First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, August 8, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“A Gospel for All the Nations!”
We are still in Acts chapter 10 which is certainly considered a fundamental turning point in the history of the early church. For the first time, Gentiles will be directly evangelized and admitted into full fellowship with Jewish Christians. As a result, the church will not remain just an offshoot of an ethnic religion (Judaism). It will become a universal body embracing people from every nation and race.
Today’s Scripture is a reminder that the gospel of Christ is for all the nations. Luke makes every effort to show that this change in the church is the result of God’s will and guidance. It doesn’t come about through some human-devised program or vision. In Acts 10, Luke shows that God, through the Holy Spirit, is bringing the Gentiles and Jews together into His Body, the church.
In order to appreciate what God has done in Christ and how He brough the two together, it might be helpful to know that the gospel of Christ, the message of Jesus of Nazareth, was God’s gift to a fallen and divided world. The ancient Greeks divided up the human race into two categories: Greeks and barbarians. Barbarians, the Greek thought, were inferior to the Greeks.
The Jews also divided up the human race to Jews and Gentiles. Jewish literatures reflect a negative view of non-Jews, based on moral grounds rather than racial or other grounds. Gentiles were assumed to be morally deficient. Every morning, a Jew would say their morning prayers including these words, “Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam, she-loh asani goy.” “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has not made me a gentile.”
It was a big stretch for Peter to be asked to welcome Gentiles to fellowship of believers. Yes, he saw Jesus welcoming sinners, both Jews and Gentiles. He ate with them. He embarrassed them. He shared with them the love of God the Father. Peter knew all of this, but when the rubber hit the road, it was still difficult. He knew that Christ is a “light for revelation to the Gentiles”, yet it was still something that the early church wrestled with. Two things to consider as we examine Acts 10:9-23 this morning:
First: God was Calling the Early Church to Go Deeper
In Acts chapter 10 God was calling the church to go deeper. In fact, God was calling the church to understand the nature of the Christian message. There are times in our lives when God invites us to go deeper. There are times in our lives when God invites us to a new level of understanding and commitment.
I don’t think up to this time, the disciples have fully grasped the universal nature of the gospel of Christ. Up to this time, the barrier between Jews and Gentiles has not been breached, though on several occasions it has been nudged. When the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch were converted in Acts 8, I am sure that the issue of the church’s attitude to non-Jews came up. However, the controversy over the Gentiles is probably avoided only because the Ethiopian lives far away and the Samaritans probably fellowship among themselves in their own congregations. It wasn’t until Acts chapter 10 that the church needed to address this issue more seriously.
But when God calls us to go deeper in our understanding of our identity and mission, He often sets the stage for this to happen. And that what we get to see in Acts 10. In Caesarea, Cornelius, a Gentile Roman soldier, is seeking God and is working hard to meet the apostle Peter. Thirty miles south, in Joppa, Peter temporary resides with Simon the tanner. To prepare Peter to go to Cornelius’ house, God gave him a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven. In the sheet were all kinds of animals and insects and birds that the Old Testament forbade the Jews from eating. Peter was hungry, waiting for his lunch. A voice said, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat.” But Peter was shocked, as seen by his reply in Acts 10:14, “By no means Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” So behind the scenes, God is orchestrating the events to bring these two men together in a way that shocked both of them by breaking down the wall of prejudice between them.
Second: We are to Keep the Unity of the Church
Christians are to keep the unity of the Church. We are to keep the unity of the local congregation as well as the Church universal. We didn’t create this unity. God did. In Christ, God brought us together and He desires to see us ONE in Spirit. We all come from different social, economic, and political backgrounds. Even our faith journey might be different. Yet, we are one in Christ. I love what Paul says in Ephesians 4:2-3, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
In a few minutes we will be closing our worship this morning with one of my most favorite hymns, “The Church’s One Foundation.” It is a reminder of the universal nature of the church as well as its unity at the same time. The second stanza states, “Elect from every nation, yet one over all the earth, her charter of salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth; one holy Name she blesses, partakes one holy food, and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.”
Friends, the 21st century American Christian landscape is not promising at all. In fact, it is very discouraging. Data is very scary. No denomination is exempt. Yet, I am hopeful today because God can create people where there is no people. 1 Peter 2:10 says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” God will make a way where there seems to be no way. He called the church into being and He will continue to empower His elect until He comes again in glory.
The story of the early church continues to speak to us today in such a powerful way. The gospel of Jesus of Nazareth will continue to transform lives and the Kingdom of Christ will continue to grow. The story is not finished yet. There is still more to it. Let’s continue to do our part as Peter did. Let’s keep the door open, let’s pave the way and follow where God leads. We may be perplexed by it as the story continues to unfold. Peter did as well as the early church, but it happened, and this should encourage us. British theologian, John Stott (1921-2011), says it so very well, “If God desires every knee to bow to Jesus and every tongue to confess him, so should we. We should be jealous for the honor of his name – troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time anxious and determined that it shall be given the honor and glory which are due to it.” And the church said, “Amen!”
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