I’m going to take you for a walk down memory lane for a couple of minutes. How many of you remember the TV show, “I Love Lucy?” On that show, the main character, Lucy Ricardo, was always getting into mischief. Sometimes it was so bad that her husband said, “Lucy, you’ve got some explaining to do!”
In the passage from Acts 11:1-18, Peter had some explaining to do to the rest of the apostles. They heard the reports about Peter preaching to Cornelius and his family, and they were not happy. The Jews believed that as God’s chosen people they were the only people who could receive the Holy Spirit and the Good News. The idea that the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit was extraordinary and contrary to the ideas of the Jews. It is not surprising therefore that Peter would have to do some explaining when he returned to Jerusalem. Instead of debating his accusers, Peter told them the remarkable story of all that had happened. Peter made sure they knew that he went to Caesarea in direct obedience to the Spirit, and that six Jewish believers had accompanied him to the house of Cornelius.
Peter showed that the best way to silence opposition is to make a plain statement of things as they occurred. Opposition most commonly arises from prejudice or false or exaggerated statements. They can best be removed not by arguing but by truthfully telling the facts.
As Peter told the disciples what happened in Caesarea, the Holy Spirit was at work in the minds of the disciples. They loved Peter and believed in him. They gave him a good hearing. Peter and the disciples asked the question, “Who are we that we can withstand God?” They carefully considered the evidence and received the message that the Good News was open to everyone.
This story has implications for us. There is a difference between the Lord being on our agenda and us being on His agenda. God urges us to keep our focus on Him. God is preparing the next step for each of us. God will move us on in our growth. He won’t let us stay where we are. He will gently nudge us and give us the desire to receive what He wants to give us. He will involve us with people who need Him more than they need their next breath.
Once we clearly see God at work, we are wise to join Him or stay out of the way. For example, it never occurred to the early Jewish believers that God might choose to send the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. Once they saw the truth, they responded correctly by praising God. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for people to have their lives changed and in the process, change the world where they are, and so make the kingdom of God a reality here and now.
Another truth revealed in this passage from Acts is that God gives gifts to others who may or may not believe or practice their faith in the same way that we do. God gives gifts to both unbelievers and believers. God accepts all people even as He has accepted us. It is useless for us to argue with God or contradict God. We can’t win.
This story has implications for the church. Culture clashes are inevitable, especially when churches try to hold on to rules that have nothing to do with the Gospel. There are times when it takes much more strength to let go of these rules than to hang on. There are also clashes with different denominations and their cultures.
What would happen if all the churches agreed, on a given day, to change their names simply to “church?” What if all references to denomination were removed and we were just Christians? And when, people chose which church to attend, they wouldn’t do so by the sign outside. They would do so by the hearts of the people inside. When people were asked what church they attended, their answer wouldn’t be a label but just a location.
The message from this passage holds power for us today. Peter, with the help of the Holy Spirit, entered a space in which he was unfamiliar, in order to become like “the others.” Peter’s experiences are remarkable in and of themselves, but in sharing his story with skeptics in the church, he expanded the horizon of possibilities for his own people. Are there times when our experiences outside of the realm of church need to be shared with those within the church? How might those experiences change the ways that we are called to follow Jesus? How can we be loving toward people who have differing, even contrary, worldviews and ideologies and practices to our own? What does extending love look like when individuals do not want to receive love? We need to remember these three things:
- There is one Gospel: God accepts all who have faith in Christ.
- There is one body: In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile.
- There is one rule: In Christ, love others as God loves you.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1506)
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J. The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 187-189)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)