How many of you would say that you prayed as much as you planned to and read the Bible as much as you planned to in 2019? Good, so we have established that we all failed to some degree in our devotional lives in 2019. But here is the more important question, did we give it a good go in 2019? Did we try? Did we make a conscious effort? In other words, did we fail in the right direction, did we fail going forward? At the beginning of each year I challenge us to take up the habit of praying and reading Scripture, to renew our efforts, to seek God’s help, to say this is what I will do, God helping me. I feel a special urgency this year to call us to more faithful prayer. In my mind there is a convergence of several important opportunities for us as a congregation that call for greater prayer. These opportunities fall on top of our already on-going list of prayer needs for families, marriages, children, grandchildren, health, finances, future and any number of causes for anxiety, worry, doubt or just general concern. Those of you who have cleared out your church box this morning found a book mark with five prayer points on it. This represents a call to specific prayer in 2020. Let me give some foundation for what I am calling us to do.
Herod Agrippa I, comes from a long line of Herods. His grandfather was Herod the Great who reigned at the time of Jesus birth, the Herod who order the killing of all the children two and under in Bethlehem. His uncle Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist and tried Jesus along with Pontius Pilate. As the saying goes, the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. He grew up in a world of murder and intrigue, deception and power politics. Herod is acting out of political expediency, to win the hearts of people who don’t particularly like him since we worked for Rome. This is always the danger and temptation of politicians. It is a good argument for term limits on all politicians, then they can do their work and do what’s right without always trying to please and appease the masses, and win or worse yet buy votes.
Luke, the author of the book of Acts, tells us when the apostles sent Barnabas from the church in Jerusalem to the church in Antioch, he saw the grace of God. What does that mean, he saw the grace of God? What does the grace of God look like? How can you tell when you are seeing the grace of God? Have you ever seen the grace of God? When was the last time you can definitely say you saw the grace of God? I have spoken on several occasions about the importance of being able to recognize the grace of God, in your life. I have encouraged us to write them down, keep a list. I believe if you do this it will have the same effect on you that it did on Barnabas, it will make you glad. It will give you joy, encouragement, hope and increased faith and trust. I see at least seven ways in our text that Barnabas saw the grace of God. See how many of these you have seen.
This is our fourth sermon on the Cornelius conversion and the Gentile Pentecost. Luke sure thought it important to repeat the details this much, and more importantly the Holy Spirit thought it was so important to inspire Luke to record it and repeat it for all generations to know. But this is not just repetition for repetition sake. There is something important going on here, without which the story would be incomplete. This isn’t just be an event in the life of Peter. This story has ramifications for the whole church and the spreading of the Gospel. Paul’s conversion story is told three times in the book of Acts. These are pivotal, sea-changing stories. Their impact reverberates through the rest of salvation history. The conversions of these two men may be the two most important events in redemptive history until the return of Christ. After these two there is no stopping the church as it advances through the world.
Acts 10:44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. While Peter was saying what things? He was preaching the Gospel. He was testifying to person and work of Jesus Christ, His life, ministry, death, resurrection and coming again in judgment. I hope you are still preaching the Gospel to yourself daily.
Three men came from Caesarea, sent by the Roman centurion Cornelius to find Peter in Joppa. Now ten men are on their way from Joppa to Caesarea for a historic encounter arranged by God. Why does Peter take six brothers with him? To be witnesses of God’s divine grace. Keep your eyes open and be ready to testify to the grace of God wherever you see it. I saw it yesterday. It encourages your soul and strengthens your faith and encourages the saints. May our text do all of that for us. God’s grace is all around us, live expecting to see it and testify to it. When they arrived, Cornelius was ready and waiting, he had gathered his relatives, mom, dad, wife, kids, grandparents, friends, associates, servants, and close friends. Why did they all come? No doubt Cornelius had told of his vision from God to send for a great man to come. There was great anticipation and expectation. This is truly remarkable. To invite a crowd to take up a new religion. What a risk for the glory of God. Cornelius wasn’t just interested in this for himself, he wanted it for everyone he knew. He was a beggar not interested in keeping the bread for himself. He wasn’t going to keep the treasure buried. What humility, grace, honesty, openness.
How many of you like/liked history in school? How many of you like to read history? There are a number of contrasting ideas about how we should view history. Many Eastern religions view history as circular or cyclical, a series of reincarnations. Marxists and communists understand history in terms of class struggle. In our secular West, many people assume history is aimless. In the words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. All of these views are a contrast to the Christian Biblical view of history as His Story.
There is a new bad word in our culture. It has actually been around for a while, but you may not be aware that it’s now a bad word. I’m going to say it out loud. The bad word is conversion. Conversion or the act of attempting to convert someone is now considered scandalous in our secular and pluralistic culture where tolerance is the name of the new god. Conversion is called arrogance, disrespect, thinking our way is right and their way is wrong. How dare we look with condescension on the religious views and opinions of others. Tolerance trumps truth. We can talk our truth as long as we respect their truth and consider them equal and don’t try to pull them over to our side of the truth. Some go so far as to say conversion and attempting to convert people is violence, violence to their views and ideas, their traditions and cultures and perhaps centuries old beliefs. Don’t be fooled. This is just another attack on the Gospel and on the glory of Jesus and His cross.
Do you know how you can tell the healing of Aeneas was a really big miracle? How many of you have said to your teenager, arise and make your bed, and had no result? I have it on good authority that after about 8 years your teenager will arise and make his bed. This is real, tangible, in your face power. Who can do such a thing? How are these miracles stories relevant to us today? We have had four of our members in the hospital this week dealing with tough medical situations, two with heart issues, two with cancer. They could all use a healing. What good are these stories to us when this sort of thing seems to rarely happen now?
“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias.” We have never heard of this Ananias before Acts 9:10 and we never hear of him again after Acts 9:19. From obscurity back to obscurity, a forgotten hero of the faith. This is like one of those little footnotes at the bottom of the page. We know lots of famous Christians. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham, John Piper. But who knows who lead them to a faith in Jesus Christ? They are just as important. Notice how God is directing and arranging everything. He is giving visions to prepare each one for the next step. There are many visions in Acts at critical junctions in God’s plan, changes in course, when God is up to something new, when something surprising is about to happen. Sometimes God gives double visions, one to each party. This double confirmation tells us something really big is about to happen, a major shift in the heavenlies, in God’s plan of salvation. Like when both Mary and Joseph both receive a vision. Like when both Peter and Cornelius receive a vision in Acts 10. God is the God of details, of antecedents, of connecting dots. Why are we ever anxious when we have such a great and powerful God who is paying attention to every detail of our lives?