Damariscotta Baptist Church
Monday, May 21, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

06/05/16 Sermon - How Could You?

“How Could You?”

Acts 11:1-18

 

Here we go again, God is turning everything upside-down. Just when the apostles think they have their act together and they are in sync with God, a monkey wrench gets thrown into the equation. Last week I mentioned there were seven scenes that made up Luke’s story of how the Spirit empowered the apostles to lead a mission that began in Jerusalem, moved to Judea and Samaria, and on to the ends of the earth. Today’s Scripture describes scene seven. 

Here is where reality sinks in. For Peter, and those Jewish Christians with him in Joppa, to find themselves in a Gentile’s home was a direct leading of the Holy Spirit. They had experienced with their own eyes, the Holy Spirit baptizing the Gentiles around them. No room for doubt, no confusion. God had done the same thing for Cornelius and his family that He had done for the disciples.

But for those who were still in Jerusalem who hear what had happened, it was a completely different story.

How could Peter and his men even think of walking into a Gentile’s home, not to mention sit down and eat with the uncircumcised?

Let me remind you, there were already a variety of Christians living in Jerusalem, coming from various backgrounds. You may recall the Greek Jews, the Jerusalem Jews, and the Samaritians. The faction of Jewish Christians that approached Peter when he returned to Jerusalem were of the “Circumcision party”.

The concept that being baptized by the Holy Spirit had transformed the disciples into open minded, acceptance of everyone type of Christian did not exist in the first century and unfortunately does not exist in the 21st Century either.

The first Jewish believers in Christ, naturally attributed their Jewish faith to be the guiding rules for how those saved by the Holy Spirit were to manage their lives.

As we read through the Book of Acts we have seen how God slowly whittles away at their preconceived notions and demonstrates how grace is to be the deciding factor, not laws and rules. For Jews in Peter’s time and place, dietary restrictions were followed and determined not only by what foods were eaten and not eaten, but also with whom you were to eat the food. The dietary rules were but a small portion of the comprehensive holiness code that regulated personal and community life for the Hebrew people. The holiness code, which contained over 613 mizvot or “commandments” had been in existence for over 3,500 years!

Jesus himself followed these codes, for the most part.

Actually, one of reasons the Jewish leaders wanted him killed was because he ate with sinners, something “God” nor the “Son of God” would never do. Therefore, it makes sense that for the Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem to hear that Peter, one of the central men of their group, had been eating with a Gentile, they had to have thought Peter was off his rocker.

How could he have done such a thing?

That wasn’t like Peter at all?

There had to be an explanation.

Peter was allowed to give a defense. However, did you notice that Peter does not defend himself at all. Peter’s response was more pastoral than argumentative.

Peter does not argue Scripture with them,

he does not use fancy theologically-loaded words.

Instead, we read in verse four that “Peter explained…step by step” his experience of God’s work among the Gentiles. The advancement of God’s work came through Peter’s witness to his experience.

It was through Peter’s story-telling that God’s work was able to bless more than just those who were in Cornelius’ house at the time.

By sharing what God had done, Peter was allowing even more people to be blessed by the experience.

Peter focused his story on how the Gentiles had received the Word of God. The Jerusalem leaders were focused on Peter’s actions, Peter drew attention to the activity of God. Peter did not try to defend his actions, but revealed the actions of God.

The emphasis made by Peter is that both the Gentiles and Jewish believers have something in common, both have been given the same gift from God.

The gift of the Holy Spirit.

This gift brought with it many blessings.

First, the Holy Spirit himself, but it also included the repentance that leads to life, and salvation. 

The acceptance of this gift changes lives. It not only changes our lives today, personally towards living a better life, and looking forward to salvation, it opens the door to changing how we think Christianity should be lived out on a daily basis.

Sometimes our self-definition is constructed upon differentiating ourselves from others, instead of upon who we are in God. Let me repeat that statement.

Sometimes our self-definition is constructed upon differentiating ourselves from others, instead of upon who we are in God.

Much like the first Jewish Christians, each of us has a religious framework that we have been brought up in and place our faith within. I think we should remember Peter’s example from verse 12, where Peter says, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” The Spirit counseled Peter to accept what had already been true about God: God does not show favoritism.

Acts 11 is a dangerous passage for those with a holiness code, or who believe that people must act in a certain way before and after they have accepted Christ. This passage is one of those passages that should make us question everything and turn to God in prayer.

The dream Peter had he attributed to as a message from the Lord. What if we were to see the visions God is sending us? Or were to hear the voice of God? What happens when the three men show up at the door, but we have not been in prayer? Could it be that we will not make the connection? We need to remember that the battles that go on around us are spiritual battles, and they are best fought by us in prayer.

The Spirit empowered the apostles to lead a mission that began in Jerusalem, moved out to Judea and Samaria, and on to the ends of the earth. In today’s Scripture we see the first step, out of religious routine and predictability, to a less judgmental and less prejudice relationship, with everyone who existed, to the ends of the earth.

The Spirit is empowering us, today, in the same mission. Yet, were we honest, each of us has something inside us that we hold on to, that makes us justify our faith and which we hold up as a standard for others to follow, in order to meet the criteria we have established.

Much like the Jewish Christians who held on to their Jewish rules and held them up for converts to live by.

The important thing for us to remember, is that God does not show favoritism. By the time we enter others lives, with the story of salvation, God has already been there. And when we see Him work through the Holy Spirit, it is our job to share what we have experienced, not as our defense, but as a blessing from God to others.

When we decide our way is the best or only way, we laugh in the face of the Holy Spirit, who is forever blowing its own way, out of religious routine and predictability.

Who are we to prevent God?

Let’s pray.