Jan. 9, 2011Acts 10:34-43
In 1995, Newsweek
ran an article called "The Search for the Sacred." That article chronicled the rise in spiritual hunger among Americans. This hunger leads people down some very strange paths. The challenge for Christians is reaching these seekers with the good news of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Peter was confronted with a similar situation. Through a remarkable sequence of events, God led Peter to the household of Cornelius. Although Cornelius was not a Christian, he was clearly a seeker, a God fearer. As a good Roman, he likely was raised believing in the traditional Greek and Roman gods. Yet during this time in Roman history, there was widespread disillusionment with traditional beliefs. Cornelius was also a Roman centurion. This would mean Cornelius was a participant in the Imperial religion that worshiped the Roman emperor as a god. Yet, he was drawn to the God of Israel, clearly disillusioned with the standard answers he had been given.
Peter's sermon to Cornelius gives us today a pattern for how to communicate the good news to modern seekers. Specifically, in Peter's sermon we find four strategies for communicating Christ to seekers.
Peter starts by admitting his own changing attitude toward seekers (Acts 10:34-35
). God had to move in remarkable ways to teach Peter that lost people such as Cornelius mattered to God. Peter acknowledges his attitude was changing.
As Christians today, we will find ourselves unable to communicate the good news of Christ to present day seekers effectively unless our attitudes change, as well. Too often we view seekers the same way devout Jewish people of the first century viewed Gentiles: defiled and undesirable. Then we wonder why these people are not responsive to our message! Until we can begin to love (and like!) the seekers around us, we will find ourselves unable to reach them for Christ.
Next Peter builds a bridge to his listeners (Acts 10:36
). He does this by describing Jesus as "the Lord of all." This title does not occur in the Old Testament, but it was originally a common pagan title for deity.1
As a member of the Imperial cult, Cornelius probably often declared his loyalty to the Emperor Claudius by saying, "Caesar is Lord of all." By utilizing this common pagan phrase, Peter is building a bridge to Cornelius' world.
The early church demonstrated great flexibility in the terminology it used to communicate the good news of Christ. Although it never altered the content of the message, they were creative in how they communicated this content. Our churches today need a similar Spirit-led creativity as we seek to communicate the good news to seekers.
Peter also begins with the level of knowledge Cornelius possesses (John 10:36-37
). Twice Peter says, "You know…" as he shares the good news. He starts where Cornelius is, which is quite different from where a Jewish person would be. As a soldier in Palestine, Cornelius was somewhat familiar with the events surrounding Jesus, so this is where Peter begins.
Far too often we assume far more than seekers actually know. We refer to biblical characters such as Daniel and David without explanation. We assume people understand what we mean when we use terms such as sin, salvation and justification. Peter's example challenges us always to begin where the seeker is, not necessarily where we think the seeker should be.
Finally, Peter focuses on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 10:39-43
). Peter makes the central issue of the gospel the most important issue. He doesn't speculate about philosophy. He doesn't offer the four classical arguments for the existence of God. He simply bears witness to what he has seen in the life and resurrection of Jesus.
Far too often we think our job as Christians is to persuade seekers to believe. We need to be reminded our role is that of a witness who testifies of Christ, not an attorney who persuades the jury or a salesperson who closes the deal.
In a time of spiritual seeking, our churches need to become havens for spiritual seekers. By looking at Peter's example, we can find enduring strategies for effectively communicating the good news of Christ to seekers of any generation.
1 Richard Longenecker, "Acts" in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1981), p. 393.