Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Message on ; Date:

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A member of our church was driving to a certain town. He was crossing a bridge when he felt an “inner urging” – an “unexplainable burden” – to turn back, make time and visit someone on an outlying farm. He came just in time to prevent a suicide. Another member of our church – a young woman – drove up the range to Toowoomba when the gearbox of her car broke down which left her stranded on the highway – just around a dangerous bend. Not knowing what to do – she got out of the car. Confused and upset – she didn’t quite realize how big trucks were braking and swerving to avoid hitting her. Just then still another member of our church – our evangelist David Challenor and a friend – also came up the range, recognized the trouble she was in, stopped and came to her rescue. They saved her from the oncoming traffice and – because they were strong men – they were able to push the car – uphill – out of the way. Was this just a coincidence? Was it just lucky that the right people came at the right time? Was the “inner urging” or “unexplainable burden” which made the other man turn his car and rescue a farmer from self-harm – was this also simply good fortune or could it be that someone else – God himself – had a hand in setting up these meetings?

In the same way could it be that you yourself are not here in this building – listening to this message – by accident? Could it be that God is setting up a meeting with you? On the surface you may be here because your parents made you come or you could not refuse a friend or maybe you are curious about church or whatever reason. Yet, could it be that the real reason that you are here is because God loves you and he made the circumstances conspire to get you here because he wants to meet you – set you up for an encounter with him.

According to the Bible this is how God works. A man – he was called Philip – told his brother Nathaniel that they found the promised Saviour – John 1:45 – I read from the Bible: “ … We have found the one … – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of JosephYet, the brother was skeptical, saying – John 1:46: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from thereI continue reading this Bible account – John 1:46-51: “ … ‘Come and see,’ said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he said to him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’ ‘How do you know me?’ Nathaniel asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Then Nathaniel declared, ‘Rabbi [Teacher], you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’ … “ Jesus knew Nathaniel before anything happened because God the Father set up a meeting with him. On the surface level Philip made Nathaniel check out Jesus – his enthusiasm dented Nathaniel’s scepticism – but on a deeper level nothing was by accident. God the Father had already given Jesus a prophetic vision of Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree and showed him that Nathaniel was a man in whom there was nothing false. The meeting was arranged and when Jesus shared with Nathaniel what was revealed to him, Nathaniel was amazed and declared: “You are the Son of God

At another time a short man was desperate to see Jesus and therefore he climbed up a tree to see over the heads of other people and see Jesus walking by. Then this happened – Luke 19:5: “When Jesus reached the spot [where the desperate man was], he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay in your house today.’” Jesus’ behaviour leaves us in no doubt. The meeting was arranged. Jesus knew beforehand when to stop and look up. He knew the man’s name – even though they had not been introduced – and he knew that he needed to stay in his house for the night. God had set up an encounter which ended with Jesus saying to Zacchaeus – Luke 19:9: “Today salvation has come to this house … For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lostTherefore, I encourage you: Pay attention to what may look like a coincidence. It may be God setting up a meeting with you.

A most radical version of what God is doing here is found in the Bible chapter of Acts 10. For the next six messages we will stay with this one Bible chapter because it records the conversion of Cornelius – the first believer outside of God’s nation Israel – and therefore this Bible account is foundational in character (the good news had to be explained to him from scratch) – well suited to be foundational for us. We will learn a lot about what it means to become and be a Christian. But for now – as an introduction – notice how – once again – the meeting was arranged. God is calling you.

I read from the Bible – Acts 10:1-6: “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’ Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.’”

Angels and demons are real and in this instance God made an angel appear to Cornelius in a vision and had this angel convey instructions to Cornelius which set him up to meet a man by the name of Peter and hear the preaching of this man Peter. However, this was not all. I read a few more verses – Acts 10:9-23: “About noon the following day … Peter [in Joppa] went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance [and I skip now what he saw precisely except to say that the punchline was this:] The voice [from heaven] spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times … While Peter was wondering about the meaning of this vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’ … “

Not only did Cornelius see an angel and get instructions from an angel, Peter – while fasting and praying – fell into a trance, saw a vision and heard a voice from heaven. Then, the Spirit impressed on him (maybe this time it was an inner voice) that three men were looking for him and he should go with them. Even Christians today have these experiences of trances, seeing visions, hearing God audibly (for instance, one our members and even a Lutheran pastor colleague) and receiving impressions by the Holy Spirit. And the Bible encourages all of us – 1 Corinthians 14:1: “ … eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy [in all of its various manifestations].” Therefore, you can also have these experiences. In fact, God wants to communicate with you through these channels. However, in the account of Cornelius God was pulling out all stops – compounded the prophetic experiences – to ensure that everyone knew that he was behind this encounter which would break new ground. Even people outside God’s nation Israel – men like Cornelius – were meant to be saved because Jesus also died for them. This was new. They were not clean (did not follow God’s holiness code – ate unclean food) but the voice from heaven told Peter: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean

God did not save Cornelius by accident and he is not offering you salvation in some sort of chance encounter – a fluke meeting. God knows you and he is making an effort in arranging a meeting with you – that you may hear the good news of his Son Jesus Christ. Anticipate something worthy of God for you. Amen.