Persecution & Hope

  I.      Introduction

We begin today a brand new series, and I’m always overwhelmed with the amount of wisdom that is packed into each verse of the New Testament.  We have nine verses to study today, and we could easily do an entire lesson on just the first word.  Got your bibles ready?  Let’s start at 1 Peter 1 verse 1.

II.      To God’s Chosen, 1 Peter 1:1-2

Today’s lesson is actually a very good illustration of something I’ve said numerous times; standing in front of the class to teach is not a goal of mine.  I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, but actually standing here isn’t something I crave.  But I would say 90% of what I know about the bible has come not from listening to the Word, or even reading the Word, but from preparing to teach.  We have 9 verses to study today, but let’s just read the first two, 1 Peter 1:1-2,

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

When I first sit down to study, I read the verse once and sort of let it sink in, sometimes up to a week.  Then when I sit down to prepare, I start jotting notes down and try to arrange them in an outline that makes sense.  Here’s the notes I jotted down from the first two verses –

  • Peter the apostle. Discuss life of Christ, how Peter was selected as a fisherman, denied Christ 3 times.  In the book of Acts, he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” yet he penned several books of the New Testament and Christ built His church upon him.
  • God’s elect, chosen through foreknowledge, free will versus God’s will, Arminianism vs Calvinism,
  • God’s exiles, sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens in a foreign land, and how believers with the Holy Spirit inside find their moral values are different from worldly values.
  • Geography, how the Christian church spread in the first century
  • Sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, not through our own works
  • Obedience in Jesus Christ.
  • Covered by His blood, saved from our own sins by His substitutionary death.
  • Grace and peace, gifts of the Holy Spirit. And in abundance, too.

These are just the topics I identified in just the first two sentences of 1 Peter 1.  My point is, when we study the bible as a class, it is worthy and provides us knowledge, but there is no possibility that 30 minutes a week is sufficient to understand all our heavenly Father wants to teach us.    If you and I want to get closer to our God, then we must spend the time to get to know him in our own individual reading and studying.  It is a privilege for us to be able to study His Word when in so much of the world bibles are difficult to find or are banned outright.

Why were these early Christians in exile?  This world persecution of Christians goes all the way back to the first century church.  While many of the apostles like Peter showed their human weaknesses while Jesus was in their midst, every apostle except John (who died of old age) was eventually martyred proclaiming the good news of the Christ.

In the USA, we believe we see persecution of Christians.  In California, Christian adoption agencies are closing because the state forces all adoption agencies to accept same-sex parents as well as provide contraception as part of their health care for adoption agency employees.  Christian businesses are closing in several states because they won’t make cakes for lesbian couples or take wedding photos for gay men.  These are most definitely challenges and persecution of Christian values.Slide3

But in Philip Yancey’s book, “Where is God When it Hurts?”, quotes Helmut Thielicke, a German minister who survived Nazism and World War II.  Helmut was asked, “What did he see as the greatest weakness among American Christians?”.  Helmut answered, “They have an inadequate view of suffering”.

So while in Houston, Christians struggle to preserve the Ten Commandment display at a Veteran’s cemetery, OpendoorUSA reports that around the world, 322 Christians are killed for their faith every month, and 214 Christian churches are destroyed.  I saw the movie this past week called “The Insanity of God” and the story of a missionary who had traveled the world, witnessed dying children in Somalia, the imprisonment of the faithful in the former Soviet Union, and the persecution of believers in China.  As he spoke to some underground Christians in China, he noted that before the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse Tung, there were 400,000 Christians.  Today, after decades of persecution, there are 50 million.  And the underground Christians asked the missionary, “Have they heard about Jesus outside of China yet?”Slide4

Sometimes it’s hard to grasp why God allows the persecution of His people, and I can’t begin to understand all of His purpose.  But it’s unmistakable that persecution allows demonstration of His mercies.

 

III.      Saved, Now and Forever, 1 Peter 1:3-5

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once Saved, Always Saved?”  It was a phrase that I had heard but didn’t think about it too much.  My first thoughts are, “well, it’s not in the bible” and “if you could see the way some people live, they couldn’t possibly be saved.”  And if you continue that line of thinking, eventually you get to wondering, “Am I saved?  And if I am saved, can I lose my salvation?  What do I have to do to earn eternal life?”  In 1 Peter 1, we will find rest for our souls and comfort that our inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven is secure.  Verses 3-5,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven?  How about, unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s a good chance you’re going to heaven?  Or do you absolutely know, without a doubt, 100% guarantee, that you’re going to heaven?  God wants you to know and be absolutely confident, because there is joy and peace in this knowledge.  Let’s look at some other scripture that backs this up.  1 John 5:13,

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

It doesn’t say we should “think” we have eternal life.  It says we may *know* we have eternal life.  It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven.  It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice.  Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do.  It’s not based on you.  It’s not based on me.  It never was.  It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

In John 5:24, Jesus says,

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses several tenses of verbs to make His point clear.  When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense.  Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”.  Jesus says believers have it!  And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.”  Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life.  We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die.  We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned.  Past, present and future.

John 3:36:

Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.

John 6:47:

I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.

It is an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish.  What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord?  Well, here’s the fine print of the contract:

  • Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more.  Poof, it’s as if they never happened.  With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.
  • Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed.  They *are* inscribed.
  • Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”   No condemnation.  Freedom.
  • Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.
  • Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs.  We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.
  • Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?
  • Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped.  Seems like every translation I read used a different word here.  Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours.  We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.
  • John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we become His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.
  • Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

So this salvation we already have.  This eternal life we already have.  Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed.  I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already.  I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again.   Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed.  This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation, all the terms of the contract would have to be abolished.

  • Somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore.
  • We would have to change from Christ’s sheep into a toad.
  • We would have to remove the brand He sealed onto us.
  • Somebody would have to snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us.
  • God’s adoption papers would have to be cancelled and He writes us out of the will.
  • Holy Spirit would have to be evicted out of His home in our heart and told to find someplace else to live.
  • We would have to dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up.
  • Somebody would have to remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more.
  • And somebody would have to make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

So what about all those difficult questions about “Once saved, always saved?”  What if I claim to be a Christian, but don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle?  I party and drink and do drugs and sleep around and so forth – am I still going to heaven?  And what if I say I’m a Christian and I know I’m going to heaven, does that mean I can do anything I want?  Lie cheat and steal, take candy from babies or be a serial killer?  Am I still going to heaven?  How about if I say I’m Christian, but then I curse God to His face, turn my back on Jesus and says I want nothing do with those uptight religious freaks anymore?  Am I still going to heaven?  And what about when I hurt or when I’m depressed and I just don’t feel like getting up and going to church anymore?  Am I still going to heaven?

Great questions.  I hope somebody here can answer them, these were hard and I ran out of time studying.  No seriously, they are great questions, and the answers are in this same Good Book.

Number 1.  What if somebody claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle?  Partying and drinking and so forth?  I think it’s important to remember that eternal salvation is granted when you confess with all your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord.  God does the rest.  If we think our actions before God are better than somebody else’s actions, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus did for us.  Romans 3:20 says,

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.

No one, no matter how good we try to be, is good enough for God.  Any righteousness we have comes not from ourselves but from accepting the blood covering of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.  Ephesians 2:8 says,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

It has nothing to do with what we do.  We don’t gain eternal life because of our good performance, and we don’t lose eternal life because of our bad performance.  It’s Jesus plus nothing; it’s a gift.  The church of Galatia thought the same thing, and Paul gave them a dressing down.  In Galatians 3 Paul writes,

You foolish Galatians! […] After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

2 Timothy 2:13 Paul says,

if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.

Getting into heaven has nothing to do with our human performance and everything to do with God’s grace.  We don’t sing Amazing Human Performance in worship for a reason, we sing Amazing Grace.  So if somebody has truly accepted Jesus Christ but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian life, they still have their admission ticket to God’s Grand Afterlife Party.

Number 2.  If our salvation is secure, does that mean we can do whatever we want?  If I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, why does it matter what I do?  Why not lie, cheat and steal?  Why not cheat on my spouse?  Why not party like it’s 1999?  I’m going to heaven!  Well, there’s a serious problem with this.   You may have that invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party and you are guaranteed entry, but what you do in this life has everything to do with what kind of reception you’ll get when you get there.  1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

The foundation is Christ, and with our mortal lives we build on that foundation.  We can build on it with long lasting stuff – obedience, servant hood, prayer, humility, or we can build on it with disobedience, arrogance, and selfishness.  The choice is up to us.  But there will come a day of Judgement where we stand before Christ, and all our earthly deeds will be exposed for what they are.   Everything bad or worthless will be burned away, and if there’s anything left, there’s a reward.  What kind of reward?  I don’t know – I’m guessing something made of chocolate.  All I know if there’s a line forming to collect a reward from the almighty God, I want to be in that line.  What if your building is all gone?  Well, you don’t get any chocolate, but you yourself will be saved.  You’re not in heaven because of the building, you’re in heaven because of the foundation.

Number 3.  What if somebody turns their back on Jesus, renounces God, becomes an atheist.  Are they still going to heaven?  Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teen who lived in London from 1735 to 1790.  He was a delinquent teen, but at 17 took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching to “laugh at the poor deluded Methodists.”  Two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ.  He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Slide21Beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words.  But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography.  Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity and became Unitarian who does not believe Jesus was the only Son of the Father.  In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”  Robert Robinson never did return to Christianity, and died denying the deity of Christ.

So what happened?  We can’t know for sure, can we, because we can’t ever know Robert Robinson’s heart.  But we do know this – if he ever truly trusted Christ, then yes, Robert Robinson is in heaven.  Even if we are faithless, God is faithful.  In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus tells us what happens to people like this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

Slide23In order to produce fruit, you have to be connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit.  If you’re not connected, the best you can produce is leaves, and Jesus says if you’re not connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit, the sap of the church of a body of believers, you wither.  You become bitter and angry.  I’ve never met a person who has accepted Christ and then turned his back on him that was a joy to be around.  They’re hurtful, mean, selfish people.  But when you’re connected to the sap, you produce fruit.  So when you meet a person like this, either they never truly gave their heart to Jesus, or they did give their heart, but through circumstance, weakness, persecution, suffering, whatever, they turned their back on Jesus.  It’s not for us to determine, but the Lord knows their heart, and if they truly gave their heart, they’re in heaven.  But not in the chocolate line, they’re in the … carob line.

Number 4.  What if I just don’t feel saved?  What if I don’t feel connected to the Holy Spirit, or connected to the church.  Am I still going to heaven?  One of Satan’s tricks in our materialistic secular humanistic society is the “do what feels good” philosophy.  Feel bad about debt?  Go shopping until you feel good.  Feel bad about weight?  Eat until you feel better.  Don’t like your spouse?  Get a divorce.  And you look at our society and see what happens to us when we let our feelings determine our direction.   When our feelings are at the wheel, we don’t have any idea what direction we’re headed.

I know exactly firsthand what happens when you let feelings rule.  I have let my feelings drive me right off a cliff.  But you know what?  Christ caught me.  Now instead of trying to get happy and going in whatever direction I wanted to, I let Christ take the wheel and let Him determine the direction, and I ended up far happier than when I was trying to be happy.  Matthew 6:33,

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Feelings aren’t supposed to be driving your around; feelings are supposed to be in the passenger seat.

So do your feelings determine whether you’re going to heaven?  Does John 3:16 read,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,

as long as he feels like it?  John 5:24 says,

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

How do your feelings change that?  John 10:28,

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Unless, of course, they’re unhappy?

Where do feelings come into play?  Our feelings are something we do, and nothing we do will gain or lose our salvation.  I think we try to make this complicated, but it’s almost too simple to believe.  God gives us the gift of salvation, and we say “thanks.”  That’s it, and nothing we do or feel or say will change that.  No performance evaluation, no report card.  Just grace.  Our destiny is already safe, already secure, we are already eternal beings.  And when we are eternal, when we are not afraid to die, then we are not afraid to live.

IV.      Rejoice Always, 1 Peter 1:6-9

This is indeed cause for celebration.  In 1 Peter 1:6-9, Peter goes on to say,

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice.  Rejoice!  Again I say, rejoice!  I rejoice because despite the persecution of the church, those who have place their faith in Christ Jesus are already receiving the result of our faith: the salvation of our souls.  We already belong to him and nothing, not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not the present nor the future, nor any powers, not height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to change that one teeny bit.  Our destiny is safe.  Today is the day that the Lord hath made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  And let nothing steal that joy, for Christ Jesus loves us so much that He gave His very life for us.  And nothing, absolutely nothing that the world, others, or even ourselves can do, can take that away from us.  We are saved, permanently, now and forever.

Once Saved, Always Saved?  It really is that simple.  Don’t complicate it with man-made judgments and opinions.  Salvation is a gift through Jesus that is eternally secure.  To receive it, all we have to do is ask.  And all we have to do to keep it is… nothing.

  V.      Conclusion

Peter tells us that through Christ Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never spoil or fade, and that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by our all-powerful God.  Let us have no more doubts, no more fears.  Absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess this gift from the Lord brings me peace and inexpressible and glorious joy.  I have been set free.  The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power.

To God be the glory.

Acceptance

   I.      Introduction

We’re continuing in the Book of Acts, and last week, Theresa gave a great lesson that touched on Peter’s character.

I like Peter.  He’s messy.  When I study Peter, I find I’m often studying myself.  Peter’s growth isn’t clean and neat, it’s random and backsliding and lurching forward.   It’s full of mistakes.  And yet, Jesus loved Peter.

II.      Acceptance of Peter

As I was studying the life of Peter for this lesson, I found that many scholars believe that the book of Mark could have possibly been called the book of Peter.  Mark wrote the gospel, but many indications are that Peter dictated his life experiences to Mark who wrote them down.  One indication that Peter dictated the book of Mark was that Mark was a constant companion of Peter and they were very close.  1 Peter 5:12-14, Peter ends his letter like this:

Slide2This is the same Mark, and so close to Peter that Peter calls him his son.  Then, one of the most telling indications that Peter dictated the Book of Mark is from the Transfiguration of Jesus, let’s take a look quickly at Mark 9:2-4 –

Slide3

So Jesus Peter, James and John were all alone.  So where was Mark?

Some of the confusion, I think, comes from thinking that Mark is one of the twelve apostle, which he is not.  The word “apostle” implies “sending forth,” while “disciple” implies “following.”   Mark was certainly a follower of Jesus and a close friend of Peter, but Mark was not one of the apostles.

Peter was a fisherman.  Fishermen were gruff, sometimes vulgar.  They used colorful language.  They had tempers.  They smelled like old fish.  And yet, when Jesus said “follow me” in Luke 5, Peter dropped everything to follow Christ.  Jesus accepted Peter, smelly fish deodorant and all.

Slide8

Peter still made mistakes.  In Mark chapter 8, Jesus is telling his disciples that the Messiah would suffer and die for their sins, and Peter rebukes Jesus.  And Jesus turned, looked at Peter, and said, “Get the behind me, Satan!”

It’s not the only time that Jesus looked directly at Peter.  In Mark 14, Jesus tell his disciples that they will all fall away from him, like sheep they will be scattered.  And Peter, “Even if all the others fall away, I will not.”  And Jesus tells Peter that this very night, Peter will deny him 3 times.  When the rooster crows for the third time, Luke 22:61 says, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”  Can you imagine what “the look” looked like?

And yet, there’s hope for Peter.  When Jesus asks His disciples in Mark 8:29, “Who do you say I am?” Peter blurts out – Peter blurts a lot of things – “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”  After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter was the first to “raise his voice” at Pentecost, the day the church came into being.  Peter was “the rock” that Christ founded His church. 

And today, in Acts 10, we see both sides of Peter.  We see his stubbornness and we see his leadership at the same time.  He’s already founded the church and our smelly fisherman is now preaching to the church.

III.      Acceptance of Food

Let’s start with Acts 10:9-15 –

Slide9

We’re going to look at our scripture today from a couple of different viewpoints, but first I want to point out that Peter is still a mess, but he’s learning.  Peter’s initial response to his vision is basically this:

“Lord, no.”

 If the Lord asks us to do something, our response shouldn’t be “no.”  Is He Lord or is He not?  If He is Lord, then our only response should be “yes”.  But like Peter, I seem to have a hard time learning this lesson.  Sometimes my response is something like, “Good idea, Lord.  I hope somebody does that.  Soon, too.”

God tells Peter that it’s ok to eat that which was previously considered unclean.  Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 defines what is unclean, things we should not eat.  Things that are unclean include fish that do not have scales, a mammal that that does not both chew the cud and have a divided hoof, flying insects that walk instead of hop.   It’s a pretty complicated list.  Most carnivorous creatures, so some birds like vultures and seagulls.  Interesting that though the list of unclean foods goes back thousands of years, science is starting to show that “unclean” foods are not the healthiest things to eat, and some are very unhealthy.  So under Old Testament Law, the Jews were prohibited from eating unclean foods.

Slide11

http://www.uncleanfoodsdietarylaws.com/clean_unclean_food_list.html

The list of clean and unclean foods was quite extensive.

Peter was a devout Jew.  He didn’t eat unclean foods.  But remember that, while we learn a lot about God’s character through the Old Testament, we do not have to obey the 613 mitzvots.  We can if we want to, but two scriptures tell us that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law, and that such obedience doesn’t save us anyway.  We cannot work our way into heaven.  First is this statement from Jesus in Matthew 5:17 –

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

 Christ didn’t delete the Old Testament; He fulfilled the Old Testament.  It is finished.  Galatians 3:24-25 says –

So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

 Now Peter is still trying to live under the law and refusing to eat unclean foods, when God tells Peter that these rules regarding unclean foods have also been fulfilled in Christ.  God tells Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

IV.      Acceptance of Gentiles, You and Me

Jew Acts 10 goes on to say that Peter was wondering about the meaning of this vision when a Roman Centurion named Cornelius summons him.  The Holy Spirit tells Peter to get up and go with them. 

Now, this was something Peter wouldn’t want to do as a devout Jew, so when Peter arrives at the centurions, he says in Acts 10 verse 28,

Slide14

This is important to us as follower of Jesus.  God’s plan of salvation was originally for Israel alone.  However, especially in the book of Matthew, we see that the Jews rejected the Christ, and salvation was opened to the gentiles as well.  Peter is sort of clumsily getting this message – in fact, one of Paul’s letters to Peter was to rebuke Peter for his duplicity.  When Peter would go to a new town, he would go to the synagogue and observe all the Jewish rituals and traditions.  Peter would be a very devout, orthodox Jew.  But then Peter would preach that there was only one plan of salvation, and that was to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ.  It was gift of grace, and nothing we could do would earn our salvation.  Paul’s letter essentially asked, “Well, which is it?  Why are you following the law if it is by grace alone that we are saved?”

Peter’s vision was about unclean food, but he realizes that the message is for Jews and gentiles, too.  God created gentiles, and it was not for Jews to judge God for His plan of salvation for the gentiles.  And it is good news indeed that God accepts gentiles like you and me.

I make mistakes.  To that extent, I’m a lot like Peter.  And the more I study, the more I realize what a slow learner I am.  Even this week, during a visit with somebody very close to me, I attempted to make a funny.  But it didn’t come out funny.  It came out vulgar and crude. It came out ugly.  It came out like a fisherman’s deodorant.

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And I realized that, though I try to walk in the light and live my life according to the riches and the grace within Christ Jesus, I still walk in the flesh.  I’m still a mess.  And I am so, so very thankful that, despite my deodorant, I am accepted.  I am loved.  I am a child of God.

  V.      Acceptance of Others

In Acts 10:34, Peter offers this observation,

Slide16 Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  Not just the Jews.  Not just people in Judea.  Christ is Lord of all.  Jews, gentiles, you, me, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton. 

The thing is, that nobody who we are, Jesus Christ will accept us.  When Jesus asks us to follow Him, He doesn’t ask us do run some sort of spiritual obstacle course before we’re allowed to call ourselves Christians.  When He calls us, He meets us where we are.  We might own our own company, we might work for somebody who owns their own company.  We might be a world traveler; we might be a homebody.  There are no prerequisites, Jesus accepts us as we are.  If we accept Jesus into our hearts, then we begin a lifelong journey of understanding love, forgiveness, acceptance, sacrifice.  But we don’t start at the end of that journey, we start at the beginning.

Accepting Jesus is easy.  Living for Jesus is a lot harder, but don’t confuse the two.  Accepting Jesus gives us a gift to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Living for Jesus gives us the abundant life He promises us, now and eternal.

For those of us who have accepted this gift, we begin a new relationship.  Of all the gospels, the Book of John is written to the gentiles.  The purpose is to evangelize a lost world and call the gentiles to the love of Christ.  In John 1:9-13, let’s read the message to gentiles –

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Let’s parse this a little to understand it.

  • “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”  Who is John talking about?  John is talking about Jesus, the true light that shines in a dark world of sin that we were born into.  Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, that has come to fulfill God’s plan to take away the sins of the world.
  • “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”  Jesus was born in this world, but John 1:3 says that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  In other word, though Jesus was responsible for creating our world, the very world He created didn’t know who He was.”
  • “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”  Jesus came as the Messiah to save the Jewish people, but the Jewish people didn’t now accept Him as the Messiah.  Instead, they taunted Him, they scourged Him, they crucified Him.  They killed Him.
  • “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  And here good news for the gentiles – if we receive Jesus Christ, our lives are changed forever.  Where once we were enemies of God, now we are His adopted children.

I think it’s important for us to recognize where we are in this world before we accept Jesus.  We are children of God now, it says.  But before, well, let’s look at John 8:42-44 –

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Like it or not, before we are adopted by God, we are children of the devil.  The destination for the children of God is heaven, the destination for those who do not accept the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus is to accept the wages of sin, and the wages of sin is death.  John 8:23-24, Jesus says,

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It’s more than sad that those that die in their sins are one profession of faith from eternal life.  But when one rejects God in this life and chooses not to follow Jesus, God grants their ultimate wish.  If they do not want to be with Jesus, then forever more they will be away from Jesus.

We are children of God; they are children of the devil.  We are in this world; they are of this world.  But God’s instructions to us as followers of Jesus is to be like Christ Jesus.  We do not – cannot – condemn those who reject Jesus.  Instead we pray for them and live our lives with the light of Jesus Christ within us.  They are one profession of faith away from being our brother or sister in Christ.

I’ve been going to a bible fellowship every other Friday night, and for the last year, one of the group has asked us to pray for her brother.  She had accepted Christ, her brother had not.  And every time she brought up Jesus to him, he shut her down, told her he didn’t want to hear of it.

He developed cancer, and it advanced rapidly.  He went into hospice 2 weeks ago, and he would let his sister read from the bible, but other than that, would not discuss it further.  She continued to ask the group for prayers.

And then, this week, he died.  As John 8:24 says, he died in his sins, no evidence that he had accepted the free gift of salvation that was right in front of him.  No matter how he had lived his life, he would have been accepted all the way to the last breath.

 

VI.      Conclusion

Everybody wants to be accepted by somebody.  I once read an essay that everything we say and do can be summarized by just one goal:  We want to matter to somebody. 

Love and acceptance is available to us in abundance if we just know where to look.  Christ loved Israel.  Christ loved the gentiles.  Christ loves the world.  Christ loves you and me, and accepts us just as we are.

We’re called to be like Christ, which means we are to love those that do not yet love Christ.  To let them know they are accepted.

And we can be at peace, that despite our deodorant, Christ accepts us.  Turns out, we do matter to somebody.  We are adopted children of God, and we matter to Jesus.  We matter so much that He gave His life so we can be saved.

Have you made an error you regret?  Something so icky you would never talk about it with friends or family?  And is it coming between you and God?  Don’t be afraid that it’s too icky for God.  God saw death on a cross, and scourging and crucifixion is icky.  Whatever it is, acknowledge it to God and talk to Him about it.  God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west.  God is accepting and does not hold it against you.  You shouldn’t hold it against you, either.

Let others know that this love and acceptance is available to them, too.  It doesn’t matter who they are, where they came from, what they’ve done, salvation is available to everyone who asks. As it says in Galatians 3:26-28,

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To God be the glory.