Sermon Options: May 5, 2024

March 29th, 2021

The Company He Keeps

Acts 10:44-48

Each day, if we pay attention to life around us, we will be surprised, maybe astonished, at things that happen to us. Acts 10 may be one of the most astonishing chapters in the New Testament, containing the story of Peter and Cornelius—the prime instance of Jewish Christianity pioneering into a Gentile culture.

“The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (v. 45). With this sentence, Luke portrays the astonished circumcised believers or Jewish Christians with Peter on his mission to Cornelius house. Most of chapter 10 is given over to the double visions experienced by both Peter and Cornelius—a divine conspiracy getting the two together. It was an unlikely meeting to say the least. Many Jews in the time of the New Testament simply had nothing to do with persons who were not Jewish. John 4:9, for instance, reports, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” This sentiment goes for Gentiles, too.

Peter, after receiving the vision of a large sheet coming down from heaven, is taken to Cornelius house. Cornelius, too, has been prepared by a vision for the reception of Peter. This is an implausible meeting because though Cornelius is a “God fearer,” he is simultaneously an officer in an enemy occupation force of an imperialistic superpower. Such Gentiles do not mix with Jews. Yet, with God anything can happen!

I. The Things We Leave Unsaid

An unspoken feeling among many hyper-religious people is that somehow they are superior to others by virtue of their religious status. This perspective operated in the Jewish community through a misunderstanding of the term “chosen people.” The chosen people were chosen not for special privilege, but rather to render service to others on behalf of Yahweh. They were to be “a light to the nations” or to the Gentiles. Thus, when the Jewish Christians with Peter saw the Holy Spirit poured out on the Gentiles in Cornelius house—they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God—they were jolted. Perhaps it is this pervasive attitude that caused Jesus to say he came not to be served, but to serve. Self-righteousness is never an edifying sight in the Body of Christ.

II. Astonishing Grace

No one who appreciates the wonder and mystery of God should be shocked by what Peter’s companions saw. After all, at the end of Luke’s Gospel, Peter is not much of a hero, yet he becomes the principal apostle after Jesus ascension. Whenever the unlikely, the astonishing, the wholly and holy unpredictable occurs, God’s grace may be at the bottom of it all.

Grace is the “wild card” in the deck. Grace is the basis of hope by which all persons need to survive, indeed thrive, in this life. In Thomas Friedman’s book From Beirut to Jerusalem, he talks about the innocent, can-do optimism the American marines brought with them to a horrible military situation in bombarded Beirut. Friedman says that even though both modern Jews and Arabs make fun of American optimism, “the truth is, deep down they welcome it.” For these societies, locked in bitter conflict spanning two millennia or more, a little optimism is a welcome change of pace.

Christians can bring the gift of grace to our world like the marines brought optimism to Beirut. In fact, it was grace that made the meeting between Peter and Cornelius not only possible, but even necessary. If grace can do this, just think what it could and will do in our world. If God’s holy grace struck before, then God’s holy grace can certainly do so again. (David N. Mosser)

The Obedience of Love

1 John 5:1-6

One of the phrases that best characterizes contemporary culture is: “No one can tell me what to do!” We live in a culture that worships choice, freedom, and rights, and has little time for responsibility, discipline, and obedience. A generation is moving into adulthood that has little conception of obedience, other than a practical rejection of the whole idea.

Thus, this passage rings terribly foreign to the contemporary ear. We are happy with the “love” part of the passage, since love is frequently understood as an emotion designed purely for personal pleasure and self-fulfillment. But the notion that love is demonstrated through obedience—particularly obedience to God—seems a radical concept indeed.

But there is a vital spiritual truth here: obedience is an essential mark of the Christian life. The natural question, then, is why—why should we obey God?

I. Obedience Grows out of Love (vv. 2-3)

It is as simple as that: “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments” (v. 3). If we claim to love God and yet consistently fail to be obedient to God’s will for our lives, we demonstrate the emptiness of our professed love. If we love Christ, we will naturally seek to be obedient to his direction and guidance for our lives.

When a man or woman falls in love, he or she wants to do all that is possible to please the object of his or her love. If your lady enjoys flowers, you delight in bringing her a bouquet. If your gentleman likes a good meat loaf, you face a hot oven (or microwave) to surprise him. Love wants to please the one that is loved.

God delights in the obedience of his people, and those who love God will seek to obey him.

II. Obedience Grows Out of Faith (v. 4)

Authentic faith in God produces obedience. As we place our faith in the Lord, we express our confidence in him; we trust that God cares for us and wants the best for us.

In the military, it is important that soldiers learn to give absolute obedience to the commanding officer. That concept of obedience is reinforced in every bit of training, in every drill, in every exercise. The reason is that if those soldiers ever have to go into battle, their survival and success will depend on the ability to function quickly and cohesively as a group. There won’t be time to explain every order and gain consensus; soldiers must be trained to instinctively obey, or they will lose the battle and perhaps their own lives.

God demands no less. He created us, and he loves us beyond any measure we can comprehend. If we truly place our faith in him, the result will be obedience to his word; we have confidence that whatever God wants us to do is for our best.

As we picture Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion and death, it is clear that he was not eager to go to the cross. He prayed earnestly that there might be another way. Nevertheless, he also said, “Yet not my will but yours be done.” Jesus trusted the Father and knew that the only sure path was the path of obedience.

So it is in our Christian walk. The only sure path—the path that leads to satisfaction and fulfillment—is the path of obedience. Christ calls you today to walk that path with him. (Michael Duduit)

Signs of Salvation

John 15:9-17

How do you know you’re saved?

Certainly, there’s only one requirement to “get in.” It’s as easy as Silas and Paul’s witness to the Philippian jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31) . Just as certainly, belief is confirmed by behavior.

What we say and do is an expression of what we believe, and what we believe determines our ultimate destiny. Martin Luther explained it this way in The Freedom of a Christian (1520): “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works” (cf. James 2:14-26).

I. Love Is a Sign of Salvation

The signs of salvation in a person’s life can be seen. As far as I can see, the time, talents, thoughts, and tithes that we manage for God are signs of salvation. People who worship, work, and witness show signs of salvation. There are measurable and visible signs of salvation.

But the greatest sign of salvation—the most distinguishing characteristic of Christianity—is love.

When Jesus charged us to “love each other,” he was lifting up love as the greatest sign of salvation. Within the context of his entire teaching and biblical revelation, loving others is how we express our love for God and loving God is how we get to heaven.

It’s easy to see where we’re going.

It’s spelled l-o-v-e.

The word is agape. It means praying and working for the highest good for others regardless of who, what, where, or when, without the expectation of receiving anything in return. The pattern for this kind of love, of course, is Jesus who said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” ( John 13:34-35 NIV).

Christians love like Jesus. Christians pray and work to say the things that Jesus would say and do the things that Jesus would do. That’s what it means to love. It means to be like Jesus. It means to love like Jesus. And that, by the way, is a good definition of Christianity.

II. Love Is an Obligation of Salvation

Jesus didn’t ask us to love. He commanded us to love (vv. 12-17). Love isn’t an option for Christians. Apart from inviting Jesus into the heart as personal Lord and Savior, it’s the most essential ingredient of being a Christian. That’s why it’s the greatest sign of salvation.

It has been said, “You can be right about every area of theology and polity but wrong about Jesus and you’re dead wrong and can lose your soul. You can be wrong about every area of theology and polity but right about Jesus and you will be saved.” Being right about Jesus is proved by our love. As the song goes: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” (Robert R. Kopp)

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