by Patrick Brown
Acts 11 1-18
11:1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6 and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10 This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. 11 And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
This is the word of God for us the people of God:
I love this passage. Even though it is primarily a retelling of Acts 10 there is so much it can teach us. Let me set the scene for you.
Peter had returned to Jerusalem and he wasn’t getting a hero’s welcome. He had accepted an invitation to the home of Cornelius. Cornelius was from Italy. He was a centurion, which was an officer in the Roman military. He would have had around 100 men in his command. While the Bible says that he was a religious man who worshipped God with his family and gave to those in need, he was still very much a gentile. To enter the home of a gentile and to eat with them was forbidden in Jewish law. You see Jewish law considered Gentiles (such as Cornelius) to be idolaters. To accept an invitation into their home in and of itself carried guilt by association. Not only did Peter enter the home and eat with them, he baptized them! The apostles and brethren were angry and they demanded an explanation. The first thing that jumps out at me from this passage is Peter’s reaction. The Peter I know from the gospels is kind of a hot head. This is the guy that cut off the servant’s ear in the garden. This is the guy who took Jesus aside to rebuke him in Matthew 16:22. We see a very different Peter here. He simply tells them the story. No defensiveness. He didn’t seem offended that they questioned him. He just told them the facts. You know what they did? They listened. Not only did they listen but they did it with an open mind. They heard what he had to say. None of this should seem remarkable to us but in 2018 it really does and we need more honest, unoffended dialog like this today. I wonder what our world would be like if the leaders both in the church and otherwise would calmly talk and listen to each other!
After hearing Peter they all reached the same conclusion. “God had granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life”. You see as it turns out God’s love and salvation isn’t here for an exclusive club. It doesn’t matter your background or what family you’re from. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. It doesn’t matter your race, nationality or gender God’s “repentance that leads to life” has been granted for you! For a Gentile from the wrong side of the tracks like me this is good news indeed!
I went to the funeral of a friend of mine the other day. He was really a remarkable man with quite a history. Some of you might have known him, his name was Kenny Loyd. For those of you who didn’t know Kenny I’d like to tell you a little about him. Kenny had at one point in his life been a drug dealer. He rode motorcycles, fought in bars and chased women. He was an addict. That all changed when Kenny found a relationship with God. He would come in where I worked and we would have long conversations that I really grew to look forward to. He told me about when he went out to seek a church home and was told by many churches that they didn’t want him there. They knew what he was…at least what he used to be. It breaks my heart to think how he must have felt. I wonder how many people feel that way today? How many people looking for hope are afraid to walk through our church doors because of their perceptions of judgement inside? Kenny got past that and later settled in and became a pillar of his community. For a time he was even mayor of his small town. I’d like to tell you about the most amazing conversation he and I ever had. Kenny’s son had committed suicide about a week before we talked. I saw him when he walked in to where I worked. I really didn’t know what to say to him. Not only that, at the moment he walked in I was in the middle of a pretty heated argument via email with someone from my corporate office and I was pretty angry. I just tried to make myself invisible. A few minutes later as I was angrily pounding on the keyboard I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and sure enough it was Kenny. All I could think to say to him is how are you doing? He told me that he had been struggling but he was doing much better after a conversation with the Lord. As you can imagine that got my attention and I wanted to hear the story. Kenny had actually preached his son’s funeral (a feat I still can’t quite wrap my head around) and had returned to work the day after. He told me people needed to see him and they had to know where he was at. He kept pushing along but then that morning when he woke up it all hit him and he couldn’t get out of bed. He laid there and prayed for strength. I think he felt guilty because his son had some of the same addiction issues that Kenny had gone through when he was younger. He told me he cried out and asked God to at least show him the man he was supposed to be. At least let him know what that man looked like. When he did he felt God speaking to him and he recounted the conversation to me. God asked him “where were you when you first cried out to me” Kenny said “You know where I was Lord, I was there with that needle in my arm”. He felt God ask if he was still that same person today and he replied “You know I’m not”. God asked him who brought you this far? Kenny replied “You did Lord”. God then asked “do you not believe I could have taken you all the way already had I chosen to? You are the man I intended you to be today”. At that point Kenny put his hand on my shoulder again and looked me in the eye. He told me “Patrick, today you are the man God intended for you to be today”. Then he turned and walked out the door and left me there speechless.
That brings me to the main point for my message today. There have been so many times in my life that I have felt unworthy of this gift. God’s grace has seemed beyond my reach because of mistakes I’ve made. Because if things I’ve done, or not done. Because of the way I have looked at others and not seen them as God sees them. I know I’m not alone in those mistakes. I also know I’m not alone in feeling unworthy of God’s grace sometimes. Many people know the feeling of pushing God away while we try and check enough boxes and do enough good things to feel worthy to approach him again. For me the best news is this. Jesus never said I had to be good enough because it’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about him. In Matthew 7:7 Jesus said “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”. The message that Peter received from the Holy Spirit in this passage is not only a broad message for those who differ from us, but an intensely personal one as well. A message of God’s grace for me, for you, and for everyone from the mainstream to the marginalized; “What God has made clean, no longer consider unholy”. What a wonderful word! Thank you Lord!