Acts 10:34-48 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series B)
“The Spirit Does it Again!”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 10, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the First Lesson recorded in Acts 10:
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us 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. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled sermon to bring you breaking news out of Caesarea. Our sister station, WROM, is reporting that the Holy Spirit has done it again! Not many days ago we brought you the report of Philip who was preaching the Gospel to all the towns until he reached Caesarea. It was Philip who broke that story that an Ethiopian eunuch had heard the proclamation about Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, and that the Holy Spirit created faith in the Ethiopian’s heart to believe in Jesus as his Savior from sin and death. Having come to faith through the Word of the Gospel, when Philip and the Ethiopian came to some water, there was no reason why this man could not be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So Philip baptized him.
Now we have an eyewitness report that the Holy Spirit has again created saving faith in Jesus Christ through the Gospel and an entire household of Romans has been baptized into the Christian faith, just like the Ethiopian official.
The information comes to us by way of one of the household slaves named Servitus. He says that four days ago his master, Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, was praying in his home. Cornelius believed in the God of Israel. We are told that he was a devout man who gave alms generously to the people and prayed continually to God. (Acts 10:2, 30) While he was praying, Servitus reports, a man stood before him in bright clothing and said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter.” And Cornelius did just that. When Peter arrived from Joppa, the whole household, including children and servants, gathered together in Peter’s presence to hear all that he had been commanded by the Lord. (Acts 10:31-33)
It is then that Peter opened his mouth and said that he now really understood that God doesn’t show favoritism. God doesn’t have any favorites between one nation and another, between one race of people and another, but anyone who fears the Lord and acts rightly is acceptable to Him. Servitus says that this, in itself, was great news. God didn’t count the Gentiles, non-Israelites, as second-class believers. But there was a word sent to Israel about Jesus of Nazareth, who Himself is Lord of all, that the household of Cornelius needed to hear. Peter was a witness of Jesus’ anointing with the Holy Spirit and power, just as Isaiah the prophet had spoken about the promised Messiah, “The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Yahweh’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus had read these words in the synagogue in Nazareth and proclaimed them fulfilled in His ministry.
Servitus then went on to say that it was this very Jesus, the Servant of Yahweh, who was put to death on a tree, on a Roman cross. But God raised Him from the dead on the third day! And Peter and the other apostles saw Jesus alive. They ate and drank with Him. And Jesus commissioned them to proclaim to the people and to testify solemnly that He is the One appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. Jesus is the One to whom all the prophetic writing of the Scripture point, and everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through His name!
And then it happened! Again! While Peter was still speaking the Good News of Jesus to us, Servitus said, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the Word! As He did for the Ethiopian, through the means of the Gospel Word about Jesus the Son of God, the Son of Man, Cornelius and the whole household received the gift of the Holy Spirit who created saving faith in Christ in their hearts. They spoke in other languages and exalted God who had loved them so much that He gave His only Son to die for their sins and win their forgiveness! It was like the Day of Pentecost for these Gentile Romans! Seeing what God the Holy Spirit had done through the proclaimed Word of Jesus Christ the Savior, Peter commanded that the entire household who had come to faith by the power of the Spirit should receive Christian baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What a great and amazing God and Savior who desires all people, no matter who they are or what their background, to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Truly, we should all thank God the Holy Spirit who so powerfully uses the Word of the Gospel to deliver these gifts of Jesus to us. This has been a special report from Caesarea. We return you now to your regularly scheduled sermon.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear this kinds of news today? But is it truly newsworthy what God does in bringing people to saving faith in Jesus Christ? Should people know about how non-believers hear the Good News about Jesus and, through the hearing of the Word, receive faith, forgiveness, and salvation? Apparently we should hear and know of these things because Luke recorded it for us here in Acts. Even today the works of God the Holy Spirit should be praised and honored as He works through the Means of Grace—the Gospel, Holy Baptism, and Lord’s Supper—to create saving faith in Christ, to sustain saving faith in Christ, and to deliver to us personally forgiveness and life. Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Galatians, “Faith . . . is a living spiritual flame, by which hearts are set afire, born anew and converted through the Holy Spirit, so that they desire, will, do, and are exactly what the law of Moses expressly commands and requires.” (AE 36:200-201) Isn’t this noteworthy? Is this not cause for rejoicing? God the Holy Spirit changes hearts and lives from death to life. People are radically changed by the Spirit from unbelief to faith, from condemnation to complete forgiveness. When you and I speak God’s Word of Gospel faithfully to others, while we are “speaking the fire of the Holy Spirit” He will “inflame the hearts of [our] hearers and immediately make them warm and eager to carry out all [we] are teaching.” (Origen)
That’s great news! That’s amazing grace! God the Holy Spirit uses your proclamation about Jesus Christ the same way He used the preaching of Philip and Peter—to create saving faith in the hearts of those who hear the Gospel, delivering forgiveness and salvation to all in the name of Jesus Christ.
So why aren’t we more excited about it? Why don’t we celebrate and rejoice more over what God does in bringing people to faith through the sharing of His Word? I don’t know that I have a good answer to this yet. Sometimes it seems as though we as the Church lose the passion for being the Church. Our excitement over the things of God wanes as we become more engrossed with the mundane things of this earthly life. The waves of riots and unrest, natural disasters, racism, hatred, and bigotry come crashing down around us. The breakers of disease and pain, anxiety and depression roll over us. The changes and chances of life flood the joy of the Spirit.
But Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Lord, says to us in His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) John, writing the Word of God by the inspiration of God the Spirit, says in our Epistle this morning, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)
You, the baptized people of God in Christ Jesus, have overcome the world by grace through faith. Christ has conquered sin, death, and the devil for you. His blood-bought forgiveness brings you eternal life and peace with God the Father in the power of the Spirit. Jesus’ victory is your victory. It is victory in the face of the effects of sin and death. It is victory that comes to you feely in the Word and the Sacraments of Christ. And it is a victory that you can share and celebrate with others! In the original Star Wars, A New Hope, Princess Leia sends a message via R2-D2 to Ben Kenobi, saying, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” People suffering in their sins and lost in unbelief are calling out to the Church, to you, the baptized, “Help me. You’re my only hope.”
You as a Christian are peoples’ only hope to know Jesus Christ. You have the Good News of
the Savior to share with others. You have the proclamation of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that you can speak to others so that, as you share the Word of the Gospel just as Peter did, God the Holy Spirit will have opportunity to create trust in Jesus in the heart of that person or family, deliver the forgiveness of sins to them, and unite them with Jesus’ death and resurrection in the waters of Baptism.
In Acts 11, Peter shared his story that the Gentiles also had received the Word of God. He concluded, “If then God gave the same gift to them as He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” Take note of the reaction: “They glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, do not stand in the way of God’s Word. Share it. Proclaim it. Live it. Share your stories when you tell others about Jesus so that we can all rejoice in what God does through His Word in bringing those who hear that Word to faith in Jesus Christ, giving them repentance that leads to life. Amen.