Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sermon for 4/24/11 "This Public Gospel"

Sermon - "This Public Gospel" audio link

 May the Lord open our eyes to see him rightly, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 The Gospel of Jesus Christ is public knowledge. Even as we confess that Christ is risen from the dead, just as he has told us, we proclaim that truth for all to hear. The Christian faith is not one which is to be hidden. It is not one of the intensely personal faiths which is not to be shared with others. It isn't something we keep quietly to ourselves because it is so precious and personal. On the contrary, the Gospel is public knowledge.

 When Peter came to the household of Cornelius in Acts chapter ten he was probably hesitant. In fact, it's pretty clear that he was hesitant. You might recall how the Holy Spirit set up the situation. Simon Peter, the apostle, was visiting with one Simon, a tanner, near the town of Joppa. Peter had a vision of all sorts of animals being lowered down to him. He was told to kill and eat all these unclean animals. After some protests, he was persuaded that God himself had declared them clean. Simon was not to argue with his Lord in this.

Immediately after this vision, people came from Cornelius' household. Of course you can tell by the name that Cornelius was no kind of Jew, right? No? Well, it might not be so obvious to you and to me. But Cornelius is a Roman name. It would never be a name a Jewish family would give to a child. In fact, it isn't a personal name at all, but rather a clan name, the Latin "nomen" which indicates he was a member of a very powerful family. His position as a centurion also suggests that he was a man of considerable influence. If he were in the U.S. Army he'd be some sort of a commissioned officer of some seniority. His position over the "Italian Cohort" indicates that he was experienced in foreign wars. Historical sources suggest that this was the military unit which would serve a tour of duty in a particularly dangerous setting and then would spend its furlough in the town of Italica, located near Seville, in Spain.  Cornelius is, then, an important man. He's someone who has been shown to be loyal to the Roman emperor. Yet he is introduced as a God-fearer, someone who is seeking after the Messiah. In a vision, probably about a day before Peter's vision, he was directed to send for Peter.

While Peter's defenses have been broken down by God's proclamation of that which is unclean actually being clean, he is still going into a setting that would seem foreign to him. Prior to this time the Gospel has not really been brought to the Gentiles. It seems odd. Something about it may even seem to be wrong to Peter, despite what his Lord has just told him. But he goes, along with some companions, and proclaims the Gospel to the household of Cornelius.

We see now that the Gospel of Christ, that same message proclaimed by the angel in Matthew 28, is not secret knowledge. It is not to be protected through hidden revelations. Unlike the followers of the mystery religions of Peter's time, or the slightly later Gnostics, the true Christians proclaimed the Gospel freely and openly. The resurrection of Christ, the adoption of God, the inheritance in glory waiting for Christians, all of this is public knowledge. We guard the message, but we guard it by being accurate and proclaiming it as widely as we can.  The Gospel is not to be hidden from anybody. It's intended to be revealed, just as Jesus raised from the dead revealed himself to his followers.

So what is this gospel that we see from Peter's address to Cornelius' household? First, it is that Jesus lived a sinless life. Jesus was not just a good teacher. He was not just a good man. He wasn't simply like one of us, but enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in fact, was sinless. He was the one who did "what is right" and showed himself "acceptable" to God (Acts 10.35). And he did that good through the Holy Spirit. See in verse 38 how we have the Trinity here – God the Father gives God the Holy Spirit to God the Son. Jesus, the sinless lamb of God, proved himself holy before God, living the life that we are called to live, but which we can never attain to.

This gospel that Peter explains doesn't end with the sinless life of Jesus. He continues to tell that Jesus died a perfect death on our behalf. It was his countrymen, both Jews, as well as Cornelius' countrymen, the Roman execution detail, who put Jesus to death. In all four Gospels we see that Jesus was not convicted of any crime by the Roman officials. He had not committed any crime. He simply revealed who he was. This self-revelation brought the wrath of the Jewish officials upon Jesus, resulting in his crucifixion, in accord with the Scriptural prophecies. We sang Psalm 22 last week and saw how it depicts the crucifixion of Christ in some detail.

So Jesus lived a perfect life on our behalf, showing himself to be the sinless man. He died a perfect death on our behalf, giving himself as the perfect, unblemished sacrifice for our sin. In verse 40 of Acts 10 Peter comes to the resurrection from the dead. The Christian faith is a faith in a true bodily resurrection. We do not look to some vague spiritual hope. We don't look for a release from this physical body. We look to a release from the mortality of this body. That's different. Jesus rose from the dead on our behalf. He has promised that he will be the firstfruits of the bodily resurrection. He tells us and then shows us that he has conquered death. The sheer physicality and life of the risen Christ tells us that death itself has been conquered. Decay has been abolished. We who have been baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been raised to newness of life (Romans 6). We now have the eternal life which we confess we will resume in the future resurrection when body and soul again are united in an eternity with no more death, no more pain, no more suffering. Life has conquered death in the resurrection of Christ. That's why our cries of "Alleluia" are associated with the message of this day. "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"

So we have the sinless life of Jesus. We have his perfect death on our behalf. We see the resurrection from the dead. What else does Peter have to tell the household of Cornelius? As witnesses of the resurrection, Jesus has sent his servants to "preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead." (Acts 10.42, ESV).  The proclamation of the Gospel is to be public. It is not something hidden in a corner. We don't try to hide the truth. Rather, we reveal the truth. We tell those we meet that Jesus is the judge, both the judge of the living and of the dead.  Here's the message, then. The soul who sins must die. There's no question about that. All have sinned, all have come short of the glory of God (Romans 3). We all together stand under the judgment of God. And there is no other name by which we may be saved (Acts 4.12) but the name of Jesus. We cannot save ourselves. We are all condemned but for the mercy of God in Christ. This is the judgment of God. Equally publicly, though we confess that Jesus Christ came to rescue as many as will believe on him from the curse of sin. As we read a little farther on in Matthew 28, Jesus sent his disciples to go and disciple people by baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, then by teaching them to keep all his commands. He promised that he would be with them forever, even to the end of the world.

The Gospel, then, is a public matter. Salvation is of the Lord, and only through belief on Jesus, not through any other means. We have been entrusted with this message. And Jesus has promised to be with his people who proclaim the Gospel. He promises that his Word will be effective, that he is actively working, creating faith in people who hear (Romans 10). He promises to call and send people with this message of the Gospel. Salvation is of the Lord. And he is able to accomplish it through his Word and his appointed means of grace.

What do we say, then? Do we receive the Word of God freely and joyfully? Do we trust that God is able to grant salvation from sin through Jesus Christ's perfect life, death, and resurrection? Do we believe on the Lord, knowing that it is through faith in his name that we are saved? Do we trust that the Lord is able to deliver salvation by creating faith in our hearts through the proclaimed Word in the Scripture and in the concrete applications of Scripture in baptism and communion? Do we trust that the Lord will pour out His Spirit upon all whom he calls, Jew and Gentile alike?

What happened with the household of Cornelius? While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon them. Peter and those with him were amazed because they recognized a clear showing of the people's belief. They were experiencing the kind of overflow of the Holy Spirit which the apostles and those with them had experienced in Acts 2. The people, having obviously believed, were baptized. Then Peter and those with him remained for a while teaching them. Here, then, is our pattern. We proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, always verbally and sometimes accompanied by baptism, making people into disciples of Christ. We teach them obedience to Christ, and we encourage them to continue in that faith. We nurture people in their faith on Christ, reminding them of our Lord's promise that he will never leave us or forsake us.

Let us rise to pray together.

Our Lord, use your word which I have proclaimed and we have heard. Create faith in the hearts of your people, as many as you would call to yourself. Nurture a living faith in us, casting out all doubt and fear. Show yourself to be the Lord of all, the true resurrection and the life. Teach us to walk in your paths and to take your Gospel to all nations, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dave Spotts
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