What’s the most EXTRAVAGANT DECLARATION OF LOVE you’ve heard of? Perhaps someone proposing marriage by skywriting? Or in front of a huge crowd at a baseball game? Or an elaborate trail of clues with expensive gifts along the way, finishing in an amazing spectacle and proposal.
A friend of mine was recently married. And the story of his proposal to his Canadian wife is fantastic. And IT’S the most extravagant declaration of love I’ve heard of. He went to Canada to spend time with her, and to propose. Which is fairly extravagant on its own. But then he took his friend’s brothers out for a day bushwalking. And their plan was to scout for the PERFECT location for the proposal. They spent ALL DAY LOOKING. One brother was running late for a music lesson, but my friend had ONE FINAL DESTINATION in mind. So he headed off down a 2 mile forest path to check it out. Because he wanted his extravagant declaration of love to be perfect.
On the special day, they had lunch at a lovely restaurant, and then they went walking through the forest. As they came near a clearing, they could hear some violins playing. As they walked into the clearing, my friend had organised a picnic, and a string quartet of her brother and sisters, playing their special song. At which point my friend proposed, and everyone started crying.
An extravagant declaration of love.
And today I want to think about GOD’S extravagant declaration of love. His declaration of love for humanity.
He gave us life, he gave us creation, he gave us a relationship with himself, he gave us companionship, and a job to rule over it.
And even though we proved unworthy of it, and ungrateful, and rebels against him, God continued to pour out his love for humanity. He sent us rain, and sun, made food grow for us. He made promises to his people, and he rescued them.
But God was planning A MORE EXTRAVAGANT DEMONSTRATION of his love. Through the prophet Isaiah, in about 600 BC he promised to send a servant who’d come and restore his people, Israel, back to God.
But even THAT wasn’t enough for God. He had even BIGGER plans. Listen to what he says in Isa 49:6.
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for THE GENTILES, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
God’s plan was NEVER to keep his love confined to only ONE NATION. His servant would be a light for ALL THE WORLD. To NON-Jews EVERYWHERE. That’s how big God’s plans are. How EXTRAVAGANT his love is.
And in the fullness of time/ he sent JESUS. God’s SERVANT. His light to THE WORLD. God’s ultimate declaration of his love. John 3:16
16 “For God SO LOVED THE WORLD that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
WHO did he love? The WHOLE WORLD. How much did he love it? SO great, he sent his ONLY SON, so that those who trust his Son would have life that LASTS.
And so, in the fullness of time, Jesus was born, lived an extraordinary life, then was killed, and then resurrected. God’s extravagant declaration of love to the world.
But so far, only really having had an impact on a small number of Jews. Hardly all God had promised to Isaiah!
But as we take up the story at the start of the book of Acts, we see Jesus promising the Holy Spirit to his disciples. God dwelling in and with his people. They recognise the beginning of a new age. Acts 1:6
Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
But they’ve failed to recognise the extravagant nature of God’s love. How BIG his commitment to his world is. Jesus answers, Acts 1:7-8
7 …”It’s not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES IN JERUSALEM, AND IN ALL JUDEA AND SAMARIA, AND TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”
Witnesses about God’s servant Jesus. Witnesses not just to Israel, but to the ends of the earth. To the whole world.
That’s the plan for God’s extravagant declaration of love to humanity. And it’s that plan WORKING OUT the book of Acts describes.
And the first 9 chapters describe how the message of Jesus s through Jerusalem, and then all Judea, and then Samaria.
Acts 10: Salvation:
And so we come to Ch 10. And we’re at Caesarea. A Roman colony in the north of Israel. Where we meet a Roman centurion called Cornelius. A GENTILE.
He’s someone who wants to know God. But he doesn’t yet. We’re told he’s a God-fearer. He was devout, and generous, and he prayed regularly. But it’s not enough. He needs a personal introduction.
And God’s got a plan for him. A plan to reveal Jesus to him. A plan for SALVATION. But it involves A MATCHMAKER.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever thought much about MATCHMAKING people? Mark Glanville’s had people trying to set him up with lovely Christian s for years. I’ll admit I’ve had a few passing thoughts in the years I’ve known Mark. But, for one reason or another, none of the introductions ever worked out. And Mark was getting older, and he was REALLY keen to get married.
In the end it was Mark and Erin’s FATHERS who got their heads together and decided they’d be a good match. Not normally fathers who are good at this sort of thing. But they were spot on in this case. Mark’s father was the principal at Tyndale Christian school, and Erin’s father would regularly come out from Canada to do in-service training for the teachers at Tyndale.
But this time last year, after their conversation, Erin’s dad decided to bring Erin with him. And Erin and Mark were introduced at a Parramatta Eels footy game. And the rest, as they say, is history. They married in April this year.
It took matchmakers.
Same with Cornelius. He was keen to know God. And God LOVED this Gentile Cornelius. But they needed an introduction. A matchmaker. And the matchmaker was GOD HIMSELF.
And Acts 10 fills us in on the story. Have a look at v3. An angel appears to Cornelius, probably during his regular prayer time. And tells him his prayers and gifts to the poor have caught God’s attention. And that he’s to send a messenger to get Simon Peter from Joppa.
That’s all. But presumably Peter will then tell him what to do next.
And as we work through the rest of the matchmaking story here in Ch 10 – a story much better than Mark and Erin’s – we see a whole lot of things about SALVATION. About God’s extravagant love for people, and how he REVEALS that through Jesus.
- One nation is not enough Isa
First thing we’ve seen already about salvation. One nation is not enough. God’s plans have always been to save not just Israel, but THE WHOLE WORLD. That’s how much he loves it.
Which was great news for Cornelius, the FIRST Gentile in Acts God introduces himself to.
And it’s great news for us. Gentiles on the other side of the world.
- God’s initiative
Second thing we learn about salvation. Is that it’s GOD’S INITIATIVE.
Cornelius was a God-fearer, he PRAYED, he did good things. But it took GOD sending an angel to make the introduction.
Salvation is ALWAYS God’s initiative. Whether it was Cornelius THEN, or you and I TODAY.
On our own, we can NEVER seek God, never understand our need for him. Or how to be saved. It may not involve an angel, but it’s ALWAYS God opening our eyes, showing us our sin. Giving us the faith to understand Jesus’ , and the faith to trust him.
- good works are not enough
Third lesson about salvation. Good works are not enough. Which would be a bit of a shock for people around Blacktown if you took a survey today. How can you get to heaven? How can you be saved? Do enough good works! 7 or 8 times out of ten I reckon you’d get that answer.
But that’s not we find here. Cornelius and his whole family were DEVOUT – religious. They PRAYED, they generously gave money to the poor. Down in v22 we’re told he’s righteous and respected by all the Jewish people. And God had even NOTICED it ALL. Surely they’d be at the front of the queue.
But it WASN’T ENOUGH.
No one can EARN their way to God. It’s where every human religion falls down. Christianity is UNIQUE in this. It says God has to bridge the gap. God has to take the initiative.
Good works aren’t enough to save someone.
- an angel’s message is not enough
Fourthly, an angel’s voice isn’t enough to learn about salvation. If it was you or I making the introductions, we’d think an angel would be the most impressive way of introducing Cornelius to God. Yet, what’s the angel’s message? Not, here’s how you get saved. But “You need to go and get PETER. HE’LL tell you what you need to know to be saved”.
And, for the most part, that’s exactly how God chooses to reveal the message of salvation to people TODAY. Obedient normal Christians telling people they care about the news about Jesus using normal words in normal conversations in normal situations.
Not very exciting. But that’s God’s preferred method. An angel’s message wasn’t enough. It needed the witness of a faithful Christian.
And when it comes to the Jesus All About Life media campaign, that’s the emphasis as well. The TV ads don’t tell viewers the news about salvation. They spark interest, get people talking, hopefully either to friends who are Christians, or to other Christians at the campaign call centre. And the point is for ordinary local churches, filled with ordinary local Christians, to be doing the explaining and proclaiming.
That’s the way God did it with CORNELIUS, and it’s the way he mostly does it today.
- externals don’t count
The fifth thing we can learn about salvation is that externals don’t count.
From v9. Cornelius’ mates are on their way to Peter’s house. Meanwhile it’s Peter’s turn to pray. He’s waiting for lunch to be cooked. And while he’s praying he sees a vision. It’s a big parachute full of unclean animals. All sorts of food Jews couldn’t eat: pig, snake, lobster, eel, vulture, bats, lizards. And it’s let down out of heaven, and in v13, the command, “Get up Peter, and EAT!”
Like one of those challenges they have on SURVIVOR. You can win immunity if you eat a plate full of spiders, or roaches.
And Peter, like the good Jew he was said, v14,
14 “Surely not, Lord!” “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
And the voice answered, “Do not call ANYTHING impure that God has MADE CLEAN.”
And just in case Peter didn’t get the message the first time, the same thing’s repeated twice more. And then the unclean animals and the sheet return to heaven WHERE THEY CAME FROM.
Some dreams you wish you never woke up from. They’re THAT GOOD! But I reckon THIS ONE Peter was glad to get behind him. He woke up wondering about what it MEANT. Because it DID mean more than simply what FOOD was going to be on Peter’s plate for lunch. As he was about to find out because Cornelius’ mates arrive. V19.
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.” 21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”
And at some point during their explanation the penny must drop for Peter because look at what he says next.
23 Then Peter INVITED THE MEN INTO THE HOUSE to be his guests.
Normally a Jew would NEVER invite a Gentile into his house. They were seen as UNCLEAN. Yet Peter works out what the vision meant. That with God externals don’t matter anymore. It’s not just FOOD that God makes clean. ANYTHING/ or more importantly ANYONE God declares clean shouldn’t be thought of as unclean.
It doesn’t matter to God the colour of your skin, or where you’re born. Doesn’t matter to God what language you speak, how old or young you are, or what your education is. Doesn’t matter how far you’ve wandered from God. If God declares someone clean, then they’re CLEAN. The OUTSIDE doesn’t matter, it’s the INSIDE that counts.
Peter learns the lesson, and invites these previously unclean Gentiles into his house. And the next day they head off to see Cornelius.
When they get there, Cornelius has rounded up all his friends to hear what Peter has to say. After all, it’s not every day an ANGEL tells you to invite someone to visit.
And here’s what Peter says (v28)
“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him.
Not exactly the introduction designed to win friends and influence people. But Peter’s learned an important lesson.
But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.
When it comes to salvation, externals don’t count with God. Which is exactly what Peter realises after Cornelius retells his story about the angel. Down in v34.
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
- is peace with God through Jesus Christ
And so we finally come to the message of salvation. Lots of things we’ve seen that DON’T count when it comes to salvation. But here’s what DOES COUNT. V36
36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
Salvation is peace with God through Jesus Christ. No longer enemies with the God who made you/ through Jesus who is LORD of all.
Peter goes on. Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, went around doing good. And then how he was killed, v39, by hanging him on a tree, a sign of God’s CURSE.
But then, rather than being CURSED by God, he RAISED HIM FROM THE . Proof of God’s APPROVAL. And we’re WITNESSES of it all! And v42.
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 . 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
That’s how you’re SAVED. How you receive peace with God. How you’re FORGIVEN. Trusting in Jesus, the one who died in your place, but raised to life.
That’s what salvation is. Who it’s offered to. And how they get it.
But let’s ask the “So what?” question. If that’s God’s extravagant declaration of love, what do I DO with that? Let me suggest the same thing Erin did with Mark’s proposal, grab it with both hands, and commit your life to loving him back.
If God offers us life and forgiveness and love through Jesus, the FIRST thing we should do is ACCEPT it. Repent of our sin, and submit to the Lordship of Jesus. That means commit your life to RETURNING the love that God has for you by following Jesus. Living HIS way instead of yours.
The second way we respond to God’s extravagant proposal of love is to view his world the way God does.
One nation is not enough. One class is not enough. One language. One age group. One suburb. One church. One continent.
God wants to see people EVERYWHERE recognising his love. Yet we settle for 5% of Christians in Australia. Dozens of countries with NO KNOWN CHURCHES, and we’re happy with how the Christian is going.
Let’s lift our gaze. Widen our vision. Let’s become EDUCATED about mission. And the needs of our brothers and sisters in other countries.
Let’s settle for nothing less that PEOPLE EVERYWHERE loving God BACK.
And let’s look beyond externals the way GOD does. We look at someone RICH, and think they won’t be interested in Jesus, because they’ve got everything they need. Or someone comfortable, or popular, or healthy, or talented.
But externals count for NOTHING.
We look at rough people, people who swear, or are on , or alcoholics, or criminals. And assume they won’t be interested in God. They’ve made their choice. They’re too far gone.
But externals count for NOTHING with God.
Third way we respond to God’s extravagant declaration of love. Is to CONFIDENTLY PROCLAIM JESUS AS CHRIST AND LORD OF ALL. His body ISN’T in a tomb somewhere. He ISN’T just another moral teacher. He ISN’T just a good example. The founder of another religion.
He’s LORD and CHRIST. God’s anointed king. Eternal conqueror of sin and . Ruler over every power and authority. Deserving of all honour and respect and allegiance and obedience.
We RESPOND to God’s love by confidently proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Christ over all.
And finally, we reflect God’s extravagant love for US, by LOVING GOD’S WORLD EXTRAVAGANTLY. By giving our lives over in service of others.
Extravagantly spending our TIME and ENERGY and EMOTIONS on people who can’t repay it. People God loves. People God gave EVERYTHING to because he loved them SO MUCH. And so he calls us to love them like HE does.
God’s extravagant declaration of love to his world is this – he loved his world SO MUCH, he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.