel appeared to Cornelius in a vision. Interesting too is that the word for “vision” is modified with the word “clearly”.
1. Let make me make a point here about angels. We’re living in a society today that is obsessed with angels. You may have heard some people that claim to have had a visit from one. There are cards and wrapping paper, signs and symbols and ornaments of these cute little things with halos, wings and nice little faces that are sweet and child-like. I suggest that this image of angels we see today is not what we should be thinking of when we read the word “angel” in the Bible.
2. Let me read to you from 2 Kings 19:35 – “And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand... ” One angel! These are mighty creatures and in scripture they were messengers and warriors.
3. Can you tell me a single story in the Bible where an angel appeared and someone said, “Isn’t that nice?” “Isn’t he lovely?”
4. In the Bible when an angel showed up, almost always, what was the first thing they had to say? “Don’t be afraid.” That’s what happened to Cornelius, “when he observed him, he was afraid,”
B. The angel reassures the frightened centurion telling him God positively received his sacrifices. The words “a memorial before God” led me to think about how we view memorials. Often people desire to have a permanent memorial, and that may truly be realized, but not in the types of monuments we see erected. The true memorial ascends to the presence of the Father in heaven, and it is made up of the prayers and alms of those who, upon earth, loved God and sought to know and do His will.
1. Someone has remarked that "Cornelius was a do-gooder". I don’t wish to deny this at all, but would like to point out that there is a remarkable distinction between Cornelius and the "do-gooders" promoting public welfare these days. The difference is this: Cornelius did alms with his own money, while another class of "do-gooders" practices all their mercies and charities by spending other people's money, not their own.
2. To prove that God accepted his sacrifices, God told Cornelius to send men to Joppa to call for Simon Peter at the house of a tanner named Simon. He obeyed God like all people should obey God and dispatched two servants and a devout soldier to the city of Joppa.
3. The angel's directions as given to Cornelius to enable him to contact Peter were full, explicit, sufficient and correct. The mention of Simon's occupation was noted in Acts 9:43, and the mention of his being a tanner would have facilitated finding him.
C. Someone once wondered; “Why did not the angel tell Cornelius what to do to be saved?" When Peter is relating this event in Acts 11 he says that the sole purpose of Cornelius' sending for him was to speak words "by which you and all your household will be saved " (Acts 11:14). Why then did the angel not speak those words?
1. Because Jesus had committed to the apostles, and through them to the church, the word of reconciliation (Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18,19; 1 Timothy 3:15; and 2 Timothy 2:2).
2. An angel sent Philip to the Ethiopian; but it was the man Philip that told him what to do to be saved. Also, Jesus himself appeared to Saul; but it was Ananias who was commissioned to tell Saul what to do to be saved; and this same pattern is here.
3. Not the angel, but Peter would tell Cornelius what to do to be saved. That same pattern holds true today. In addition today we have God’s word readily available.
a. Those who are willing to put the time and effort to look into the Gospel can readily discern how we are to be saved.
b. Indeed we can find places in history where this plays out in keeping the kingdom. People have found and studied God’s word, found it did not support the apostate religion that man had developed and they turned to the true way.
c. Today’s teacher has the same responsibility to carry the gospel to the perishing but is given a great tool to use for introduction, explanation and encouragement.
III. Not only did God want Cornelius to know that what he was doing was acceptable, but God wanted someone else to know about something else that was acceptable to Him, the Gentiles. Now let’s continue in Acts 10:9-16 – “9. The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11. and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13. And a voice came to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat.'' 14. But Peter said, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.'' 15. And a voice spoke to him again the second time, "What God has cleansed you must not call common.'' 16. This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.”
A. It was during another time of prayer for pious Jews, and while Cornelius’ servants were on their way to find Peter, we find Peter praying to God at the top of Simon’s house. Luke tells us he became very hungry while preparations for the noon meal were being made and he fell into a trance. Notice that Peter is finding it difficult to explain what he saw.
1. He says he saw ‘something like’ a sheet being let down out of heaven.
2. Perhaps you recall that when we looked at Acts 2:2-3 Luke records that the apostles heard “a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind”.
3. They saw what “appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire”.
4. It wasn’t literally a violent wind they heard nor was it literally tongues of fire but that was the best that they could liken to what they observed.
5. Here in Acts 10 Peter didn’t literally see a sheet being let down out of heaven, he says it was ‘something like a sheet’.
B. This sheet which Peter saw being let down from heaven was full “all kinds” of creatures. In Leviticus 11, we find a list of clean and unclean creatures, the latter being forbidden for Jews to eat; but the collection of creatures Peter saw was clearly made up of many that were unclean as indicated by the wording here. It’s then that Peter hears a voice telling him to kill and eat. Peter being a devout Jew refused the instructions because he didn’t want to defile himself.
1. Perhaps if Peter had remembered the Lord’s words recorded in Mark’s gospel, he wouldn’t have had any problems with the instructions. Mark 7:14-19 – “14. And when He had called all the multitude to Him, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15. "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16. "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!'' 17. And when He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18. So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19. "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?''” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")
2. In Acts 10 the voice which Peter heard was in full agreement with the Lord's teachings in Mark 7. The voice told Peter that nothing God had made should be described by man as common or unclean.
3. I guess old habits die hard. It’s interesting that the same vision was repeated three times before the sheet was taken out of the apostle's sight.
a. We have noted something repeated three times before. Remember in Matthew 26, just before Jesus was arrested?
b. Jesus tells Peter in Matthew 26:34-35 – “... "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.'' Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!'' And so said all the disciples.” Peter was saying to Jesus, I will never leave you Lord, I will never betray you Lord; I will never deny you Lord.” Yet, he did, didn’t he?
c. The first time is recorded in Matthew 26:69-70 – “Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee.'' But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying.''”
d. The second time is recorded in Matthew 26:71-72 – “And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.'' But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!''”
e. Then the third time is recorded in Matthew 26:73-75 – “And after a while those who stood by came to him and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, because your speech betrays you.'' Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!'' And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.'' Then he went out and wept bitterly.”
4. I don’t believe that Peter ever forgot that day in his heart. In a way I suspect that helped Peter to be ready for this event.
a. Also I don’t believe that Jesus was going to let him forget that day either.
b. I am put in mind of John 21. After Jesus showed Himself to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberius we read in John 21:15-17 – “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?'' He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.'' He said to him, "Feed My lambs.'' He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?'' He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.'' He said to him, "Tend My sheep.'' He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?'' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?'' And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.'' Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep.”
5. In Acts 10 the whole scene with Peter including the sights and sounds, the vision and the dialogue, was repeated three times. The purpose of this, of course, was to emphasize it. Folks, how many times do we need to hear the same message over and over and over again? That’s why it’s important to read the Bible and remind ourselves of what God requires of us.
C. God’s word protects and saves and that’s one reason why we need to hear the same message over and over and over again. His word protects us from falling away. His word protects us from false doctrine and false teachers. His word keeps us safe on our journey to heaven because He doesn’t want us to be lost. It is not a coincidence that our “weapons” are described as the “sword”, which is the word of God, and prayer. Ephesians 6:17-18.
1. How many times do we need to hear the words of Jesus in John 14:15-16 – “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever,”
2. How many times do we need to hear the words of Peter as he tells us in 1 Peter 1:22-23 – “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,”
3. How many times do we need to hear the words of the Hebrew writer in Hebrews 10:24-25 – “let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
4. How many times do we need to hear the words of John in 1 John 5:18 – “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.”
5. How many times folks, how many times? These commands are important. We need to be reminded of them, to follow and to understand them because they will protect us from ultimately going to hell.
IV. The vision which Peter received was important for him to understand because God’s plan was to save those “afar off” from going to hell. As we are about to read, Peter doesn’t understand the vision just yet. Back in Acts 10:17-20 – “Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.''”
A. Luke tells us as Peter was thinking about the vision the men from Cornelius arrived at the house and began to inquire about him. Then the Holy Spirit told him to go with the three men because they were sent by the Spirit.
1. Folks, these three men turning up wasn’t a coincidence. They were sent by God for a specific reason. Peter didn’t even know they were coming. He didn’t even know they were at Simon’s house until the Spirit told him they were there.
2. Providences of this kind can occur only when God wills them; and, although it would be rash to suppose that in our own times we are able properly to interpret such things, nevertheless, we may in awe and reverence behold them. Let me give you an illustration.
3. Bernard Lemmons and Lennos Norton, a preacher and elder of God's church respectively, were in an automobile accident on a New Jersey thoroughfare; and Brother Norton's face and throat were cut when his head went through the windshield. Twenty minutes before that accident occurred, however, one of the most skilled surgical nurses in New York City, who was returning from having spent the night with a friend in New Jersey, had suffered a minor accident with her car when it hit the same icy strip that caused Brother Lemmons to lose control of his car. Although the nurse did not particularly need an ambulance, someone had called it anyway; and that ambulance arrived almost simultaneously with the occurrence of the near-fatal accident to Brother Norton. The nurse tied off key arteries and saved his life. That this event had elements of Providence in it is clear enough. The services of that surgical nurse, and the timely arrival of an ambulance dispatched to the scene twenty minutes before the accident occurred, were both absolutely necessary to saving his life. There are many providences in life, and our hearts should be attuned to take account of them.
4. I believe God sends His people to pray for, encourage, and support their brothers and sisters in Christ when they are in need. I know I have received encouragement many times. I don’t look at that as a coincidence, and I thank God for His blessing.
Our God knows our needs because He is always aware. He knows when your heart needs encouragement. He knows when your heart is beginning to doubt. 1 John 3:20 – “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”
Take a look at the Christians around you today. Do you believe they are here because of coincidence?
We might think we came to Chardon because we wanted to be in a congregation closer to home. Perhaps some of us may think that we are here because we wanted to help and be a part of this small congregation. Some of us may believe that we’re here because we want to enjoy the worship, warm fellowship and love here. Some of you are here because you were involved in the starting of this congregation and some because this is where your family went.
Folks, the reason why we are all here together in Chardon is not because of coincidence but because it is God’s will. God’s wants us here together.
We may or may not understand why He wants us here.
Maybe it is to encourage others.
Maybe it is because you wanted to step out in faith.
Maybe it is because you needed to find the truth to set you free.
Maybe it is to help others who are slipping away and need of a warm, friendly congregation to help bring them back to the Lord.
Maybe it is to be a light, an example.
Everyone one of us has a purpose in this congregation even if we do not know what that purpose is. God knows why we were put here.
I know we are comfortable in our worldly routine, yet I’m sure at some point every person asks this question, "What is the purpose of my life?" I am sure every Christian who is a part of any faithful congregation wonders at some point, ‘what is the purpose of me being in this congregation?’ Jesus says to us. “If you keep following me, I’ll help you find your purpose, but you must be wiling to follow me.”
We should go to God in prayer like Peter did and I’m sure that God will show us exactly why we a part of this congregation.
Peter didn’t know why these men came looking for him, but when God’s Spirit told him to go downstairs, he went and found out why they had came.
Acts 10:20-23 – “Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.'' Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, "Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?'' And they said, "Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.'' Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.”
Luke tells us that Peter went down and told the men he was the man they were looking for. They in turn told Peter that Cornelius had been told by God, through the agency of an angel, to send for Peter so that he could hear him preach.
Peter came to the realization that this message wasn’t a coincidence. It was indeed from God Himself. Peter then invited them in to spend the night, to eat the very meal with them which was being prepared while he saw the vision.
The next morning, Peter and some other brethren set out for Caesarea.
Peter did not depend upon a coincidence of events for the decision he was to make; the Spirit spoke to him in audible, intelligible words, commanding what he should do. We do not know just how that was done; but it is clear enough that more was involved than some mere feeling or impression made subjectively upon Peter. Coupled with the revelation already given to Peter, this message left Peter no choice except to receive it as a command from God; and so he received it.
Folks, the next time you receive an e-mail, text or phone call just remember that it may not be a coincidence. It may be God’s way of encouraging you to keep going, it may be a door that is opening. The next time you get a visit from one of your brethren just remember what the Hebrew writer wrote in Hebrews 13:1-2 – “Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”
We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and be baptized for the remission of our sins... If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
Reference Sermon: Mike GloverPrint
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