How God Prepares Us and Those to Whom He is Sending Us
Introduction: One of the questions we’re sometimes asked is: What about those who have never heard? How can people go to hell without even having an opportunity to hear the Gospel? In times gone by, the question was usually: Are the heathen lost? Well, there are several layers of answer to that question, but here is one aspect of it. We believe that if anyone responds to the light that he or she has been given, the Lord will send additional light. If they act upon the revelation they have, they will be given more revelation, leading to knowledge of the Gospel. To people whose hearts are responsive, the Lord will get the Gospel to them one way or the other. One of the best illustrations of that in the Bible is the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. I have a very simple outline for this passage.
1. God Prepares People for Us To Reach (Acts 10:1-8)
Verse 1: At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.
The story of the Bible is centered in the land of Israel, and Israel runs up and down the coastline of the eastern Mediterranean. The problem for the Israelites is that there really was not a very good port along their coasts. The primary port in the Old Testament was Joppa. When Jonah wanted to run away to see, he went out to the port city of Joppa. But when the Romans defeated and occupied Israel, they needed a better port for their Roman ships and for the thousands of soldiers that flooded into the land. And so Herod the Great built a fabulous port city north of Joppa and named it for Caesar. It was called Caesarea. Using the finest technology of the day, Herod constructed a deep-sea harbor and, alongside it, a vast city that was essentially a version of the city of Rome. This wasn’t a place where the Jews wanted to go. For a devout Jew, this is the worst kind of political and moral paganism. It was a city teeming with Romans soldiers. The story in Acts 10 is about one of those soldiers, a man named Cornelius. The word “centurion” comes from the word meaning “hundred” and signified someone similar to a “captain” who was over a hundred men, or, actually, probably over several hundred men.
Verse 2: He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
Interestingly, this man was not yet a Christian. He wasn’t a Jew or a Jewish proselyte or convert. And yet he is said to be devout and God-fearing. He is described as a man who gave to the needy and who prayed regularly.
Verse 3: One day about three in the afternoon, he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
Three in the afternoon is the time when Christ died; and it’s also the hour Peter and John were going into the temple in Acts 3. It was a regular prayer hour for the Jews. It was at this hour that Cornelius encountered a vision of an angel who called his name. As I read this, I can’t help of all the many reports of Muslims who are finding Christ because of initial dreams that led them to contemplate the Gospel.
Verse 4: Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”
I still find this remarkable. Here is an unsaved man, yet his prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. The angel continued:
Verses 5-8: Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the Tanner, whose house is by the sea. When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
God was preparing Cornelius and his family and friends to be born again. When I was in Bible College, this was called Prevenient Grace – grace that precedes salvation and leads us to it.
2. God Prepares Us to Reach People (Acts 10:9-23)
Meanwhile God was also preparing Peter’s heart to reach Cornelius. In verse 9, the scene changes and we read about Peter, who is down in Joppa, and who has a vision of his own.
Verses 9-13: About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
This is the sportsman’s verse.
Verses 14-16: “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or clean.” The voice spoke to him a second time. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
The Lord was using this vision to send Peter a message. The devout Jews of biblical times would not eat with Gentiles. They would not go to a Gentile’s house for supper. The Jews had their own Levitical dietary code and they did not want to take a chance on eating anything that was on their unclean list. So there was a social barrier between Jews and Gentiles. You may remember that Jesus was criticized for eating with Gentiles. What God was telling Peter here is that the barrier had now been demolished. Peter was going to take the Gospel directly to the Gentiles.
Verses 17-23: While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say. Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them and some of the believers from Joppa went along.
3. God Prepares The Time and Place of Salvation (Acts 10:24-48)
And now we have one of the loveliest stories in the book of Acts, how the Gospel spread beyond the Jews and the Samaritans to all the Gentiles and to all the world. The same Savior who prepared Cornelius to be evangelized and who prepared Peter to do the job now orchestrated the events that would bring the Gentiles into the kingdom.
Verse 24: The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
Evidently one of the soldiers had raced ahead and said, “Peter and his delegation are on the way and should get here at such-and-such a time.” So Cornelius gathered his family and they invited some friends.
Verses 25-29: As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent me?”
In verses 30-33, Cornelius recounts what had prompted him to call for Peter. And started in verse 34, Peter presents the Gospel.
Verses 34: Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from very nation the one who fears Him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him. We are witnesses of everything He did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him by hanging Him on a cross, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.
Now while Peter is in mid-sermon, before he gets to the end of his message, before he gives the invitation, those who have gathered just collectively believe. This is the message they were prepared to hear and receive. This is the message they had been waiting for. They didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer, as such. They didn’t come forward. They didn’t raise their hands. They just believed.
Verse 44: While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
This is the Gentile Pentecost. In chapter 2, we had the Jewish Pentecost. In chapter 8 we read about the Samaritan Pentecost. In chapter 10, we have the Gentile Pentecost. The Gospel of Christ is radiating out in concentric circles – Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the Gentiles, and to the ends of the earth.
Verse 46b: Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
This undercuts the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Some people say that baptism is necessary for salvation; that you aren’t really saved until you are baptized. Well, baptism is very, very important. But these people were gloriously saved, but they were not baptized.
So He ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to say with them for a few days.
Not just for a vacation, but undoubtedly so He could teach and instruct them more fully.
Conclusion: In Matthew 16, Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven….” Well, in Acts 2, Peter opened the kingdom of God to the Jews. In chapter 8, He opened the kingdom to the Samaritans. In chapter 10, He opened the Gospel for the Gentiles. It’s encouraging for me to know that when I share the Gospel, I’m not doing it in my own abilities or strength. God is preparing me to reach the ones He wants me to reach. He is preparing them to be reached. And He is orchestrating the circumstances. That’s true for our church. It’s true for our ministries. It isn’t our work—but His.
Think of it: Right now there is someone – a man, boy, child – whom God is preparing to be saved. The Lord is working “preveniently” in their lives. He is laying the groundwork. He is getting them ready for you. And He is working in you, preparing you for the opportunity of reaching them. There are people in Nashville whom God is preparing our church to reach, and He is preparing us to reach them. And in His timing, He will cause our paths to rendezvous and that catalytic moment of conversion will occur as Jesus Christ builds His church.
PS – The photo at the top of this blog is the decision card Billy Graham filled out the night he received Christ as his Savior at a Mordecai Ham evangelistic campaign.