by Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor
FBC, Spanish Fort, Ala.
This is the final message in this three part series of messages titled, “World Evangelism 101.” We titled the first message in this series, “Wherever He Leads,” the second, “Whatever It Takes,” and now the third, “Whoever May Come.”
Three remarkable conversions in the Book of Acts represent three ethnological divisions found in Genesis 10. For example, the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch Acts 8, a descendant of Ham; the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, Acts 9, a descendant of Shem; and the conversion of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, Acts 10, a descendant of Japheth.
Our Lord Jesus Christ commands His followers in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to make disciples. Therefore, our responsibility does not end at the conversion of a sinner, but there must be a time of conversion, where one makes an about face.
Just before His ascension, Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Here, He shares an outline of how the gospel spread around the world as recorded in the rest of the Book of Acts.
Allow me to share three things about the conversion of Cornelius.
I. The Devotion of Cornelius
In Acts 10:1-4 we read, “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, ‘What is it, lord?’ So he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. . .’”
Cornelius was “a proselyte at the gate” or “a proselyte of righteousness.” Regardless of your understanding, Cornelius received the light he was given and he received more light.
“Do you believe there will be a probation after death for the heathen who have died in ignorance and superstition?” Dr. James M. Gray (1851-1935), former dean of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Illinois, responds in his book titled, Bible Problems Explained, “Romans 1:18-25 answers that question in part, by teaching that the heathen are responsible for their ignorance and superstition. They are responsible perhaps for not knowing the historic Christ. We are responsible alas! for not sending them that knowledge. But they are responsible for their sin. And it is their sin for which they are condemned and not their ignorance of Christ. If any heathen, like Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11, lives fully up to the light he has, more light will be given him. I think we may take Cornelius’ case as a kind of proof that Christ will be revealed to him. But our Christian missionaries meet very few cases like Cornelius.”
II. The Desire of Cornelius
From Acts 10:5-23 we read, “Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.’ And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa. The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’ And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.’ Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, ‘Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?’ And they said, ‘Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.’ Then he invited them in and lodged them.”
In Philippians 2:13 we find the phrase “to will” that is also translated “giving you the desire.” Here, Paul writes, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
We read about forbidden things in Leviticus 11:1-47. There are three things observed to remain true as a Jew, namely, the sanctity of the Sabbath, the rite of circumcision, and the dietary laws.
III. The Decision of Cornelius
We read in Acts 10:24-48, “And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?’ So Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.’ Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.’ While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.”
The term “tongues” refers to a linguistic miracle allowing those to hear and understand in their own languages. The purpose of tongues was not to make the recipient feel good or special, it was given for a specific purpose of providing a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22) and to proclaim the gospel in their language (Acts 2:1-4; 11:7; 15:9).
Cornelius fell down to worship Simon Peter (Acts 10:24-26), as others attempted to worship Barnabas and Paul at Lystra (Acts 14:8-18).
Paul the Apostle writes in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
In Acts 11:18 we find the phrase, “repentance to life.” Allow me to share the context of that phrase as we read in Acts 11:1-18, “Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, ‘You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!’ But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?’ When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’”
Dr. Luke writes about repentance in Acts 17:30-34, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’ And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”
For years Billy Graham had a program called, “The Hour of Decision” and published Decision magazine. Likely, you have heard a hymn titled, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” attributed to S. Sundar Singh. Dr. Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003) explains, “The gospel reminds all men of an inescapable personal destiny in eternity, based on a conclusive decision in time.”
W. Phillip Keller (1920-1997), shares in Walking with God, “Both for the church of Christ as a whole, and for the Christian as an individual, it simply is not enough to be either an intellectual ‘believer’ or an emotional ‘convert.’ The whole soul must be saved. The will must be touched, turned around, and transformed by the invasion and impact of God’s Spirit.
There are thousands upon thousands of dear people who claim to be ‘born again’ through either some intellectual assent or emotional experience. Yet their character and conduct is a direct denial of God’s will. They may be active in church affairs, they may be in positions of leadership, but because their wills have never capitulated to Christ, there has never been any significant, deep, profound change in their persons.”
Dr. Vance Havner (1901-1986) explains, “In spite of all the confusion on the subject, you have a will and the solemn choice of standing or not standing on the Word of God. To be sure, it is all of God. God gives you air and lungs to breathe it, but you must do the breathing. He gives you truth and the capacity to believe it, but you must do the believing.”
There is the light of creation, the light of conscience, and the light of Christ. Those who receive the first two will be given the opportunity to receive the light of Christ. We must beware of rejecting the light on any level. Jesus warns in Matthew 13:12, “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
In Romans 10:8b-13, Paul the Apostle states, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) explains, "The Gospel is open to all; the most respectable sinner has no more claim on it than the worst."
Whoever may come!
James M. Gray, Bible Problems Explained, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1913), 93-94
Ron Rhodes, 1001 Unforgettable Quotes about God, Faith and the Bible, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2011), 114
W. Phillip Keller, Walking with God: Wholeness and Holiness for Common Christians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 105-106
Vance Havner, June 25 at 4:24 a.m., accessed 11/02/13, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=54831625333&story_fbid=10151476217820334
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones –Point by Point Profile, accessed 11/02/13, http://www.angelfire.com/zine/baptistsurfer/MLJ.html
Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey is author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on Amazon.com and WORDsearchbible.com
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