It is a joy to preach through the book of Acts! It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply. As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid. Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.
As we arrive in Acts 10 in our sermon series we find Cornelius, a God-fearing man who, as a Gentile, was on the outside looking in when it came to true hope through Jesus. As he sought God, God opened the eyes of Cornelius and Peter so they experienced the Act of HOPE! Let’s look at some lessons we can learn from the example of the early church and the conversion of Cornelius and the hope that becomes his.
- Honor: What do you do when you find yourself with little, or no, hope? How does hope grow? What seed can be planted in a life, yours or that of someone else, that would grow into hope? I believe the answer to these questions begin with the act of honor. Cornelius chose to honor God even when his circumstances, or lot in life, might suggest to most that it just isn’t worth it. It was more than mere words, his life honored God by what he did! Jesus called out the religious leaders of His day as hypocrites by stating Isaiah spoke of them when he said, “These people honor me with their lips but their heart is far from me.” Hope begins to grow when we honor God with our whole being. It is through our honor of God that we allow our eyes to be open to the true plight of our self and others. When we honor God, we also recognize that He has the ability to change and/or carry us through circumstances that appear to us as lacking greatly in hope. When God calls you to grow in the Act of HOPE, recognize that both the foundation and seed of real hope comes from genuine acts of Honor given to our God.
- Opportunity: It is through our honor of God that He opens the doors of opportunity in the midst of what human eyes would see as hopeless. As he prays one afternoon, Cornelius has a vision of an angel of God bringing a message that his prayers have been heard. So, what was he praying? We don’t have a text of his prayers but by examining the answer that God gives it would seem that at least part of his prayer was asking for the opportunity to be in a full relationship with God. The answer to the prayer seems to be very simple, “send for Peter”. Why? Because Cornelius and his household needed to hear the good news of Jesus! They needed a person to share with them the opportunity to have real hope through the blood of Jesus. It is a message not entrusted to angels, but to the followers of Jesus. Paul would write in his letter to the Romans about this very need: “How can they hear without someone preaching to them. And how can they preach unless they are sent” (Romans 10:14-15). In order to give hope to others, we must step outside of our comfort zone and share the opportunity of knowing Jesus with those we may not even think deserve it. God had to teach Peter that this opportunity was for all who would call on the name of the Lord. Learning to accept, and give, the act of Opportunity is a vital part of receiving and sharing the Act of HOPE.
- Power: There is something about the combination of a genuine honor of God and opportunity to be in relationship with God that ignites an incredible power! Paul’s prayer for the Romans was that they would “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Do you believe God has the power to change a life, period, or just some lives? Do we fail to honor people with the opportunity to know Jesus because we decide God doesn’t want them or is powerless to reach them? It took a vision repeated three times and the voice of the Lord to convince Peter that God has the power, and desire, to save Gentiles as well as Jews. When the honor of God that was expressed by Cornelius and his family experienced the opportunity to hear the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, the power of God’s Spirit was poured out upon them and they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. When we are growing in the Act of HOPE, we live with growing amazement that comes from experiencing the act of Power in the lives of all those who believe.
- Explanation: I wonder if the events of Acts 10 were on Peter’s mind at all when he wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15). What good is an explanation without someone willing to listen? As Christians, we are required to walk by faith and not by sight yet there are times when an explanation is not only appropriate, but required. In Acts 10 Peter explains to Cornelius how God taught him that differentiating between Jew and Gentile was wrong. Cornelius explains to Peter about his desire to know God and to listen to all that God has commanded. It is in this atmosphere of explanation that hope springs to life! There are many people who live without hope because you and I have failed to explain to them with gentleness and respect about the hope that dwells within us. When we spend time Explaining a relationship with Jesus in gentleness and respect, we give the Act of HOPE to people as they are able to escape from the power of sin and death in life and in eternity.
So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of HOPE? Do you fully and genuinely Honor God in all that you do and say? Do you consistently make the most of every Opportunity to both share and grow in faith? Do you faithfully live in the Power of God’s Spirit? Do you use gentleness and respect as you Explain the hope you have in Jesus Christ? I pray that the act of HOPE expressed through your life will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!