Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is the twentieth in my series on the Book of Acts.
“Getting Out of God’s Way”
September 23, 2007
What happens when God thoroughly and completely messes up the paradigm? When God acts in a way utterly differently than you expected Him to act?
According to Wikipedia (and if it’s in Wikipedia, then it must be true), “Angst is the German word for fear or anxiety. It is used in English to describe an intense feeling of emotional strife.” Angst is the word, perhaps, a sense of “what do we do now?” Edvard Munch graphically captured this sentiment with his painting entitled “The Scream”. Of course, in our contemporary society, we don’t think of Edvard Munch; we think of MacCauley Culkin. But nonetheless, the sense of angst is profound, particularly when we are thrown for an unexpected loop. News of the conversion of these Gentiles in Caesarea reached Jerusalem prior to Peter’s arrival, and it caused widespread angst among the leadership of the early church. We can feel for them; this represented such an incredible shift to their way of thinking that we could hardly have expected them to greet the development with open arms! This against the backdrop of the fact that some of the Hellenistic Jews—remember, these were the Greek-speaking Jews who’d not been raised in Jerusalem, but rather moved there—some of these had adopted fairly liberal attitudes toward the popular interpretation of Jewish law. This didn’t set well with the Jewish authorities, and led to not only the martyrdom of Stephen, but a widespread persecution of the Hellenistic Christians that led to a dispersal of most of them from Jerusalem (remember, though, that we said that this was part of God’s plan as well!).
Now, if Peter were advocating the acceptance of Gentiles, uncircumcised and apart from converting to Judaism, straight into the church, then whatever goodwill might have remained between the Jewish religious leaders and the followers of Christ was bound to dissipate. And so his homecoming wasn’t the joyous occasion it might have been!
I. Peter’s Criticism - :1-3
God’s Word to the Gentiles
He was confronted by the Jewish believers, or at least many of them (“the circumcision party”) with the charge that he’d essentially punted the entire Jewish character of Christian faith in order to win Gentile converts. The issue they raise was not that of Gentiles coming to faith in Christ; rather, it was Peter going into the home of a Gentile and indiscriminately sharing a meal with them. This, as you might remember, represented a real breach in conduct; for a Jew, taking food with a Gentile implied a casual indifference to issues of cleanness and uncleanness in a ceremonial/religious sense. It’s not an off-the-wall charge; it was in keeping with their understanding of God’s design for holy living. They undoubtedly saw themselves as being concerned for maintaining the appropriate standards of holiness, and there is nothing wrong, per se, with that idea.
And yet, what was undeniable was that God’s Word had gone to the Gentiles, just as they were, without their having come through the doorway of Judaism first. This presented a real dilemma, one that needed some explaining, and thus we read