Text: Acts 10:34-48
Date: Easter VI + 5/13/12
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! For thirty-six days now the Lord, risen from the dead, has appeared alive to His disciples. Quoting St. Paul’s list, “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time…. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor 15:5-8). But that appearance was some time after the event we celebrate this Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter, our Lord’s last appearance and His Ascension into heaven. There the last thing He said to His disciples echoed the first thing God said to Abraham of old. As God promised that through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, so our Lord commanded to make disciples of all nations. The salvation of God is not for the Jews only but through the Jews to all people everywhere. That was the burden for Peter’s understanding as the preaching of the apostles began to awaken even the Gentiles who heard. As the mighty Word of the gospel awakened the Ethiopian eunuch who asked Philip, “See, here is water. What prevents me from being baptized?” so St. Peter asked, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Last Sunday we heard of the necessity of baptism with water. Today we hear about more faith and More Water!
At first the Christian movement would appear and be expected to be a movement within the Jewish community. The Messiah was God’s promise to His people Israel. He was of the Hebrew lineage of the great King David. Though a few Samaritans and Gentiles were drawn to Him during His earthly ministry, as He said to a Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). Even on the instrument of His execution the sign read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (Mk 15:26). His connection and identity with the Jewish people was pretty clear. It would therefore be expected that the salvation through the forgiveness of sins brought about by the Jewish Messiah’s death and resurrection would also be for the Jews. And it was! (And it is!) But what about the “nations” of “the uttermost parts of the earth”? What about these Gentiles who were drawn and heard the Good News and believed? You can easily imagine the difficulty for the first leaders of the Church. The question was, do Gentile converts need to become Jews first in order to then become complete Jews in Christ, Christians? This would be answered in the Council of Jerusalem reported in Acts chapter 15. But it began with Peter here in Acts chapter 10.
It began with a Gentile Roman soldier named Cornelius, whom St. Luke tells us was “a devout man who feared God” (Acts 10:2). He was directed by an angel to seek out Peter. Before he arrived at Peter’s house, however, Peter himself was given a vision, the famous vision of the sheet containing all kinds of animals, both clean and unclean according to the list of Jewish dietary laws (Lev 11), and the command, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven (Acts 10:13-16).
It was as Peter was wondering about this vision that the centurion Cornelius showed up at his door. It was then over in Caesarea the next day together with some of “Cornie’s” relatives and friends that Peter preached the sermon we heard in today’s lesson.
Peter proclaimed the shockingly new revelation and understanding, “that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34-35). To fear God and to do what is right is to believe in Him and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3). He then preached and proclaimed Jesus to them, first, His earthly ministry of preaching, teaching and healing summarized in the words, “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (v. 38). So to this day has not Jesus done good to you, has not His blessing and direction been behind the twists and turns of your life? As we sing in the hymn,
Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
Has blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today. (LSB 895)
The Lord has worked everything together in your life to serve your ultimate good as He promised. So faith sings even in the midst of trials,
If thou but trust in God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move.
God never yet forsook in need
The soul that trusted Him indeed. (LSB 750)
But then Peter preached especially our Lord’s sacrificial death and amazing resurrection. He told them how they, as eye witnesses “who had been chosen by God…who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead,” were commanded to preach to all concerning Jesus, “the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” This was quite a thorough and complete sermon outlined for us in few words. Was the sermon longer than that? Maybe…. Maybe not! The effect or power of God’s Word related in a sermon does not necessarily depend on its length.
Anyway, maybe it was cut short by God Himself as, we are told, that it was “while Peter was still speaking” that “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word,” demonstrated by the sign of praising God in other languages. It was at this that Peter asked the question, expecting a negative answer, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing [these] people…?” And “He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Notice already, maybe even without it crossing his mind, these Gentiles were welcomed fully into the Church without concern for circumcision or anything of the old covenant!
What more can you want? What more can you ask for? Baptized into Christ you have been welcomed, redeemed, restored, forgiven and made members of His body, the one, holy Church of all ages. Whatever troubles come your way you need not fear because you have been given “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all).” You, too “eat and drink with him” and, more importantly, of Him in the Sacrament of the Altar. For together we look for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” where “God is not ashamed to be called [our] God, for He has prepared for [us] such a city” (Heb 11:16). Another hymn comes to mind that describes that faith of the baptized:
I’m but a stranger here,
Heav’n is my home….
And I shall surely stand
There at my Lord’s right hand;
Heav’n is my fatherland,
Heav’n is my home. (LSB 748)
Rest assured, calm and without fear. Nothing prevented you from being baptized. Nothing will ever be able to prevent you or separate you “from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39). Trust in Him with a thankful heart.