************ Sermon on Acts 9:36; 10:2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 4, 2007
Acts 9:36; 10:2
"Helping the Poor"
Topic: CompassionAs I told the boys and girls, on this World Hunger Sunday Jesus calls us to have compassion.
Title: Compassion is Not a Bad Precedent
It was a tragic mistake. On July 3, 1988, the navy cruiser USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner with 290 aboard. All were lost. The ship's captain mistakenly thought they were under attack by an F-14 Iranian fighter.
Public opinion polls showed that most Americans opposed paying compensation to the victims' families. The cruel treatment of American hostages in Iran was still fresh in many minds. But President Reagan approved compensation. Asked by reporters if such payment would send the wrong signal, he replied, "I don't ever find compassion a bad precedent."
"Bread For The World" gives us the following fast facts about world hunger:
-854 million people across the world are hungry
-every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes, one child every five seconds
-countries that have a lot of hungry people often lack things like soup kitchens, food stamps, job training; when a family in a poor country cannot grow enough food or earn enough money to buy food, there is nowhere to turn for help
-a lack of food affects people's heath, productivity, sense of hope, and overall well-being
-a lack of food can stunt growth, slow thinking, sap energy, hinder fetal development, and contribute to mental retardation
This morning we learn that if you profess faith in Jesus – as the four young men have – then you show compassion to the poor, the hungry, the widow, the orphan; faith, in other words, expresses itself in works. We also learn that works apart from faith is nothing.
I Faith Without Works
A Our first lesson is taught us by the story of Dorcas.
We are told that Dorcas was a "disciple" (Acts 9:36). A disciple of whom? It is understood she is a disciple of Jesus. Jesus is the Teacher, the Rabbi, and she is His disciple.
What is a disciple? First, a disciple is part of a group, part of a community. So Dorcas was part of the church, one of the saints in Joppa. Dorcas loved the church; she loved the people of God. Furthermore, as a disciple, the needs and concerns of the community were more important than her own needs and concerns. The community was more important than she was. For this reason, Dorcas "was always doing good and helping the poor" (Acts 9:36). She was not self-centered; she was other-centered and community-centered. We are told that she "was always doing good" (Acts 9:36). She was abounding with good. Her life was overflowing with good. She was full of good. And, it is clear the first recipients of her good deeds and charity were fellow Christians. She agreed wholeheartedly with Paul's injunction to "do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Gal 6:10).
What is a disciple? Second, a disciple is someone who listens to and learns from the voice of the Teacher. Dorcas loved the teachings of Jesus – especially what He said and taught about Himself and salvation and the way of life. Dorcas studied the Word of God. Dorcas meditated on the Word of God. Dorcas memorized the Word of God.
What is a disciple? Third, a disciple wants to be like the Teacher. So Dorcas wanted to learn Jesus' way of thinking. She wanted to learn His way of life. She wanted to follow Him. She wanted to be like Him. She wanted to obey Him. She wanted to imitate Him in every way. This takes passion. This takes a consuming desire to be like the Rabbi no matter what.
"In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha ..." (Acts 9:36). Dorcas was like Jesus. She "was always doing good and helping the poor" (Acts 9:36). Isn't that what Jesus did? Listen to what Matthew says:
(Mt 9:35-36) Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. (36) When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.The ultimate expression of Jesus' compassion, of course, is the cross and the grave. Out of love and compassion Jesus suffered and died. Out of love and compassion Jesus was crucified. Out of love and compassion Jesus gave Himself for the sins of the people.
B Are you four young men, like Dorcas, a disciple of Jesus? What about you, congregation? You can't say "yes" unless you participate in the life of the church, love what Jesus says about Himself, and have a passion, a desire, to be like Jesus in every way. This needs to be on your mind when you wake up and when you go to sleep. You need to be consumed by this. If you are not consumed by this, then you can not say you are a disciple of Jesus in the Biblical sense.
How consumed are you to be like Jesus? Is this what you want more than anything else in the whole world? How bad do you want to be like Jesus?
This is what it means to be a disciple.
When we look through the gospels we see that many times the apostles were not very much like Jesus at all. This took time. They needed to spend time with Jesus. They needed to listen to Him. In the same way, to be a disciple of Jesus we need to spend time with Him in prayer, Bible reading, worship, meditation. We need to spend time with Jesus. And, when we neglect the means of grace, when we neglect our spiritual exercises, when we neglect to spend time with Jesus, then we are not becoming more like Him – in fact, the exact opposite is happening.
C Scripture tells us that Dorcas died at the same time that Peter was nearby. So Peter was summoned to "Please come at once" (Acts 9:38). Was Peter summoned because he was a member of the family? Was Peter summoned because he had sold them fish in the past? Was Peter summoned as a friend, a doctor, an undertaker? Peter was summoned as an apostle and disciple of Jesus Christ, as a servant and agent of the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter came as a representative of Christ. I have four reasons for saying this. First, Peter followed the example of Jesus. Even as Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, so Peter raised Dorcas. Because the people were crying and weeping loudly, Peter "sent them all out of the room" (Acts 9:40), just as Jesus had done. The words Peter said to the dead person were almost identical to the words Jesus said to the dead person. Second, Peter raised Dorcas by the power of Jesus. Peter knew that he could not overcome disease and death by his own authority or power. So he did not attempt to do so. Instead, "he got down on his knees and prayed" (Acts 9:40). He asked for the power of Jesus to raise Dorcas from the grave. Third, the same word is used for the raising of Dorcas that is used for the raising of Jesus. The raising of Dorcas, in other words, points to the new life of Christ and in Christ. Fourth, the miracle brought glory to Jesus. When Dorcas was raised to life, "this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord" (Acts 9:42).
D When Peter arrived, as a representative of Jesus Christ, he was taken upstairs to the room where Dorcas was laying. And then, notice what we are told:
(Acts 9:39) All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.When Dorcas died, do you notice what the widows did? Did they tell Peter about the faith of Dorcas, her Bible knowledge, her theology, her faithfulness in attending worship? No, No, No. They showed Peter her compassion, her good deeds. They showed Peter how Dorcas was like Jesus. They showed Peter that Dorcas acted like a disciple of Jesus. Dorcas was remembered and Dorcas was mourned because she was always doing good and helping the poor.
During the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, many evangelical Christians suffered severe persecution for their faith and were imprisoned. Since the Italian prison camps provided no food for prisoners, the only way they ate was for relatives and friends to bring food. Christian prisoners were so well cared for by fellow believers and church groups that extra food was passed on to non-Christian prisoners who had no one willing to provide for their needs. This spontaneous, unspoken witness of deep love, unheard of in non-Christian circles, caused unbelievers to seek out Christians and ask them about their behavior. By the grace of God many of these accepted Christ.Showing compassion is never a bad precedent. Showing compassion is a powerful and effective witness. It tells a world full of uncaring people that there is a group that does care and dares to put its faith into action.
On this World Hunger Sunday, do you know what Dorcas tells me? If we profess faith in Jesus – like the four young men – then we do good deeds and help the poor. If we profess faith in Jesus then we act like one of Jesus' disciples. If we profess faith in Jesus then we follow Jesus. We can never forget what James says:
(James 2:14-17) What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (15) Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. (16) If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (17) In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.As James tells us, as Dorcas shows us, faith without works is dead. That is the first lesson we are to learn.
We need to hear this. We need to hear this because some people reduce Christianity to nothing but doctrine, correct belief, right ways of thinking. They have plenty to say about sin and salvation but never get around to talking about the life of service. They can talk at length about justification and being right with God, but never talk about the fruitful Christian life.
When seven members of a Chicago family died because of leaking gas fumes, a grief-stricken mother was left with an enormous bill for hospitals, funerals, and cemetery plots. A little church started a collection which snowballed to the neighboring community. But one man sent in an envelope with nothing in it but a tract entitled, "How to Be Saved."Isn't this sad? Even pathetic! This man wasn't showing mercy or compassion. He might have had faith, but his faith was without works.
II Works Without Faith
A Our second lesson is taught us by the story of Cornelius.
Cornelius was a man with impressive religious credentials. I want you to notice what we are told about Cornelius:
(Acts 10:2) He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.Cornelius attended synagogue worship, accepted the ethical standards of the Jews, and believed there was only one God and not a multitude of gods. And, did you notice what the angel said to Cornelius? The angel said, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God" (Acts 10:4). Even God took note of what Cornelius did. Cornelius was a lot like Dorcas, wasn't he?! In terms of the poor and needy and hungry, Cornelius acted the same as Dorcas.
"Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God" (Acts 10:4). God takes note, congregation, God takes note when we show compassion. He took note of what Cornelius did. He took note of what Dorcas did. He takes note when we also show compassion. Every time we show compassion we are storing up for ourselves treasure in heaven (Mt 6:20).
B Cornelius was religious but his religion was not good enough. That is what the angel told him. Though his "prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God" (Acts 10:4), it was still necessary for him to believe in Jesus, receive the Holy Spirit, and be baptized. That is why the angel told Cornelius to send for Peter. Peter, as an agent of Christ, was being summoned to proclaim the Gospel, to call for repentance and faith, and to baptize. Cornelius was religious but he was not a disciple.
Many people want to believe that all religions are basically the same. It makes no difference what you believe just so long as you believe. The story of Cornelius shows us this is a lie. Like Dorcas, Cornelius may look after the poor, but apart from Jesus this does not mean anything. Like Dorcas, Cornelius might pray to God and worship in the synagogue, but if you are not a servant of Jesus, this does not mean anything. Cornelius needed to participate in the life of the church, love what Jesus said about Himself, and have a passion, a desire, to be like Jesus in every way.
C It is no accident that the story of Dorcas is put right next to the story of Cornelius. If Dorcas teaches us that faith without works is dead, then Cornelius teaches us that works without faith is useless.
On this World Hunger Sunday we are being reminded that we don't just feed the hungry and clothe the naked. This is not enough and this is not good enough. It needs to start with us being a disciple and follower of Jesus. It needs to start with us having a burning passion for Christ.
We need to hear this. We need to hear this because some Christians reduce the Christian faith to nothing but good deeds and the showing of mercy. The social gospel becomes more important than the Gospel of grace and salvation. The life of service takes precedence over sin and misery. But, as with Cornelius, this is not enough.
So how does Acts 10 end? You know what happened. Peter came as a representative of Christ. Cornelius heard the Gospel. He believed in Jesus. He received the Holy Spirit. He was baptized. And, like Dorcas, he became a disciple of Jesus who "gave generously to those in need" (Acts 10:2), he "was always doing good and helping the poor" (Acts 9:36).
Are you a disciple of Jesus? Are you a follower of the Teacher? I hope you profess your faith like the four young men who stood before us this morning. I pray you participate in the life of the church, love what Jesus says about Himself, and have a passion, a desire, to be like Jesus in every way.
But it cannot end there. Because then your faith doesn't mean a thing. Because then your faith is cold and sterile and dead. Like Dorcas, like a saved Cornelius, you need to have compassion for the poor, the hungry, the needy. This is more than having warm fuzzies. This is more than having good thoughts. As James tells us, we cannot get away with saying or thinking, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed" (James 2:16).
In a New England village a home and barn burned. Some furniture was saved and four cows, but not much else. The victims needed almost everything. A farmer neighbor drove up to look at the smoking ruins and to poke around. Shaking his head at though in unbelief and clearing his throat, he told the owner, his long-time neighbor, "If there's anything I can do, just say the word." I ask: Was the man blind? Was he dumb?
Other neighbors came too, but instead of asking what they could do, they went back home and returned with help: a motor home, beds, mattresses, potatoes, vegetables, cooking pots, clothes, hay for the cows, a heifer to start up the man's herd again, a back-hoe to clean up from the fire.
Be a disciple of Jesus. That's the starting point. And, like Jesus, have compassion on the needy.
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