- Sermon Notes
The God-seeking Heart
January 8, 2023
The church was born early in the book of Acts and by the time you get to chapter 10, the church in Jerusalem was thriving, but then a great persecution arose against the church led by none other than Saul of Tarsus. He was considered enemy number one of the church.
And then, in an amazing turn of events, the greatest enemy of the church is literally blinded by light as he is struck off his high horse. For three days he remained physically blind, but God was opening the eyes of his heart as he received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and forgiver of his sins.
After this, the church throughout all of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed peace, and being built up in the faith, it continued to increase.
But as we come to Chapter 10, God is about to do something shocking, at least it was shocking to them. Up to this point, the church was for the most part Jewish. Whenever the disciples would travel from city to city, they would give the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Jews.
Jesus told them to take the Gospel even to the ends of the earth, but He didn’t mean for them to take the Gospel only to the Jews who might happen to live at the ends of the earth, although this might have been what they thought. God’s heart is for all people. Jesus said, “God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son…”
The story of Acts 10 is about two men, Cornelius and Peter. Cornelius is an officer of the army of Rome. He is a centurion from what was called the Italian cohort. Cornelius is an amazing man with a great heart. He sincerely seeks after God, he gives generously to the poor and he prays to God continually. He loves the light and God is about to give him more. Cornelius is hungry for the truth and he will receive more. He longs to be closer to God and he will receive the filling of the Holy Spirit.
The story is also about Peter and what God must do to change his heart so that the Gospel is given to all men. Some things need to change in Peter. You might say that God was going to soften him up.
These two men were in different stages of their lives, had different backgrounds, and even stood on opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet, they had one thing in common: both needed a heart after God to continue their journey of faith.
We will see in this study that God is constantly growing us. What we think we know now is not all there is to know.
Illus.- A grade 1 pupil cannot fathom that there will one day be a level of math called Calculus. Even showing it to him in grade 1 will discourage him very much. One must have grace with this pupil and reveal the course at the right time.
This is what God was also doing with Peter and Cornelius. At the right time, God was revealing the next step of His plan to them: The good news to all!
We need a heart after God to be led in His perfect plan and to live His best for us and His Kingdom.
I. Choose Whom You Will Become
- You get to choose what kind of heart you have. The word of God makes this very clear.
Proverbs 4:23, Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.
- This is an action one must take. You have a choice in what you allow into your heart.
Psalm 51:10, Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
- Some may say that this verse absolves us of a choice. God needs to give me a clean heart, but this is not so.
- Even this prayer is birthed out of a choice. The options are twofold. One is, “God leave my heart alone. I want to do with it what I want. I want to control what fills it.” Or the second one is, “God, I know that sometimes what is right and wrong is so confusing. I need your help to clean my heart and keep it clean. I need your guidance to show me the way. Create in me a clean heart, oh God…”
- There are many different conditions of the heart, but we are free to choose. Jesus said that the heart is like soil; there are many different types.
- Soil can be hard as clay, or filled with rocks, or there can be weeds, thorns, and thistles growing that choke out anything good. Soil can also be good and produce good fruit 30, 60, or 100-fold.
- One of the lessons that come out of this story is that the condition of our hearts matters to God. Another lesson that comes out of the story is that God is always moving to change hearts.
- If a heart is hard, it may need to be broken, because it needs to change. If a heart is hurting, God moves to bring healing. If a heart is good, God moves so that it might grow deeper.
- Cornelius has a heart that is hungry, that seeks after God and God is about to give him the greatest news the world can hear; God has sent His Son to forgive sins and bring the life of God that transforms.
Illus – The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “The true worth of a man can be measured by what he pursues.”
- What you chase after and focus on is what you will become.
Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
A. A good heart seeks after God
- As a typical Roman citizen, Cornelius had been exposed to the Roman gods; Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, and more, but he discovered the God of Israel and became devout. He gave generously to the Jewish poor and had a consistent and faithful prayer life.
- One of the key things about Cornelius, however, is that he feared God.
Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.”
- Having an awe of God and respect for Him is the beginning of wisdom. A small picture of this might be of having a good father whom you love very dearly, but don’t want to cross because you respect him.
Deuteronomy 10:12, “What does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
- Cornelius understood something that many people have yet to understand; your relationship with God should have a direct impact on how you live.
- Later we’ll read that he was well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews. He prayed and he gave.
- He gave many alms to the Jewish people. There is no doubt that a good heart is also generous, but I believe he gave because he was rich towards God.
- The good heart produces good actions, which then produces more of a good heart, which produces more good actions. And so the cycle continues.
Illus. – We all have heard the saying that it is better to give than to receive. It has become such a well-known saying that most people don’t even know that it is a biblical principle. (Acts 20:35) Those who have acted on this out of a good heart will be able to testify that this is true, be it praying for people, giving a gift to someone who has done nothing to deserve it, or doing community or missional work.
B. We all need Jesus
- Still, good works is not enough to save. Good works cannot wipe out sins. One day when we get to heaven, the good and the bad will not be tallied up to see if you end with a positive balance to be allowed into heaven. The sin will still be there and need to be punished. It needs to be dealt with. Sin cannot exist in the presence of a holy God.
- Whether we know it or not. Whether we recognize it or not. We all need Jesus.
- An angel of God appears to Cornelius with a message that he must send some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon Peter who will tell him what he must do.
- An interesting question; why didn’t God just explain the whole thing through the angel? It’s not their mission, it’s ours.
2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
- There is no question that Cornelius was a good man and if anyone would be considered qualified to enter heaven on his own merits it would be him, but he needed Jesus.
Romans 3:10, 23, “There is none righteous, not even one… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
Illus – Someone once came up to Bob Hope on the golf course thinking he would share the good news of Christ with him. But he responded, “Look, when you’ve given as much as I have to charity, then I’ll listen to you.”
- Unfortunately, or fortunately, sin isn’t erased that way.
- It is on the basis of faith in the name and finished work of Jesus that we receive forgiveness of sins. The sin must be canceled and forgiven, washed off the record. Only one thing can erase sin in heaven: The blood of Jesus.
- Meanwhile, back at the Tanner’s House, we get to Peter.
II. Discern the Will of God
- Peter was in Joppa up on the housetop about the sixth hour, or noon, to pray and, falling into a trance, has a vision.
- If the Gospel is to be brought to the Gentiles, Peter must change his heart, because God wanted to give grace to others, something that was foreign to Peter and wasn’t even part of his paradigm.
- The question arises: How do we discern the will of God and stay true to His course?
A. Pray Always
- This is a wonderful principle we need to take hold of.
- If you look back over the book of Acts, you will see all the wonderful things that have happened through Peter up to the stage. He did two sermons that sparked the birth of the church. When his shadow fell on people, they got healed and demons ran. When he laid his hands on people and prayed for them, they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
- We can say that God was moving mightily through Peter and that he was a great man of faith.
- It could be so easy for him to think that he had ‘arrived’and was so in step with God that prayer was unnecessary.
- But Peter knew better. He knew that without God he was nothing. He knew that the more God was using him the more he needed God and His direction.
Zechariah 4:6, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.’
- He saw this modeled by Jesus who, even though he was the son of God, took the time to go aside to pray and speak to his Father.
- We should take hold of this as a powerful principle. One can fall into the trap of ‘maturing’ as a Christian and knowing the Bible so well that you think you can be guided by your own wisdom and knowledge.
- This is not true, as this is not relationship. God’s heart for us is that we would be in an intimate relationship with Him, speaking to Him and giving Him space to ignite His will and truth in our hearts.
Illus. – Marriage doesn’t reach its pinnacle on the wedding day. That is the starting line. People who love each other seek for more and grow closer to each other and deeper in their relationship. They do get more comfortable, but they are always attentive to each other. Contrast this with an arrangement to get married to get a green card…
- God is continually changing our hearts if we surrender to Him, just as he was doing with Peter.
Illus. There is an old song we used to sing, ‘Change my heart o God, make it ever true…’
B. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading
- It was in this time of prayer that Peter was focused and open to the leading of God.
- In Peter’s vision, something like a sheet was lowered and there were in it all kinds of creatures that were unclean according to the Jewish Law. A voice came to him, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!”
- Peter responds, “By no means, Lord.” Many pastors and Bible teachers give Peter a really hard time here because he says no, by no means, for he had never eaten anything unholy and unclean.
- In Leviticus 11 there were clear instructions in regard to what they could and could not eat. Many people know, of course, the Jews are not allowed to eat bacon or ham, etc., but other things were less obvious. Jews are not allowed to eat owls, especially spotted owls, vultures, skunks, bats, or hoopoes.
Illus – These things would be detestable to Peter. This might be compared to a person, going to China from America and being abhorred to see all the things that they eat…
- Why was it necessary for this to happen three times?
- Peter may have thought this was a test and that a lesson would be drawn from his steadfast obedience but when he was told three times, it changed everything.
- In Middle Eastern culture there is a custom that when something is said three times it is meant sincerely. Persians would call it “tarof”. For example, a host is obliged to offer anything the guest might want, and a guest is equally obliged to refuse it up to three times and then you know it’s sincere.
Illus – There have been some interesting stories of this backfiring when a Persian meets an American…
- The third time he discerned that God was serious. He was perplexed and didn’t know what God was trying to tell him.
- The first truth we can take from this is that if he was not praying and open to the leading of God he could have totally missed a crucial junction in history. Being led by religion and tradition can close one off to what God is trying to do.
- But Peter was open to God’s leading, even though it was contrary to his paradigm at the time. He was waiting on God to bring clarity as to what the meaning of the vision was.
- As I said before, many times we don’t know what we don’t yet know. We cannot see all our blind spots or that which needs to change in us. But God knows and he knows exactly what needs to change and at what time it has to happen.
- Peter knew this because he had experience in this area. At one time he spoke the revelation that Jesus is the Son of God, and Jesus praised him for this. Not long after this, Jesus said that he would die and Peter said that he would not allow this, thinking he was showing his love for Jesus. But he had a blind spot and was not discerning the will of God, so Jesus looked at him and said ‘get behind me, Satan.’
- Peter knew that he might think he knows the right way, but that his own understanding might be wrong. He needed God to show him the way and he was open to where God led.
- God knows us, He knows our blind spots, He knows our future, and He knows His plan for us, which is the best plan possible.
- Sometimes God even uses our times of being perplexed, because when we come to the end of ourselves and surrender to Him, we are open to change so that God can do a deep work in our hearts.
- This vision wasn’t about food, it was about people. And it’s a great lesson. Even in the church, there are those who write other people off or are divided over unnecessary things.
- While Peter was perplexed as to how this vision might be applied, the men who had been sent by Cornelius appeared at the gate.
- But Peter immediately applies the lesson from his vision when he greets them and gives them lodging. Peter got the lesson. What a great example for us as well, to take hold of the lessons in God’s Word.
- We also need to discern what Peter discerned: do not call unclean what God has called clean. But the inverse is also true, do not call clean what God calls unclean.
- The message can easily be distorted to mean what it doesn’t mean. The message is this: all the unclean are welcome to repent and receive forgiveness for their sins and start on a journey where God changes them from being broken and hurting to being made whole by the grace of God to walk in the beautiful life that God has planned for them.
- This chapter of history ends with a glorious new dispensation that opened the grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, which ultimately resulted in all of us sitting here being able to be saved by the grace of God.
- We need to apply these principles, being prayerfully open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and having a heart after God so we can be in sync with what God is doing in the world, in the body of Christ, and in our own lives; to be effective in living out our Christian walk.
Acts 10:1-23 NASB
1 Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian [a]cohort, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many [b]alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. 3 About the [c]ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and [d]alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; 6 he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his [e]servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, 8 and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
9 On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the [f]sixth hour to pray. 10 But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he *saw the [g]sky opened up, and an [h]object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and [i]crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the [j]air. 13 A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, [k]kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything [l]unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider [m]unholy.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the [n]object was taken up into the [o]sky.
17 Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in [p]mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; 18 and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, [q]three men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go downstairs and accompany them [r]without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” 21 Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear [s]a message from you.” 23 So he invited them in and gave them lodging.