Summary: We often resist change, but Jesus wants us to accept and even promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone. He wants us to drop all barriers to the cause of Christ.
I want to start my message this morning by asking the older members a question, and the answer might take you on a trip down memory lane. How many of you remember the TV series “I Love Lucy?” Ricky Ricardo always had a line he used when Lucy did something wrong. It was “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.” It was a humorous way of saying that Lucy did something illegal or embarrassing. Today when we tell someone that they have some explaining to do it’s also a funny (or not so funny) way of telling them that they did something illegal of embarrassing.
In the reading we heard from Acts 11:1-18 earlier in this morning’s service, the disciples told Peter that he had some explaining to do. The disciples in Jerusalem had heard that Peter ate with and associated with the Gentiles. In their eyes, that was illegal and/or embarrassing because the Jews always kept themselves separate from the Gentiles. Jews considered the Gentiles to be “unclean.”
Acts 11:1-18 is a summary of the events in Acts 10 with a few additional details. In Acts 10, Peter received a vision telling him to spread the Good News to the Gentiles. In chapter 11, he gives the disciples an explanation of why he associated with the Gentiles.
Instead of debating his accusers, he told them the remarkable story of all that had happened. Peter made sure that they knew he went to Caesarea in direct obedience to the Holy Spirit, and the six Jewish believers who accompanied him to Cornelius’ house saw the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles. There was to be no distinction or discrimination between Jews and Gentiles. Cornelius and the other Gentiles who were in his house received the Holy Spirit without having to follow the Jewish laws, including circumcision. That was God’s answer to the debate and settled the matter as far as Peter was concerned. No one was to refuse to allow any new believers to be baptized. No one was to prevent any new believers from becoming members of the church.
The Gospel is God’s provision for making peace between sinful men and God and between hostile races. God’s plan was for the Gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit, and it is better to be on God’s agenda than to have him on our agenda. He prepares the steps we have to take to follow his agenda. He will move us on in our spiritual growth. He will never allow us to stay where we are. God’s love overrides any man-made requirements such as circumcision. In fact, nothing can stand in the way of God’s love. He demolishes the barriers, and he asked Peter to do the same. The result was and is characterized by compassion for everyone and not compliance to a code of purity. It is also characterized by radical inclusivity instead of hierarchical exclusivity, and inward transformation instead of outward ritual. God is the god of everyone.
The discussion between Peter and the rest of the disciples was really a difference of opinion. They represent the differences of opinions that Christians often have. The reason why so many different denominations exist today is because of differences of opinion about what beliefs are essential to Christianity. Some individual churches have even broken up because of differences such as whether or not to install microphones or use overhead projectors or install kitchens or the type of bread to use during Communion. Some of these differences do need to be discussed, such as the one between Peter and the disciples. Sometimes way too much time and energy is spent on these discussions. There is too much to do for the Kingdom. God wants us to join together and serve him-which is what the disciples and Peter eventually did.
The greatest task for the church is to find out where God is already at work in the world and take part in that work as God directs. Sometimes the church has missed the new work God is doing because it was waiting for something to happen in its own corner of the world on its own terms, when God was already doing great things in another part of the world.
Imagine what it would be like if all the churches agreed to change their names to simply “church”? What if all references to denominations were removed and we were all just Christians? When people chose which church to attend, they wouldn’t do so by the change outside…they would do so by the hearts of the people inside. When people asked what church they attended, their answer wouldn’t be a label but just a location. Then we as Christians wouldn’t be known for what divides us. We would be known for what unites us-our heavenly Father.