SERMON TITLE: The Gospel is for Everyone (pt 3)
TEXT: Acts 9:32-11:18 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re in the final week of our series in the book of Acts — a series we’ve been calling Resistance. And since we’re finishing up the book of Acts for this year — we’ll be picking it back up again next year — but since we’re finishing our time in the book for now — I want to do a quick recap of everything that’s happened in the book thus far — so we remind ourselves of all that’s happened.
The book of Acts begins with an introduction where we learn that Luke — a doctor — has been hired to do an investigation on the life of Jesus and the early church. And Acts is part two of his investigation. So Luke has been hired to do research, to verify facts, to make sure the stories circulating about Jesus and the church are reliable — and we have his findings in the gospel of Luke — part one of his investigation — and the book of Acts — part two.
And right away Luke records the ascension of Jesus. As I’m sure you’ve heard, Jesus was crucified on a cross, but death could not keep him in the grave. And for forty days he appeared — preparing his disciples for the mission he was about to give them. And on the day of his ascension — the day he went up to Heaven — Jesus, “ordered them (his followers) not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4b-5 ESV)
And then he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:8-9 ESV)
So Jesus promised his disciples that they’d be given the power needed to accomplish their mission of taking the news about him to the whole world — they would be empowered witnesses.
Next comes the story of the disciples finding a replacement for Judas. And — if you were here — you may remember that what we learned from this story is that Jesus loves to use a nobody for his glory.
Next is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise when — in Acts chapter two — the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples. And as Peter preaches his first sermon — people respond to his message. And a new community is formed — united together by a common faith in Jesus.
And we see these ordinary followers take advantage of ordinary opportunities to tell others about Jesus. They help others to see what their greatest need is — that they need a Savior — that they need to be rescued from Satan, sin, death, and Hell — and that Jesus is the only One who saves.
And last year we ended our series by seeing the early Christians pray for boldness in the face of persecution. The religious leaders had arrested some of the Christians for telling others about Jesus and they threatened them — “If you keep it up — you’ll suffer even greater harm.” And in the midst of these threats — all of the Christians — not just the apostles — the church leaders — but all of them prayed for boldness and that they would remain faithful to Jesus even if it meant suffering on their part.
This year we began with a story that showed us what faithfulness and unfaithfulness look like — the stories of Barnabas and Ananias and Sapphira — and we learned how to resist unfaithfulness.
Then we saw the apostles — and the early Christians — resist the fear of suffering for the name of Jesus. In fact, we saw that they considered it an honor to suffer for the One who died for them.
Next, we saw how the early church leaders resisted being distracted from fulfilling their unique role. Some widows were not being taken care of — and the apostles — refusing to resist being distracted from the role God had called them to — had the congregation appoint others to care for the widows so they could stay focused on prayer and preaching.
Then through the murder of Stephen — we learned how to resist fullishness. If we want to stand confidently for Jesus — if we don’t want to shrink back when others attack us for our faith — we have to be ready — prepared — full of God’s Word and Spirit — in order to faithfully resist when attacks come our way.
Then we began this little mini-series where we’ve been seeing how the gospel is for everyone. It took them awhile, but the church is finally beginning to fulfill the mission Jesus gave them — they’re beginning to share the gospel with everyone. We saw — through the story of Philip — the gospel being proclaimed among the Samaritans and to a man who was from the ends of the earth. And that — just like the early disciples — we must resist categorizing people as if the gospel isn’t for some — because it is — it’s for everyone.
And last week, we saw just what it means when we say someone has been saved by the gospel. Through Saul’s conversion, we saw the work of God in our salvation and how he uses other believers to help someone move from their old life — of sin and rebellion against God — to a new life of loving and following Jesus.
And — today — we’re wrapping up our series by seeing — once again — that the gospel is for everyone. So let’s turn to our passage.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to Acts chapter 9. We’ll be reading from verse 32 of chapter 9 all the way through verse 18 of chapter 11 — we’ve got a large amount of scripture to get through but it’s all one story.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions that we answer on our podcast. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
There’s a phenomenon in our country that’s become much more powerful in recent years — I’m talking about the idea of tribalism. You can see tribalism in our country’s political climate — but that’s not the only place where it pops up. We see tribalism in things like Michigan versus Ohio State, charcoal versus gas grilling, and Mac versus PC. So what is tribalism? An article from the New Yorker describes tribalism like this:
We live in a time of tribes...Tribes demand loyalty, and in return they confer the security of belonging. [Tribes are] badges of identity, not of thought. In a way, they make thinking unnecessary, because they do it for you, and may punish you if you try to [think] for yourself. To get along without a tribe makes you a fool. To give an inch to the other tribe makes you a sucker. (George Packer, “A New Report Offers Insight into Tribalism in the Age of Trump,” New Yorker, October 12, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/a-new-report-offers-insights-into-tribalism-in-the-age-of-trump.)
Now tribalism isn’t new — but what is new — is how pervasive it’s become. Now I don’t know that it’s even possible to avoid tribalism. When you live in a country like the US — with people from all sorts of backgrounds — people will naturally divide into smaller subcultures and groups. And this isn’t all bad.
For example, some tribes form because a group of people have a passion to solve a particular problem that others aren’t as concerned about. I’ll use the church as an example. Here at Gateway — like most churches — we’re broken up into smaller tribes. We’ve got two campuses — soon to be three — smaller tribes. We have different worship service times — each worship service is a kind of tribe. We’ve got Life Groups and groups that serve together — different tribes. Some of us are passionate about taking the gospel to Cuba, while others are passionate about the DR, others about the Middle East, others about places here in the US. We’ve got people who are passionate about the youth ministry, others about our elementary kids, others about our college students, others about our senior adults. And all of these tribes help us to be a more healthy, well-rounded church.
But a danger of tribalism — as you can probably guess — is divisiveness. Why? Well when we form into tribes — it’s easy to drift away from unity towards disunity. It can be easy to not trust one another because “they’re not part of my tribe.” It can become easy to forget the bigger picture of the larger group we’re part of because we’re so focused on what our tribe is doing.
And this is something we have to resist against — not only among ourselves here at Gateway — but among other Christian churches too. We have to be careful that we don’t allow the fact that just because someone’s part of a different tribe — think a different church or denomination — that they’re now the competition — or even worse — the enemy. When tribalism like that occurs among Christians, little gets accomplished for the sake of the gospel.
And the reason why we must resist this kind of divisiveness is because the gospel reminds us that unity in our diversity can cause us to thrive. Therefore, the church should be a place where divisiveness — because of tribalism — doesn’t exist. The church should be a place where a diversity of ethnicities, and cultures, and passions, and ministry ideas exist together — and thrive. The church should be a model — for the rest of the world — as to how we can thrive — not in spite of — but because of our diversity.
And that’s what we see in our story in Acts — we see the gospel destroy our tribalistic divisive tendencies.
Let’s begin in Acts chapter 9. Beginning in verse 32.
FROM PAUL BACK TO PETER
“Now as Peter (notice the shift from last week’s focus on Paul — back to Peter who...) went here and there among them all (Christians in various parts of this area of the world...), he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed." And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
Now up until this point, Peter’s primarily ministered to the Jews. We saw that he and John — in response to seeing Philip’s work among the Samaritans — started to have a change of heart about who the gospel is for. And here — you might not catch it if you read to quickly — but Peter’s showing even more growth in his understanding of who the gospel is for. For the name Aeneas is a Greek name and the town he’s headed to — which we’ll read in the next verse — Joppa — was a “distinctly Greek city.” ( David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 321.) So Peter’s starting to get it — the gospel isn’t just for the Jews — it’s for everyone.
36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, "Please come to us without delay." 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, "Tabitha, arise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.
Now this story — of Tabitha’s healing — sets up the next story. But here again, I want to show you the growth in Peter — in his understanding of who the gospel is for. We’re going to see that he’s not quite there yet — he’s still figuring out that the gospel is for everyone — but he’s proclaimed the gospel among the Samaritans and now he's sharing the gospel with Gentiles. He’s even staying with a guy named Simon, who’s a tanner. That’s an interesting detail that Luke includes.
One Bible scholar suggests a reason for this detail. “Since tanners worked with dead animals, in order to convert their skins into leather, they were regarded as ceremonially unclean. But Peter disregarded this, which ‘seems to show that [he] was already in a state of mind which would fit him for...’” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts, The Bible Speaks Today, ed. John R. W. Stott (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1994), 184.) what’s about to happen in the story.
So Peter’s making progress — his thoughts on who the gospel is for is expanding — but like most of us — he’s made a few steps in the right direction, but still has farther to go. And what we must remember is that we all have room to grow when it comes to our understanding of the gospel, of how it applies to life, and who it’s for. We see this in Peter’s story as we continue in Acts chapter 10.
10:1 At Caesarea (another Gentile city...) there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort (So think of Cornelius as an Army guy. He’s in charge of about 100 soldiers or so. Now he’s not an officer in the Roman army — but his job is kind of like a captain in our nation’s army. And notice that Luke describes him as...), 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, "Cornelius." 4 And he stared at him in terror and said, "What is it, Lord?" And he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea." 7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
OK. So Cornelius is praying and — while praying — he has this vision where he’s told to go and send for a guy named Peter who’s staying at a guy named Simon’s house — and oh by the way — here’s what Simon does for a living in case you’re wondering if you’re at the right address. Kind of reminds us of all the things God put in place for Saul last week, doesn’t it? God’s working out all of these details — and Cornelius obeys — he sends some men to go find Peter. And...
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." 14 But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
Now — in case all of that clean and unclean food stuff is confusing — in the Old Testament the Jewish people were given dietary restrictions from God — foods they could eat and foods they weren’t supposed to eat. And Peter was raised to be a good Jewish man who obeyed the laws of God — and so this vision is pretty confusing to him. What does it mean? Well we find out what it all means as the story unfolds.
17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them."
Another vision — and again — notice the sovereignty of God — how God’s in control of the whole situation. He shows up in a vision to Cornelius telling him not only who to find — Peter — but where to find him — at Simon the tanner’s house. Then God gives Peter a vision about someone who’s looking for him and that he should go to that individual.
21 And Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?" 22 And they said, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say." 23 So he invited them in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.
How dare he worship Peter, right? Well let’s give the guy a break. If God showed up in a vision to you and gave you the name of someone — and their location — and tells you that they have a message for you — and everything is working out exactly like you were told — well you’d probably think the guy you’re about to meet is pretty special too.
26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am a man." 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.
So that’s what the vision of clean and unclean food was about. It wasn’t about food — it was about people — the vision was about who the gospel is for? Peter gets it now — the gospel is for everyone.
29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me." 30 And Cornelius said, "Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.' 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord."
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: (and this is the most surprising part of the story — I’ll tell you why in a moment — Peter said...) "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how 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. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 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. 42 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. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Peter preaches the gospel to them. And look at what happens.
44 While Peter was still saying these things (he hasn’t even finished his sermon and yet), the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 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 (“even on the Gentiles” — they can’t believe it — the gospel is for everyone). 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
So what’s so surprising? Well what should surprise us is that Peter had to preach the gospel at all. I touched on this some last week, but think about what’s happened. Cornelius had a vision and was told the name of a man — Peter — was told where he could find him — at Simon’s house — was given very specific directions — Simon the tanner’s house — not Simon the magician from a few weeks ago — not Simon the butcher or Simon the baker or Simon the tentmaker — Simon the tanner.
Additionally, God shows up in a vision to Peter and tells him all about Cornelius and that he should leave with the men who are looking for him.
So here’s what should surprise us. If God can do all of that through visions — why did Peter have to go and share the gospel with Cornelius and the people in his home? Why didn’t God just share the gospel in a vision to Cornelius?
Now — to be honest — we don’t really know the why — we just know the how. And how God has chosen for his gospel to be shared is through us — through his followers — through people like Peter — through unnamed Christians we find in the book of Acts and throughout history. As crazy as it sounds — though God is orchestrating things and can show up in dreams and visions — he’s chosen to use us to be the primary means by which other people hear the gospel.
So Peter’s sent to Cornelius’ home and he preaches for the fourth time in the book of Acts. And though it’s his fourth sermon — he’s really only got one message. For — once again — he preaches the gospel. And here — an implication of the gospel that Peter realizes and proclaims — is that God shows no favoritism in who the gospel is for — the gospel is for Jews, it’s for Samaritans, it’s for Gentiles — the gospel is for everyone. Peter’s growing in his understanding of who the gospel is for.
But — just like earlier — when Peter and John were sent to find out if the Samaritans had really believed the gospel — like last week when some weren’t convinced that Paul had really believed the gospel — as this story continues we find that there are some Christians who are still uncertain about who the gospel is for. They’re hearing stories about what’s happened in Caesarea but they don’t know if the stories are believable.
11:1 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 (these were Christians coming from a Jewish background who were struggling to see that the gospel is for everyone — not just for the Jews — and these people...) 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 (notice that Peter recognizes that the voice that spoke to him in the vision was the voice of the Spirit of God and — he says — 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."” (Acts 9:32-11:18 ESV)
Now this isn’t going to end tribalism in the church — but it’s a start in the right direction. What has — up to this point — primarily been a Jewish movement — the Christian faith now includes Samaritans and Gentiles. The church back in Judea — mainly a group of Jewish converts — hear that Gentiles are believing in Jesus. They question Peter — Peter of all people — like one of the main church leaders — a guy personally discipled by Jesus — he gets questioned because some folks couldn’t think outside of their tribal box. And yet — after hearing his report — they glorify God saying “he — God — has even granted repentance that leads to life to Gentiles” — they glorify God as they begin to see how the gospel is for everyone. And a new chapter in the history of the church begins.
Gateway, my hope and prayer for us is that we won’t ever be found opposing — even questioning — God’s work in seeking and saving the lost. That we won’t neglect our duty to share the gospel with others. That we won’t allow our tribe of Gateway — or whichever campus we attend — or our Evangelical Presbyterian flavor of Christianity — to cause us to become so focused on ourselves — and how we do church — that we lose sight of what God is doing in our community, in other churches, in our country, and in our world. My prayer is that we would always be a church that believes — and acts on our belief — that the gospel is for everyone.
We’re stepping into this new chapter of our history together. Pastor Ben retired around two months ago. Pastor Robert is on his way. Our North Main campus is turning two years old soon. Our Bowling Green campus will be launching later this year. A new chapter for us — just like — here in Acts — a new chapter is beginning for the early church. My prayer is that God’s glory — and his love for all people — and his desire for us to share the gospel with everyone — will be what this next chapter in our history is all about. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for being a God who is for all tribes because you’re for all kinds of people. That’s why you sent your Son to this world. To seek and save those who are lost. To live the life you commanded us to live and to die to the death we deserve because of our rebellion and sin against you. And whoever believes in Jesus — and what he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection — receive the gift of eternal life — and are welcomed into your tribe.
Thank you — God — that your gospel is for everyone. Thank you for being for Gateway. For all of our campuses. For all of our little tribes who are passionate about particular ministries. Thank you for being for churches in our community that are preaching your gospel and doing your work in our city — bless them. Thank you for being for our community, for our country, and for our world. Help us to recognize the beauty in all of our diversity and the strength that comes from our unique callings. May we be encouraged because of the gift that each of us are to one another. It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: stories of healing at the beginning — if you want to be prayed for healing)
May you go believing that the gospel is for you and for everyone. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.