The Gospel to the Gentiles
November 6th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
THE GOSPEL TO THE GENTILES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-6-77 10:50 a.m.
You are listening on radio and television to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Gospel to the Gentiles. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to a great continental divide. We have come to a watershed. Here the Lord is doing a new and a wondrous thing. It includes us who are not Jews; not of the seed of Abraham, but we belong to the Gentile families of the earth.
When we come to the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, we are following a story that is told here at length and in great detail. Not only is it the full, long tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, but the story continues into the first half of the eleventh chapter through the eighteenth verse [Acts 10:1-11:18]. God is doing here a new thing. It is a new departure. Heretofore, the Lord has been dealing with His chosen family, Israel. But now, after the generations and after the centuries, the grace of God is extended to the nations of the world. The love and mercy of our Lord is overflowing its banks and is now, in loving grace, bathing and laving the feet of all of the people of mankind.
The story here is as though the Holy Spirit were saying, “Look at this company. It is the guiding hand of God that has brought together this audience, prepared this preacher, and delivering this message. This little group is not together by accident or fortuitous circumstance. They are not adventitiously just meeting in this place. They are not here by custom, or by routine, or by long familiar practice. It is a gathering under the hand of God for a marvelous and heavenly purpose.” So the story begins:
There was a certain man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian Band,
A devout man, one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour—
about three o’clock in the afternoon—
an angel of God coming in to him, and saying, Cornelius.
And when the centurion looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, lord? And the lord said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms have come up for a memorial before God—
the Lord has written them in His book in heaven—
And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the seaside: he shall tell thee what thou must do.
And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, the centurion called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier to protect them and go with them. . . .
And when he declared all of these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
Then follows the story in much detail. And we shall follow the leading of the Holy Spirit this morning as we look at it intently, purposefully, prayerfully, for God is saying this is something of the hand of the Lord.
So his name is Cornelius. That’s an ancient and honorable name among the Romans. It was a common name among the Scipios. It was the name of Sulla, the great Roman general and dictator; Cornelius. And he lived in Caesarea. There are two Caesareas in the New Testament. There is one in the Gospels, and that Caesarea is called Caesarea Philippi [Matthew 16:13; Mark 8:27]. It was up there at the top of the map of the Holy Land, at the base of Mt. Hermon, where the waters of the Jordan began to flow south from the melting snows of that great Lebanese range.
Philip, the son of Herod the Great, built a city there, in old Dan, and named it after the Roman Caesar. To distinguish that Caesarea from the Caesarea, the capital of Judea, they called that one Caesarea Philippi. There at old Dan, if you are familiar with that expression “from Dan to Beersheba” [2 Samuel 3:10]; from the far north to the extreme south. That is the Caesarea of the Gospels.
The other Caesarea is the one that is often mentioned in the Book of Acts. This is Caesarea by the Sea; the capital of the Roman province of Judea. It was built by Herod the Great at vast and astronomical costs. There is no indentation—there is no harbor on the Mediterranean seashore in Palestine, so Herod the Great built a harbor there, and with it a Greek-Roman city, a beautiful city. The streets were lined with Corinthian columns. Those colonnaded avenues were impressive. The city was filled with theaters and pagan temples, where the gods of the Greeks and Romans were worshiped. It had amphitheaters in it, and as a pagan, Roman-Greek city, it was an abhorrence to the Jews.
The seat of the Roman government was there. The procurators lived there; not at Jerusalem, there. The home of Pontius Pilate was there. The procurators Felix and Festus lived there. It was in this Roman capital of the province of Judea that Paul was imprisoned for two years. It was here that Philip the evangelist lived with his four unmarried daughters who were prophetesses. It was in this city of Caesarea that the war of rebellion began against Rome in 66 AD. It began in a riot in Caesarea
The great Jewish historian, Josephus, describes the course of that war with power and pathos. And in the midst of that rebellion in Caesarea, Vespasian, the Roman general was acclaimed emperor of the empire. And when he left to be at Rome, to govern the vast empire, he left the prosecution of the war to his son Titus, who carried it to a tragic conclusion, destroying Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. In Christian history, Eusebius, the ecclesiastical historian, was born in Caesarea in 260 AD. And in contradistinction to the theological interpretation of the school at Alexandria, the school in Caesarea followed a historical-grammatical method of interpretation that I think is the true and only way to understand God’s Word; the message and the method that your pastor follows in all of his study and in all of his preaching.
This is where he lived, the man himself. What he did, he was a soldier and an officer in the Roman army. As such, he represented a hated and tyrannical and foreign power; an abhorrence, of course, to the Jews. But one of the most remarkable things in the Bible, in the New Testament, is this: the kindly, generous attitude that prevails without exception to the soldier and especially toward the centurion. It was the Roman soldiers who came to hear John the Baptist preach and were baptized by the great forerunner [Luke 3:12-14]. It was to a Roman centurion that the Lord said, “I have never seen such faith, no, not in Israel” [Matthew 8:10]. When the centurion asked the Lord to heal his servant who was sick [Matthew 8:5-7], but said, “I am not worthy that You come under my roof: just speak the word, and my servant will be healed” [Matthew 8:8].
It was a Roman centurion, presiding over the execution of our Lord under the orders of Pontius Pilate, who standing there seeing Jesus die, exclaimed in testimony, “This Man was surely the Son of God” [Matthew 27:54]. It was Claudius Lysias, a chiliarch—a man over a thousand soldiers whereas the centurion was over a hundred—it was Claudius Lysias who befriended the apostle Paul [Acts 23:26-30]. It was a centurion who took care of Paul that he not fall into the hands of those who had plotted his murder [Acts 23:12-24]. And it was Julius, a centurion, who out of deference to the life of Paul, when they were shipwrecked in Malta, on the way to Rome, spared all of the prisoners; not one was executed out of his deference to the great preacher of Christ [Acts 27:42-44].
This is the centurion of Caesarea, Cornelius. Will you look at the man himself? He is described as a devout man; a humble, good—a humble, good man who was now being introduced to the Christian faith. He is called a man who feared God with all of his house [Acts 10:1-2]. That is, he had given up the sterility and emptiness of pagan idolatry, had embraced the moral rectitude demanded in the code of Moses, in the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. But he was still a Gentile. Had he gone to the temple in Jerusalem, in the Court of the Gentiles, he could have mingled with those who were present; but that great sign in the inner wall, threatening death against any Gentile who would enter into that Beautiful Gate; it would have prohibited him from entering in. He was a Gentile. He was a man who was charitable. He gave alms to the people. And he prayed to God continually [Acts 10:1-2].
This man is a typical man of the strength and the power of the Roman army. There was a reason why Rome conquered the civilized world. They were a family people. They were sturdy and strong in heart and life, in character. It was only when the family life, the domestic life, the inward life of Rome decayed that Rome fell; just as America is beginning to disintegrate and to be afflicted on every side. We are decaying inwardly. That is why Rome fell. She was corrupt in her soul. But until she was, Rome was the greatest empire; it lasted far longer than any other that had ever conquered the face of the civilized world.
Now, this wonderful man of character and strength, this officer in the Roman army, Cornelius, described as “a devout man, one that feared God with all of his house, who gave much alms to the people; who prayed to God always” [Acts 10:2]—a fine, moral man, but he was lost! And isn’t that the most startling revelation you could expect from the Bible? This splendid man of integrity and character is a lost man! The angel says, “You send word down to Simon Peter in Joppa who will come and tell you how to be saved” [Acts 10:5-6]. And when his conversion was recounted to the church at Jerusalem [Acts 11:11-17], they praised God saying, “Then hath the Lord also granted repentance unto life to the Gentiles” [Acts 11:18].
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? This man of a standing strength and character is a lost man! The first great foundational truth of the preaching of the gospel is this, that the Christian faith presupposes that all men are lost, that all men are sinners. Isaiah, the evangelist from the Old Testament, in 53 verse 6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” [Isaiah 53:6]. The apostle Paul wrote in the third chapter of the Book of Romans, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. “There is none righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10]. The Christian faith presupposes that all mankind is lost. We are sinners by nature and by practice. Against one another, we seem to be fine and good, but against the white holiness and purity of God, we are as Isaiah said: “and our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” [Isaiah 64:6].
All of us are lost; all of us. There’s none of us righteous in himself. Our nature is fallen. The old-timers call that the doctrine of total depravity. That’s not that we are as vile as we can be and could be. But the doctrine of total depravity is this, that we are fallen and sinful in all of our faculties. My mind does not work perfectly. My heart does not feel perfectly. And my will does not volitionally always please God. We are a fallen people; all of us. That doctrine has come upon an evil day in our time.
One of the great presidents of a church-related university said, and I quote. “Those who believe in total depravity have been unfortunate in their friends.” We are of that persuasion because we have been lead unconsciously into the false persuasion of evolution. “Sin is nothing but the drag of our bestial forefathers. Life is a stumbling upward. There is inevitable progress. We are getting better and better. And finally, the evolutionary process will make of us angels and maybe archangels.” That is the evolutionary persuasion of the world today.
But it does not take into account that, underneath the thin veneer of civilization and culture, there is the awesomeness of the corruption of human nature. There is progress in the world. But there is progress also in blood and in murder; used to be with their hands, then with an axe, then with a bow and arrow, then with a gun, then with TNT, and now with atomic bombs! There is progress in evil as there is progress in any other area of life. God says we are a fallen family. We are a corrupt people. We are sinners in our nature [Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:3]. We are all lost outside of Christ [Acts 4:12]. And if a man can be saved by his good works, then the atoning death of our Lord is a travesty and a disgrace to the Lord God in heaven who sent Jesus to die for our sins [John 3:17; Galatians 2:21].
So the Lord is preparing a way of salvation. He prepares an angel to come and to tell them what to do [Acts 10:1-6]. And this man Cornelius does it immediately [Acts 10:7-8]. Like Jeremiah said, “You shall search for Me, and find Me, when you seek Me with all of your heart” [Jeremiah 29:13]. And that very night, that very night, Cornelius sent those three men, the two servants and the Roman soldier, sent them down to Joppa, thirty miles in order to tell Simon Peter what the angel had bid him do.
And He was preparing Simon Peter—the sermon last Sunday when Peter saw that great sheet held by the four corners lifted down, and in it, the inside of it, all kinds of creatures that to him were unclean [Acts 10:11-12]. And the Lord said, “Simon, rise; kill, and eat” [Acts 10:13].
And he says, “Lord, I never have done anything like that, and I am not about to do it now” [Acts 10:14].
I presume that could be a refrain of ten thousand churches and ten thousand preachers, “Lord, I never did that before, and I’m not about to do it now!” I’m bound in some kind of an iron-clad tradition, and because it was never done before, therefore, we are not going to try it now! You know, principles never change, the gospel doesn’t change, Jesus doesn’t change; “Jesus the same yesterday, and today, and forever” [Hebrews 13:8]. But the message of how we mediate the truth of God changes everyday and changes with every changing generation. Wherever there is the finest approach that we can lay hands upon to mediate this message of God, let’s learn it and let’s do it.
Simon Peter said, “Lord, I have never done that, and I am not about to do it now” [Acts 10:14]. When I got through with the eight-fifteen service, this smart minister of music of mine, he placed this in my hand. He says, “The seven last words of the church are, `We never did it that way before.’“ So the Lord prepares the preacher. “You are not to call anything common or unclean” [Acts 10:15]. Not even these beasts [Acts 10:11-12, 15]. Not even these things that are supposedly not kosher. “It is a new day, says the Lord, and it is a new hour.”
Then He prepares the audience. And this man Cornelius describes it. “Therefore we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33]. What a marvelous thing to say about a company of gathered together people. “Now are we all here present before God, to hear all of the things that are commanded thee of the Lord.” We’re all here; the husband is here and the father, the wife is here and the mother, the children are here, and the friends and all of the family members are here. We are all here present before God. And we are riveted, we are focused in attention; so much one in heart and spirit and anticipation until that one centurion could stand up and speak for the whole throng of them [Acts 10:33].
You know, it takes two to make a sermon; somebody to preach, to break the bread of life, but also somebody to listen and to pray. A wonderful listener, a prayer partner is one of God’s benedictory gifts in the household of the saints. We’re all here, listening with open hearts and minds and souls. We are all here present before God. God is in this place. As Jacob says, “This is none other than Bethel, the house of God. This is none other than the gates of heaven; present before God” [Genesis 28:16-17, 19].
As the Lord said to Moses at the burning bush [Exodus 3:2], “Take off your shoes from off your feet, for the ground whereon you stand is holy ground” [Exodus 3:5]. Oh, how I feel that in this sacred place! Behind this very pulpit desk, the great George W. Truett preached the gospel for forty and seven years. In this very place, the great Christian president Woodrow Wilson stood to speak. B. H. Carroll, the founder of the seminary in Fort Worth; J. B. Gambrell, the architect and statesman of our great Baptist denomination and missionary movement, and how many others have stood in this very place! God is here, and the people are assembled in prayer and in eager anticipation. For what? “Therefore, we are all here before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33]. And this is the great assignment of the church and of its preacher; to declare all of the things that are commanded us of the Lord. How often do you see and find the tendency to change that; and the whole format of it? That is the inspired description and interpretation of a service held in the name of Christ. “We are all here before God, to hear the things that are commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33].
But how often do we see that changed in the church? Jesus preached. John the Baptist preached. Peter preached. Paul preached. Apollos preached. James preached. But today, there is a tendency in practically all of our churches if you put them all together, in all Christendom, to take the preacher out and away. Just stick him anywhere; just get him out of the way. Stick him up there in a crow’s nest, or stick him up over here somewhere or over there somewhere. And instead of the man of God delivering the message of the Lord, what do you see? Instead you see tables, and candles, and tablecloths, and chalices, and ornaments of brass, and crosses, and crucifixes. But what was central here, must always be central, namely, the preaching of the Word of the living God! “We are all here, gathered in the presence of God, to hear the things that are commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33].
Listen to the Word of the Lord. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by”—genuflection, by litany? No: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of the Lord” [Romans 10:17]. Or listen again to the Word of God. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” [1 Corinthians 1:21]. Or listen again, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” [2 Timothy 3:16].
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His coming and His kingdom; Preach the word” [2 Timothy 4:1-2].
How often do I hear it said, “Protestants do not worship. You Baptists do not worship.” What they have is a pagan definition of our approach to God-of worship! Listen, when you come together, according to the definition of the Holy Scriptures, to hear the Word of God, you are worshiping in the highest sense! [2 Timothy 3:16-4:1]. When our faculties are raised to their highest usefulness, when the thought for the mind and the emotions of the heart and the volitions of the will, when they are brought into the presence of the Spirit of God, that is worship in its highest definition and in its Scriptural meaning! “Now, we are all here present before God, to hear all of the things that are commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33].
And then again, how many times looking over all of Christendom, do you find the church departing from that Scriptural admonition? Go to church and what do you hear? You hear a book review. Go to church and what do you hear? A lecture, a psychological lecture on positive thinking and the winning of affluence and status in the world. Or what do you hear? Some psychological dissertation upon human behavior and reaction. What do you hear? Something about economic amelioration or about politics or about all of the things that pertain to the problems of the government and of the human race, race and war, and a thousand other welfare programs; hear that in the church!
My brother, that’s what you hear every day of your life! When you read the editorial in the newspaper, that’s what it is. When you listen to the commentator on television, that’s what it is. When you listen to the news on the radio, that’s what it is. When you have a political gathering, that’s what it is! Why come here to the church to hear that same thing rehashed by a two-by-four scantling preacher? There’s not; there’s not a member in the State Department who lives in Washington D.C., but that knows twice as much as any ordinary preacher standing in the pulpit, mouthing about the things of the world and its problems.
What we want to do when we come to church is this. “Preacher, tell us, we know what the politicians say. We know what the economists say. We know what the psychologist says. But, pastor, does God say anything? Is there a word from the Lord?” We’re exactly like King Zedekiah coming to Jeremiah and asking, “Prophet of God, Is there a word from the Lord?” and Jeremiah replied, “There is.” [Jeremiah 37:17]. There is. God has something to say.
Then we cry to the pastor and the preacher, “If God has anything to say, what does God say? Tell us, pastor, what can deliver our souls from hell? What can save us from damnation? What shall I do in the hour of my death and at the judgment bar of Almighty God? How do I find strength to live and to face all of the exigencies that overwhelm me in life? Pastor, does God say anything? And if He does, what does God say?”
And that is our heavenly assignment. “We are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33]. O blessed Savior, that when people stand in this congregation and listen to this message, that there might be in it the tugging, wooing Spirit of the blessed Jesus.
I think of Spurgeon who with a sweep of his hand, taking in the great tabernacle in London in which he preached God’s Book, Spurgeon said, “There is not a pew, there is not a seat in this great tabernacle but that someone has stood from it, risen from it to accept Christ as his Savior.” O Lord, grant it to us. There is not a chair in the balcony round, there is not a pew seat on this lower floor but that somebody has stood up, has risen from it to accept Jesus as Savior. That is life everlasting.
And that is our appeal to your heart now. Does God bid you come? Then answer with your life. “Pastor, I’ve made the decision in my heart, I’ve made it now, and I’m on the way.” “This is my family and we are all coming.” “This is my wife and the two of us are coming.” “These are our children, the whole family is coming.” Or just one somebody you, make the decision in your heart now, and on the first note of the first stanza, come. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles: “Here I am, preacher, I’m on the way.” May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GOSPEL TO THE GENTILES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Scripture sets this hour in a strong, clear, eternal light(Acts 10 – 11:18)
B. The Lord is doing a new thing
C. The Holy Spirit seems to point to this audience, preacher and messageII. Cornelius
A. He lived in Caesarea
1. The Caesarea of the Gospels – Caeasrea-Philippi
2. Caesarea by the Sea – capital of Roman province of Judea
B. A centurion – represented a hatred and tyrannical foreign power
1. The kindly, generous attitude toward the centurion in the Bible(Matthew 8:10, 10:8, 27:54, Acts 23, 27)
C. He was devout, God-fearing, charitable, prayed to God (Acts 10:2)
1. But he was lost(Acts 10:6, 11:14, 18)
2. Christian faith presupposes a lost world(Isaiah 53:6, 64:6, Romans 3:10, 23)III. God makes a way for his salvation
A. Prepares an angel to come tell them what to do(Jeremiah 29:13)
1. Cornelius immediately did what God told him to
B. The Lord prepares the preacher(Acts 10:10-17)
C. The Lord prepares the audience(Acts 10:33, Genesis 28:16-18, Exodus 3:5)IV. The preacher’s assignment – to declare all things commanded of the Lord
A. Tendency today to change all that(Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16, 4:1-2)