Proof of Our Persuasion
Scripture: Acts 10:17–35
Proof of Our Persuasion - Acts 10:17–35
To be the messengers of the gospel that Jesus desires for us to be, we must learn to see ourselves and others as God sees. (Acts 10:1-11:18)
Such was our overarching point last week, and really it is the theme that Luke has for his readers (and consequently for us) from the broader narrative of 10:1-11:18.
We’re right in the middle of this section in Acts where Peter had to learn a lesson about prejudice for the sake of the whole church, so that they (and we) would obey Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19, all ethne, plural of ethnos, Ac 10:35).
Toward that end, from a vision given to Cornelius, we learned in Acts 10:1-8 that…
God sees people as individuals created in his image who need Jesus. (10:1-8)
Yes, Cornelius was a real person living in Caesarea—a Gentile Roman centurion and a God-fearing man. But God’s initiative toward Cornelius reveals that God saw him as someone upon whom he had set his saving grace.
While Cornelius is obeying the angel’s command to send for Peter to come to him from Joppa, God gives Peter a vision as well (Acts 10:9-16). But Peter’s vision was an object lesson, an illustration to learn about prejudice. In that lesson from God about not calling food unclean or defiled if God now says it is clean to eat, we explained that…
God seeks to reveal our sin and show himself and his purposes as the solution. (10:9-16)
(In this case it is prejudice, and it is equally true of all our sin.) Peter was a true follower of Jesus, but Peter needed this object lesson because he wasn’t a perfect follower of Jesus. Peter needed this object lesson not only because it revealed God’s will, but to show him his prejudice so that he would put it away to follow Jesus more faithfully.
Now out of these first two flows a third point, which is also manifest in the passage as we observe Peter’s change and obedience.
When we see others as God sees, we are persuaded to put aside ethnic prejudice and associate with them to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. (10:17-43)
That’s also a good summary of the lesson the Church needed Peter to learn so that they and we could more faithfully follow Christ’s character and command.
[sermon title] So that’s where we will pick up, beginning at verse 17. Viewing this section in that broader context is the reason to title this as “Seeing People as God Sees (Part Two).” But because of a particular emphasis that arises within this text we cover today, I’m calling it more specifically “Proof of Our Persuasion.”
Regarding the object lesson he received on prejudice, Peter moves from perplexed and pondering to persuaded. We know this because Peter demonstrates his persuasion, his understanding and his obedience, by his actions and his words.
Let’s read the first evidences that Peter has been persuaded to live not by prejudice but by God’s impartiality.
Acts 10:17–23 ESV
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.” 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.
Like Peter, what could be the first…
Proof that we are persuaded: (to live not by prejudice but by God’s impartiality)
We’re basing these off of the evidences, in what he does and what he says, that Peter is persuaded to see as God sees.
When I see as God sees, I’m persuaded to invite people into my life. (By this sincere hospitality, I give them opportunity to see Christ living in me—his impartiality and his compassion).
Peter was initially perplexed in his thinking about what this vision might mean (v. 17), and so even as the men arrive and begin asking at the gate for him (v. 18), he is still pondering (v. 19).
Speaking of Peter pondering, it’s important that this falls within the broader context of seeing as God sees, because the proof of persuasion is in what we say and do, which always arises from what we think. What we say and what we do is shaped by how we think. So our perception must match God’s perception, so that we will think rightly... to feel and behave and speak rightly.
The clarity Peter needed about this interesting clean vs unclean food vision came in the form of a direct command from the Holy Spirit. (vv. 19-20) Go with these men, making no distinction. (“not separating one from another” is a more literal translation of “without hesitation” or “without misgivings” … “without wavering or doubting,” although both senses are intended here)
So after talking to them and finding out why they had come to seek him (vv. 21-22), Peter obeyed the Lord and invited them in as guests (v. 23a), which apparently was not a problem to his generous host, either. Inviting them in would have meant acceptance and table fellowship, sharing food together. To the Jews this kind of hospitality was a big deal.
It was a favorite confrontation from the Pharisees concerning Jesus, that he was willing to eat with sinners and tax collectors (basically fellowshipping with society’s outcasts). But Jesus wasn’t choosing to view them that way. He was seeing everyone in the same way, created in God’s image and in need of salvation because of their sin. He came to seek and save the lost. It was the Pharisees who wrongly didn’t see themselves as sick people in need of a Physician, who didn’t see themselves as unrighteous, needing the Righteous One.
And see in the context how Peter’s fellow Jewish Christians react, especially after he goes and fellowships with Cornelius’s household in Caesarea. [Read 11:2-3] At this point they are not yet seeing and thinking rightly, but Peter is, because he has learned the lesson to see people as God sees.
Peter has been persuaded by God that he should not be prejudiced by external human factors but needs to invite these people into his life. By doing so, he is now serving as a better living example of the impartiality and hospitality and compassion displayed by his Savior.
I wonder if my life, your life, is demonstrating this same persuasion. [repeat title] And from this same verse (23b) we see a second evidence of persuasion in Peter’s life to apply to our own.
When I see as God sees, I’m persuaded to invest in people where they live. (Even as Christ himself did, we can reach out to others without compromising holiness.)
Peter obeyed by going with the messengers from Caesarea to meet with Cornelius (23bff).
He took along witnesses, six of them to be precise (according to Ac 11:12). We don’t know what Peter’s initial motive for this might have been. Perhaps he took them along to be witnesses that there was no participation on his part in anything unholy. But we do know that these six companions end up serving as validating witnesses for the Jerusalem church after Cornelius’s household believes and receives the Spirit. (Ac 11:1-18)
Like Peter, [repeat title] … on their turf, but not on their terms… nor even on my terms. In other words, I don’t do this to seek their approval and acceptance. I do this for the cause of Christ, for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus, whom they need to be right with God.
We go to them because we accept them as precious people created in God’s image, but we do not accept anyone “just as they are” in terms of their sin. Christ didn’t come to leave us just as we are, but to transform us into something new by his atoning sacrifice and resurrection, and by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.
Go back to the first point in chapter 10. Seeing as God sees certainly doesn’t mean that God accepts us as we are spiritually. The waywardness and rebellion of our sin is unacceptable to him. Since God set his favor on Cornelius and his household, he had no intention of leaving them in the condition of separation from him because of sin.
Just so, Jesus went to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, accepting her as a Samaritan and as a woman, yet confronting her sin. There was nothing inherently less valuable in her personhood as a Samaritan woman, but there was something desperately wrong with her life of sin, separating her from God. So Jesus offered his own life as living water to quench her spiritual thirst and bring her to God. By God’s grace, she responded in faith that Jesus is indeed God’s Messiah.
And during all of this exchange, there was no hint of impropriety on the part of Jesus, even though he was talking alone with a woman who clearly had a pattern of licentious behavior. If God the Son hadn’t come to dwell with sinners while still maintaining his perfect holiness, and then atoning for our sin and rising again, we’d be no better off than if he had never come at all.
But when we come to see this truth as God reveals it, we are persuaded to not only embrace Jesus to save us but also to be like him.
So Peter was learning to see people like Cornelius the same way, and to behave like Jesus would behave, and was therefore willing to go to them on their turf, whatever their ethnic and cultural and linguistic differences might be, whatever sins of idolatry they may be committing.
Peter gives evidence of his persuasion, not only be these actions, but also by his speech. How important is our speech?
Luke 6:45 ESV
45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Matthew 15:11 ESV
11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
So let’s look at three more proofs of Peter’s persuasion that come from his words that accompany these new behaviors.
Acts 10:24–35 ESV
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. 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. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” 30And 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: “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.
In context what Peter means by that last sentence of fearing God and doing what is right and being accepted by him is this:
Acts 10:43 (ESV)
43 To him [Jesus Christ] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
As the passage continues in vv. 24ff, we are reminded that Cornelius had already been demonstrating faith in what God had said. Not only did he send the messengers immediately as instructed, but Cornelius here was anticipating Peter’s arrival and collected a wide circle of people close to him in his sphere of influence, in order that they too might hear whatever message God had for them from this Simon Peter.
However, his first overreaction to Peter’s arrival, falling down at Peter’s feet and worshiping him (v. 25), is yet more evidence of what we said at the beginning. Cornelius had become a God-fearer, of the one true God of Israel, but the fact is that Cornelius needed clarity that the object of his faith must be the Lord Jesus Christ.
The focus of this part of the text continues to be Peter, so it’s important to see Peter’s reaction to Cornelius’s behavior. Peter saw himself accurately and deflected this excessive and inappropriate attention. (v. 26)
When I see as God sees, I’m persuaded that I, like others, am a mere man.
Peter says, “Stand up; I too am a man.” This isn’t some kind of false humility. No, Peter sees himself accurately.
To recognize oneself as a mere man is to know that there exists a divine being who is much more than a mere man. To recognize oneself as a mere man is to realize that my very existence is owed to God’s providence and good pleasure, and that my fate rests in his divine hands.
Peter is persuaded that the triune God alone is worthy of worship, of whom Christ Jesus is a member: “he is Lord of all” (v. 36). To recognize oneself as a mere man, according to the NT, is to know the one who is more than a mere man—the God-man, Jesus Christ. To know the one who is more than a mere man and to worship him is to repent of your sin and place your whole faith in Christ alone to save and restore you to God.
The more accurately a person see this and applies it to himself, the more accurately and effectively he (or she) communicates the true gospel, as Peter does. Peter was already a great preacher and pastor, but he will emerge from this lesson an even more useful under-shepherd of Jesus and proclaimer of his gospel.
[repeat subtitle] This is a natural outworking of growing to see the glory and worth of God. Jesus must increase and we must decrease. (Jn 3:30)
When I see as God sees, I’m persuaded that no one is more or less worthy in God’s sight based on external human traits of God’s own design.
We are all equally created in God’s image, and we are all equally separated from him in sin.
Peter also now sees his culture’s ethnic prejudice accurately because he has been given a new standard—not to judge people as profane because of external, God-given traits of personhood. (vv. 28-29a)
Now after a recap from Cornelius about why he sent for Peter, Peter makes God’s impartial perspective on people even more clear: vv. 34-35.
When I see as God sees, I’m persuaded that God shows no partiality at all, which means he’s impartial over personhood, and impartial over ethnicity. (Not that God’s plan for the nations doesn’t run through a particular people group (Jews), but that God’s favor isn’t contingent on an ethnicity but on his own mercy and grace.)
When I see as God sees, I’m persuaded that Jesus Christ is God’s Messiah for people of all ethnicities.
Next time we’ll look more closely at this summary gospel proclamation from Peter, and we’ll also see the Holy Spirit’s confirmation that God is saving people from every ethnicity, so the church must also affirm it and obey Christ’s command.
Prejudice means feelings and behaviors of superiority toward others merely because of differences. The opposite of prejudice is impartiality. Acknowledging differences does not have to be prejudice. Truth is always right. - Application: The fact that people are sinful and worldly is another excuse beyond ethnic prejudice. We must associate with sinners to evangelize them. Jesus associated with sinners to evangelize them. God shows no partiality as to which type of people or which type of sinners.
Prejudice is a hindrance to the gospel because it does not reflect God’s plan for the nations, and it does not reflect the person and work of Jesus. This is not simply about breaking from social convention (like in the novel Pride and Prejudice) but about seeing as God sees so that we will acknowledge our pride and prejudice as sin and prove by our actions and words that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people.
Conclusion: Are We Persuaded?
When we’re truly persuaded of something by a different way of thinking, it changes us. And that change begins to show, especially in our behaviors and words.
To be the messengers of the gospel that Jesus desires for us to be, we must learn to see ourselves and others as God sees. We must be persuaded to live not by prejudice but by God’s impartiality.
We must be…
Persuaded by the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ
Is there proof of my persuasion that I know I’m a mere man but that Jesus was more than a mere man, and that my faith is in him and not myself?
Am I persuaded by Jesus’ impartiality and compassion, without compromising holiness, that I too must invite people into my life and I too must go invest in them where they live?
We must be...
Persuaded that God’s plan is best
Is there evidence of my persuasion that all people, including me, are equally valuable in God’s sight and equally separated from him by their sin?
Am I persuaded that God is making a people to be set apart for himself from among every ethnicity, and that he desires to use us to be his instruments who are sent to proclaim “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”?
Let’s be the persuaded who live to see Jesus persuade others.
More in Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles
September 24, 2023When Significant Contention Separates Close Companions
September 17, 2023Handling Disagreement Within the Christian Community (Part 3)
September 10, 2023Handling Disagreement Within the Christian Community (Part 2)