So Peter opened his mouth and 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."
The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles
44 While Peter was still saying these things, 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. 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.
Christians are accused of being exclusive. Sometimes the right teaching of God's Word is wrongly called "hate". While this is mere intimidation, the message of the apostles did include everyone. God went to great lengths to show Peter and the others that Jesus came not only for his brothers and sisters of the Jewish state, but for all people.
After going to Cornelius's house and eating with him, Peter preached the following:
That's important for us to know today. There are so many different nations, and within each one of us there are people of different persuasions. We are differentiated by country of origin, skin color, language and dialect. We have different political views. We have different ideas about the environment. We continue to be divided on new issues, such as reproductive rights and how to recognize sexual differences. This causes much discussion, and when we make laws to govern ourselves there are winners and losers.
It is important to know that God accepts ALL people. None of these differences should present a barrier to his love. When Jesus died on the cross, it was not only for white people, or only for any one color of skin. It was not only for rich people, or only for poor people. It was not only for people who have never been arrested or tried for a crime in a court of law. God so loved the whole world that he gave his son. Jesus died on the cross to save all people.
Having said that, we should take another look at Peter's sermon. He said that God shows no partiality, but that in every nation everyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to God.
Those are important words for us. First, let's examine what it means to fear God, and then we'll look at doing what is right.
You probably remember from the first commandment that we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. To fear God means different things according to who you are. If you are a nonbeliever in Jesus as God, then the fear of God is being afraid of judgment and eternal separation from God. Jesus said, "Fear him who, after killing the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." That's the fear of the ungodly. Being afraid of what will happen to you after you die.
For the believer, fearing God is reverence for God as your maker and savior. Hebrews 12:28-29 says it this way: Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Someone recently asked me why I bow when I go up to the altar. I said that this is the place where God meets with his people, and where we pray to him. So it is a place we consider holy. Bowing is showing that you fear God, that is, you honor and respect him. It is a sign of reverence. In this way we show we fear him.
Proverbs 1 says "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." When you know who God is, your maker, and the one who has ultimate power over every aspect of your life, you realize that knowing what He is really like is the greatest knowledge.
In this city we have a university that draws top students from around the world. They come here to learn, to gain knowledge that will help them live their lives and accomplish things.
In the Word of God we have the greatest knowledge the world has ever seen. The Bible reveals who God is, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not only that, it shows us how much God loves us that he would come into the world and visit us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Peter says that God accepts those who fear him. When we recognize that we are not the masters of our own lives, but we belong to God, and that He holds the future for us, we are then accepted by God.
Now, we get in trouble with God when we get all proud and headstrong, and won't fear him. We get it into our minds that WE are the master of our own lives and WE can live our lives any old way we please. Or that if WE are really smart and work really hard, WE can change the way the world is, fix our economy, and have a happy life, without Him. That's the opposite of fearing God, and the only way to salvation is to repent of that right now.
We can learn a lot from the Egyptians here. God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the people go. Pharaoh did not fear God and refused. So God looked at the idols the Egyptians worshipped, with animals and bugs, and the god they had made of the Nile River. He sent them plagues. It's as if he said, "You worship the gods to have good crops? I'll show you what I think of your crops." And he sent hail to flatten the plants in the field. The same with livestock. A pestilence, or disease, ravaged the animals. The people worshipped Pharaoh as a God, but he could not save his oldest child, or the firstborn children of his people. All of this because Pharaoh did not fear God.
We have a great country. God has given us a land of much beauty and many natural resources. Our country, this land, is bringing the judgment of God on itself by its lack of fear for God. Look at how we thumb our nose at him.
Not only does our country need to repent, but each one of us is called to examine our lives and seek God's forgiveness. We may fear the true God, and differ from the thinking of many of our fellow Americans on moral issues, but our behavior is not that different.
That's the second part of what Peter preached that day, how we live. He said that God shows no partiality, but that in every nation everyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to God.
Now, as Lutherans, you have been taught for a very long time that good works do not contribute to our salvation. By that we mean that we cannot please God by our good behavior so that He is compelled to be more gracious to us. God loves us just as we are, sinners all of us, and forgives all who call on the name of Jesus.
But what about when we want to have it both ways? When we want to belong to God and enjoy his good favor, but we also want to do things our own way? When we say that we are Christians, but we live our lives in ways that are contrary to God's laws, and when that is pointed out to us, we come up with reasons why we are exempt?
It's not unlike people who say they are patriotic to their country, but refuse to pay income tax.
Doing what is right, as Peter says, is not an option for us to decide. We are to obey God, not because by doing so we earn a place in heaven, which is impossible, but because to live contrary to God's will for us means losing our faith.
I know a man who loved a woman. He courted her, married her, and they lived together for some time. But he could not please her. Most of the time it was because he would make decisions without consulting her. He would just come home and say, "Well, honey, I've decided that we're doing this." In his heart he loved her, but his actions showed that what was most important was not his marriage, but following his dreams. His marriage did not last long. She left him because he she lost faith in his love for her.
The relationship between faith and works is an important subject for us to remember. We often say, "Faith lone saves, but faith is never alone." Peter knew this when he preached about Jesus' resurrection. We need always to be reminded about it as well.
God wants to include everyone in his plan of salvation. He gave His life for everyone. Fearing God means believing Jesus died for you and receiving the forgiveness Jesus won at the cross.
After Peter preached his sermon, the Holy Spirit came upon those who heard his words and believed. By the Spirit's power, they spoke in languages they had not learned. This showed that God accepted them, and even though they were not Jewish like the original 12 disciples, they were to be included in the church in every way.
When we obey God's laws it works in much the same way. It shows that we believe salvation is the most important thing, and it gives evidence of the faith that is in us.
But even when we try to obey, we will experience failure. Then it is time to go back and confess our sins again. We are always sinners, but through faith we are forgiven. That makes all the difference.
So it will be for all who come to Jesus. They come from many backgrounds and views, but through the Gospel we learn to joyfully obey a new Master.
That is the reason that we have a communion statement. The Bible warns that those who eat the body and the blood in an unworthy manner sin against the Lord and receive condemnation. We do not assume that everyone who walks into the church is a true disciple of the Lord.
So we ask or a confession of faith. What do you believe? Who is your Lord and Savior? What has he done for you? Do you fear Him, and are you following Him in how you live your life. Not to do this is to act irresponsibly with powerful things.
These are simple questions that we should not be offended to answer, but always be ready go give answer for the hope that is in us.
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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