Two Conversions

Pastor Rod Thompson

Midland SDA Church

March 3, 2018


Over the last several weeks I have been working on a class that I have been taking at Andrews University.  This class is on Christian witness and world religions.  I have to admit to you that it has been a real eye opener to me and today I hope to share with you some of the things that I am learning and I hope they will help you as well, in our effort to complete the mission that God has given us.

That is the great commission of

Matthew 28: 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

When He gave us that work to do He knew we could not complete that work without help from God.  So He said,

Acts 1:8               You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

And notice that the witness that He describes starts in our homes, among our own family and friends, and then it goes out into our local community, across the state, throughout North America, and to the rest of the world.

But I want you to think about something for a moment. First of all think about the fact that Jesus is sending us out to share the gospel message to all kindred, nations, tongues and people.  In other words this is not just Americans, not just Christians but it is a commission to reach everyone.

 I want you to think about your personal evangelism efforts, I want to think about our corporate Seventh-day Adventist evangelism for a minute.      QUESTION?      What is the main thrust of our outreach efforts?

The reality is that the majority of our public evangelism efforts are centered on trying to attract other Christians and bring them to a deeper understanding of scripture and a deeper commitment to God.

Therefore our traditional evangelism methodology is designed for other Christians only.  In other words our philosophy has been

– Basic Christianity + unique SDA beliefs = new members. 

This is the reality of our outreach efforts.  Yet more than half of humanity identifies themselves with a non-Christian world religion.

 That means that we have not been reaching more than half of our mission field.  And brothers and sisters this puts us in some very peculiar company.

If you look back through the Old Testament you will discover that God called Abraham out of the world, He was set apart by God to be the father of a nation--a nation that was to be His peculiar people. 

Romans 9: 4  In talking about the Israelites says, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.

Romans 3:2        In talking about the advantage of being a Jew, Paul says, “because to them were committed the oracles of God”

In other words they were God’s chosen vessel to spread the truth of God to the entire world.  And did they do it?    NO!

They kept it bottled up, they kept it hidden within the walls of Jerusalem.  They didn’t share the good news with the world.  Instead they isolated themselves and considered the rest of the world heathen and pagans and those unworthy of the truth of God.

So God sent His Son into the world.  Not only to save the Jew, but the gentile as well.  To save the pagans, heathens, barbarians, and Scythians. 

After Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection He gave that great commission.  Go out in an ever expanding circle and reach the entire world. 

But it didn’t happen automatically.  The people still didn’t go out, God had to intervene.  He allowed persecution after the stoning of Stephen so that people would leave the area and go and share the good news with others.  Saul of Tarsus had to be converted to Paul the great Apostle to the gentiles.  And Peter received a vision.

I think that we can learn a great lesson from this vision that Peter received.

Read Acts 10: 1-8

Cornelius was a Roman soldier, a centurion.   A century is 100 years.  So as a centurion this man was a leader of 100 men.  But it also says that he was a devout man, one who feared God.  In other words Cornelius was neither a pagan, nor was he a full proselyte.  A proselyte was someone who had converted to Judaism.  They would have submitted to circumcision and would follow Jewish rituals and laws.  Neither was he a believer in Jesus Christ. 

Notice verse 2 again.  It says that he and all his household, gave to the poor generously and prayed to God regularly.

If we were to put this into today’s vernacular we might be able to view Cornelius as a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim.  He had some spiritual interest.  He believed in God.

In a sense Cornelius was already converted to God, but his encounter with Peter led him to turn explicitly toward Jesus Christ.

Cornelius represents a vast majority of people, in the world, who are truly open to God but who had not received the gospel, because in his day Jewish Christians were reluctant to share what they had.  And the same problem exists today.  The vast majority of people around us are not receiving the gospel message, because of our reluctance to share what we have. 

In a sense Cornelius was a cultural, religious, middle man whose conversion pointed Peter and the predominately Jewish church toward the gentile world.

But Cornelius’ conversion is not the only one that took place that day. 

You know the story, the next day Peter was up on the roof of the house praying, these men that Cornelius had sent come to the house and while they are approaching Peter goes into vision.  He sees this sheet come down from heaven and on it all sorts of unclean animals. 

Read Acts 10:13-16

Peter was awestruck – what in the world did the vision mean?  He had never eaten anything unclean.  Jesus had never instructed that the command of God was somehow changed and now it was ok to eat unclean meat.  No!  This was something deeper than that.

While Peter is wondering the men show up and ask for him.  And at that very moment, the Holy Spirit speaks to Peter and says, in verse 19 “Behold, three men are seeking you.  Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” 

In other words God is saying to Peter, I know what you’re going to think, I know what your culture has taught you.  I know that you’re not going to want to travel with a couple of non-Christians – But I am taking you out of your comfort zone.  I am sending you – so go with them.

And Peter is obedient, he and some others go with them and they arrive at Cornelius’ house.  You can imagine that all along the journey Peter is reviewing in his mind, “What in the world is going on here?  What did the vision me?  Why am I following these gentiles when it is unlawful for me to be with them? 

And Peter goes into the house and is introduced to Cornelius.  (vs 25) Cornelius falls down before Peter to worship him, Peter picks him up, essentially saying “don’t do that, I myself am a man just like you.”

Read Acts 10:28

You see brothers and Sisters, Peter was a Jew, and he had grown up believing in God, he has spiritual interests, but at the resurrection He was converted to Christianity.  As a Christian, He is now commissioned by God and preach the good news to everyone.  But like so many other Jewish Christians of his day Peter was witnessing only to Jews.

So God sends him to Cornelius.  Cornelius is converted to Christianity, but that day there were two conversions.  You see this day Peter had a conversion of his own.

Read vs 28 -29

You see friends Peter needed a conversion to a world mission mindset.  Up to this point Peter is content to only witness to other people of his own belief system.  Peter is shown that he was prejudiced against anyone outside of Judaism. 

The vision of the sheet with unclean meat was not showing Peter, as many Christians believe today, that now it’s ok to eat unclean meat, but rather it was to show Peter that he should call any man uncommon or unclean.  And Peter gets it!

He says to Cornelius, that’s why I came.  I get it, I’ve had a conversion of my own.  And He preaches to Cornelius and his household and the Holy Spirit is poured out on them just like it was to Peter and the Jews.

Brothers and sisters, may I suggest to you, that you and I need a conversion to the world mission mindset.  We have not been called by God to only try and reach other Christians and bring them into a deeper understanding of God and a deeper commitment to him.  Yes that’s important, and yes we want to keep do it.  But we can’t stop there.

We have got to reach out to those of other world religions who have already been converted to God, but have never been introduced to the saving power of Jesus Christ. 

Let me describe to you what I am saying here, by using a football analogy.  Much of our mission philosophy has been setting up on the 10 yard line and bringing Christians of other denominations into the end zone. 

They are already 90% there, they already believe in God and have surrendered their life to Jesus Christ.  And we have focused on getting them the rest of the way.  We have focused on bringing greater understanding and greater commitment.  And we have been somewhat successful.

But if we stop there, we are never going to fulfill the great commission.  By this method only we are never going to reach more than half the world.

Instead, we have to be converted to a world mission view.  We have to realize that we are on the 10 yard line, but we have to turn around and go the other way.  We have to realize that if we are going to reach the world then in many cases we have 90 or 100 yards to go.

Well, if you’re like me, you may have just lost all the wind in your sail.  You might be saying to yourself, how in the world are we going to do that?

Well, let me see if I can help you get started. 

Turn with me to Acts chapter 17

Around the same time that Peter was having his mission mind set conversion, so was Saul of Tarsus.  You know the story of Saul, he was acting out his murderous rage against the Christians and one day he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the saints when the bright light of the presence of Christ knocked him off his high horse.

Paul had two conversion himself didn’t he?  Because of that event he was converted to Christianity and he was shown that he was going to go where no Jew had gone before.  He was going to be the Apostle to the gentiles. 

Two conversions – one to Christianity and one to a world mission mindset.  Brothers and sisters, have you had two conversions?

In Acts chapter 9 Saul is converted to Paul and he immediately starts preaching Christ, He goes to Jerusalem and tries to join the disciples, but everyone is afraid of him, they don’t trust him, they think it might be a trick, so he leaves.  In chapter 13 he goes to Seleucia, Cyprus, Salamis, Paphos, Pergia, and Antioch.

In chapter 14 he goes to Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Iconium and back to Antioch. 

In chapter 15 there is the conflict over circumcision and the Jerusalem council.  Paul goes back to Jerusalem for that council meeting and at its conclusion sets off on his second missionary journey.  He goes back to Antioch and gives them the decree of the Jerusalem council.

Then there is a dispute over John Mark so Barnabas and Paul part ways and Paul takes Timothy and Silas in chapter 16 and goes through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches that he had started there.  He goes to Macedonia and Philippi and then in chapter 17 he comes to Thessalonica and something very interesting happens.

But before we get to that let me just say a couple of things.

Next to Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul is the most prolific missionary of the New testament.  Both Jesus and Paul are our models for mission work. 

Jesus provided a model of service done in human frailty, but he did it without sinfulness.  Paul, a fellow sinner – like you and me, demonstrated that through the power and wisdom of God, mistake making Christians can be effective missionaries. 

Let me give you a couple of principles of Mission that we can learn from Paul

1.   Conversion must take place before Mission can begin.  He was converted to Christ and converted to a world mission  mindset

2.   Training is essential to missions – and Paul received a lot of on the job training before he came to Thessalonica

3.   Prayer is essential to mission – you remember what Paul said to Timothy

1 Timothy 2:1     Therefore I exhort first of all that supplication, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men.

4.   Teamwork and diversity are an essential part of missionary work – Paul followed Jesus model of sending out two by two and he took others with him

5.   Theological reflection and contextualization are necessary aspects of mission.  In other words, everywhere that Paul went he understood that different issues arose and he had to work through theological issues and put them in the proper context.

Let me show you what I mean. 

Read Acts 17: 16-31

What do we see Paul doing here?  He is giving us a method for how to reach those of other world religions.

He teaches profound theology and then he point them to something better.  In other words he met them where they were at and then he introduced them to something better.

And the only way we can do that is to be willing to observe and study the other religion; Then we can find within that other religion a starting point, or foothold for building a bridge

In this case he uses their sacred texts as a starting point.  Make no mistake about it, there were no easy successes, yet most of Paul’s converts were from pagan religions. 

And so I ask you again, have you had two conversions?  Or are you willing to convert to a world mission mindset?  Are you willing to expend the necessary energy and effort to learn about our Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim friends in our community?  You may have never even noticed that they are here.  But they are!

Will you join me in praying that God will use us to reach them – with something better?