Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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-- Proclaiming His Gospel

The Unfinished Sermon

Peter and Cornelius

by Dennis Pollock

The Bible is a very large book, containing a plethora of ideas, commands, and doctrines. How wonderful it is that God does not require us to master the entirety of His word before entering His kingdom! We usually come to Christ and receive salvation in a great state of ignorance. Most newborn Christians have read little of the Bible, know nothing about eschatology, and could not name half of Jesus disciples or four of the ten commandments.

And yet there must be at least some knowledge of spiritual truth in order to be born again. You cannot come to Christ in complete ignorance. This is where the gospel comes in. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a subset of all spiritual truth found in the word of God. There is a great deal of information in the Bible that is beneficial, but it is not the gospel. The gospel is a very specific set of truths that we must come to understand in order to be saved. It is, in essence, the absolutely minimum information that must be known and believed in order to receive God's gracious gift of eternal life.

This is no small matter, especially as Christians attempt to lead others to salvation in Jesus Christ. If we are fuzzy on the gospel, we will waste our words, injecting far too many nonessentials into our conversations, and sometimes leave out those truths without which no man or woman can experience redemption. Too often we are like a man attempting to shoot a dear at 300 yards with a shotgun. The gun makes a loud noise and we feel we surely must be accomplishing something significant, but in reality we scatter our pellets of truth in every direction and don't even come close to getting to the heart of the matter, and leading our intended convert to Jesus Christ. In the business of witnessing of Christ, whatever we say or don't say, we must share the gospel. Without that no real evangelism has taken place.

Peter’s Gospel Sermon

Because God is eager that all might know Him through His Son, He has given us the New Testament Scriptures which clearly reveal the nature and essence of the gospel. One of the clearest presentations of it is found in what I like to call "the unfinished sermon." It is the sermon the apostle Peter preached to Cornelius and his household, and it is found the tenth chapter of the book of Acts. Cornelius was a Gentile who had a healthy respect for God even though he wasn't a Jew and was not yet a Christian. The Bible tells us that he feared God, gave money to the poor, and prayed constantly. Although he lived in ignorance of Jesus Christ, he was doing what he knew to do, and God sent an angel to help him come to Jesus. The angel was not however allowed to share the gospel with him – that is a privilege reserved for human beings like me and you! And so the angel did the next best thing. He told him where Peter was staying, and instructed him to call for the apostle to come to his house.

When Peter arrived at the house, Cornelius and his family and friends were waiting, eager to hear what he would have to say. Peter wasted no time and began an impromptu sermon. It was not a teaching on positive thinking, not a seminar on family relationships, nor a message on prosperity. This sermon was evangelism of the purest kind. Although no doubt leaving out some of what Peter preached, Luke recorded the heart of the message and placed it in his book which we call The Acts of the Apostles.  It is a great pearl of evangelistic truth. Anyone wanting to lead souls to Christ would do well to read it over and over again. The sermon is not fancy; it would win no awards for creativity or human eloquence. It is simply the gospel of Jesus Christ presented in sermon form. Let us take a brief look at this message, that we may learn to share the gospel in its purity:

1) The Life of Jesus

"The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ --- He is Lord of all --- that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him" (Acts 10:36-38).

Peter does not start out, as some might suppose, preaching about the cross of Jesus. He begins with the life of Jesus. He speaks of Jesus' ministry of healing, and summed up His ministry with the words "who went about doing good." Some may have never thought about Jesus' life as being a part of the gospel but it surely is. Until sinners hear about who Jesus is and what He is like, they will never exercise faith in Him.

Keep in mind that the goal of evangelism is the appearing of faith in the heart of the sinner. It is the miracle of all miracles when a man or woman who enters into a conversation with absolutely no faith in Christ leaves that conversation (or sermon or Sunday school class) now possessing a vibrant faith in Jesus. Faith is never established on ignorance. You cannot have faith in someone of which you know little or nothing. If a strange woman knocks on your door and offers to baby-sit your children at no cost, you would be crazy to take her up on her offer. You would say to her, "I would never let you watch my children – I don't even know you!" On the other hand when your best friend offers to watch your children, someone you have known for the last twenty years, one you have eaten with, laughed with, cried with, and come to know closely, you would be glad of the offer.

Who is This Jesus?

So it is with Jesus Christ. Suppose I were to go to some remote village in India where the name of Jesus has never been heard, and start telling everyone, "Believe on Jesus and be saved! Receive Jesus and you will go to heaven. Put all your faith in Jesus!" They would look at me like a crazy person. If they bothered to respond to my words at all, they would say, "Who is this Jesus?"

This is why the gospels are so powerful. They tell the life story of Jesus. When we read about His marvelous healings of sick people, His tender mercies toward the lepers, and His love for the children, our hearts are moved and touched. When we read His teachings about the nature of God, His warnings to hypocrites, His instructions about love and forgiveness, the Holy Spirit takes these truths and makes them the building blocks of our faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by God's word. And in particular, it is the words that speak about Jesus that bring the faith that leads to salvation. The sinner can get by without knowing too much about Moses or Isaiah or Daniel – but he absolutely must learn about Jesus. This is why, whenever I preach in evangelistic events in African and India, I make sure I include stories from the gospels, whatever else I teach or don't teach. They are simple stories – about Zachaeus, or the woman at the well, raising Lazarus from the dead, the healing of the leprous man, and so forth. I might not get very good marks for creativity, originality, or depth of thought, but that is not my goal. I am determined to make sure that every man, woman, and child learns something about Jesus Christ. Without this, faith is not even possible.

2) The Death of Jesus

"And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree" (Acts 10:39).

Peter now moves on to Jesus' death on the cross. No doubt he said a lot more than is recorded here, but Luke gives us the basic thought: Jesus was killed on a cross. This is the watershed that marks what is evangelism and what is not evangelism. Where the cross of Jesus is never mentioned there is no evangelism. You may have the illusion of evangelism. You may have a high-powered speaker making his audience laugh one moment and cry the next. You may have a tearful, pleading invitation for people to accept Jesus, but if the cross has not been mentioned, there has been no evangelism. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he writes, "I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

You may be tempted to think, "Well, that's true, but everybody knows that!" Don't be so sure. Too many times Jesus is presented only as a Friend who want to help people with their problems, comfort them in their sorrows, heal their hurts and so forth. The idea is: "You're obviously hurting and miserable. Why don't you try Jesus and let Him come into your life and make things better." Certainly Jesus does want to help us in our problems, but evangelism is not about making you happy or healing your boo-boos. It is about sin (ours) and righteousness (Jesus'). It is about forgiveness and justification. Jesus is not a heavenly dose of Prozac. He is God's answer to man's terrible, pressing need for forgiveness and redemption from the penalty and power of sin.

3) The Resurrection of Jesus

"Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly" (Acts 10:40).

Having spoken of the life and death of Jesus, Peter goes on to announce that Jesus did not stay dead. God raised Him up on the third day. It is the resurrection that makes Christianity unique. Other religious leaders were martyred, but they stayed dead. Jesus did not. He arose three days later, and has been alive since then. He is risen.

Like the cross, the resurrection of Jesus is indispensable. There is no gospel without the resurrection. We must proclaim it again and again. In Acts we read: "And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33). Whether you are sharing the gospel with your own child in his bedroom, attempting to reach a Sunday school class of unruly teens, or preaching in an evangelistic event in a stadium, your presentation is not complete if you don't at some point declare that Jesus was raised from the dead. Some things are optional; some things can be left out without doing harm to your audience, but the resurrection is not one of them. There is no gospel without the resurrection.

4) Jesus is Judge

"And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42)

The idea of Jesus Christ as our Judge may seem to some to be extraneous in a gospel presentation, but in truth this is part and parcel of the gospel. The knowledge that we shall all appear before Christ's judgment seat must be heralded throughout the earth. We will give an account of our lives! We shall all stand before Christ as Judge, and there will be no need of a jury, and certainly no appeals possible. How blessed is the man or woman who finds that Jesus is not only his or her judge, but also their defense counsel! He is the Advocate of the redeemed and no accusation can stick to the one who has been forgiven through His cross and resurrection. We are not only "not guilty;" we are in fact justified and declared blameless in the courtroom of heaven. Paul writes: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…" (2 Corinthians 5:10,11).

5) Faith and Forgiveness

"To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).

Having laid the foundation of Christ's life, death, resurrection, and exaltation as Judge of all the earth, Peter now presents some wonderful news: through faith in Jesus we can be forgiven. This is not just Peter's idea or some new doctrine the apostles have invented – this is the fulfillment of what the prophets of Israel have been sayings for many centuries. By the name of Jesus and by faith in Him we can live forever; we can stand before the Judge of all the earth fully justified. This happens, not by us proving to God how good we are or how sincere we are or how determined we are or how much we care – this is strictly a grace gift given through Jesus Christ to undeserving and unworthy sinners who believe. Forgiveness and eternal life are ours because of Jesus!

The Holy Spirit Interrupts

At this point the Holy Spirit shows up. Peter evidently had more to say, but he never got the chance. The Bible tells us that "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word" (Acts 1044). Cornelius and company had heard and learned enough to be saved. They were not Bible scholars; there were all sorts of Bible truths they had not heard, and many important truths they would need to learn later in order to grow in their knowledge of God, but in this brief sermon they had learned enough to be born again. They had heard the gospel. And the Holy Spirit could wait no longer.

In this short sermon we have the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been given a pearl of infinite value – the words and truths men and women must hear in order to be saved. As Peter later recalls the events of this day to some of his Jewish friends, he quotes the angelic messenger instructing Cornelius to send for Peter "who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved" (Acts 11:14). To me this is wonderful. There are words, there are simple truths which can be articulated in words that serve as the means by which people are transferred from darkness to light, from death to life, from condemnation to justification, and from Satan's bondage to the glorious liberty there is in Jesus Christ.

We who are Christ's need to know these words and concepts well, and always have them at the ready, on the tips of our tongues and residing in our hearts and minds, that we may share them with others. These words and thoughts make up, to quote the apostle Paul, "the glorious gospel of the blessed God" which is committed to our trust. May we be ever faithful to share these life-giving words.

 




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