One of the greatest blessings I have is to work with men who are in training to serve the church as deacons, some who go on to be trained to serve as pastor. Vicar Mark is one of those. I’ve had the blessing of being his instructor, his supervisor, his mentor – and especially his friend. We work each week through the sermon passage, as we encourage each other to preach Christ crucified – the hope of God’s people to share in His glory. Here is his sermon this week, another look at the passage I also preached on. May both sermons lead you to rejoice in God’s work in our (humanity’s) life.
Getting our of God’s Way
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ who fought the fight and emerged victorious over sin and death, winning our salvation through the cross and that open and empty tomb.
He is Risen!
I was looking online this weekend ay pictures 27 years later of the nuclear accident at Cheyrnobal in what was once the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The cities and the area around the power plant look like a ghost town. It took me back to a time in which the world feared nuclear holocaust or M.A.D. mutually assured destruction.
Them and us or if you prefer, us and them.
As a child growing up in the shadow of the Cold War, this was a frequent term that I remember hearing. It pertained to the former evil empire called the Soviet Union who is the them and the God fearing, freedom loving United States who naturally was us.
If you listened to all the propaganda and rhetoric that spewed forward during this time and watched the finger pointing you would have thought that these people who were ‘them’ were some kind of monsters who rejected God, didn’t believe in human rights and didn’t love their children and wanted to crush us out of existence.
I mean can you imagine a country that doesn’t believe in the Triune God, kills its unborn children, makes certain human beings drink from different water fountains and make them sit in the back of a bus and wants to crush a country out of existence?
Oh yeah, that would be us.
This them and us attitude actually had the world on the brink of WWIII a few times but that was political and governmental. Our countries had vastly different ideologies and political doctrines, but what really separated the people?
There were believers there just like there was here or lack of believers. They loved their children and each other just as much as we did ours. All they wanted like we wanted was to live. Both sides wanted to live in peace free from the threat and actual happening of war.
One other thing that both sides shared is that both sides were sinners in desperate need of the peace that passes all understanding.
Both sides needed Christ.
Them and us.
The attitudes of ‘them and us’ does nothing but cause harm. It produces distance and misunderstanding between the two parties and it manifests pain and hurt.
There was a case of them and us as we read from Acts today. Peter is headed back to Jerusalem after meeting with uncircumsized men or if you prefer Gentiles. He had been sent there to share the Gospel with those unclean Gentiles? Them!
The circumcision party as they are called or Jews who believed in Christ are not happy with Peter. They are the usor I guess for us, the Jewish Christians are the them?
Christ did not come to save these unclean Gentiles, they weren’t born into this, they had no training in the religious ways or Laws of Moses. They probably even ate bacon and ham!
Well, these Jewish believers had heard that Peter had shared the Gospel with a Gentile family and even ate with them they were very unhappy and began to criticize Peter saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal, so he ate a meal with them?”
A meal was a major deal and if you ate with someone that was interpreted as a mark of acceptance and fellowship. It could have major ramifications if a leader such as Peter were eating with them, the unclean!
Were they thinking that Peter had gone to them and was no longer part of us?
That really was the farthest thing from the truth. Peter was still very much a part of this group but he proceeds to tell them what God gave to him in a vision.
God shares with him that it is ok to eat bacon!
In Peter’s vision he sees animals, beasts of prey, reptiles and birds of th air, all animals that had been considered unclean and unfit to eat. Upon seeing all these different animals, he is then told to kill and eat them!
This is my kind of vision, now if I am only to drink hefeweizan along with it…
But seriously folks, Peter says that he can’t because they are unclean.
The Voice answers him saying, “ What God has made clean, do not call common.”
Scripture says this happened to Peter three times! What is with Peter and groups of three?
All I know is because what was once unclean God made clean. Bacon all around, for everyone!
These things are made clean because of one thing.
He has Risen! Jesus has done what had to be done. He took our sin and carried it to the cross for us!
All things unclean have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and made new. We were unclean in God’s eyes and now we have been cleaned up.
We were unrelatable because of our sin and rebellion and disobedience but because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus our high priest, we are no longer held to to be unclean and we now have received a relationship wit our Heavenly Father.
This is what Peter is explaining to them about his vision.
Jesus just didn’t atone for the Jews. He did this work for all people, all nations. He did it for them and us. Peter then talks about at that very moment men showed up to take him to the Gentile Cornelius and his family and Peter says the Sprit told him to go with them without making any distinctions. They go and the Holy Spirit comes and this Gentile and his whole family including servants are converted!
Peter’s defense to the Jewish believers didn’t come from himself and what he did but instead from God and what He did and who shows no difference between Jew or Gentile, them or us.
Our Father showed no difference between them and us or us and them because we all need Christ. We all fall short and we all need deliverance and redemption and forgiveness.
But yet like them, those Jewish believers, we can get caught in the ‘them and us’ in dealing with the world around us or even dealing with fractions within the church or our very own church here at Our Savior.
This ‘them and us’ mentality can stand in our way of God and hinder our vision and idea of how, where, when and why of what our Father is doing at all times for His beloved children.
Peter tells in verse 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?”
How brash and rebellious and arrogant we are to ever think that we can stand in God’s way and hinder Him. But we try consciously and sometimes subconsciously to do just that. How can you possibly stand in the way of God? You might as well stand on the tracks in the path of an oncoming freight train with a paper plate as your shield.
We are like the believing Jews questioning Peter. We believe according to what we determine and we put limits and requirements on things. We receive this incredible gift of grace and love from God but don’t always show grace and love to others.
It becomes that game of them and us and we don’t stand in God’s way but in each other’s way not remembering that God’s gift of reconciliation is for all people, them and us, Jew and Gentile, believer and un-believer.
These Jewish believers had to have known the fulfillments of all the prophecies such as Abraham being promised that His offspring would be a blessing to all peoples and all nations. What about the Song of Simeon that we sing in the Nunc Dimittis, A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people, Israel just to name a few but they were standing in the way with their rigid ways.
When we try to stand in the way it does become a them and us kind of thing. But if we trust and have faith depending on our Father and not our own reasoning or scheming, knowing that Jesus sits at His right hand and intercedes and advocates for them and us, His people, and knowing that the Holy Spirit comes to us, sanctifying us and strengthening us in faith through Him then the them and us goes away and we are one people under and through the saving power of Jesus Christ.
As Peter tells the group about the fact of this Gentile family gifted by God with belief and redemption Scripture tells us in verse 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 them and the us are now the we who are no longer unclean. We are now cleaned up and made righteous, called by Christ to live in a relationship with God and be His forever.
To Him be all glory!