Acts: The Spirit-Led Church Challenges the Status Quo

Elder Brian Haferkamp preaches through Acts 10-11. He reminds us that the Spirit-led Church shows no partiality because it is led by a God who shows no partiality.

In chapters 9 and 10 of Acts we see the beginnings of a new thing that God is doing in the world. The Gospel and Christ had previously been for the Jews. Now the message was being prepared to be taken to the Jews and to the Gentiles. This is significant because God was going to use the Jews to take the message to the Gentiles. He was going to use the Church to challenge the Jewish status quo.

Acts 10:9-16

9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Upon seeing this vision from God, Peter is perplexed, but it all becomes clearer when Cornelius sends his men to get Peter and bring him to Caesarea. Peter is obedient to God’s direction in his life, even as he wrestles with God’s challenge to his entire worldview.

Consider what God is asking Peter to do: to disobey the laws that God had explicitly set up through Moses; Laws the people of Israel had preserved for thousands of years. And now God is asking Peter to break these laws. Peter doesn’t have a lot of time to go over this before he’s faced with obeying or disobeying. 

One thing I think about here is that Peter is again challenged with something in a group of three. By this time, maybe Peter was being haunted by things in threes: three times he denied Christ, three times Jesus asked, “Do you love me,” and now he sees the vision of this sheet coming down three times. 

Peter is no stranger to his worldview being challenged. It happened to him before.

Matthew 16:21-23

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Then again in John 18, when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane:

10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Two paradigms of Peter’s life as a Jewish man had already been challenged by Jesus: That the Messiah would die and that the establishment of Christ's Kingdom would not be the result of military conquest.

And in Acts we see God once again challenge Peter’s worldview. A good Jew never ate anything God himself had declared unclean or went into the houses of those who were not Jews. But now here God is commanding Peter to eat unclean things. 

When God challenges your paradigm, how do you react? Do you thoughtfully consider it? Does it send you into a tailspin of doubt and psychological darkness? Or do you listen and obey even when you don’t understand?

Peter gives us an example of listening and obedience. As he is pondering and going over what all this means, there is a knock at the door. Roman soldiers brought word that Peter was to come with them to Caesarea, meet a Roman centurion named Cornelius, and tell his family and friends whatever God has to say through Peter. 

The next day, Peter and several others begin the trip to Caesarea. Through his obedience Peter comes to realize what the vision means and comes to understand what God is doing.

Acts 10:34-44

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.

God shows no partiality. Anyone from anywhere who comes to God through Christ is acceptable to him.

This is the beginning of taking the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Though the message had been preached before, this was the first time that the Jewish leadership acknowledged that this was a movement of God. This has particular significance for those of us in this room. This is the beginning of your salvation and mine.

After remaining with Cornelius for some days, Peter and his group went back to the Church in Jerusalem to report what happened. 

You can just imagine the criticism:

“God wouldn’t tell you to do that.”

“God doesn’t work like that.”

“What are you doing?! God wouldn’t lead you to disobey his Law.”

Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

The leadership of the Church in Jerusalem fell silent and then joined in with this new thing God was doing; this mystery that had been hidden in Christ for ages. 

Peter’s entrance into Cornelius’s house ended the Jewish phase of the Church and opened a new phase of the Church Age where Jew and Gentile would no longer be at odds and in hostility with one another. They would now be equally sons of God in God’s household through Jesus Christ.

The Gentiles could now come into the Church without going through the gate of Judaism. If all men shared in Christ's cleansing work, there was no need for keeping up the old Jewish restrictions, or insisting Gentiles first be received into the Jewish community before becoming a Christian.

This idea was a huge shift for the Jewish Christians.

Last week Brother Renke spoke about the Apostle Paul and his conversion. Like Peter, Paul's conversion represented a paradigm shift in his life and the life of the Church moving forward. He believed he was doing God's will by imprisoning and killing Christians, but Christ himself intervened and completely reformed his life. Instead of opposing Christians, he would be sent out to preach Christ. 

In Ephesians, Paul describes this new way--this new paradigm:

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The status quo of the Jews had been challenged by God. He would use the Church to usher in a new paradigm--the new paradigm that in Christ both Jews and Gentiles are one.

Reading later in the book of Acts, we see that there comes a challenge to this new paradigm shift--there always is when the status quo is being disrupted. At this point there was the danger of Christianity splitting into Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity.

In Acts 15 some men traveled from Antioch to Judea and they were telling the believers that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas were part of a group that was sent from Antioch to Jerusalem to ask the elders and leadership of the Church about this question of circumcision. After much debate, Peter stands up and addresses the gathering:

Acts 15:7-11

“Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 

Partiality had always been a part of the Jewish faith. God had instituted it long ago for his own purposes. But now he had lifted that veil and removed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. They would now be one through faith in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit fell on both Jew and Gentile alike. 

But there were dissenters, those who would not accept this salvation by faith alone in the work of Jesus Christ. After all, Christianity had come through the Jews and those who would enter into Christ must come through the Jewish faith. That meant circumcision. 

Whether for comfort or legitimacy or power, this circumcision party wanted to make people go through Judaism first. For them it was "Christ and…" They were acting with partiality in their heart, but God was doing something new. 

Let’s bring this home a bit.

Is there partiality in your heart? In your heart is it "Christ alone" or do you hold people to the standard of “Christ and…”?

Do you add requirements to the Gospel that God never adds?

The Spirit-led Church does not show partiality because Christ shows no partiality. His Spirit falls on all who call upon the name of the Lord. They are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:27-28

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 no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:11

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is equally for all mankind. Any prejudice based on race, ethnicity, language, economic status, cultural norms, or any other prejudicial barrier we care to erect has no place in the Body of Jesus Christ. We are one in Christ. We are unified parts of his Body. We share one Christ, one Gospel, one Lord and Father of all. This is our new culture. All of our cultural, political, economic, educational, and geographical barriers are removed when we accept the sacrifice of Christ for our sins and become a part of God’s family. It is true that we cannot escape living within those paradigms while we’re on earth, but the Church must choose, in faith and by sacrifice, to live beyond the status quo even while we live in the midst of it. 

A few years ago God spoke to my heart about this. Whatever is true of Christianity must be accessible for everyone--everywhere. The Christianity I call people to must be accessible to the rich, the poor, those with resources and those without, for Americans, Chinese, Filipinos, Ugandans, Russians, Europeans, and anyone in between. Your position, status, geographical location, physical stature, hair color, economic ability, or any other classification mankind has created must not be added to the Gospel.

There is no white Christianity. There is no black Christianity. There is no Latino Christianity. There is no Asian Christianity. There is no suburban Christianity. There is no urban Christianity. There is no Midwestern Christianity. There is no American Christianity. There is no African Christianity. There is no male Christianity. There is no female Christianity. There is no poor Christianity. There is no wealthy Christianity.  

There is only Christianity that finds its unity, expression, strength, and purpose in Christ Jesus. Period. Full stop.

Here are the requirements of God in Christ:

Romans 10:8-13

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Let us not be in danger of boxing up the Gospel in our suburban American package and requiring that version of Christianity be accepted before we will accept the faith of our brothers and sisters around the world. I encourage you to ask God to give you a faith that crosses boundaries, barriers, cultural walls, racial and ethnic lines, and any other facades that we as mankind try to erect between one another. 

Ephesians 4:4-6

4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.