Scripture reference: Acts 10:34-43
34 Then Peter began to speak: “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.
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.
37 You know what has happened throughout 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.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,
40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
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.
43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
It’s all a matter of timing — God’s timing. I saw a statement in a church bulletin that really caught my attention. It said, “I can’t number the times I have wished God would hurry up and answer my prayer with a bailout in the middle of my muddle with a fresh sense of God’s working in my life. But there is one well-established principle in the Scriptures, and it is dramatically demonstrated in Jesus’ experience. You can’t rush a resurrection.”
Easter is such a special time in the life of the church. We celebrate the culmination of the divine plan for redemption as Jesus defeats death and completes the purpose for his coming. It’s such a dramatic time of commemoration of the sacrifice he made for us.
God’s timing is evident as the story of redemption played out from Bethelem to Golgotha to the empty tomb to the Mount of Olives. The timing of his works in our own lives, too, is evidence of the divine participation in our lives.
The scripture in Acts also involves some extraordinary timing on God’s part, too. Peter’s five minute sermon preached to Cornelius was not a coincidental opps-here-you-are-in-my-path type, but one carefully orchestrated by God for Cornelius’ moment of truth. It is also a matter of a rather dramatic attitude adjustment for Peter. Peter was, without a doubt, one of the more interesting of the disciples. Fiery, opinionated, outspoken (sounds like some of us, doesn’t it?), Peter was perhpas one of God’s greatest challenges as a charter disciple. Yet, from the day of Pentecost, Peter was like a man possessed (and he was — of the Holy Spirit) in spreading the gospel — to the Jews. But an interesting little drama played out after a particularily eventful series of meetings in several places in Judea, Galilee and Samaria. Peter had been traveling from place to place, preaching, praying for the sick and seeing miracles performed that inspired entire towns, like Lydda and Sharon, to turn to the Lord. In Joppa, a believer named Dorcas got sick and died. The believers, in the panic and grief, sent for Peter. Peter prayed for her, and she came back to life. It was in this charged atmosphere that Peter had a close encounter of the God kind.
Two things happened in close sequence. Cornelius, a Roman army officer that the scripture describes as a godly man, deeply reverent, was praying when an angel apeared to him and told him to send to Joppa and to find a man named Simon Peter who was staying with Simon, the tanner. Ask him to come visit you, the angel instructs. Cornelius immediately sent for Peter.
Meanwhile on a flat rooftop in Joppa, while he was waiting for lunch to be prepared, Peter was in prayer. And he saw a vision. Out of the sky a great canvas sheet, suspended by its four corners, settled to the ground. In the sheet were all sorts of four-footed animals plus an assortment of snakes and birds, all forbidden to the Jews for food. A voice said to him, “Go kill and eat any of them you wish.” Peter, good Jew that he was, said, “Never, Lord, I have never in all my life eaten such creatures, for they are forbidden by our Jewish laws.” The voice said again, “Don’t contradict God! If he says something is kosher, then it is!” The same vision was repeated three times. It perplexed Peter.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to the spread of the gospel in the first century was the Jewish-Gentile conflict. Many early believers were Jewish, and to them it was scandalous even to think of association with Gentiles. But God told Peter to take the gospel to a Roman, and Peter obeyed despite his background and personal feelings. God was making it clear that the Good News of Christ is for everyone! We should not allow any barrier — language, culture, prejudice, geography, economic level or education level — to keep us from telling others about Christ.
But look at the timing in this story. As Peter was puzzling over the vision of the “unclean food,” the Holy Spirit said to him that there were three men who had been sent, go down and meet with them. Timing. If God hadn’t prepared Peter’s heart to receive the servants of Cornelius, he would’t have gone down to Cornelius’ house to preach the gospel.
Timing such as this is evident throughout the bible. Abraham had his son Issac, tied up on the altar ready to sacrifice his son following God’s command, when a ram, a substitute sacrifice, was caught in a nearby bush. Joseph was sent to Egypt in a series of events that lead to the rescue of his family later. There are multitudes of other illustrations of God’s timing things in order to work out for his people. In the New Testament, a man named Ananias in Damascus saw a vision to go to Straight Street (ironic, huh?) and preach to a man named Saul. He wasn’t very eager to do this because Saul was the leader of persecutions against the church, but Saul had had his own encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and was ready to receive the message — God’s timing. This Saul is the same man who we know later as Paul.
We all have stories in our own lives of God’s timing. We’ve gone through tough times and found a divine placement of someone in our lives of guidance, love, understanding, compassion. Conversely, we’ve also been the instrument of God’s timing to others, an equally important consideration about God’s timing. Sometimes we see the purpose, often times we do not.
In my own life, in the recent past, I’ve seen God’s fingerprints on so many things as He’s helped me recover from a very dark period of my life. And in retrospect, I can see His hand even in the darkness because while I was crying out for his action, He was there, sustaining me, keeping me safely in his care, and preparing me for this place and time. Think back in your own experience. Is there a view of God’s working in your life? Keeping you safe? Helping you find him through those put in your path, and helping you help those in your path?
We can’t deny God’s fingerprints are all over our lives even in the dark chapters. His timing is perfect. We can’t rush a resurrection, but we must be ready to experience it, too.
Notice the common thread that runs through all the stories of God’s marvelous dealings — obedience. Abraham obeyed, Joseph obeyed, Anainas obeyed, Peter obeyed. As instruments in God’s plan, we obey the call to act in each other’s lives.
A corollary to God’s timing, though, are the awesome results. Peter preached what amounted to an outline sermon. It wasn’t fancy, long or particularily entertaining, just the facts. Although all of us would like to be as witty as possible, as entertaining as possible, as talented as possible, God uses whatever talents we have even though the sermon might not be particularily entertaining, or our witness particularily eloquent. But if it is in his time, it’s effective. Peter’s brief, powerful sermon contains a concise statemnt of the Gospel.
In every place humans dwell, there are hearts restless for God, ready to receive the gospel. And in the gay community, there are those desperate to hear that God loves us just the way we are. How can seekers find God without someone to point the way? Is God asking you to show someone the way to reconciliation?
The listeners were ready for the message. They responded to the message. They were the result of the equation of God’s timing and human obedience. And when the opportunity to witness to the person who lives by us, or who works with us, you know, the one who gets on our nerves, we must trust that God has prepared that person to receive the gospel.
To be ready for the resurrection, we must be ready to have an attitude adjustment if we need it — Peter did. witness – verbally, if we are given the opportunity and always nonverbally, with our lives worship – yes, it’s a conscious act, not imposed against our will for even 10 second praise is worship (I do that when I see a sunrise or a beautiful Fall) give of our time, talents and resources.
God’s timing will be right for the resurrection
of hope in our lives,
of love in our lives
of care about each other
of mission in our community
of life in the midst of grief
of joy in our adoration of the One who gives such Grace
The sequel to the important change of heart for Peter as he went to the Gentiles with a message of hope and salvation was the response he got when he got back home to Jerusalem. He was taken to task by the strict Jewish Christian faction for consorting with (shudder) Gentiles. Peter had to convince them with a full account of the incident that this had not been of his own initiative, but by the inescapable lead of God. God’s timing proved to be too strong for the religious conservatists, and the results were that the church thrived and grew even faster.
Let us be willing to be participants in God’s timing, anticipate his working in our lives, and allow him to use us to our fullest talents.