Summary: God shows no FAVORITISM in the invitation of the gospel.
Erasing Excuses For Being Exclusive
The famed test pilot Chuck Yeager related a fascinating story in his autobiography. He was flying an F-86 Sabre over a lake in the Sierras when he decided to buzz a friend’s house near the edge of the lake. During a slow roll, he suddenly felt his wing flap lock. He says, "It was a hairy moment, flying about 150 feet off the ground and upside down."
A lesser pilot might have panicked with fatal results, but Yeager let off of the G’s, pushed up the nose, and sure enough, the wing flap unlocked. Climbing to 15,000 feet, where it was safer, and he tried the maneuver again. Every time he rolled, the problem reoccurred.
Yeager knew several pilots who had died under similar circumstances, but to date, investigators were puzzled as to the source of the Sabre’s fatal flaw. Yeager went to his superior with a report, and the inspectors went to work. Here's what they discovered: a bolt on the wing flap cylinder was installed upside down.
Eventually, the culprit was found in a North American plant. He was an older man on the assembly line who ignored instructions about how to insert that bolt, because, by golly, he knew that bolts were supposed to be placed head up, not head down. In a sad commentary, Yeager says that "nobody ever told the man how many pilots he had killed." (From "Yeager" by Chuck Yeager, Bantam, 1985)
Sometimes being hard-headed can have devastating results. We all can be that way sometimes - thinking we've got all the answers; thinking we know best how things ought to be done. I can sometimes be stubborn and obstinate, and some of you can too.
As we continue in our series through the book of Acts we find ourselves in chapter 10. We started this series in Acts in January. Our goal at the beginning was to complete the book of Acts this year. There are 28 chapters and we're in chapter 10, and we're almost at the halfway point of the year. What that means is we're going to significantly pick up the pace. Last week we covered 8 verses - today we're covering 66.
What we'll discover today is that God uses a fascinating vision in Peter's life to break down some prejudicial barriers he had developed over the years. God was indeed Erasing Excuses for Being Exclusive. Breaking down those barriers of partiality was necessary because God had ordained the gospel to cross over from the Jews to Gentiles. Like that airplane assemblyman, Peter was sure the bolt should only go in one way, and God was about to show him the right way.
But Peter was not alone in his prejudice. This was the mindset of the early church in general. The early church resisted any acceptance of Gentiles and they even resisted efforts to do missions among the Gentiles. So really, it is not the church that introduces the gospel to Gentiles - it is God himself who works sovereignly in this account to introduce the gospel to them.
One thing we should note about Luke's writing style - when he devotes a large section to chronicle a single event, it's because that event holds significant meaning and purpose in the unfolding story of the early church. This event is one such event. And Luke emphasizes the importance of this event by repeating elements of the story several times. This passage highlights when the gospel crosses the border from the Jews to Gentiles.
And we all should be thankful this event occurred because I dare say that all of us who are here today are Gentiles. In fact, the vast majority of Christians in the world today are not Jews - they are Gentiles. But that was not the demographic makeup of the church at this time. The church was almost exclusively Jewish as far as it's ethnic and cultural makeup.
So this section is important because it marks the transition to Gentile outreach by the church, but this section is also important because it marks the transition of the book of Acts. Up to this point Peter has been the main character of the book of Acts. In the middle of chapter 11 we see the focus shift from Peter's ministry to Paul's ministry. So as we consider this compelling account of God taking the gospel to the Gentiles through Peter, there are five things I want us to notice. The first...
I. Hearts PREPARED
In order to transition the church to a Gentile focus, God ordained a series of visions among two prominent people. Before plunging the church headlong into the transition he prepares hearts. He prepares the heart of Peter and he prepares the heart of a Roman centurion we'll be introduced to named Cornelius.