(A sermon based on Matthew 3:13-17 & Acts 10:34-48 for the Baptism of the Lord Sunday)
God came from outside space and time to enter this world of space and time in the person of Jesus of Nazareth--born of a woman, laid in a manger, announced by angels, worshiped by shepherds, honored by Wise Men, and, when he grew up, baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptizer. In undergoing baptism, Jesus did at least two things. First, he identified with sinful humanity. Second, he showed himself to be God’s humble King.
After his baptism and his subsequent test in the wilderness (be aware that baptism leads us into testing and into dangerous territory), Jesus came to Galilee and then to the rest of Israel, to bring in his person, his words, and his actions the good news of that peace—that wholeness, soundness, and integrity—was available through him. Jesus came to people and helped them find that peace by helping them to overcome what afflicted and hurt them.
Then, because Jesus was obedient to his Father and because he was faithful to his calling to humble himself and to display God’s way in the world, he came to Calvary where they crucified him. After three days he came back into the world as the resurrected Lord and came to his followers who were privileged to be witnesses of his resurrection—he even ate and drank with them! When he came to them he commanded them to continue his ministry by preaching the good news to people.
So goes my summary (with a little interpretation) of the sermon that Simon Peter preached at Cornelius’s house. Make no mistake about it: Peter came to Cornelius’s house only because of the events that he recounted in his sermon. Not only did Peter come to be where he was that day but Peter also came to be who he was on that day because of what Jesus had done in his life.
What was the big deal about Cornelius and about Peter being at his house? Well, Cornelius was a Gentile who was also an important Roman military official; he was also a “God-fearer,” which meant that while he had not converted to Judaism, he “was a devout man who feared God with all his household” and who “gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God” (Acts 10:2). One day while praying, Cornelius had a vision; in that vision an angel came to him and told him to send for Peter, which Cornelius did.
The next day, when the men that Cornelius had sent to summon Peter were close to arriving at their destination, Peter had a vision, too. In his, something resembling a sheet came down from heaven full of all kinds of animals and birds. A voice told him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter replied, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice responded, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” In case Peter hadn’t gotten it, the same thing happened two more times (Acts 10:13-16). Peter, not surprisingly, didn’t get it. But he did wonder about it.
Just then the messengers of Cornelius arrived; meanwhile, the Spirit of God had been whispering to Peter than when some men came for him, he was to go with them because they had been sent by God. So the next day he went with them to Caesarea where Cornelius lived.
When Peter came to Cornelius’s house, Peter told him, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection” (Acts 10:28-29). Cornelius then recounted his vision, ending by saying, “So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say” (Acts 10:33).
And that’s when it came to Peter; that’s when the meaning of the vision of the animals on the sheet became clear to him. It didn’t mean that he was supposed to eat some animals he didn’t think he should eat; it didn’t even mean just that he shouldn’t consider anybody unclean, which he had already figured out. No, it meant much more than that. It meant that God was pulling the big surprise; it meant that the bigness of God had swallowed up the smallness of people; it meant that amazing grace was truly amazing—it meant, as Peter said, that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (vv. 34-35). It meant that Jesus “is Lord of all” (v. 36); the Son of God who sits beside his Father ruling the universe does not limit his lordship to just a few people. It meant that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v. 43).
Then, while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came on everybody who was listening to him and they spoke in tongues and praised God. Since God had come to them in that way, Peter very reasonably asked, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So they were all baptized in the name of Jesus; after they were baptized, the asked Peter to stay with them for a few days; salvation, baptism, and the Spirit create fellowship among us.
After his baptism, Jesus came to people to share God’s love and grace with them.
After our baptism, we come to people to share God’s love and grace with them. Like Peter, we have to grow into it, but with God’s help, we can and we will …