I want to start my message by asking you a question, and the answer might take you on a trip down memory lane. How many of you remember the TV series “I Love Lucy?” Ricky Ricardo always had a line he used when Lucy did something wrong. It was “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.” It was a humorous way of saying that Lucy did something illegal or embarrassing. Today when we tell someone that they have some explaining to do it’s also a funny (or not so funny) way of telling them that they did something illegal of embarrassing.
In Acts 11:1-18, the disciples told Peter that he had some explaining to do. The disciples in Jerusalem had heard that Peter ate with and associated with the Gentiles. In their eyes, that was illegal and/or embarrassing because the Jews always kept themselves separate from the Gentiles. Jews considered the Gentiles to be “unclean.”
Acts 11:1-18 is a summary of the events in Acts 10 with a few additional details. In Acts 10, Peter received a vision telling him to spread the Good News to the Gentiles. In chapter 11, he gives the disciples an explanation of why he associated with the Gentiles.
Instead of debating his accusers, he told them the remarkable story of all that had happened. Peter made sure that they knew he went to Caesarea in direct obedience to the Holy Spirit, and the six Jewish believers who accompanied him to Cornelius’ house saw the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles. There was to be no distinction or discrimination between Jews and Gentiles. Cornelius and the other Gentiles who were in his house received the Holy Spirit without having to follow the Jewish laws, including circumcision. That was God’s answer to the debate and settled the matter as far as Peter was concerned. No one was to refuse to allow any new believers to be baptized. No one was to prevent any new believers from becoming members of the church.
The Gospel is God’s provision for making peace between sinful men and God and between hostile races. God’s plan was for the Gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit, and it is better to be on God’s agenda than to have him on our agenda. He prepares the steps we have to take to follow his agenda. He will move us on in our spiritual growth. He will never allow us to stay where we are. God’s love overrides any man-made requirements such as circumcision. In fact, nothing can stand in the way of God’s love. He demolishes the barriers, and he asked Peter to do the same. The result was and is characterized by compassion for everyone and not compliance to a code of purity. It is also characterized by radical inclusivity instead of hierarchical exclusivity, and inward transformation instead of outward ritual. God is the god of everyone.
The discussion between Peter and the rest of the disciples was really a difference of opinion. They represent the differences of opinions that Christians often have. The reason why so many different denominations exist today is because of differences of opinion about what beliefs are essential to Christianity. Some individual churches have even broken up because of differences such as whether or not to install microphones or use overhead projectors or install kitchens or the type of bread to use during Communion. Some of these differences do need to be discussed, such as the one between Peter and the disciples. Sometimes way too much time and energy is spent on these discussions. There is too much to do for the Kingdom. God wants us to join together and serve him-which is what the disciples and Peter eventually did.
The greatest task for the church is to find out where God is already at work in the world and take part in that work as God directs. Sometimes the church has missed the new work God is doing because it was waiting for something to happen in its own corner of the world on its own terms, when God was already doing great things in another part of the world.
Imagine what it would be like if all the churches agreed to change their names to simply “church”? What if all references to denominations were removed and we were all just Christians? When people chose which church to attend, they wouldn’t do so by the change outside…they would do so by the hearts of the people inside. When people asked what church they attended, their answer wouldn’t be a label but just a location. Then we as Christians wouldn’t be known for what divides us. We would be known for what unites us-our heavenly Father.
When God gave Peter a vision in Acts 10, it was a reminder of what Jesus said in John 14:26: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.” God blessed Cornelius and his companions just like Peter and the apostles were blessed at Pentecost. All of them were blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. God made it perfectly clear that he loves both the Jews and the Gentiles. Refusing to accept the Gentiles would be the same as hindering God. Peter could not do that, the apostles were not to do that, and God doesn’t want us to do that either.
Peter leaned that holiness was a matter of being cleansed from sin by Christ’s blood and of being like God in thought, word and deed. Repentance and confession are therefore fundamental elements of Christianity. Peter emphasized the gift that both Jewish and Gentile believers share-the gift of the Holy Spirit, repentance to life, and salvation. To receive one is to receive all. The important thing to remember is that God took the initiative to give us that gift. This gift is an experience of God-an experience that draws us into confession and glorification of God. God wants us to bear witness to what he has done in Christ. He urges us to tell the story of God’s act of reconciliation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The phrase “The status quo is not an option” certainly applies here. Our ideas of what is proper and what is not proper can’t restrict the message of salvation no matter how valid or how well-conceived they are. Labelling people by various categories based on our own standards violates the standards of the Gospel by excluding people for whom God is working to take the message. In addition, our standards are not perfect, but God’s standards are perfect. People who might be rejected by our standards might be perfectly acceptable by God’s standards and vice versa.
Who are the Gentiles among us? Who are the people who we consider to be “unclean?” Labelling others as unclean and impure, drawing boundaries between “us” and “them” is easy. Loving others like Christ loves us is hard. God gives gifts to others who may not believe or practice faith in the same way that others do. In other words, he gives the same gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe. Their gifts and experiences, along with our own gifts and experiences, need to be shared within our churches and within the entire world.
The admission of the Gentiles to the body of believers marked a change. Change is not easy. We often resist change, but Jesus wants us to accept and even promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone. He wants us to drop all barriers to the cause of Christ. He wants us to welcome everyone who is saved. He wants us to leave a place of security and identity and launch out into unchartered territory with nothing but God’s Word to guide us.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1506)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Don Ruhl, “Witnesses to the Gentile Conversion.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pastor David McGee, “Bickering Believers.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
- Stephen Davey, “The Church that Changed.” Retrieved from Christianity.email@example.com
- Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983, pp. 187-189)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010, pp. 1519-1521)
- Kyle Fever, “Commentary on Acts 11:1-18.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1617
- William Loader, “First Thoughts on Year C First Reading Acts Passages from the Lectionary: Easter 5.” Retrieved from www.staff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/CActsEaster5.htm
- Daniel Clendenin, Ph.D., “Any Person, Every Nation: Even the Gentiles.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/2007043033.shtml
- Dr. Jan Love, “Encountering Other Religions.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/1940-encountering-other-religions.print.
- Exegesis for Acts 11:1-18. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Jeremiah, Dr. David: A.D. The Bible Continues: The Revolution That Changed the World (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers; 2015, pgs. 195-196, 201-203)
- Evangelectionary for Sunday, April 24, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.evangelismconnections.org/evangelecitionary-for-sunday-april-24-2016/
- Paul Christenson, “God Pause for Monday, 4/18/2016.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Daniel Clendenin, “The Day of Non-Judgment is Near.: Retrieved from http://journeywithjesus.net
- Dr. Randy L. Hyde, “Explaining One’s Self.” Retrieved from http://www.lectionary.org/Sermons/NT/05-Acts/Acts-11.01-18-ExplainingSelfHyde.htm
- Pastor Daniel W. Brettell, “Law and Gospel.” Retrieved from http://www.lectionary.org/Sermons/NT/05-Acts/Acts-11.01-18-Law&Gospel-Brettell.htm
- Richard Neill Donovan, “Biblical Commentary-Acts 11:1-18.” Retrieved from http://www.lectionary.org/EXEG_Engl_WEB/NT/or-Acts-WEB/Acts.11.01-18.htm
- “Lucy, You’ve Got Some ‘Splaining to do.” Retrieved from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Lucy%2C+you+got+some+’splainin’+to+do!