“Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order… As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-4, 15-18 ESV)
I have spent most of my professional career working in higher education. I will soon be completing my 30th year on the staff of a small Christian, liberal arts university. As such, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of education and the impact it can have on our lives and on our world. While education is essential for growth and development, education can lead to pride and personal prejudice. It is easy to view knowledge as liberating but it can also lead to elitism. In other words, because I am more educated then I am intellectually superior and that can lead to perceived social superiority. Let me share a pesonal story to illustrate…
I had been serving on the administration of this small University for about 15 years and was a part of the senior administration. One day I was approached by a long time faculty member and was asked a question, when I replied to his question I called this professor by his first name. I was quickly corrected and told, “We are NOT colleagues. You will address me as…” and he gave his professional title and name. It was obvious, he did not consider me to exist in the same professional or social circle or structure in which he existed. I was, in his eyes, inferior to him educationally, professionally and socially. We were simply not the same or socially equal, in his opinion, and I can only assume it was because of his superior education and, thus, superior knowledge and understanding.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t just happen at work or during social events. This happens every day in the lives of some. The racial tension that exists in American culture is very real and has become a source of much debate. Of course, this issue and the tension it generates is not limited to just American culture – it exists worldwide. It exists across cultures, across the educational spectrum, across the social and political spectrum and even across the religious spectrum. But, the passage we consider today addresses this issue directly and leaves it humbly defeated at the Cross of Christ. Let’s take a look…
Peter has now returned to Jerusalem and the news of what happened among the family of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, has reached the ears of the church even before Peter gets home. News travels fast, but bad news travels at light speed. Peter arrives home to a firestorm of criticism regarding his actions and interactions with Cornelius. His critics are incredulous, you’ve eaten with UNCIRCUMCISED men! But Luke tells us that Peter “explained it to them in order…” and the order was important.
First, Peter tells them about his prayer time and God’s vision regarding the sheet and the unclean animals. Peter was adamant in his refusal to “kill and eat” any of the unclean animals, but God was persistent – three times He repeats this lesson to Peter. Three times! So, the first thing that happens is God’s specific REVELATION regarding His will: “what I declare clean, don’t call unclean or common.” That’s an important lesson for us to learn, too. We need to hear and obey God’s revelation regarding His expectations for His people. Please pay attention to the ORDER of these things… God spoke, Peter heard but didn’t understand.
Next, God provided context for Peter’s vision and God’s words. “At that moment,” three unclean Gentile men arrived at the gate of Simon’s home. God had clearly spoken through the vision, but Peter was still unsure what it meant. But God immediately provided context when THREE unclean men knocked on the door and told Peter that they had been “sent” upon the instructions of an angel of the Lord. God was moving, speaking and NOW Peter was truly listening because he heard the Spirit say, “go with them and make no distinction.” Make NO distinction! Don’t dwell on the differences, but see how you are alike. Don’t call common what I’ve called special. God spoke, Peter heard and is beginning to understand.
Also, Peter took others who witnessed these things. This wasn’t just Peter’s interpretation of the events, he had witnesses who corroborated the facts and God’s actions. “I’m not the sole witness, these six reputable men can also bear witness to these things. Ask them.” God wasn’t acting in isolation or in secret, these men can testify to what they’ve seen and heard. God spoke, Peter heard and has begun to understand and he has others who have witnessed these things.
Finally, God sends proof. Peter begins to share the message, the Good News of the Gospel, and Cornelius and his household respond in faith and the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Peter’s words are important here, “the Holy Spirit fell on them JUST AS ON US!” Catch that! No distinction, no differences! These Gentiles received the SAME gift of God’s Spirit that Peter and the Apostles had received. In addition, Peter is reminded of what Christ said regarding the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” We baptize with water, but God baptizes us in His Spirit. God’s proof that Peter had heard accurately, understood correctly and applied appropriately God’s revealed will. “God gave to them the SAME gift He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Peter concludes his argument with this statement, “who was I that I could stand in God’s way.” It was obvious that God was working so Peter stepped aside and salvation came to Cornelius and his household, that day. This had been God’s plan, all along. The Savior of the world would come THROUGH the Jews, God’s chosen people, but not solely FOR the Jews. He would come for all men and women who truly desired to know and love Him, without DISTINCTION. And He still does…
In that vein, we need to step aside and not stand in God’s way! We must lay aside our differences, our racial bias, our cultural bias, our educational bias, our social and yes, even our political bias and proclaim the saving grace of God’s love without distinction. There’s no room for bias in the Kingdom of God…
“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)
Let me conclude with one final observation that we need to hear in my cultural context: Peter did not change the direction of or teaching of the early church regarding salvation for the Gentiles, God did. When he arrived in Jerusalem, Peter was confronted by those who questioned this change. Peter showed them that this change was the result of God’s revelation given to him within the context of a specific situation and confirmed by the Holy Spirit’s power coming upon these Gentiles in the “same manner” as it had come upon the Apostles. In essence, Peter said: “I didn’t do this, God did. Look at the evidence, consider the words of Christ and decide for yourselves.” The church evaluated the evidence, heard the witnesses and determined that God has indeed spoken and moved in unexpected ways. They then rejoiced in and embraced what God was doing.
We face a situation in the modern church in which some believe God is changing the teaching and direction of the church by embracing sexual sin and, specifically, the homosexual lifestyle as acceptable by God. Let me state quite simply but contrary to popular opinion, there’s no evidence or support for this perceived change. Unlike what we’ve seen above, God has not given revelation, affirmed it through a specific contextual situation, verified it through the teachings of Christ and confirmed it emphatically with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon those who embrace this lifestyle.
Please, please hear me clearly… I am NOT saying that those trapped in a homosexual lifestyle cannot be gloriously saved, they absolutely can! God CAN and DOES deliver sinners from their sin all the time regardless of the specific sin. He can deliver you, too! What you cannot do is be gloriously saved by claiming your actions are not sin. For Christ’s grace to be effective, we must recognize our actions as sin, confess and repent of (turn away from) them. Then we must believe that Jesus is God’s perfect, righteous and only Son and that He died in our place, because of our sin, and God proved Jesus was His only Son by the Resurrection. Scripture says, if we will confess our sin and believe in Christ we can be saved. Those actions go together… confess and believe. That’s saving faith. Don’t stand in God’s way of your own salvation.
This doesn’t mean you won’t struggle with that sin, or continue to be tempted by it. It does mean that God can and will empower you to turn away from that sin and find deliverance, forgiveness and wholeness. If you need to talk, please contact me via our “contact us” page… I’d love to help and pray with you.