"Open the Door to Strangers"
The conversion of Cornelius opens the door for Gentiles who never became Jewish proselytes to become Christians.
Open the Door to Strangers
A. We all have standards and preconceived ideas of what certain things are supposed to be like. There are preconceived ideas as to what the style of worship should be, how a person should dress on Sunday morning versus Sunday evening, how much or how little a person should talk in the worship center and even what is the best way to run a local congregation. But what happens when someone bucks those preconceived ideas? How do you feel?
B. Let’s face it. When you are driving down the road and they car in front of you is going too slow, aren’t they just a jerk? Or when some guy whips around you driving way too fast they are a maniac! What I see in my own life is how easy it is for me to judge others according to my standards than seek to see them through the eyes of God.
C. For God to use us His good purpose He sometimes has to find a way to break down our preconceived ideas to become effective workers in His kingdom.
D. Many believe the James who wrote the book that bears his name is the brother of Jesus, a son of Joseph and Mary. When James writes his letter he addresses the idea of showing favoritism to one person over another in the church. Listen to James 2:1-4, 8-9. It is easy for us to get caught up in what we think is best more than understanding what God is right. Preconceived ideas can take us down a road that God does not condone. In our reading today we meet at least two men who have some preconceived ideas that need to be addressed.
I. Preconceived Idea #1
A. It is important that we see the big picture of what is going on in Acts 9-11 for it is really one long teaching of which we started last Sunday. Let’s open to Acts 10:1-2.
B. Cornelius is a person who is described as devout, God-fearing, a generous giver, and a man of prayer. Now jump down to verse 22 and hear some men say the same thing.
C. Preconceived idea #1 – all good people are saved people. We live in a works oriented Christianized society. What I mean is that most churches that claim to be Christian have a works oriented idea that my good works can outdo my bad and God will save me. I love to hear the stories like that of Tabitha in the Bible. I hear people talk about parents or grandparents that did great acts of kindness to others, and for that I want you to be proud. But those acts won’t save us. As Christians we are called to do good work, but they are the byproduct of our faith, not the saving measure of our faith.
D. Jump over to Acts 11:13-14. So if being good is not good enough, then I need to re-examine my preconceived idea about salvation.
II. Preconceived Idea #2
A. Last week we saw how God had to work with Peter to help him see life differently. His disciples struggled with preconceived ideas. When Jesus takes them through Samaria and they go off to buy food, Jesus talks to a woman at a well about Living water? Think about their hearts when they return and see Jesus talking to her (Jn 4:27). In John 10, Jesus talks about what it means to be a good shepherd. He was talking to Jewish people and gave them the illustration of what a good shepherd does, but then he adds this to his teaching (Jn 10:16). That sounds odd? “Other sheep?” Who are they? They are obviously not like us, but who are they? During his ministry of Jesus he began to open the door to people who were not Jews, but his disciples didn’t understand.
B. Preconceived idea #2 – Some people are too bad to be saved. Today we struggle with a little different way of dealing with this problem. There are people that we simply don’t think are good enough to be saved. How many of you remember Jeffrey Dahmer? What you may not know is a woman named Mary Mott, she felt a deep conviction that this young man needed to hear the Gospel. She sent him a letter that said essentially, “I don’t know if you want to do this, but I believe it would help you if you studied the Bible.” Convicted as a serial killer to 17 life sentences he was later baptized. Not lot after he was killed by a fellow inmate. But the truth is many people questioned his sincerity. I don’t know his heart, what I know is a woman like Mary was willing to share God with the worst.
III. Preconceived Idea #3
A. The last preconceived idea I take away from this story is that salvation is a Holy Spirit experience. There are many people that describe their conversion story as an experience in which they were “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” I cannot deny a person’s experience or feelings. They are what they are, but what I challenge people to understand the meaning of the experience or feeling.
B. Acts 10:44-48. I will be the first to tell you that you cannot be saved without work of the Holy Spirit. But what I want you to understand is this out-pouring of the physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit is for the purpose of the Jewish Christians that had come with Peter to the house of Cornelius. Peter understood this as a sign that baptism, that which brings us into Christ and washes away our sin, was so important that it could not be withheld because a person was not a Jewish proselyte. When he retells the story we see this in greater detail (Acts 11:15-18).
C. You cannot walk through the book of Acts without seeing the connection between baptism and becoming a Christian. Cornelius need to hear what was needed to be saved. It is the same message that you need to hear. That message is that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners. When you see yourself as sinner in need of savior, then accept that by repenting of your sins and in that belief make Jesus both Lord and Christ and wash away your sins in the waters of Baptism rising up in the power of the Holy Spirit a new creation.
A. God has opened the door for all to be saved. He calls no one unclean. The door is open to you if you have not come to him. Put aside your preconceived idea and see people through the eyes of God. If you are in need to respond to God’s calling, come as we stand and sing.