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Good Men Need Jesus

by Wayne Hobbs

Transcribed from the Words of Life radio program

If we say that someone is a good person, what do we mean by that? How do we describe a good person? A good list of things that the person might do would be things like they are helpful to others, they are polite, they are kind, they are faithful. People like him. They are fun to be with. They have good manners, good social skills. They are giving and unselfish and forgiving.

We could also make a list of things that they would not likely do. They are not likely to harm others. They are not likely to take things that don’t belong to them. They are not going to offend others and if they borrow something they are going to bring it back. They are probably not a substance abuser and they are probably not critical of you all the time and the things that you do. I am sure that you will agree that we all somewhat know the characteristics of a good person and that we try to live within the framework of good behavior.

We can also probably make our own naughty and nice list for the people that we know just like Santa Claus is said to have done or some school teachers may have done as well.

Today we are going to look at a man in the Bible who actually is described by some by the good things that he did. And we are going to also note the important need that this man had. He would have made our good list, but he still had a big need in his life.

God clearly spoke to two men at different locations and brought them together for one very important event that is described in Acts chapter 10. We are not going to read that, but I will tell you about it. In the first scene we have a man named Cornelius who had a vision and he distinctly saw an angel and he had a conversation with this angel. We will talk about this man’s character, this good man in just a little bit, but let’s first talk about this vision. The angel told Cornelius to send for Peter at the house of Simon the Tanner who lived by the sea. Since Cornelius was a centurion—that is a Roman officer—he selected a devout soldier and two of his servants and he sent them to go find Peter and to bring him to them.

In the other scene the apostle Peter was staying at the home of Simon the Tanner. Normally Jews didn’t associate much with people who made their living in dealing with dead animal parts. And they would have been unclean, but Peter was there. He was praying on a rooftop while waiting to eat and he had a three time vision that we are all familiar with. You know, those roofs in those days were flat and they used them to do things up there and they used them for drying plants and other activities as well. But Peter saw this large sheet lowered and it contained a variety of animals that were both clean and unclean, unclean for a Jew to eat. Peter was told to eat some of the animals, but he refused. Being a good Jew, a law abiding Jew, he did not want to eat things that were unclean. But God told him in his vision, he was told not to call anything impure that God had made clean. The vision was not really about food at all, but to help Peter understand that practicing Gentiles, as well as Jews could receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

About the time Peter’s vision ended, the three messengers from Cornelius arrived and Peter, led by the Holy Spirit came down from then roof top and was asked to go with the men. The next morning they traveled to be with Cornelius. Now let’s take a look at this man named Cornelius, who he was. He as a Roman centurion Gentile who followed the Jewish customs of the behavior in somewhat, but he was not a circumcised proselyte Jew like many of the other Gentiles who had come to Christ with faith in baptism. The Jewish Christians thought all Gentiles had to become proselyte Jews before becoming Christians. But we are going to find this is not the case.

As a Centurion, he was in charge of 100 men. He is probably fairly well off financially and a man of authority. He and his family were devout and God fearing. He probably provided godly leadership for his family by teaching and by example, as difficult as it would be, being a Roman centurion. These were tough strong men. But he was a godly acting man as well. The word “devout” holds a meaning for him and devout means reverence exhibited by action. And that is the way he was acting. He was one who feared God and he had some understanding of the awesomeness and the power of God as well as a need to please God.

You know, it would make sense that a person acting this way had already achieved salvation. But we are going to see that is not the case. Cornelius was still an unsaved man. He was a generous man. As a generous man he would give to others and he would help others. He had a caring heart. He was concerned about all those less fortunate than himself. And it is hard to picture a Roman centurion having this quality, but he did. He prayed regularly and not just occasionally. He may have prayed more than many who claim to be believers today. He was not just a man who believed in prayer. He was a man who prayed. And no doubt some of his prayer time was spent in concern for his family and others as well as his own relationship with the Lord.

Up to now you notice there is no mention of Jesus, no claim of salvation through Jesus Christ by Cornelius. All that he had done was good. All that he had done was important, but none of his good deeds had forgiven his sins and he was not saved. When the angel of the Lord visited him and spoke to him, he clearly knew that this was a message from the Lord and he responded to that message by sending those servants to get Peter. And he would not delay in this obedience. God personally saw the life of Cornelius and all that he had done and knew that Cornelius was ready to receive Jesus Christ.

You know, this is a good reminder. God watches us as well and he knows what we are doing. This is a great example of a good Gentile who needed to become a Christian to be saved without first complying with becoming a proselyte Jew. This was a change and what we will find in the book of Acts, but he needed Jesus.

Cornelius demonstrated great humility because when Peter came he fell at his feet in reverence, but he was told to get up. It is hard for me to picture that, this centurion falling at the feet of Peter, but he was told to get up, as I said. Cornelius didn’t brag about his own holiness, but rather he gave Peter the opportunity to speak. Probably before this day everybody listened to Cornelius. Being a Roman officer and the head of that household, everybody listened. But he gave Peter the floor to talk. He was ready and willing to let someone else be in charge. You know, at this point in our description of Cornelius, let us do something to compare. You remember Herod, the one who was a ruler when Jesus was born? In his kingship he was worried about there being another king and so as a result of this he had boy babies killed in the area where Jesus was born just to get rid of them in an effort to kill Jesus.

So we ask a question. Which one needed to be saved more? Herod who had done such horrible things or Cornelius who was such a good guy? The answer: both of them. Neither of them was saved because neither was righteous before God. Neither had their sins forgiven. Maybe one had more sins than the other, but the fact remains that the good man, Cornelius needed Jesus Christ as Herod did as well.

Regardless of how good we are or how bad we have been, we all equally need the forgiveness that is found in Jesus. What can Jesus do that our own goodness can’t do? Simple answer: forgive sin. Cornelius put his trust in Jesus Christ. Cornelius was open to the teachings about Jesus that Peter shared. And the Holy Spirit came upon him even before he was baptized. This was a sign of God’s acceptance of him as a Gentile who would become a Christian. It is a sign that Cornelius was accepting Jesus Christ. He put on Jesus Christ in baptism and he became a saved person. Without Jesus, the power of salvation through him Cornelius would have remained in his sins even though he was a pretty good guy.

Forgiveness of sin is found only in Jesus Christ. Hebrews chapter nine—and I am going to read 13 and 14 and then skip down to 22—say this: ‘The blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more then will the blood of Christ who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God?’

And now 22. ‘In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’. No forgiveness without Jesus Christ’s blood shed at Calvary. Only through that cleansing can even good guys be saved.

Romans chapter three starting in verse nine says this. ‘What shall we conclude? Are we any better? Not at all. We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles are alike under sin. As it is written, “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.’

Another good example of a person who needed Jesus Christ who was a good person is the lady, Lydia, in Philippi. Remember how Paul met with her and she was a godly lady. She met by the river. There was no synagogue there. And she was a godly acting person, but she needed Jesus Christ. Paul shared the gospel with her and she became a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. She became a baptized believer in Jesus Christ. And how important that is.

The last verse in the passage about the conversion of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 says that Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost. And, you know, that includes us no matter how good we are. Jesus Christ saves our sins and that is the only way we can live. If a person could earn salvation, Jesus Christ would have never done what he did at the cross. There would have been no reason for Jesus to do that. But Jesus did die on the cross for us. Man has never been able to cover his own sins.

Remember way back in the days that we read about in Adam and Eve when they first sinned and suddenly they became aware of their sin. They became aware of their nakedness. And they made themselves leaf coverings to use as clothing. God would not accept these coverings, but rather he took the lives of animals to cover their sins by using the skins of those animals. There was a shedding of blood in order for them to be covered. They attempted to provide their own garments for themselves, inadequate fig leaves to compensate for their loss because of their sin. They had lost their garment of righteousness because they had sinned and they tried to cover it up and they could not.

Men today try to cover our guilt with a sense of doing good deeds, philanthropy. But this is futile. We can’t forgive our sins any better than this ourselves. Good men need Jesus. Only God has the way to cover our sins, be they many or just one.

Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector? That tax collector had a whole list of things that he did and didn’t do. They were in temple in the story and the Pharisee made a list of all these things. He said, “I am not like robbers. I am not like robbers. I am not like evil doers. I am not like adulterers or tax collectors.”

That is a lot of things he didn’t do. And some stuff that he did that were good. He fasted two times a week. He tithed his 10 percent, but, you know, he did not have the mercy of God simply because he didn’t ask for it. The tax collector asked for God’s mercy and received it. The man who humbled himself was justified before God and the man who bragged about all the good stuff that he had done, was not.

We are justified by Jesus and not by anything we could do. And I have said that more than once, but this is the truth. Sometimes being good is almost deceptive. Good acting people do not think that they are lost and it is harder to reach them for Jesus. A highly respected person can have a really hard time coming to grips with the fact and the understanding that he or she has sinned that all sin needs to be forgiven through Jesus.

In a survey of people that had committed their lives to Jesus—and this is a bit surprising—most of them said that they would go to heaven because they were living a good life or obeying the 10 Commandments or that they believed that all people would go to heaven. This isn’t true. They had not earned salvation. I have not earned salvation. You have not earned salvation, I don’t care how good you are. This comes through Jesus Christ.

In Romans it says the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Cornelius was a really good guy. But he would have been lost without the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and that is why it is so important that receive Jesus.

It is such a great blessing to have the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ. Man’s goodness is an opinion and we might think of ourselves as good. We might not think of ourselves as good. But to have this opinion of ourselves, we could be lost in sin at the same time. The righteousness and then holiness of Jesus is factual. It is not opinionated at all. God’s standard for salvation is perfect and Jesus makes us perfect though the power of his forgiveness. It is only when we take on the righteousness in faith of Jesus Christ that we can be saved.

In Philippians 3:8 Paul says this. ‘I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.’

In 1 Peter chapter two Peter says that we who believe, to us Jesus is precious. Our own goodness is rubbish, but Jesus is precious. If we draw our conclusion from those two passages. Jesus is precious and salvation is found only in him. So what does all this mean to us? We cannot declare ourselves righteous by our own actions. We cannot compare ourselves with ourselves and gain anything.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 12 says this. ‘We do not classify or compare ourselves with some who commended themselves. When they measured themselves by themselves they are not wise’. You cannot compare yourself with yourself and I cannot compare myself with myself and know anything. And if I compare myself with others, I don’t gain anything either. They may act better than I do. They may not. But compared to our Lord God, that is what we have to do and realize that we need the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect standard of righteousness and good men need him. All sinners need him. And they are all the same thing because there are no good men without Jesus Christ.

Romans 3:28 says: ‘For we maintain that man is justified by faith apart from observing the law’. Man is justified by faith apart from anything that he does. The justifying faith must be in Jesus Christ and in no other. We need regularly to renew our faith in Jesus Christ to grow stronger in him.

If you meet together—and you should as a Christian—partaking of communion is a great time to renew this time, to renew our faith in Jesus.

If you are not a Christian, perhaps you are depending on your goodness for salvation. It won’t work. As we saw in today’s lesson, you need Jesus Christ as Savior. It is clear in our teachings. And you need Jesus today. So we invite you to become a Christian.

Let’s pray.

Lord, we pray that you will bless each of our listeners. We thank you for the good things that they do, but we know the good things that they do, do not save them and they don’t save me. We pray that each of our listeners who does not know Jesus Christ as Savior will come to him with understanding which leads to faith and obedience. And we pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

-Wayne Hobbs lives in Sellersburg, IN and  worships  with the Sellersburg Church of Christ

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4