- Sermon Notes
A Heart After God
A sincere and authentic faith begins with a heart after God. How important is the heart? God said, “God sees not as man sees; men look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” God loves a good and faithful heart, but even hearts that are good need to be changed. This is the story of God transforming lives by transforming hearts.
The church was born early in the book of Acts and by chapter ten, the church in Jerusalem was thriving. But then a great persecution arose against the church led by none other than the dreaded Saul of Tarsus. Followers of Jesus considered Saul the number one enemy of the Church.
In an amazing turn of events, the greatest enemy of the church is blinded by light and he is literally knocked 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 Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, and being built up in the faith, it continued to increase.
But in Chapter 10, God was 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 bring the gospel of Jesus to the Jews.
Peter was no doubt proud of his Jewish heritage and for good reason, God said Israel was His chosen people, they received the promises of God and they knew that the Jewish Messiah would bless the whole world.
The Jews considered Gentiles unclean so they created rules and traditions that were not biblical. Jews would not eat with the Gentiles, nor would they eat food that was prepared by a Gentile. They would not invite them into their house, nor sit at a table with them.
Jesus told the disciples to take the Gospel 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. God’s heart is for all people. Jesus said, “God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son…” Someone famously said, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
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. There is an interesting principle that Jesus taught in several places, “To everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance.” This was true for Cornelius. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about to be offered to the Gentile world and it all begins with Cornelius.
The story is also about Peter and what God must do to change his heart so the Gospel can be given to the gentiles. Some things need to change in Peter. God was even preparing Peter for this. As Peter was traveling through these parts he was called upon to heal two different Gentile people.
The first was a man named Aeneas who had been paralyzed for eight years. Peter said to him, “Arise, and make your bed.” Those are powerful words. I’ve said those same words to our kids many times, but not with the same result.
I. Choose Who You Will Be
- You get to choose what kind of heart you will have.
Illus – Several years ago our granddaughter did something that was, let’s say, less than obedient. I asked her what was happening, and she said, “That was my naughty self.”I responded, “You get to choose what self you will be.”
- There are many different conditions of the heart, but we are free to choose. Jesus said the heart is like soil; there are different types.
- Soil can be hard as clay, or filled with rocks, or there can be weeds, thorns, and thistles that choke out anything good.
- But soil can also be good and produce fruit 30, 60, or 100 fold.
- One of the lessons that comes from this story is that the condition of our heart matters to God. Another lesson is that God is always working to change hearts.
- If a heart is hard, it may need to be broken, because it needs to be changed. If a heart is hurting, God moves to bring healing. If a heart is good, God moves 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 could hear; God has sent His Son to forgive sins and bring the life of God that transforms.
Illus – The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once said, “The true worth of a man can be measured by what he pursues.”
Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
- As a typical Roman citizen, Cornelius was familiar with 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 a respect for Him is the beginning of wisdom. An analogy of this might be of having a good father whom you love very dearly, but don’t want to cross him 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 to 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.
Illus – There is a great story I read called, “The Rich Family in Church,” by Eddie Ogan…
A. We all need Jesus
- 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
- An interesting question; why didn’t God just explain the whole thing through the angel? Answer: 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, because it is on the basis of faith in His name that we receive forgiveness of sins.
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 to charity as I have, then I’ll listen to you.”
- Bob Hope was very funny; but he was no Cornelius.
Deuteronomy 10:17, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality… nor does He take a bribe.”
- Meanwhile, back at the tanner’s house…
II. Let God’s Word Instruct Your Heart
- Peter is in Joppa, a small port town not far from Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport.
- Peter was up on the housetop about the sixth hour, or noon, to pray and, falling into a trance, had a vision.
- If the Gospel is to be brought to the Gentiles, Peter must change his heart.
A. Be teachable
- 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 the Jews were clear instructions in regard to what they could and could not eat. Many people know, of course, the Jews are not to eat bacon or ham, etc., other things were less obvious. For example, 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 healthy vegetarian, being told to eat a burrito from Taco Bell or a hot dog from 7-11.
- Why was it necessary for this to happen three times?
- I can think of two possibilities. Peter may have thought this was a test and that a lesson would be drawn from his steadfast obedience.
- There was an example of this very thing in Jeremiah 35. God used the resolute spirit of the Rechabites to teach Israel a lesson.
Illus – Jeremiah was told to bring the Rechabites into the house of the Lord and to set before the men pitchers full of wine, and cups, and say to them, “Drink wine!” But they responded, “We will not drink wine, for our father Jonadab commanded us, saying, ‘You shall not drink wine; you or your sons, forever.’” Then came the lesson…
Jeremiah 35:13-14, “Will you not receive instruction by listening to My words?” declares the Lord. “The words of Jonadab, by which he instructed his sons not to drink wine are observed… For they have obeyed their father’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again; yet you have not listened to Me.”
- Peter may have been demonstrating the same heart of obeying God’s Word, but when he was told three times, it changed everything.
- In the Middle Eastern culture there is a custom that when something is said three times then it is meant sincerely. Persians would call it “taarof.” 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…
- This 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 divide 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 applied the lesson from this 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.
- There are several ways this truth that Peter learned must be applied. First, the truth of the Gospel must be brought to those whom the disciples avoided.
- Second, and perhaps looking at it a bit in reverse, we must be careful not to call clean what God calls unclean. That’s a lesson that will transform your life.
- Finally, we can apply what Peter learned personally. Many people struggle accepting God’s complete forgiveness and continue carrying a great burden.
Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Acts 10:1-23 NASB