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Peter & Cornelius – Two Lives Transformed

When we began our study of the book of Acts back in early summer, I mentioned to you that the title of this book may not be the most accurate. Of course, the author Luke didn’t name this book – it was written as a letter to a man named Theophilus. But today in most of our Bibles, this book is commonly referred to as ”The Acts of the Apostles”.

However, for the last several chapters that we’ve gone through, the story hasn’t revolved around the Apostles at all! We’ve seen God do some amazing things through the lives of guys like Stephan and Philip. These two were not apostles, but rather were administrators in the church – their job was to make sure all the widows and orphans and those in need were taken care of! But of course, that certainly didn’t discount them from sharing about Jesus wherever they went – and as we’ve seen – God used both of these guys to spread the Gospel far beyond the borders of Jerusalem!

And then last week, we were introduced to three new characters who all played a very significant role in the growth of the church! Most obviously, we saw the Holy Spirit totally transform Saul from being a murderous zealot trying to destroy the church into a passionate evangelist who would do more than most to build and strengthen the church! And in addition to Saul, we also met Barnabas & Ananias – again, not apostles, but just faithful men led by the Holy Spirit – and who played significant roles in the salvation and transformation of Saul.

So it really isn’t a book about the Acts of the Apostles – but rather it’s a book about the amazing Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles and the many other faithful men and women who yielded themselves to the Spirit’s leading.

Which leads us now into today’s passage. Today the focus shifts back once again to the apostle Peter. And while we are going to see the Holy Spirit do some amazing things through Peter, perhaps more significantly, we’re going to see the Holy Spirit do some amazing things in Peter!

Because just like how Saul needed to be transformed from the inside out – so did Peter! And so do you and I!

All of us need the Holy Spirit to radically transform us to become more and more like Christ! And certainly that process had already begun for Peter some time ago, but we’re going to see another significant step in his journey towards Christ-likeness today.

We finished off last week with Saul being sent to his home town of Tarsus. He’s going to hang out there for a while – growing in his understanding of the Gospel and in his relationship with Christ – until Barnabas goes to find him in Acts chapter 11. And at that point they’ll go on to minister in Antioch and help start the first church there!

But until then, the story shifts back to follow Peter for a while. And there are three incidents in the next couple of chapters that are recorded for us from the life and ministry of Peter at this time – two shorter ones first – and then a much longer and more detailed one. 

And it initially seems like the three are just a selection of snapshots – just some random examples of the ministry that God was doing through Peter at this time. But I think Luke is doing more than just that. He’s writing about these particular events in the life & ministry of Peter for a reason. I believe he wants us to see, not only how the Holy Spirit was working in the world, but also to see how God was working in Peter’s life – transforming Him into the likeness of Christ. So let’s take a look.

It says in Acts chapter 9, verse 32:

32 Meanwhile, Peter traveled from place to place, and he came down to visit the believers in the town of Lydda. 33 There he met a man named Aeneas, who had been paralyzed and bedridden for eight years. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up, and roll up your sleeping mat!” And he was healed instantly. 35 Then the whole population of Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas walking around, and they turned to the Lord.

Acts 9:32-35

Now this miracle is not completely unlike the miracle Peter & John had done earlier in Acts – when they healed the lame man at the temple. It was an astonishing act of healing done in the name of Jesus – and as a result, many turned to the Lord!

But what’s interesting about this particular miracle is the similarity it shares with the miracle that Jesus had done for the paralyzed man who had been lowered down through the roof by his friends! You remember that from Luke chapter 5. The paralyzed man couldn’t get to Jesus because of the crowd, so his friends tore a hole in the roof to lower him down in front of Jesus. Jesus saw their faith and said, “Your sins are forgiven” which of course made the Pharisees get all huffy – thinking to themselves that no one but God can forgive sins! And so Jesus replies in Luke chapter 5 verse 24…

24 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

25 And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God.

Luke 5:24-25

So when you compare these two stories, you can see there are a few similarities – particularly in what both Jesus and Peter say to the paralyzed man in their respective stories— almost as if Peter was mimicking Jesus. Which of course, is exactly what a disciple is supposed to do! A disciple is an apprentice! He’s suppose to learn how to become like his teacher – doing what His teacher does – saying what his teacher says! 

And I think that’s what we’re seeing here as Peter heals this paralyzed man in the name of Jesus – commanding him to get up, grab his sleeping mat, and get going – just like what Peter had seen Jesus do earlier.

Now maybe I’m reading into things too much – and perhaps that wasn’t Luke’s intent to show how Peter was now imitating his master. Maybe that’s too much of a stretch to say that… But just hold that thought for now and let’s take a look at the next little story. We continue now in Acts 9 verse 36…

36 There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. 37 About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room. 38 But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”

39 So Peter returned with them; and as soon as he arrived, they took him to the upstairs room. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other clothes Dorcas had made for them. 40 But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Tabitha.” And she opened her eyes! When she saw Peter, she sat up! 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then he called in the widows and all the believers, and he presented her to them alive.

42 The news spread through the whole town, and many believed in the Lord.

43 And Peter stayed a long time in Joppa, living with Simon, a tanner of hides.

Acts 9:36-43

Now this really is an incredible miracle! The apostles had done a lot of amazing things in the name of Jesus up to this point, but none of them had ever commanded a dead person to rise from the dead! And of course, I do want to emphasize that it’s not Peter doing this miracle in or through Himself, but it’s God’s working through Peter! But still, God had never done anything like this through any apostles before!

However, Jesus had done something very similar to this some time earlier. In Mark 5 the daughter of a man named Jarius had become sick  and so Jairus begged Jesus to come and heal her, but sadly while Jesus was on the way, she had died – but Jesus continued to the man’s house and we read in Mark 5:37…

37 Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James). 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing. 39 He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

40 The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying. 41 Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” 42 And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed.

Mark 5:37-42

Now again, there are several similarities between these two stories, but here’s what struck me – and I wouldn’t have noticed this if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me, but what Jesus says to the little girl in Aramaic “Talitha koum” (or “Little girl, get up”) is almost identical in the original language to what Peter says to Tabitha when he tells her to arise – he says “Tabitha koum”. 

Those two phrases have just one letter of difference between “Talitha koum” and “Tabitha koum”… Is that just a coincidence or is Peter purposely following the pattern and example of Jesus?

And again, maybe it is just a coincidence, but it certainly appears to me that Peter has begun to follow in his master’s footsteps – doing what he saw Jesus do and saying what He heard Jesus say!

And just as a point of application for us, this is exactly what we should be striving to do as well. Not that we need to go around doing miracles and raising people from the dead (as awesome as that would be) – but we should do our best to mimic the example and the patterns of Jesus. We’re told in Romans 8:29 that God’s plan and purpose for our lives is that we become like Christ. It says..

“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Romans 8:29

We’re told specifically in Philippians 2:5…

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” Philippians 2:5

Jesus Himself tells us to follow his example in John 13:15 – 

“I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” John 13:15

It seems clear that our purpose and goal in this life is to become like Christ.

So let me just ask you this one question: How well does your life reflect the example, the character, and the attitude of Jesus? Are you, like Peter, following in the footsteps of your Lord and Master? Are you being transformed into the likeness of Christ?

And I know that might be a disheartening question because none of us can live up to the standard of Christ – there’s no way that we can fully follow His sinless example. As human beings born with a sinful nature, we just can’t do it. But before you get discouraged are tempted to just give up trying, let me just add this one qualifier: Following Christ not a skill that we’re going to master in this lifetime. It’s a lifelong (and I do mean life-LONG) process. The Holy Spirit’s transformation of our lives is a continuing work. We’re not going to fully be like Christ until we go to be with Him for eternity. So don’t expect perfection – just expect progress.

And that’s just what we see with Peter. He has made some incredible progress since his earlier days! Remember how he rebuked Jesus for taking about dying in Jerusalem or later how he denied even knowing Jesus. Remember how he refused to let Jesus wash his feet – or the time he slashed off the ear of that guy who came to arrest Jesus? Peter’s made some great progress since then. But he’s not there yet. Even though we see him now speaking like Jesus and acting like Jesus, we’re going to see in the next chapter, that he’s still not thinking like Jesus. But don’t worry – God is working on that too. So let’s take a look. Acts chapter 10 now – starting at verse 1.

In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. 2 He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. 3 One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.

4 Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel.

And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! 5 Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.”

7 As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. 8 He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.

Acts 10:1-8

Now just a quick note before we continue reading: You’ll notice that this Roman army officer, Cornelius, was the captain of the Italian Regiment. Apparently were 32 such Italian regiments throughout the Roman empire at this time. Each regiment was made up of fiercely patriotic Italian volunteers and were considered to be the most loyal of Roman troops! These men were true Romans through and through. And Cornelius was their captain. And so as you might imagine, any patriot Jew would automatically have an extreme prejudice against these guys. For most Jews, the Romans were the enemy and no one wanted anything to do with them.

However, God had no such prejudice against Cornelius. In fact, we’re told that Cornelius was a devout, God-fearing man who prayed to God and gave generously to the poor. And because of his devotion to God, God had chosen Cornelius for a special meeting with Peter. So let’s see what happens. Verse 9 now.

9 The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, 10 and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. 12 In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”

14 “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”

15 But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” 16 The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.

Acts 10:9-16

Now at this point, Peter had no idea what this vision was all about. In fact, the very next verse tells us that Peter was very perplexed. It just didn’t make sense! The laws of the Torah had very clearly taught that Jews were not allowed to eat any of ‘unclean’ animals –  Animals like pigs or lizards or owls or things like that – animals that were all represented in the sheet that was presented to Peter with the instructions “kill & eat”. And so naturally, Peter resisted. He says, “No Lord, I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”

And you can really hear the ‘old Peter’ in that statement. The Peter that resists the Lord’s leading – rather than follow in his footsteps. “NO Lord”, he says. 

Those are two words that should never go together – “No” and “Lord” don’t belong in the same sentence! Especially not from a guy who’s trying to following in the Lord’s footsteps!

And so God responses gentle but firmly: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.”

Now of course, Peter still didn’t really understand the lesson that was to be learned here – but since God had repeated the vision three times, he knew it must be important! But what on earth did it all mean? Well, that would all become very clear very shortly. Verse 17.

17 Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house. Standing outside the gate, 18 they asked if a man named Simon Peter was staying there.

19 Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. 20 Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them.”

21 So Peter went down and said, “I’m the man you are looking for. Why have you come?”

22 They said, “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.” 23 So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

24 They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” 27 So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.

Acts 10:17-27

Now just so you know, what Peter had just done by entering into the house of a Gentile – and a Gentile who was a loyal solider for the Romans at that! – completely went against every Jewish standard and tradition. To enter the house of gentile was almost as bad as… as… as talking to a Samaritan woman at a well! It just wasn’t done by any respectable Jew! But I guess Peter was beginning to think and act more and more like Jesus.  He was beginning to understand what God meant when God said “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” And so, Verse 28 continues:

28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.

Acts 10:28-35

Now you have to appreciate what a huge shift this was in Peter’s thinking! All his life he had been taught that God did show favouritism! That God loved the Jews and hated the Gentiles. In fact, it was common for a Jewish man to begin his day by thanking God that He was not a slave, a woman, or a Gentile! They believed that the Jews were God’s special, choose people! (And they were!) But God had chosen them for the purpose of being a blessing to the entire world – including the Gentiles!

Back in Genesis when God first choose Abraham to be the father of the nation of Israel, God said to Abraham:

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3

That’s what most Jews had missed! In their zeal to keep from being polluted by the world, by the evil & godless Gentiles – they had missed their very reason for existing! They had forgotten that they had been blessed so that they could be a blessing to the entire world!

But now, Peter was starting to understand the true heart of God. As he stated to Cornelius:

“God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean….I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:28b, 34-35

God doesn’t reject or accept people based on their nationality or skin color. He doesn’t discriminate based on our ethnicity or gender! He doesn’t even look at our criminal record or financial statements! God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.

And so, with this new understand of God’s love for the entire world, Peter goes on to share the Gospel message with Cornelius and all who had gather in his home that day. He continues in verse 36:

36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, 41 not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” Acts 10:36-43

And just as a little note: I imagine that last statement took on a whole new meaning for Peter. He had preached many times before that everyone who believes in Jesus would have their sins forgiven through Jesus name, but perhaps for the first time ever, now he truly meant EVERYONE – not just the Jews, but the Gentiles too.

And then, almost as if God was putting his stamp of approval on what Peter had just said, we read in verse 44:

44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.

Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

Acts 10:44-48

This was the first time that we read of the Holy Spirit coming upon Gentile believers! Clearly, God had accepted them in the same way He had accepted the Jews! And so, like the Jews, these Gentiles were also baptized as a sign of their new life and obedience to Christ.

But like I said before, this was a huge shift in the Jewish way of thinking! In fact, Jewish believers would continue to wrestle with this fact throughout the book of Acts! It becomes quite a  point of contention and much discussion as the Jews try to come to grips with God’s love and acceptance for even the Gentiles. But despite some initial resistance, Jewish believers would eventually accept and understand, as Peter did, that Christ had come to seek and save both Jew and Gentile alike.

The Apostle Paul would later put it this way:

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Galatians 3:26-29

And you know, that same promise extends to you and I today! God’s free gift of Salvation is available to EVERYONE who calls upon his name – no matter what our background or history or family of origin. Through faith in Christ, all of us can have our sins forgiven, our life transformed by the Holy Spirit, and we can be adopted into God’s family as his children – chosen to be with Him forever!

And if you’ve never made that choice to accept the free gift of God through faith in Jesus, then that’s certainly the point of the message that I want you to hear today. God’s love and forgiveness has been offered to you because of Christ’s death and resurrection. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from – God loves you like crazy and He wants the best for your life – in fact, He wants you to spend eternity surrounded by His goodness. It’s a free gift He is offering to you today, and I would encourage you to accept that gift!

And for the others of us in this room who have already accepted this wonderful gift of life and are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, perhaps the lesson I’d hope you’ll take home is the lesson of God’s patient but continual work in our lives.

Peter had apprenticed for three years under the direct teaching of Jesus – and he still had much to learn for years to come! For the rest of his days on this earth, God worked in his heart and life, slowly but surely transforming him into the Peter that God created him to be – the Peter that was made in the image of God.

Likewise, God is still at work in you! I know it’s pretty easy to get discourage sometimes when we realize just how far we are from being like Christ. We’re constantly reminded of our flaws and failures – and how many times, like Peter, we totally miss the point.

But just because we’re not perfect, doesn’t mean we’re not making progress. I think for most of us, if we looked back to when we first became a follower of Jesus, we’d see that, yeah, actually, God has been at work in our lives – slowly but surely transforming us into the likeness of His Son! Perhaps not at the speed that we’d like – but none-the-less, God has been at work.

And if that’s not the case – if we don’t see any change in our hearts and minds – we may want to reexamine our habits of spending time in God’s Word and paying attention to what He says. We can’t expect change if we’re not willing to listen to and obey what God says to us. Like Peter, we need to cultivate that habit of prayer – up on the rooftop while waiting for lunch – and the habit of obedience when God tells us to do something or go somewhere.

But as we listen to the Holy Spirit, and are willing to obey Him, He will work in our lives to change what we say, what we do, and even how we think. It doesn’t happen overnight, but over days and months and years and even decades, God will transform us into the likeness of His Son.

I don’t often end my messages with a benediction, but today I have one for you. Its from  Philippians 1:6…. It goes like this:

6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Philippians 1:6

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