The Preaching of Peter (God’s Witnesses to the Wor
April 7th, 1971 @ 12:00 PM
God’s Witness to the World
THE PREACHING OF SIMON PETER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-07-71 12:00 p.m.
The theme for this year is God’s Witnesses to the World. Monday, The Fire of Elijah; and yesterday, The Baptism of John; tomorrow, The Tears of Paul; and Friday, The Blood of Christ. Today the message is entitled The Preaching of Simon Peter, in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, verse 33:
Immediately therefore I sent for thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all gathered before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord.
This is addressed to Simon Peter by Cornelius, the centurion of the Italian band in the Judean provincial Roman capital of Judea. The tenth and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts present this appearance of the great apostle with the message of Christ in great and minute detail. The Lord God through the generations and through the centuries in His gracious purposes had been revealing His mercy and His grace through His chosen people Israel. But now God is doing a new thing. The river, His mercy and grace, is overflowing its banks and it is God’s purpose that the healing water shall lave the whole world.
As we look at these two chapters so intricately detailed it is as though the Holy Spirit were saying, "Pause, read, behold, stop, look, listen! God is doing an amazing thing and a new thing!" It is the arm of the Lord himself that has gathered this audience, and this preacher, and this message. They’re not here by old, familiar custom or by fortuitous, adventitious chance and circumstance; but it is something God has done. Well Lord, it is a high privilege to pause and to look as Moses stood before the burning bush to see what God has done and what God does say.
As we look through the chapter it is impressive that the meeting is in Caesarea. This is the beautiful, colonnaded capital of Judea built by Herod the Great, one of the then beautiful small capitals of the world – embellished with every kind and piece of classical Greek architecture – it is the seat of the Roman government, and that is why Cornelius, the centurion of the Italian band, is there. If a Roman province was quiet and peaceful it was placed under the Roman Senate and ruled by an appointee of the Senate called a proconsul. But if a province was restive and volatile such as Judea, then the province was placed under the personal aegis of the Roman Caesar. That was because he directed and was officer-in-chief of the army; and the man he appointed to administer the Roman government in the province was called a procurator. Now this centurion was the chief officer under the government to administer Roman law and justice.
Somehow, somewhere, this centurion had become a proselyte of the gate; not of the temple, such as the treasurer of Ethiopia, who had become a full-fledged Jew, but this centurion was what you would call a proselyte of the gate, he had not become a Jew but he had forsaken the empty, heathen gods that all of the pagans worshipped and had embraced the moral Law of Moses. And it was while he was praying before the true God of the universe that instruction was sent to him from heaven by an angel to ask in Joppa for one Simon Peter – a preacher of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God – who would come and tell him words whereby he and his house might be saved. In obedience to that angelic command, Cornelius had sent down to Joppa and they had brought back Simon Peter who was prepared for a new departure in the grace of God by a vision let down from heaven that taught him that no man was common or unclean.
So Simon Peter enters the house of Cornelius, and he finds there a great, large company of people. He found many that were come together. It would be easily imaginable that in the household of a centurion like Cornelius you would find Latins there, Romans there, speaking Latin; you’d find Greeks there, speaking the universal language; you would find Judeans there, speaking Aramaic; in his household there would be Cappadocians, Bithynians, Mesopotamians, Pontians, men and people from all over the civilized Roman world. Now, he states the purpose of the meeting, "Now therefore are we all here present before God, this is Beth-el, the house of God, the gate to heaven, the presence of the Lord is here."
How many times are we supposed to think that God is housed in some magnificent cathedral, or in some gorgeous church, or in some marvelous ecclesiastical architectural assembly? Oh! "Now are we all present here before God," [Acts 10:33] Our Lord said, "Even where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" [Matthew 18:20] The Lord is here, now are we all present here before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord." That is worship at its greatest and its highest. When a man stands with the open Book in his hand and delivers a message from heaven, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the Word of the Lord" [Romans 10:17] This is worship brought to its highest, when our emotions, and our faculties, and our hearts, and our souls are raised to their most sensitive reception ability. My head, my heart, my soul, open God-ward, what does God say? Is there a word from the Lord? Does God say anything?
Now I grant you that in the presence of the Lord and in the gathering of God’s saints in the church there are many things that might interestingly occupy an hour. Oh, there are book reviews, there are political discussions, there are pollution problems, there are all kinds of economic whims and fortunes of life; never mind them. We can hear them discussed on the radio, on television; we can read them in the editorial pages of the newspapers; or you can go down to a magazine stand and for twenty cents buy a magazine full of those discussions, and after dinner sit down on the sofa, and if you don’t go to sleep, read all about it. But here, in God’s presence, in God’s house, tell us, does God say anything? Tell us, what can save our souls from hell, and purify our lives, and deliver us to life everlasting? Does God say anything? If He does, what does He say? That is why the apostle Paul wrote in that last letter to Timothy:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God,I charge thee therefore, therefore,because all scripture is given of inspiration of God
– it is theopneusta; it is God breathed –
I charge thee therefore, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ who shall judge the quick and the dead at His coming and His appearing,preach the Word.
[2 Timothy 3:16-4:2]
That’s the purpose of the gathering of God’s people in the house of the Lord. "Now are we all gathered here present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord."
Then the message, "Peter opened his mouth and said," It is one reason I like that boy that sang, he opened his mouth and sang! A preacher ought to do that. When he mumbles underneath his breath and you can’t hear him – pipsqueaky – a preacher ought to stand up, throw his shoulders back, get a deep breath, open his mouth, why the people two or three blocks down the street wonder what’s going on! That’s the way a man ought to preach, "Then Peter opened his mouth and said," and here follows his sermon. And what does he preach? Why, he says this man:
Ordained of God to be the Judge of the quick and the dead, the living and the dead, to Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive forgiveness, remission of sins.
I can hardly believe that! This man, Simon Peter, is preaching to Cornelius the crucifixion of Christ, the blood atonement of the Lord, and that in His sacrifice, in Christ’s death for us we have forgiveness and remission of sins. Look at this! The centurion is introduced to us; I read, "A devout man, one that feared God with all of his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always."
Why Sir, you ought to preach Christ to that man, that’s correct; but you’re to preach Christ to Him not crucified, not in blood atonement forgiving our sins, but preach Christ to Him as the great superlative celestial idealist; preach Christ as a great master-teacher, the beneficent, philanthropic, altruistic one who blesses all mankind. Hold up the Lord as the great exemplar and paragon of human excellence. But don’t preach to Cornelius Christ dying for sinners and asking for faith and repentance and confession in Him!
All of us – Cornelius included – are sinners, lost alike, all of us. "Our righteousnesses in God’s sight are as filthy rags." [Isaiah 64:6] And the only way for a man to be saved, whether it is Cornelius or whether it is a desperate criminal, all of us are saved alike: by the blood, the atoning grace of Him who died for our sins on the tree. As Simon Peter said before the Sanhedrin, "Neither is there salvation in any other." [Acts 4:12] There’s not salvation in goodness, there’s not salvation in good works, there’s not salvation in good citizenship, there is not salvation in civic enterprises, there is not salvation in alms giving or in philanthropy, "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there’s no other name given among men under heaven whereby we must be saved." A man is either forgiven in the blood of Christ or he is lost.
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
["Are You Washed in the Blood?"; Elisha A. Hoffman]
Cornelius or criminal, you or I, all of us accounted lost before God that the grace and mercy of Jesus might be extended in God’s forgiving favor to each one of us.
Now, while Peter was preaching Jesus, and Christ crucified, and the blood atonement, and the remission of sins, and while those hungry-hearted people were listening in faith, in acceptance, in belief, in confession, "the Holy Spirit fell on them which heard the word,and they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God." Ah, oh! You know how human nature is? If you have ever been reared in a mother tongue, and you are transferred to another country or you live in another climb, and you learn another language, if you are ever greatly moved or excited, inevitable your exclamations and your interjections will be back there in that mother language. And when the Holy Spirit of conversion, and salvation, and regeneration fell upon the household of Cornelius, that Latin there began to praise God in Latin, and that Greek there began to praise God in Greek, and that Aramaen began to praise God in Aramaic, and that Cappadocian in Cappadocian, and that Pontian in Pontian, that Bithynian in Bithynian. It was a marvelous outpouring of the Spirit of God as there, and there, and there, and there, all through the household and the friendly group around Cornelius they began to magnify God in their native glossa; as the text says, in their native languages. Is that an isolated, unusual, unique incident? Oh, my brother! It has happened through the centuries and the generations; and I’ve seen it with mine own eyes; glorifying God in the marvelous ecstasy of having found the Lord.
As many of you know, I came down here to this pastorate from Muskogee, Oklahoma, the seat of the five civilized tribes that were moved westward and allocated territory in Indian territory, later known as Oklahoma; the Cherokees, the Choctaws, the Chickasaws, the Creeks, and the Seminoles. In the library at Muskogee is a room filled with books of Indian lore, and tradition, and history, and newspapers printed back there in old Indian Territory days. I used to go to that library, that room, and read about those Indian tribes and the days of the long ago. And I read this incident in the history of the Choctaw Nation:
Back yonder, about 1880, United States Marshals had rounded up some desperate criminals; there were ninety of them, ninety men. And they were inside a stockade, guarded by the United States Marshals in Indian Territory. They were Indians, Mexicans, Negroes, Anglos, a polyglot group. And on a night – taking this out of history – upon a night in that Choctaw Nation, when there was a vicious storm that was raging, there was a preacher inside who was bringing the message of Christ to those ninety desperate men. And a man who was there and saw it wrote the story of what happened that night in verse. And I copied it out of that old, old book. Quoting the preacher, now:
I am going to preach, and i’ll try to teach
To the ninety men in here
Of the words of love from the throne above,
And his tones were loud and clear
I preach to you of a Savior true,
And a happy home on high,
Where the angels dwell, all saved from hell,
And the righteous never die.
And he prayed a prayer in the prison there,
As the ninety bowed their heads.
The bold Choctaw, and the Chickasaw,
The whites, the blacks, and the reds.
He prayed for the chief, with his unbelief,
For the black highwayman bold;
For the robber too, and his bandit crew;
For the criminals young and old.
Then he sang an hymn in the prison grim,
He sang, "Turn, sinner, turn;"
It’s not too late to reach God’s gate,
While the lamp holds out to burn.
Then from his bed, ‘tween the black and the red,
Up rose an outlaw bold,
With trembling steps to the parson crept,
All shivering as with cold.
And a vicious flash of the lightning’s crash
Showed his features pale and stern
As he bowed his head, and slowly said,
I am resolved to turn.
And it seemed to me, no one shall see
A scene so glad, so grand,
As the white and the red on their blanket bed,
Round the Christian one did stand
While the night came down like a silvery crown,
And a promise gave to all
For the ninety men in the marshal’s den,
Heard only the Savior’s call.
[Poem from Newspaper in Muskogee, OK; circa 1880]
Man, it happens every day of your life. There’s revival just as here at Caesarea all over this world every day and every night. Men being saved, young people finding the purpose and meaning of life, and God in power and grace coming down.
O Lord! Before our eyes a thousand times, do it again, and again, and again. Our Master, what a glorious, incomparably precious, ecstatic, indescribable experience to see people finding Jesus as Savior; when the Holy Spirit moves, and our hearts fall under conviction, and we look in faith to Him who died for us on the tree; and looking find life, now and in the world to come. Bless Lord, Thy people in Thy dear name, Amen.