THREE PEOPLE WHO CHANGED THE WORLD
Acts 10:38-44, 11:18
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 30, 2016
38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.
— Acts 10:38
The book of Acts tells how the first Christians carried out the Great Commission of our Lord. Thousands came to Christ in Jerusalem during the first Pentecost after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Persecution led by the pharisee Saul of Tarsus moved the messengers of the gospel into Samaria to spread the word. Then, after the Lord saved Saul of Tarsus and turned him into the Apostle Paul, the gospel was taken from “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, to the end of the earth” (ref. Acts 1:8).
In the middle part of Acts (ref. Acts 10:1-11:18) there is a key turning point that ultimately opens the door for Paul and others to broadcast the gospel world-wide. Three persons were instrumental in this monumental moment: one was a pagan, one was a preacher, and the other one is a person above all other persons on planet earth. Three sermons will tell their story, the story of three people who changed the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The first one mentioned in this turnkey text is Cornelius, the head of a Gentile family and officer over a Roman army, the first major Gentile to come to Christ. The second one is the eminent Apostle Simon Peter, who preached the gospel to Cornelius and his house. The third person is three persons in one, God.
God created the world, though not as we know it. That is because shortly after creation, the world was marred by sin, strife, and death. But God takes the world He made and we messed up and changes it one person at a time, with the gospel. Working within His divine and mysterious tri-unity, or trinity, each person of the one Godhead plays a role in salvation. God the Son accomplished salvation with His life, death, and resurrection, which is the gospel. God the Spirit takes the gospel and applies it to the human heart, regenerating and indwelling. God the Father, who sent the Son and sends forth the Spirit, is sovereign over all.
God the Son
39 And we are witnesses of all that [Jesus] 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."
— Acts 10:39-43, ESV
The gospel is a story told all throughout the Bible. From Genesis to the Gospels, from the Garden of Eden to the Upper Room, God gave signs that point to salvation for sinners. It is a sign seen in the animal sacrifice that clothed Adam and Eve with warmth and forgiveness. It is a sign seen in the Passover, in the blood placed cross-shaped over the doors of Jewish homes. It is a sign seen in Yom Kippur, in the high priest’s handling of the sacrificial and the scape goat. It is a sign seen in the Last Supper, shared by the great High Priest with His disciples, in the passing of the bread and the wine. It is a sign pointing to the theological truth that sin separates God from man and must be atoned for by flesh and blood. Through death, God gives life.
God came to us in the flesh in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ (ref. John 1:1-14). He lived perfectly and loved completely as He fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Covenant. He inaugurated the New Covenant, and in the words of Peter’s sermon, “They put Him to death … and He rose from the dead.” This is the gospel, plain and simple, profound and spiritual. The gospel is the person and work of Jesus Christ who came into the world to change the world with the gospel, for “everyone who believes in Him.”
Jesus does not care what color or race you are, as this section of the book of Acts illustrates with the salvation of Saul of Tarsus (a descendent of Shem, an Asian), the Ethiopian eunuch (a descendent of Ham, an African), and Cornelius (a descendent of Japheth, a European). Jesus does not care if you are rich or poor, although He admitted that the gospel is harder for rich people to accept. Jesus just cares whether or not you believe in Him, that He came to save you from your sin and give you forgiveness and eternal life. Upon that basis will He “judge the living and the dead.”
Do you believe the gospel? If so, praise the Lord! Now, let me show you how and why you came to believe.
God the Spirit
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.
— Acts 10:44, ESV
The gospel is a historical fact, but it is also a spiritual truth. Therefore, it cannot be understood or applied apart from the work of God the Spirit, the Holy Spirit (ref. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14). Jesus explained that it is the Holy Spirit who comes to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (ref. John 16:8).
When “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” at Cornelius’ house, they were convicted of the sin, disobedience, and unfaithfulness in their lives. They realized in spite of any relative good in them or religious activity done by them, they needed to be right with God through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It dawned on them that a judgment day was surely coming, and only those who repented and believed the gospel could be saved. And saved many of them were, because of the coming of Jesus Christ combined with the falling of the Holy Spirit.
Paul wrote to Titus, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” This is the “how” of salvation. How can a person be convicted of sin and need of the gospel? How can a person be cleansed from sin and filled with God? How can a person repent and believe and be saved?
God the Son, Jesus Christ, gave His life for the gospel. God the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, rides on the wind of the word of God to deliver the gospel to the human heart. But it is God the Father who ultimately ordains and elects to change a person’s world with the gospel.
God the Father
11:18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."
— Acts 11:18, ESV
You became a Christian when you believed. God the Son gave you something to believe in. God the Spirit enabled you to believe. God the Father actually gave you belief, faith, the opening of the gift of salvation. Consider these verses: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (ref. Ephesians 2:8) and, “to those who have received a faith” (ref. 2 Peter 1:1).
The flip side of faith is repentance. It, too, is less an act of man than it is an overt gift from God, just as the text tells us in Acts 11:18. Jesus gave us something to turn to. The Holy Spirit enables us to turn. But turning to God is a gift from God, that God gives to whosoever He wills.
Salvation is something that seems to be in the control of man. Pelagian, Arminian, and free will theology all assert that in the gospel God has done His part, but you must do your part in order to be saved, and you are the arbiter, the decider. If the gospel was only about God the Son, that might be true.
But God the Spirit is heavily and heavenly involved, and no man can control the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus said to Nicodemus in the third chapter of John, the Holy Spirit is like the wind that blows or ceases according to God’s power, not man’s. And God the Son and God the Spirit are under the authority and sovereignty of God the Father, who chose who would be saved before any saved person chose God, who gives faith before anyone believes, and grants repentance before anyone turns away from sin and selfishness to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Human experience sees only the Son in salvation. May I say, if you are not saved, that’s all you need to see right now. Look to Jesus, born of a virgin, living in perfection, dying as substitution, resurrected as Lord. Repent and believe in Him today, and you will be saved.
Once you are saved, though, start studying your Bible. It will teach you that the gospel is not about one person, but three persons in one. You will see the Son often, and rejoice. You will begin to see the Spirit, and marvel. And when you see God the Father, in all of His sovereign fulness, you will be humbled, awed, and your desire will be to worship Him every single day. In ever increasing measures, the three persons who are the one true and living God will change your world.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org