Our Valley Worship service today was led by Tim Clapp from St Mary’s church with Julia Wright speaking on Acts 10 & 11. Agnes shared her journey with Jesus in everyday lives and how God can use all of our gifts for his purpose. Thanks to Olivia Cox for the reading, Tania Haskell for the prayers, Tim Clapp, Chris Ellis and Cat Kennedy in the band and John Bouldin steering the Zoom.
Acts 10 & 11
Good morning everyone.
Thank you so much Olivia for our reading.
Before I share my talk, I want you to watch a video that John’s going to share.
Balls bouncing down hill video
As I share this talk with you, try and keep that image in your mind – a beautiful, unstoppable, and surprising force tumbling down the hill.
Before I prepared this talk, I hadn’t realised quite how monumentally significant this passage is.
Luke, who wrote the book of acts, repeats the events again in Chapter 11, just in case we weren’t paying attention in chapter 10.
These two chapters describe a pivotal point in the history of Christianity.
Until this moment, the good news of Jesus had been contained within the Jewish community.
But now God has to convince these Jewish Christians that the message of Jesus isn’t just for them. The message needs to go out to into all the world.
It’s hard for us to appreciate today quite how epic this was – for the Jews to start reaching out to the Gentiles.
And that’s because of the deeply entrenched Jewish traditions, that kept the Jews completely exclusive from the rest of the world.
The Jews were incredibly distinct.
All through the OT, they are convinced that they are a unique people, the only nation on earth that was built on a promise from God, a promise to Abraham.
The Jews had hundreds of codes and rules and guides from God to make them a distinct nation among all the other nations.
They were not to intermarry or blend in with other nations.
They had a physical mark that defined them – their circumcision.
But more than that, the way they dressed, the way they ate, the way they interacted – they would not even go into a house of a Gentile, let alone eat with them.
They were raised with a mindset that they were distinct and separate.
And the purpose of this, all the way through, is they were supposed to be a blessing to the nations. In Genesis, when God gives his blessing to Abraham, he ends the blessing saying, “so that all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
However, over the hundreds of years that followed God’s promise to Abraham, the Jews began to distort this doctrine of election, into one of favouritism. They lost sight of their purpose ‘to bless other nations’, and instead focused on the fact that God was making them, Israel, into a great nation.
Over the years they became filled with racial pride and hatred.
They despised the Gentiles and developed their traditions that kept them apart.
But now, as the gospel of Jesus is spreading, there’s a problem – if the message is going to go out to the nations, how are the apostles going to do it, if they can’t even enter the house of a Gentile?
A massive shift in tradition needed to take place.
Our reading today covered most of chapter 10.
But just to give a quick summary and cover the bits we didn’t’ have time to read:
God sends an angel to Cornelius – who was a Gentile but who was drawn to the God of the Jews. The angel tells him to send for find Simon Peter and bring him back to his house.
So Cornelius sends some servants to find Peter. And just before they knock on the door of the house where Peter is staying, Peter receives the vision from God that we heard read to us.
The vision is a clear message to Peter that there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile.
After thousands of years of the Jews being an exclusive, nation, set apart from others, now, God is saying that no longer should any man be called unclean.
Understandably, Peter is confused by what seems to be a crazy message from God, but the Holy Spirit is gentle, and He quietly guides Peter and confirms that this really is what God is saying.
For immediately after Peter sees the vision, God brings the gentile servants to Peter’s door, and the Holy Spirit tells Peter to go with them.
So right after God has given Peter the vision, He gets him to start living it out.
Gentiles are no longer unclean and God is telling Peter to go to their home.
Then we heard how Peter arrives at Cornelius’s home, and shares the gospel with the group of Gentiles. And as Peter is teaching about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them. They start speaking in tongues and praising God – just like what happened at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the Jewish believers.
Peter realises that God is at work in a mighty way.
It was perhaps the last thing Peter imagined God to do, but Peter also realises that he is powerless to stand in God’s way.
As we heard Olivia read to us, Peter says, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
And later in Chapter 11, Peter says, “Who was I to think that I could oppose God?”
God’s plan to expand His kingdom was unstoppable.
So, what can we learn from these events, to apply to our lives today?
Firstly, I want to draw out the idea of unity.
In Acts 10, we see God doing away with all the barriers that existed between Jew and Gentile.
As Peter says to the group of Gentiles, “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism.”
If God does not make distinctions in his kingdom, then we must not do so either.
Sadly though, we continue to see so much division not just in our society, but within the church.
As I’m speaking now, you might want to ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind, any ways that you might be allowing barriers to exist between you and others – whether due to people’s social background, their skin colour, their sex, their preferred style of worship.
Is there anything you let stand in the way between you and others, that makes you see yourselves superior, or inferior to them?
Like Peter, we have to learn that God does not show favouritism. Therefore nor must we. His salvation is for everybody.
A phrase that I’ve heard said about the church is, “What unites us, is far greater than what divides us.”
And it’s true. We must remember that what unites us, Jesus, is far greater than anything that divides us.
And my second point, is that God has big, unstoppable, beautiful, and surprising plans.
God has big, unstoppable, beautiful, and surprising plans
God’s plan, from the beginning of time, was for His love and salvation to be made known to the nations. Not just the Jews, but all nations.
The Old Testament is filled with prophecies foretelling this era:
The Psalms say over and over things like:
“I will be exalted among the nations.” (Ps 46)
“May your salvation be known among all nations.” (Ps 67)
“May all nations be blessed through him.” (Ps 72)
And similar phrases are used throughout the books of the prophets too.
This was God’s plan all along. And even though the Jews had become increasingly entrenched in their exclusive access to God over the years, it’s clear that God’s heart has always been for the nations.
And not just in the Old Testament, but Jesus himself continually gave hints about what was to come.
- We see hints when he meets the Samaritan woman at the well, a non-Jew, and tells her about the water of life.
- Or the story of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus holds up a non-Jew as the hero that embodies gospel love, over and above the Jewish priest and rabbi.
- Or the time when a Greek woman, again a non-Jew, begs Jesus to drive out the demon from her daughter, and he does.
But, despite these, and many other hints, that Jesus had given, I think Peter and Paul, at the beginning of Acts 10, had no idea what God was about to do.
As well as being big, and surprising, God’s plans are unstoppable.
We can see God’s hand intricately at work throughout the events in Chapter 10.
God spoke to Peter through a vision, he coordinated the timing of Cornelius and Peter’s journey’s perfectly, and most significantly he then poured out his Holy Spirit on the Gentiles.
As Peter himself said, “Who was I to think that I could oppose God?
Nothing could stop God’s kingdom exploding out across the world.
God is still alive today, just as he was in the book of Acts. He is still sitting on His throne and He is still building His kingdom.
He had big, unstoppable plans 2000 years ago, and I believe he still has big, unstoppable plans today. Not to mention beautiful and surprising.
If we want to be part of God’s plans, we should expect big and beautiful things.
That means letting go of our own agenda – it’s so easy to start building our own kingdom, whether as individuals, or even as a community, rather than God’s kingdom.
But if it is God we worship, we must recognise that He sits on the throne and He is the one with the plans.
And the truth is, our own plans can’t begin to compare to the plans of God.
As Paul writes in Ephesians, “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask for or imagine.”
We can’t even imagine it!
So what do we do?
We know that God’s plans are big, unstoppable, and beyond our imagination. But how do we get involved without taking the reins into our own hands?
I think the answer is found in the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus teaches us to pray,
“Thy kingdom come, Thy Will be done.”
We need to be regularly praying for God’s will to be done. Not our will, but God’s will.
And this means we must be prepared to give up our own agenda and, if necessary, our traditions, in order to bring the gospel to those who need it.
We need to be prepared to do anything, except sin, so that people might come to know Jesus.
We also need to be available, just as Peter was.
He was praying and seeking the Lord, when the vision came to him. And he obeyed the Spirit’s call to go to Cornelius without hesitation.
So we pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, and we make ourselves available.
Lastly, it’s worth saying, we don’t know in advance what God’s plans are. But we do know that “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask for or imagine.”
Peter would never have guessed that God was about to do away with the ancient Jewish traditions. And we also can’t guess or predict what God has planned for this community in Itchen Valley.
So let’s end in prayer:
Thank you Lord that your Kingdom is open to everybody, everybody who recognises you as their Lord and Saviour.
Thank you that what unites us is, is far greater than anything that divides us.
And we praise you, Almighty God, that your plans are big, unstoppable, surprising and beautiful.
We are here for you, and we want to be useful in building your kingdom.
Help us listen to your Spirit and be led by you.
And we pray that our cry as a church can be, “Let your Kingdom Come, Let Your Will be done.”