Thanks Be to God!

Thanks Be to God!

 As a society this Memorial Day weekend we remember those who have given their lives in active military fighting for the freedoms of our nation; as a church, we additionally celebrate this Trinity Sunday the freedom the Triune God has offered us to be free from sin that we might know, love, and serve him both now and forever. For defined Scripturally, true freedom is freedom to follow God.

Appropriately enough Trinity Sunday follows on the heels of Pentecost Sunday. Last week we saw how God fulfilled his promise through the prophet Joel that one day his Spirit would be poured out upon his people—a promise Jesus confirmed would take place after his departing to his mystified disciples. And we noted how remarkable it is that “God’s people” included not only the Jewish nation that was originally given this promise, but also Samaritans who were viewed by believing Jews as having compromised their Jewish faith by marrying people of other faiths. And, most remarkable of all, in his expansive plan of salvation “God’s people” has even and ever included Gentiles or non-Jews.

I say “most remarkable of all” because although in the Old Testament non-Jews were welcomed into the Jewish family of faith, their welcoming required adopting not only belief in the one true God worshipped by Jewish believers, but also participating in the rituals associated with this Jewish belief, most notably the circumcising of every male who was 8-days old. For when the LORD first called Abram, promising to make of him a nation through whom all the nations of the world would one day be blessed, circumcision was given by God as a sign of the covenant to mark and set apart from all other nations the nation he was creating for himself. We’re told in Genesis 17 how after God established his covenant with Abram and changed his name to Abraham, “a father of many nations,” he said to him,

As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.[1]

So circumcision became a distinguishing sign that separated Israel from all existing nations. Circumcision was a way of setting apart Abraham and the Jewish nation that would arise from his progeny.

Given that this was the case, we can better understand why Jewish followers of Jesus came to assume that in order for someone to believe in and follow Jesus Christ, that is, Jesus the Messiah who had been foretold and promised in the Scriptures, they, too, would need to be circumcised as a way of indicating their inclusion among God’s covenant people. The fact that the Holy Spirit initially fell upon the Jewish disciples of Jesus no doubt further confirmed in their own minds their unique status as God’s chosen people for

the Jewish nation had been created by God for himself;

Messiah Jesus fulfilled God’s promise of a Savior and King for them;

and now the Holy Spirit had completed God’s plan of salvation as he made of God’s people a temple, holy as he was holy, among whom he now tabernacled as a people as he had once dwelled among them when they worshipped in the temple.

So, again, it isn’t difficult to understand why Jewish followers of Jesus would have viewed circumcision as a requirement for following him. And given the unique status of Israel as the nation the LORD had created for himself, we can also appreciate why the inclusion of uncircumcised Gentiles, with whom they had often been at war throughout their history, into God’s covenant people would have been such a difficult concept for these Jewish followers of Jesus to grasp.

Yet the events of Pentecost described in the second chapter of Acts were but the beginning of God’s fulfilling his promise to Abraham for that promise indicated not only that from him he would create a nation for himself but also that through him all the nations of the world would one day be blessed.[2] But to complicate matters even more, we should keep in mind as well that after the Holy Spirit fell upon Jesus’ followers at Pentecost, it was a good seven years[3] before God sent his Holy Spirit to the first uncircumcised Gentile, a man named Cornelius who was a commander of a century, or a hundred men, in the Roman army. So in order to bring the reality of the inclusion of Gentiles home to Jesus’ initially Jewish followers, the LORD took some drastic measures.

To get some background, in what precedes our passage in verse 2 we’re told about Cornelius that “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” Now though Cornelius was an admirably religious and deservedly well-respected man, we see in what follows that he didn’t know God personally. In fact I often use the account of Cornelius as an example of the difference between the general revelation God has provided all people through nature or the created world and the special—or specific—revelation he has provided in Jesus Christ, his Son. Paul tells how “what may be known about God” has been made plain, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”[4] Cornelius seems not only to have some understanding as to who God is, perhaps in part through his interactions with Jewish believers, but he has also acted on that understanding as demonstrated by his devotion and prayers. Yet this knowledge wasn’t a specific knowledge of Jesus Christ. We’re then told in verses 4–6 how Cornelius had a distinct vision in which an angel of God said to him, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” By Cornelius acting upon the general knowledge he had of God, his prayers had been heard by God. And upon receiving this angelic vision, he continued to act upon what God had revealed and so followed the angel’s instructions.[5]

Meanwhile, the Lord also gave Peter, one of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, a vision in which he was told to eat of unclean animals. But instead of obeying Peter initially protested so that Lord had to tell him not to call anything impure that God had made clean. Three times the Lord had to tell him.[6] And in the LORD’s providence, at the moment in which “Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate.”[7] And “19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’”[8]

This time Peter obeyed. When he along with some other Jewish believers in Christ arrived at Cornelius’ home, “Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, ‘I am only a man myself.’”[9] And when Peter went inside, he “found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?’”[10] Despite his own vision it’s evident that Peter was clueless as to why he’d been sent to Cornelius especially since such a meeting went against Jewish law. So Cornelius told Peter about the vision he had had and concluded by saying, “So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”[11] Again, Cornelius had acted on the general knowledge of God he had but had sent for Peter that he might come to know God personally.

As Peter heard these words from Cornelius, he had an “a-ha!” moment and responded with the words at the beginning of our passage in verse 34: “34 Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’” So the beginning of Peter’s “a-ha!” is the realization that it isn’t only the Jewish nation that God discloses himself to and accepts should they respond but any person from any nation “who fears him and does what is right.”[12] And though we read this account and say, “But of course he does!,” for Peter and other Jewish followers of Jesus, this was radical for their whole understanding of belief in God had been that of viewing themselves as God’s uniquely chosen people. And it was only now that the fullness of Scripture and Jesus’ truth and teaching about God’s salvation for all who respond to him had really begun to sink in. The inclusion of uncircumcised Gentiles was a complete paradigm shift for Peter and other believing Jews.

Now in listening to Cornelius Peter was aware that the knowledge Cornelius had of God wasn’t sufficient for salvation since there had been no mention of Jesus Christ, the special or specific revelation God had provided for that salvation. So Peter went on to tell Cornelius the personal name of the God whom he’d feared starting in verse 36: “36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” Peter juxtaposed the fact of God initially sending his message to the people of Israel, with Jesus Christ who is Lord of all and therefore the one through whom God’s good news of peace was brought. Then Peter provided a wonderful synopsis of Jesus’ ministry beginning in verse 37: “37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

So first we have John the Baptist preaching about the need for repentance for the Kingdom of God was at hand—and how he was but preparing the way of the LORD, of Jesus, as foretold by Isaiah,[13]—proclaiming Jesus to be the Lamb of God of who takes away the sin of the world;[14]

Second, Peter referenced Jesus’ own baptism by John during which the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the Father acknowledged him as his Son whom he loved[15] and who should be obeyed;[16]

And subsequently Jesus embarked upon his ministry of salvation and healing as he “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.”

So Peter began to connect the dots between the God whom Cornelius had feared and prayed to regularly and the manifestation of this God in the person of Jesus Christ.

Starting in verse 39, Peter recounted to Cornelius how he along with the other apostles were, “witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.” So Peter moved from Jesus’ ministry to his crucifixion, death, and resurrection from death by God who also caused him to be seen by others following this resurrection. Specifically, Peter noted in verse 41, how “41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.” As was true for John and all of the other apostles, Peter was a first-hand and personal witness to Jesus Christ’s life and ministry for years—from his preaching to his healing to his miracles to his many interactions with his disciples and others. And Peter heeded Jesus’ command after his resurrection to proclaim the truth of who he was to others. To his own surprise, this was, in fact, the very purpose for which he now found himself at Cornelius’ home. Further Christ’s coming had ever been part of God’s plan of salvation. As Peter told Cornelius in verse 43, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” And with this statement we, too, become witnesses to God’s salvation indeed coming to everyone who believes in him receiving forgiveness through his name—even Cornelius, the uncircumcised Gentile Roman centurion.

Peter’s telling Cornelius of the salvation God had provided in Christ was all it took. With this brief proclamation of who Jesus Christ is, the fear of God and desire to do what is right in God’s sight that Cornelius and those who were with him shared went from being a general knowledge of God to a specific knowledge of God in Christ, Jesus the Messiah, the Son whom God had provided and promised by means of his prophets. So we read in verse 44, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” Though not taking place on Pentecost this, in effect, initiated a Pentecost celebration for the Gentiles. And, again, this was shocking for the Jewish followers of Jesus to witness. As we’re told in verses 45 and 46, “45 The circumcised believers”—again, this is simply another way of indicating that they were Jewish believers—“who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” So in this mini-Pentecost we have the anointing of God’s Holy Spirit upon even believing Gentiles, marking them as part of God’s chosen people. For the very thing that had occurred at the Jewish Pentecost seven years earlier was now occurring among these God-fearing Gentiles. So the astonishment of these believing Jews was understandable.

We see here, too, how in obedience to the Great Commission given by Jesus, Peter then ordered that these new believers be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for they had received the Holy Spirit just as Peter and the rest of the 120 disciples in the upper room had. Though not circumcised in the flesh, these believers were circumcised in their hearts, set apart for Christ Jesus as all believers are. And rather than being physically circumcised they were instead baptized, baptism being the sign of God’s new covenant.[17] For as Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the old covenant he also established those of the new so that membership into God’s family is now indicated by baptism which symbolizes our dying to our old selves and rising to our new selves with and in Christ Jesus alone.

How bold this move to embrace these Gentiles as part of God’s eternal family was on Peter’s part became evident once he returned to Jerusalem. For when believing Jews who were followers of Jesus, or the “circumcised believers,” heard about this, they criticized Peter. As we read at the beginning of chapter 11, “The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” Word of what had taken place between Peter and Cornelius had traveled fast. And the specific nature of their criticism was that Peter had gone “into the house of uncircumcised men and [eaten] with them”[18]—again, something that was against Jewish law. Therefore Peter recounted all that had occurred starting with his own vision of unclean things and ending with these words starting in verse 15, “15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’[19] 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” And to the great credit of those who heard, “they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’”[20]

Sisters and brothers, this kind of praise and thanksgiving should be our response this Trinity Sunday and always to God’s wondrous and merciful gift of salvation. For to any—Jew or Gentile, male or female, young or old, rich or poor—to any who believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, our gracious and heavenly Father will send his Holy Spirit to seal and indwell them that they, too, might be joined to the triune God of the universe by virtue of their union in Jesus Christ and thereby be joined not only to God but also to each other now and forever. As a friend of mine recently observed, the Trinity is the Christian name of God. And so it is for as one source notes, “On Trinity Sunday, the Christian Church ponders with joy and thanksgiving what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have done to accomplish the salvation of sinful humanity. It is brought to remembrance how Christians should respond to the love God has shown us, praising Him and giving Him glory. We remember the Father as our Creator, the Son as our Savior and the Holy Spirit as our Comforter.”[21]

So let us join God’s people everywhere in praising him;

And let us thank him for the salvation he brings to all who believe in and receive his Son, Jesus Christ;

And let us share that salvation with those around us. For in doing so we’ll follow in the steps of the prophets—and Jesus—and Peter—and John—and Paul, who so wonderfully underscores Peter’s message in stating,

11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[Isaiah 28:16] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[Joel 2:32] 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[Isaiah 52:7]

Let us be those with beautiful feet who bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those around us that Christ might be glorified by means of his Spirit’s working to the glory of our loving and great and and heavenly Father!

Let us pray.


Benediction: 2 Corinthians 13:14: 14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.




[1] Genesis 17:9–12.

[2] Genesis 12:1–3: 12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[3] Approximate dates are AD 30 for the Acts 2 giving of the Spirit at Pentecost; AD 37 for the giving of the Spirit to Cornelius as recorded in Acts 10 and 11. See sermon preached on April 24, 2016 on Acts 11:1–18, Eternal Life Even to Gentiles.

[4] Romans 1:20.

[5] Acts 11:7–8:When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

[6] Acts 11:14–16: 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

[7] Acts 11:17.

[8] Acts 11:19–20.

[9] Acts 11:24–26.

[10] Acts 11:27–29.

[11] Acts 11:33.

[12] Paul affirms this teaching as well in Romans 2:6–11:God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12] To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

[13] Mark 1:1–4: 1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”[Malachi 3:1]“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”[Isaiah 40:3] 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

[14] John 1:29–31: 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

[15] Matthew 3:16–17: 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”; Mark 1:9–11:At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”; Luke 3:21–23a: 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

[16] At the Transfiguration: Matthew 17:5: While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”; Mark 9:7: Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”; Luke 9:34–35: 34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

[17] Colossians 2:11–12: 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

[18] Acts 11:3.

[19] Jesus said this at his post-resurrection appearance to his disciples just before he ascended to heaven as recorded in Acts 1:4–5: On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”; John the Baptist said the same. Luke 3:16: John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

[20] Acts 11:18.


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