It Doesn’t Matter Who You Are, It Only Matters Who You Know
April 25, 1999 Acts 10:34-43
There are certain cliche's you hear all through your life that, upon closer inspection, prove to be false. They are so ingrained in our consciousness you can probably say them along with me. For example... It takes money... (to make money). Sam Walton didn't believe that and neither does Bill Gates-two of the richest men this country has produced. Neither one was wealthy when he began his career; and both men discovered it doesn't always take money to make money; you can make money through hard work and innovation. Another cliche'...
You can't fight... (city hall.) Sonny Bono didn't believe that. He opened a restaurant in Palm Springs, got mired in the red tape of local politics, and he fought and won. He also ran for mayor and won, and then became a U.S. Congressman before his tragic death in early 1998. Of course, his story reminds us of another cliche': If you can't beat em, (join em). Another cliche' we hear from time to is...
It's not who you ARE, it's who you (know). Unlike the others, we all know of cases where this cliche' is painfully true. I'm sure each of us has had the experience of being excluded from something-maybe a club you wanted to join, a neighborhood you wanted to live in, a company you wanted to work for; a business opportunity you wanted to pursue, and you never got a chance because you weren't "in" with the right people. At the time it may have seemed absolutely unfair. Today, however; we're going to examine how this truism works in your favor.
In the tenth chapter of Acts the Apostle Peter had a vision that changed his entire outlook on life. Like most Jews of his day, Peter had always believed that God showed special favoritism to Jewish people. In the vision, however; he saw heaven open and large sheet being let down to earth, filled with all kinds animals, reptiles and birds. A voice told him, "Get up Peter, kill and eat." Peter was taken aback. "Surely not," he said. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." Peter had always adhered to the strict Jewish dietary laws, which forbade eating things like shrimp, pork, catfish, and so on. A good Jew would never touch soul food – and maybe that was their problem. The voice then said, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Peter had this same vision three times in a row; it was obvious that God was about to teach him something new.
About that time, Peter was invited to speak to the household of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile who lived in Caesarea. You see, God was preparing Peter’s heart for a special mission and a special understanding. Peter accepted the invitation. But God was also preparing Cornelius to hear what Peter would have to say. There was a vision that God gave to Cornelius as well as to Peter. Through this dual preparation, Cornelius summoned Peter to come to him. God wanted Peter to share what he knew about Jesus. With Peter’s vision, the old prejudice had to be stripped away. Whether with food or with men, the New Covenant placed everything on equal footing. It was on the holy ground of faith in Jesus.
The vision that God had given to Cornelius in verses 1-8 gave him no details. God would be using Peter for that. God would bring healing to two men in one encounter. Peter would see the will of God to bring salvation to the Gentiles, and Cornelius would see that salvation. Both men obeyed their visions, they obeyed God. It is interesting that the one with the greater prejudice, Peter, had to receive his vision three times. God’s people are quite hard-headed at times. The Gentile was ready the first time God spoke. I wonder how hard-headed we are sometimes at the ministries God would give us to hearts that he has already prepared? I wonder if it that sometimes we think it is who we are and not who he is?
Notice also that Cornelius immediately fell to the ground in worship at the feet of Peter in verse 25. Was he prepared or what? Admittedly, he did not know what to expect. Peter spoke the truth in verse 26 when he said in essence, it is not who I am, but who He is. After openly admitting his struggle with the issue of being in the presence of Gentiles, he asks Cornelius what he wants of him. Cornelius said to him...
(v.33) "We are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us."
Suddenly Peter understood the meaning of the vision. He preached a brief but powerful message that can be summarized with the statement, "It doesn't matter who you are, it only matters who you know" He told them of the all-encompassing love of God which is available to everyone regardless of race, nationality, or social status. He told them that God loves every one the same. This was God’s blessing to both Peter and Cornelius.
Today, we're going to take a look at Peter's sermon and see how it affects our lives today, and what it teaches about our relationship with God. There are three principles here I want you to notice. First of all...
1. God Accepts Everyone the Same (vv. 34-41)
I heard recently that someone was in Dallas and saw a pickup truck with a bumper sticker that said, “Texan by the Grace of God." That just about sums up how most Texans feel. (If you have ever known a Texan or have ever been there, you know that is the prevailing attitude.) They are proud of their home state, and they're proud of the Cowboys. Texas Stadium (where the Cowboys play) is built almost like a dome, but it has a huge opening at the top. The seats in the stadium are under a roof, but the field itself is under the open sky. You know why they did that, don't you? It's so that God can watch his favorite team play. Another bumper sticker you will see occasionally in the Lone Star State is "It's hard to be humble when you're from Texas."
This is the kind of attitude many religious Jewish people had during the first century. In the Old Testament we see how the people of the nation of Israel were designated as God's chosen people. Some interpreted this to mean they were his favorite people as well - that God loved them more than the others. To put it bluntly, they believed that God had no use for Gentiles. Though a Gentile could convert to Judaism, at best he could attain only a "second-class" status in their religion. Some religious Jews even went so far as to say you shouldn't give help to a Gentile woman in childbirth, because you would only be bringing another Gentile into the world. It is like the attitude many pioneers had about the native Indians in America. The only good Indian was a dead Indian. It was alright to massacre even women because they would just produce another Indian, and to kill even Indian children because they would just grow up to become another savage.
It was this kind of racial and cultural prejudice that God wanted Peter to overcome. He wanted to use Peter to tell the world something new: God is not only the God of the Jews, he is the God of all creation - and God loves us and accepts us all the same. And he has the same message for all of us - that the way to God is through faith in Jesus Christ.
(v.34-35) Then Peter began to speak, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right."
The American Declaration of Independence proclaims that all men are created equal. In theory this may be true, but it hasn't worked out that way in our society. All men are not created equal. Some are born with greater opportunities than others, a better family, more money, more talent, more intelligence, more resources. We have not created a society where all people are equal. Just travel south on Cicero and you will discover this. Once you get past Division Street, you know you are in another part of the city where all is not equal. That is where our black brothers and sisters live in the midst of urban blight caused by the ravages of economic sin, and the faded billboards of storefront churches struggle to peddle some semblance of hope amid the depravity and the depression.
Sadly, the same can be said about the church. Martin Luther King once said, “The most segregated hour in America is 11:00 on Sunday morning." This is a mistake that many churches have made in the past – black, white, and Hispanic; today we are striving to show others that God accepts everyone the same. We show this not only be sharing Jesus, but by sharing ourselves and our resources.
We can well afford to belabor this point. When I worked for two summers at a Christian camp for urban black youth, the most common and sincere question they asked in our quiet times was, “Are we really inferior because we are black?” God has broken my heart so much on this that I actually want to favor black people in my spirit when I am around them, wanting to bend over backwards to express the grace of God to them through my life. But I know this can come across as condescending, so I just try to treat everyone the same.
Because of the nature of the problem, I have also been rejected by black people many times. It is hard to rebuild trust. It is costly to be like Jesus. I have felt many times that I am automatically seen as the bad guy because I am white. We all want things unto ourselves and draw divisions toward others. We want to be with people like ourselves. To me, black is beautiful. And so is any other color that God made us. We have such a great opportunity before us here in our church to appreciate God’s red and brown children. I praise God that we are doing it so well.
But man’s basic problem is not just epitomized by skin color. The problem in Kosovo is not skin color, it is religious history. Obviously, a mixed ethnic white population cannot exist in Kosovo without a power to enforce it. Ethnic hatreds that coexisted fairly well under the power of the Soviet Union blew apart once that power fell. It is now up to NATO to reinforce that power to keep the cancer of ethnic hatred from mushrooming to consume Europe once again as it did in W.W. II. It takes the power of God to keep us all one in the church. A healthy fear of God keeps ethnic prejudice and hatred at bay.
There is only one place in this world where true equality exists: in a relationship with God. God accepts everyone the same. He doesn't show favorites. He doesn't favor America over all other nations, he doesn't favor white people over all other races, he doesn't favor men over women, or the rich over the poor. It doesn't matter who you are, God loves you as much as he loves everyone. This is good news, because the only thing that really matters in life is a relationship with God, and it's equally available to anyone.
Anyone can know him. Anyone can talk to him in prayer. Anyone can experience his love. Anyone can be forgiven. Anyone can do his will. Anyone can practice holiness. Anyone can live a life that brings him glory.
In light of all the inequality that exists in our world, it is good to know that in the most important aspect of life, true equality exists. It doesn't matter who you are, God accepts everyone the same. It is on the basis of his message that is the same for everyone. Today’s passage is that message.
2. God Judges Everyone the Same (vs. 42)
The Bible says that Jesus is your friend (John 15:14), he is your brother (Romans 8:29), he is your advocate (1 John 2:1). Peter reminds us that Jesus is also our judge...
(v.42) He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
There is no other judge I would rather have. Think about it. When you stand before the judgment throne to give an account of all you've done, who do you want to face? Your high school football coach? Your boss? Your mother-in-law? Do you think they would be able to judge with both fairness and mercy? The Bible teaches that God is a fair and merciful God - not at all like a human judge.
There's a story about a judge in Oklahoma who was preparing to hear a case, and announced to the courtroom audience, "Ladies and Gentlemen, in the interests of keeping all matters pertaining to this trial aboveboard, I would like to report that I have in my possession two envelopes, one from the defendant containing seven hundred and fifty dollars, and one from the plaintiff containing one thousand dollars - which some might call bribes. As an officer of the court, I am required to decide this case purely upon its merits. Therefore I am returning the extra $250 to the plaintiff."
In 1994 three American citizens conspired together to smuggle heroin from Thailand into the United States. All three were caught at different stages of the act - one in Thailand, one in Holland, one in the United States. The person caught in the United States was given a 5 year suspended sentence and sent to rehab. The one caught in Holland spent two years in a Dutch prison. The one caught in Thailand was sentenced to death. Same crime, three different punishments. The idea of justice differs from nation to nation; in America it differs from state to state and even from judge to judge. We can argue till we're blue in the face over which judge or which nation is "right"- the fact remains that there is tremendous inequity whenever we try to administer justice. Some have argued that the rich have the advantage over the poor and whites have the advantage over everyone else.
It doesn't work that way with God. Human courts may fail at administering justice, but Jesus won't. He judges everyone the same with absolute fairness. There are two lies the devil will try to get you to believe. They are: "Don't worry about the sin in your life because God will give you special treatment." or “There's no point in doing anything about the sin in your life, because God's got it in for you." If he can't convince you of one, he'll try to sell you on the other.
Jesus will judge you with absolute fairness. Paul said...There wiil be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile; but glory honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 12:9-11)
This means two things.
· You can't escape consequences just because you're you. There's no personal privilege you can invoke that will get you off the hook.
· If anyone in the world can be forgiven, you can. God will not deny you what he has offered freely to everyone else.
It doesn't matter who you are - it's not going to work for you or against you. God treats everyone the same.
3. God Offers Salvation to Everyone the Same (vs. 43)
If you stood before the throne of God today to face judgment based on your own merit, how did you think you would fare? The usual Evangelism Explosion question we ask those we witness to says, “If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and he were to ask you why he should let you into heaven, what would you say to him?” The typical answer of the unbeliever is, “I’ve tried to be a good person” or “I go to church regularly” or “I don’t know.” When we think about the judgment of God, some of us may begin to feel uneasy. I know the feeling. No one wants to stand before the judge when they're guilty. And without exception, we all are guilty. Paul said...All have sinned and fall short of the glory of the God. (Romans 3:23)
God judges us impartially. He won't let you off the hook just because you are who you are, but - here's the good news - he will let you off the hook because of who he is. His purpose for sending Jesus into the world was to save us from our sins. Peter said...
(v.43) Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
You will never be able to earn good standing with God based on your own merit. Nothing you will ever do will make you worthy enough to stand in the presence of God. But Christ died on the cross for you. If you believe in him you can experience God's forgiveness, you can live in God's presence, and you can be filled with God's power every day of your life. It doesn't matter who you are, it only matters who you know.
This is how you begin the Christian life - by believing in Jesus. He accepts you no matter who you are; he will show you mercy no matter who you are; he will forgive your sins no matter who you are.
I also want to emphasize that this is how you live the Christian life. Coming to Christ is a matter of God's grace; continuing in Christ is a matter of God's grace, too. When we put our faith in him we are covered by his mercy. As we learn to live the Christian life from day to day, we will make mistakes along the way. Through him, our sins are forgiven and we continually strive to practice a life of obedience in the power of the Holy Spirit. Through repentance and obedience we can be sure our prayers will be answered. And even if they are not answered, it is an answer. An unanswered prayer is still in the will of God, and we can be sure because we know it is not because of some failure on our part. We know that we are not the cause of God withholding what we asked for. It is because of his sovereign will that we would agree with if we knew all the facts.
Every year Macintosh sponsors a computer convention called MacWorld. Thousands of dealers and distributors and software developers attend this event. This year one of the scheduled speakers was Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Computers. In order to get into the convention you have to have a convention badge. Steve left his at the hotel that day and didn't realize it until he got to the convention center. "No problem," he thought. "After all, I'm Steve Jobs." Unfortunately, the security guard at the door didn't recognize him and refused to let him in without a badge. One of Jobs assistants offered to let him use his badge. When the security guard heard this, he threatened to have them both arrested. After a flurry of frantic calls on their cell phones, the Mac people were finally able to locate the security guard's boss, who came to the main entrance. Steve Jobs knew this man, and he was finally let in to speak at his own convention.
It didn't matter that he was founder of the company, if Steve Jobs had not known the security guard's boss, he never would have gotten in the door. It doesn't matter who you are, it only matters who you know.
This is good news. Most of us are painfully aware of our guilt. Some have tried again and again to do right, and have failed each and every time. There is hope for you. Sin is a serious matter and must be dealt with in a serious way. God has already done this for us. God offers you acceptance, mercy and forgiveness. It doesn't matter who you are, it only matters who you know. Knowing Jesus makes available to us God's never - ending supply of acceptance, mercy and forgiveness. Whether you are the brand spanking-new baby Christian in the pew, or one of the church officers we installed this morning, or the pastor behind the pulpit, it doesn’t matter who you are, just who you know. I’m glad it is His Name that is the password that opens heaven’s door. My name isn’t good enough – yours isn’t good enough either. But if you are on a friendly first name basis with Jesus by faith, you have all you need.
2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.