Hello and welcome to the show today! In our study of the book of Acts we have just witnessed a Gentile centurion named Cornelius (along with his entire household) coming to faith in Christ after Peter shares with them the good news that God’s salvation is available not just to the Jew, but to the Gentile as well (10:35). In Jesus, anyone can become a child of God. As Paul writes in…
Galatians 3:26-28 (NKJV)— 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
3 Responses of The Church-- And so we are entering into a new stage of the Church. And in Acts 11 we will see the three ways the Jewish Christians responded to these new Gentile believers. And these responses help us also to know how to relate to one another as Christians. Here in verses 1-18 we see that THEY ACCEPTED THE GENTILES. In verses 19-26 we will see that THEY ENCOURAGED THE GENTILES. And in verses 27-30 we will see that THEY RECEIVED HELP FROM THE GENTILES.
A Transplant Needed-- Just recently I heard the story of a young teenage girl who suddenly out of the blue was rushed to the hospital after suffering serious symptoms, after which she was told she could not leave. And that was because her liver was failing. And because of her age, she was placed as top priority on the transplant list and they soon found her a new liver. And they replaced her failed liver with the new one, which she was very grateful for and even met with the family whose loved one had passed away to thank them for giving her the gift of life; even out of the pain of their own personal loss. It was an amazing story.
Failed Transplants-- But you know, as amazing as that whole process is, sadly it doesn’t always take. Sometimes a person experiences this miracle of modern medicine, is ecstatic at the gift of life that has been given back to them, but then it is discovered that the body’s immune system refuses to recognize the new organ and instead attacks it like a foreign objects. Some transplants (unfortunately) don’t take. Now doctors can give medication in order to suppress the immune system in order to help the new organ to get established and for the body to accept it, but even then there is sometimes the risk that that may fail.
Will God’s Transplant Fail?-- And you know, this imagery is very helpful in helping us to understand the nature of what was happening here in Acts 11 and throughout much of the history of the Early Church. God had transplanted a new element into the Church; Gentiles (non-Jews). And Romans 11 describes them as being like wild olive shoots grafted into a domestic olive tree. The question is, is this transplant going to take? Is the body going to accept and receive them? Or is the immune system of the Early Church (which is responsible for helping to protect the Body against infection) going to reject the transplant, not recognizing what God (the Great Physician) understands; and that is that the new element is not only not harmful, but will even bring life to the Church? That is the central question of this passage. And it is one that pops up right away. Now news of the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ had spread like wildfire. It says in…
Acts 11:1-3 (NKJV)-- 1 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
Peter Rebuked-- And so Peter returned to Jerusalem and was immediately met by a group of angry church members. And these were church members of the legalistic party in the church in Judea, which is why they are described as those who were "of the circumcision”. And they rebuke Peter for entering into the house of Gentiles and eating with them.
Commonality at Table-- And the reason it was so offensive to them that Peter ate with them was not just because he was around people considered by the Jews of that time to be unclean (which would have been bad enough), but because in Jewish culture to eat someone was a very intimate and personal thing. You only did that with people you were at peace with, which is why in Jewish culture if there was a grievance between two parties seeking reconciliation, the forgiveness process was never considered complete until both parties had shared meal together. Because to eat with someone was a way of saying (often in a public way) that there is a commonality between you; a mutual acceptance. That is why people were so offended when Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Remember the story of Zacchaeus in particular and how people reacted to Jesus’ going into his home, undoubtedly to eat with him. Jesus was saying that the barriers between he and Zacchaeus had come down.
The Church’s Immune System-- And this is what is happening here with Peter and those of the circumcision. These Jews of this legalistic party in the church in Judea were like the immune system of the Church. They wanted to make sure that the Church was not aligning itself with anything that might pollute it. And so they say exclaim to Peter (and you can really feel the anger in their accusation): “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
Only Half of The Story-- Now I find it interesting that that is the piece of information they latch onto and accuse Peter with. Notice they don’t say a word about the Holy Spirit’s being given to the Gentiles or anything like that. And do you know why that is? Well, in verse 18, after Peter tells them the full story, they seem genuinely surprised and willing to accept what God was so clearly doing. And so what is likely the case is that these men of the circumcision simply did not know before approaching Peter the other half of the story. They only knew the part that would be offensive to them. But why is that? Why did they not know? How is it that they were unaware? Well, it seems that whoever brought the news to them had only given them half of the story; the half that would really make their blood boil. The other part had been left out. And let me tell you, that is how most conflict in the Church starts out; with somebody spreading around something that is only half-true or that leaves out those details that might challenge the views of the person spreading the gossip. Any of you ever witness this before?
Sensational Deceit-- It’s like if somebody were to tell you “Such and such Church member hasn’t taken a bath in months.” And that’s true. They haven’t. Things sound pretty bad until it comes out later that they take showers not baths; and do so frequently. Okay then, things are not as disgusting as they first appeared. Now you might say there is no way that kind of thing really goes on, but let me tell you, it does. We see it everyday on the news, which is built on sensationalism. News networks want to keep you hooked. And anger is a great way of doing that. And so they so often feed you what are often only half-truths in order to keep you angry; because if they can create that emotional response in you, you will keep tuning in. They know that deep down we crave for justice; and so if they can convince us there is gross injustice, they will excite you (or even incite you). But so often what happens is the full story comes out later and what then seemed like something heinous is seen in its fullest light to be something only moderately bad, somewhat acceptable, or even good; sometimes even great.
Dealing With Stories-- And so one of the truths we can glean here from this passage is not always to accept immediately as true the stories we hear about other people. And this is something I have tried to be very careful about in my ministry, especially when I am counseling somebody. I try always to remember Proverbs 18:17 says, which says that…
Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)-- 17 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
Hear The Other Side-- And that is so true. The first person always seems right until you hear the other side; which is why it is so important to forego making a judgment until you are sure that you have all the facts. And this is something these Jews who confronted Peter should have done.
Peter Tells The FULL Story-- Now Peter deals with the situation remarkably well. Ever since Jesus restored him after his 3 denials (and after Pentecost) Peter has demonstrate a wonderful humility; a humility that makes him such wonderful Church leader. I had a mentor (Roman Miller) who used to tell me numerous times that to be a good pastor you need to have two things: (1) A thick hide and (2) A warm heart. Well, it is clear in this passage that Peter has both. He doesn’t show signs of being offended or hurt. He doesn’t bite back or pull rank on them, which he probably could have done. No, he calmly and humbly relays to them the full story in its entirety. And all the missing pieces begin to come together for them, which we will unpack more next week.
God’s View— But as we think about this passage and what it might mean for us, one of the things that jumps out at us is that you and I are called to stand for what God thinks about issues. And ultimately (even though we may see things differently) we need to submit all our beliefs and prejudices to God. Because when you think about it, Peter’s racism might have led him (as it did with Jonah) to reject God’s call for him to carry God’s message to the Gentiles. At this point Peter was probably more like this group of legalists in his beliefs about the Gentiles than he was like Christ. But nevertheless, Peter was determined to embrace God’s view over and against his own; and to take heavy criticism, because ultimately God’s way was what mattered to him most. And that is something you and I ought always to apply. What does God have to say about the issue; what is revealed in His Word? Racism and hate has always and will always die and unity and healing will always be found when Christians commit themselves to live according to the way of the Lord in accordance with His Word. It is when we become united with God in His Spirit, sanctified by His Word (John 17:17) that we will consequently become more united with one another and bring true healing to the world. So let us commit ourselves to know and submit to the Word of God. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.