One of the great lies of the Devil, embraced by modernity, is the inevitability of history – that time is like a stream, and you can’t stop it, you can’t reverse it, and everything that has come before is rushing down upon us. We see this in the victim-mentality of many: blaming childhood, parents, income level, minority status, abuse, addictions, or their oppressors, their governments, their bosses, or their persecutors.
But the Bible reveals to us a God who is before and outside of time and therefore not bound by time. He is Lord of time. And while there are many patterns and repeated themes (so learning from history is valuable), there is also true innovation, creativity, Reformation, and repentance (so freedom, responsibility, and surprising change are also possible). One of the great twists in human history was the gospel going to Gentile nations directly, tearing down the middle wall of separation between Jew and Gentile, destroying the enmity, and sanctifying them that they may all come to God in worship directly through faith and repentance in Jesus Christ.
The Text: “Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? …” (Acts 10:21-48).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Having seen the vision, Peter went down and went with the men sent by Cornelius and came to his house where he had gathered many friends and family (Acts 10:21-24). Cornelius greeted Peter with great honor, but falling down at his feet in worship was not appropriate because as Peter insisted, he was a mere man (Acts 10:25-26). As they talked, Peter explained that it was not lawful for Jews to have close fellowship with Gentiles, but God had revealed to him not to call any man common or unclean – so he asked the purpose for his summons (Acts 10:27-29). Cornelius repeated the story of the vision and said that they had all gathered to hear what God commanded Peter (Acts 10:30-33).
Peter begins preaching with the declaration that God is no “respecter of persons” and accepts all who fear and obey Him through the peace of Jesus Christ – the Lord of all (Acts 10:34-36). Peter traces the word they have heard from the baptism of John to His crucifixion and resurrection and the commissioning of the apostles as His official witnesses (Acts 10:37-41). They were ordered to declare that Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead, and just as all the prophets had testified, there is remission of sins by faith in Him (Acts 10:42-43). At this, the Holy Spirit came upon them all, causing them to begin speaking in different languages, magnifying God, and Peter called for water that they might be baptized (Acts 10:44-48).
GOD SPEAKS THROUGH MEN
It’s worth pointing out that God prefers this method of communicating, which if you think about it, seems a lot more complicated and elaborate than we might think is necessary. Why not just have the angel tell Cornelius about Jesus? Instead, we have this lengthy process of visions, messengers, and discussion leading up to the message of the gospel, the gift of the Spirit, and finally, baptism.
And God often works this way in our lives. The reason is that God delights in the story. He delights in the process, the tension, the time it takes because we learn to see more of His wisdom and power, and we have more to praise Him for.
THE WORD & THE SPIRIT
While Cornelius misunderstood how to greet Peter, He was not wrong that by Peter’s presence, they were in the presence of God (Acts 10:33). When two or three gather in the name of Jesus, He is with them (Mt. 18:20). When the Word of God is proclaimed, God Himself is speaking (Rom. 10:14, 1 Thess. 2:13). And this is the way of the Spirit. The Spirit is often associated with time and creation: the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, filled the artisans with wisdom to construct the tabernacle, and is given to believers to know God, know themselves, and know what they should do – so that they may grow in holiness. While God is free to give His Spirit as He pleases, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Heb. 4:12). God delights in the process of reading, hearing, singing, preaching, and discussing His Word, and it is by that process that the Spirit falls.
What does our land need? It desperately needs the Word of God, the word of peace to interrupt our spell, our curse, and turn us back to the living God. But the glorious thing is that it is right here – it’s right in front of us, if we only we listen, believe, and obey.
CONCLUSION: ORDAINED JUDGE & REDEEMER
For Jesus to be the Judge of the Living and the Dead is for Him to be Lord of all time (Acts 10:42, Rev. 1:11). He is Lord of history. All of history answers to Him. But this means that we have an access point outside of History to change history. We are not trapped in the machinery of history, or at the mercy of the machinations of evil men or even our own past sin. Jesus is Lord over all.
On the one hand, if there is a Judge over all, then there will be justice for all, and that justice will apply to us as well. But if there is a Judge who has access to the past, there is a possibility of mercy in the present. In fact, there is more than a possibility. The Judge Himself was crucified in the most cruel and cursed way by wicked men, and God raised Him from the dead, so that through His name, all who believe in Him may have their sins forgiven (Acts 10:39-40). And notice that: what men did in history, God overturned in history.
And so this is the message for all men, all nations: You cannot have this redemption apart from this Judge. But if you come before the Judge in true humility, you will see the scars in His hands and you will hear the glorious words: completely forgiven. This is true for every individual, every family, every city. This is true for every nation, even ours: Come to the Judge and be forgiven.