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In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery. “Your Majesty,” said Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.”

“I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”

“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” When King Henry died, a statement was written: “The King learned to rule by being obedient.”[1]  


We must put ourselves in the place to hear God’s call to obedience and the example of King Henry takes us to the next point which is to humble ourselves to obey once we hear it.

II. We Must Humble our Wills to Obey by Trusting Him

Hearing his call is not sufficient alone. We must also obey it when it comes. That requires humble trust because God’s ultimate purpose in a call is not to get a job done. Instead it is to increase our dependence upon and satisfaction in him. There are a couple of impediments to our obeying God’s call which can only be overcome by trust in God.

A. Incomplete details

It is essential to proceed in trust because God does not provide all of the details when he calls us to some new work or challenge. Notice how brief is God’s instruction to Cornelius. He only tells him to send men to Joppa in order to retrieve Peter. He does not tell him who Peter is. He does not tell him why they are to bring Peter. All Cornelius is able to infer is that Simon Peter is a Jew (because of his name) and that he is staying with a man whose occupation is unclean. This would have been quite the challenge for Cornelius to obey. He was being asked to reach out to an ethnic group who had previously rejected him. As devout as he was in service and devotion to God, he had been told that he could only go so far in terms of his religious status.


But Cornelius’ will had obviously been prepared for this moment, because he responds immediately by calling the angel (as God’s representative) “Lord.” Scripture had taught his mind that God is the Sovereign Lord whose Word demands obedience. In prayer, he had learned to trust the commands of this Lord. And his heart was already soft in service by years of selfless ministry.


Peter does not receive any more details than Cornelius. He receives two brief and disturbing commands. First, he is commanded to kill and eat the animals in his vision. That was repulsive to Peter because he had been taught that some creatures were not pure food for a Jew (Lv. 11; Dt. 14:3-21). To eat these unclean animals would be to identify with Gentiles. However, to Peter’s objections no further details are given. The command is simply repeated three times. Imagine this scenario in your own life. Imagine you had learned a certain worldview from as far back in your history as you can remember but now it is being turned on its head. Peter understood from his earliest days that to eat these animals would be considered unclean and now the Lord is commanding him to do just that!


Eventually, Peter is quiet in submission as he recognizes that the command was from the Lord since the sheet descended from and returned to heaven. God was not so much concerned with Peter’s diet as he was to prepare him for a new era. It would be one in which Gentiles would no longer be second class citizens, but included in God’s redemptive plan on the same level as Jews.


The second command comes to Peter in vv.19,20. No more details are given other than he is to go with representatives of some Roman citizen named Cornelius. This too would have been a challenging command for Peter, as the Romans were powerful and those who had persecuted the church. However, because of a biblical understanding of God as Lord, because he knew from prayer his Father could be trusted, and because his heart had been softened in ministry toward unclean people, Peter obeyed the call.  


We must put ourselves in the place of Cornelius and Peter and ask ourselves where we need to repent of disobedience to God’s commands on our own lives. This passage gives a vision for a church that is inhabited by both Jews and Gentiles and both had to get uncomfortable in order to obey God’s command.


B. Fear

A second impediment to obeying God’s call is fear. When Cornelius is greeted by the angel, he like Zechariah and Mary, is afraid. The angel represents God’s holy realm and Cornelius knows that he lives in a world of sin, so he is understandably afraid. But it is Cornelius’ trust in a gracious God that in the end overcomes his fear and enables him to obey. Further, he knows that it is this God who sent the angel. If God is the initiator, he surmises, it must be good.


Likewise, Peter must have displayed some fear, because God tells him not to “hesitate” (20). God assures that he sent the men to Peter, so he like Cornelius surmises that if God sent them it must be good.


Both men trusted what they knew to be true about their gracious God rather than focus on what they did not know or allow themselves to be paralyzed by fear of the unknown.


Cornelius and Peter stood at a crossroads in redemptive history. Christ had promised that his Gospel would go to the Gentiles and the uttermost parts of the earth. Humanly speaking, that would have never occurred if either Cornelius or Peter had failed to heed God’s call. Peter had to take the Gospel to him as the chief spokesman of the Church. His action signaled to the whole Church that the Gospel had to go to the Gentiles. If Cornelius and Peter had not connected, the Church would not have preached the Good News to the Gentiles. If the Church had not preached to the Gentiles you and I would have never believed in Jesus Christ. While God is not ultimately dependent on us, he does dignify our choices in such a way as to make them necessary means to the accomplishment of his will. The fact that his will be accomplished no matter what does not change the fact that it is essential for you to hear and obey his call.


Rowland Bingham was one of founders of the Sudan Interior Mission. Bingham was inspired to go to the Sudan with the Gospel by a quiet little Scottish lady who had yielded two children to the mission field. Her daughter had gone to China and her oldest son was in the Sudan. Listening carefully to her burden for that region, Bingham heard God’s call to go there himself to join Mrs. Gowans’ son, Walter, in Nigeria.


A year and a half later Bingham returned to Canada to visit Mrs. Gowans. But he was alone. Her son and another missionary named Thomas Kent lay buried in Nigeria’s interior. “I visited Mrs. Gowans to take her the few personal belongings of her son,” he recalled. “She met me with extended hand. We stood there in silence. Then she said these words: ‘Well, Mr. Bingham, I would rather have had Walter go out to the Sudan and die there, all alone, than have him home today, disobeying his Lord.’”


There was a woman who knew the all-importance of listening to God’s call and obeying it in complete trust. Every loss suffered in obeying Christ here will be more than compensated for in heaven. Heeding God’s call to service will not always be easy; in fact, it could mean death. But the food of the Lamb’s wedding supper, the joy of hearing our Father’s “well done,” and the fellowship we will share with fellow conquerors into all of eternity will make it more than worth it.


[1] As told by Steve Brown, Key Life Ministries