Notes & Transcripts

Bridging the Gap

August 27, 2000  Acts 10:1-11:18

 

Scripture: John 17:20-26

 

Introduction:

 

          I read this quotation recently on the wall of a pastor-friend I know.

          It said, "Exclusionary Christianity is birthed out of personal prejudice, using the Scriptures to justify what we want to believe instead of what the spirit of the Scriptures leads us to believe."

          It is amazing how sometimes we can even use Scripture to justify our wrong attitudes.

          I wonder just how many of us have exclusionary attitudes about people, even if we logically agree that all people are made in the image of God and that Christianity is for everyone who will believe.

          The attitude in the heart of a Christian speaks volumes about the degree of Christ's truth within him and his ability to draw another person different than himself to the same Christ he claims to know.

          If the truth of Christ is to reach the world (Acts 1:8) then we must embrace the world.

 

          So you think you are not prejudiced? Maybe. But just how honest are you about yourself?

          If you were really honest about yourself, you would see that you probably have a ways to go yet before you can pronounce yourself unaffected by our human compulsion to classify people.

          I'll be honest with you about myself – I wonder about the thoughts that sometimes attempt to cross my mind about cab drivers, black drivers, Indian merchants, etc. Those things are sin. No doubt similar things cross your mind too. In matters of sin none of us are set above the other. Pastor Shando gives testimony about attitudes toward Hispanics. How about my former Croatian neighbor?

          Cartoon "For Better or for Worse" in today's funny paper – college student at home leaves clothes for washing until last day before returning to school.

          I would imagine that you also have such things nudge your soul from time to time.

          We can even have prejudicial thoughts against each other in our own culture or our own families.

          I long for the day when Jesus returns and we shall be made new without capacity for any sin whatsoever.

          But for now it is our nature to be tempted.

          It is up to us how we act on it – but we have God's help in the sacrifice of Christ for our sins.

          Satan's job is to cause the disunity of prejudice by tempting us to act on our evil pride.

          People are pretty much the same world-wide.

          All are sinners and when someone sins we are then tempted to sin in return by classifying the sinner as part of a group who sins instead of an individual who sinned.

          And certainly this group is different from the group we come from – right? Wrong.

          Satan wants to compound sin in our hearts and draw us further into sin by condemning the entire group that we perceive the sinner comes from.

 

          Peter was a Jew.

          It was the nature of the Jew to be prejudiced more than most people.

          This was because God had set them apart as his very own people through whom he would reveal himself to the world.

          Jesus Christ would come to the world as a Jew.

God's people were clean – all others (Gentiles) were unclean.

          They thought they were special – and so they were.

          But they weren't that special.

          God had to show the Jews time after time that they had violated their special status through sin and should not think of themselves in such lofty terms.

          But God had a purpose even in their sin.

          He wanted the Jews to know that he had a plan for the rest of mankind too.

         

          In today's passage in Acts 10:1-11:18, God is about the business of teaching Peter the true nature of the kingdom program.

          Personal and religious prejudice was another obstacle to be overcome in God's program of taking salvation in Christ to the world through the church.

          Much work had already been done in Peter's heart.

          God used him to bring the Holy Spirit to the hated half-Jew Samaritans that Philip evangelized.

          The Holy Spirit led Peter to stay with the Jewish tanner, Simon, for some time even though Simon was unclean on account of his job by Jewish standards.

          By the way, I believe God had all these laws of cleanliness mainly to show us all that we are unclean (Is. 64:6) and in desperate need of Christ, and not to show the Jews that they were clean while the rest of us weren't.

          If Peter could go at least this far with half-breed Jews and overlook uncleanness even in a fellow Jew, then there was hope to bring him the rest of the way.

          Could God persuade Peter to accept a full-breed Gentile into his kingdom?

          Just as God was doing a work in Peter's heart, God was also working in the heart of Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian Regiment.

          This man was not only a Gentile, he was an officer of the hated Roman enemy empire.

          But he feared the God of the Jews and worshipped him and prayed and served others.

          However, he was yet outside faith in Christ.

          Perhaps he was like a member of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago who does good works, but unless those works are done in Christ's name, they are ineffective before God.

 

          So we continue on in Acts to see how God is at work in his servants to usher in the church age to prepare a kingdom for our Christ when he returns.

          Here is the biggest gap to bridge – the prejudice of the human heart.

          You can't have a kingdom with divided peoples.

          God is at work in bringing our hearts together.

          He is at work in transforming the division that we brought upon ourselves by forcing God's hand at the Tower of Babel.

          And God has work to do in your heart and mine no matter how pure we think we are in regard to prejudice.

          A step at a time, God is at work in our hearts just like in Peter's heart, to get us to see and accept his kingdom program for all peoples.

          Why do we have all these races and languages?

          The reason is man's sin, but the result will be God's glory when he finally brings together what is impossible with man.

          Christ's kingdom will be from every tribe and nation and people and language under heaven (Rev. 5:9) with him at the head of it to the glory of God.

 

          But at least for Peter and Cornelius, how does this take place, and what can we learn from it about how to conform our own lives to Christ's kingdom program?

 

Big Question:

 

          How does God work to eliminate prejudice within the church?

 

I.       Cycle One – God's vision for Cornelius.

 

          A.      Narrative (vv. 10:1-8)

 

          B.      Implication

 

          God works even in the hearts and lives of those we might least expect to draw them to himself through us. God may not intend others to be just who we think they are.

 

          C.      Illustration

 

Current political issue of inclusion at the political conventions.

 

          D.      Application

 

          There are those in every tribe, nation, people, and language who desire to know God.

          Many of these are already attempting to practice what righteousness they know, but it will never suffice without the name of Christ.

          It was not just the desire for God but the Word of Christ that needed to dwell in Cornelius richly.

          God is preparing many from every nation to hear the truth and even sending them to us.

          This may be not only to bring the gospel to them but also to convince us that the gospel is equally for them.

 

II.      Cycle Two – God's vision for Peter.

 

          A.      Narrative (vv. 10:9-23a)

 

          B.      Implication

 

          God works in our own lives to reveal to us things about ourselves that we least expect. God may not intend us to be just who we think we are.

 

          C.      Illustration

 

Public Safety MBI – rub head of black man in training

 

          D.      Application

 

          Could there be a connection with the fact that both the tanner and the apostle shared the same name, Simon?

          God had to convince Peter that God himself was in charge of the rules and about to change them.

          This doesn't mean that God changes, it just means that God is in charge and he can change the way he works with us as he works out his kingdom program.

          The clean and unclean aspects of Jewish religion were set by God to separate them from the world so that he could reveal himself to the world through them.

          Through the Jews, God was at work establishing an historical timeline for his work in the world.

          Now that Christ was revealed, some things had to change.

         

Remember Jonah?

          Jonah also had some sensitivities that needed to change.

          Jonah was also sent to the Gentiles from Joppa.

 

III.    Cycle Three – God's message for both Peter and Cornelius.

 

          A.      Narrative (vv. 10:23b-48)

 

          B.      Implication

 

          God works to reveal the truth about himself to all who will listen. God may not intend himself to be just who we think he is.

 

          C.      Illustration

 

          D.      Application

 

1.       God accepts everyone the same. vv. 34-41

2.       God judges everyone the same. v. 42                  

3.       God offers salvation to everyone the same. v. 43         

4.       God offers the Holy Spirit to everyone the same. vv. 44-46

5.       God offers baptism in the name of Jesus to everyone the same. vv. 47-48

 

IV.    Cycle Four – God's message for the Church.

 

          A.      Narrative (vv. 11:1-18)

 

          B.      Implication

 

          God works in the church to open our eyes to the immensity of his kingdom plan. God may be more inclusive about some people in his kingdom than we might just imagine.

 

          C.      Illustration

 

Joshua 5:13-14 "Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come."

The question is not what side God is on but what side we are on.

 

          D.      Application

 

Early efforts by evangelists (Moody, Graham) to hold integrated meetings in the South, but the southern church would not readily accept it.

 

Conclusion:

 

Big Answer:        

 

          How does God work to eliminate prejudice within the church?

 

          God works even in the hearts and lives of those we might least expect to draw them to himself through us. God may not intend others to be just who we think they are.

 

          God works in our own lives to reveal to us things about ourselves that we least expect. God may not intend us to be just who we think we are.

 

          God works to reveal the truth about himself to all who will listen. God may not intend himself to be just who we think he is.

 

          God works in the church to open our eyes to the immensity of his kingdom plan. God may be more inclusive about some people in his kingdom than we might just imagine.

 

Timeless Truth:

 

The boundaries of Christ's kingdom are not ours to establish.

And if we should try to establish our own boundaries, God will show us that we too, like Peter, are three sheets to the wind.

Just when we think we've got God all figured out, he gives us another chance.

Can we put God in a box?

 

Acts 2:39  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call."

 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

(Galatians 3:28-29 NIVUS)

 

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

(1 Timothy 4:9-10 NIVUS)

 

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

(1 John 2:2 NIVUS)

 

What can you do with this message?

You can ignore it.

Or you can repent of the prejudice that all of us have in our hearts to one degree or another that is bound to hinder our witness for Christ.

We must see all people as God sees them.

And we can praise God for the inclusiveness of his kingdom to all that will confess faith in Christ from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

That is how we got in.

And I am reminded of how fortunate we are here in this multicultural city.

I was just talking to Selena the other day about life in small town Iowa where we moved from to come to Chicago.

The word we both used in unison to describe it was that it was stifling (which means suffocating).

And I am also reminded of a comment by one of the pastors at the pastors' retreat we went to this summer.

He said that he often felt that the church in the lily-white suburb where he ministered was really missing something wonderful that we had here in the diversity of the city.

I'm glad there is no uniform appearance required for Christ's kingdom - you come as you are.

 

Illustration: "No Jacket Required"

 

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