2016 7-10 “Wrong Thinking Made Right” Acts 11:1-18

ACTS 11:1-18

I. Introduction
Have you ever been absolutely sure you are right about something? You know you are right. Nothing could change your mind. But then something happens that you did not expect, and you find out that you were wrong. So you do change your mind. Has that ever happened to you? How did you react? Did it humble you? Did you ask yourself something like, “If I could be wrong about that, could I be wrong about something else too?”

Wrong thinking made right can be a pretty traumatic experience for us. But it can also open a door to a whole new point of view and a dramatic change in the direction of our lives. And that can change the lives of those around you, can’t it? It can have an effect on your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your co-workers. In short, wrong thinking made right can have a positive influence on everyone you know.

That’s precisely what began to take place after the Apostle Peter had gone into the home of Cornelius and preached the gospel. Not only was Cornelius a Gentile, he was a Roman Cen-turion. Each of those things made him despicable in the eyes of religious Jews.

When it came to anyone who was not like them, the Jews – Israelites descended from Abra-ham, Isaac, and Jacob – clung to two very ungodlike traits. First, they were proud of them-selves and their heritage. Second, they were prejudiced against everyone else.

This Jewish “pride and prejudice” was nothing like the humorous and rather harmless atti-tudes that permeated Jane Austen’s nineteenth century novel of that name. This Jewish pride and prejudice could have kept the Gospel of Jesus Christ from ever seeing the light of day outside of the world’s Jewish communities!

We need to remember that the first Christians were virtually all Jews. They saw Christianity as the culmination, if you will, of Judaism. After all, Jesus was their promised Messiah. In this, of course, they were right. However, Jesus had not come to earth solely to fulfill the OT messianic prophecies about Israel. His good news of the kingdom was for everyone – every man, every woman, and every child on the face of the earth – Jew and Gentile alike. The first Christians neither believed nor understood that. They thought that their Messiah, the Christ was just for them. And in this, they were as wrong as they could be.

God would have to “readjust” their thinking. If not, the church that was born on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem would eventually die there. The gospel was going to have to go out to the Gentiles. God would use the Apostle Peter to begin the process of getting the Jewish Christians’ wrong thinking made right. Peter would go to the home of Cornelius, preach the gospel, and Cornelius, the Gentile Roman Centurion, would be saved.
Thus he would become the first Gentile convert to Christianity recorded in the Book of Acts. Back in Acts 8 many Samaritans had already come to faith in Christ, but they weren’t full-blooded Jews. They were considered “half-breeds.” But someone may say, “All right, but what about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch? He was a Gentile when Philip gave him the gospel on the road to Gaza. He was saved.” That’s true. But the Ethiopian was a Gentile whom the Jews considered to be a “God-fearer.” He had been begun to embrace Judaism and was returning to his home from worshipping God in the temple in Jerusalem.

So the salvation of Cornelius (and his entire household) marked a turning point in the early his-tory of the church. Acts 10:2 tells us that while he feared God and was kind to the Jewish people, Cornelius was still a Gentile in every sense of the word.

We rightly call Paul the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” But God gave Peter the privilege, the honor, and the blessing of seeing the first Gentile come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

II. Review
For the last five Sundays we have focused our efforts on our missionaries and followed that up with a reminder that God has called us to be the salt and light in this world. This morning we’re finally returning to our verse-by-verse study of the Book of Acts. But in order to do so we’re going to need to go back and refresh our memories about some of the events that led up to today’s text in Acts 11.

In Acts 9 the Apostle Peter had been in Joppa (modern Tel-Aviv). He had gone there because Dorcas, one of the beloved women of the church, had died. The men of the church heard that Peter was nearby. So they went to him and asked him to return with them. They were convinced that Peter could raise Dorcas (Hebrew Tabitha) from the dead.
*Acts 9:39-42
39 And Peter arose and went with them. And when he had come, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them.
40 But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and wid-ows, he presented her alive.
42 And it became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

In Acts 10 the scene shifted to Caesarea (on the Mediterranean coast about thirty miles north of Joppa). It was there that we met Cornelius. And it was there that we saw God begin to put the pieces in place that would lead to this Gentile’s hearing of the gospel.
*Acts 10:3-6
3 About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in to him, and said to him, “Cornelius!”
4 And fixing his gaze upon him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he (the angel) said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.
5 “And now dispatch some men to Joppa, and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter;
6 he is staying with a certain tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.”

The next day God spoke to Peter in the vision of the animals on the sheet coming down from heaven. In Acts 10:13 the Lord told him to “kill and eat.” But in the next verse Peter pro-tested and said that he had, “never eaten anything unholy or unclean.”
*Acts 10:15
15 And again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

God was teaching Peter that things would no longer be as they once were. Foods that the Jews had been taught were unclean and off limits were now to be considered clean and avail-able. Likewise – and far more importantly – Gentiles whom the Jews had been taught were unclean and off limits were now be considered clean and worthy to hear the gospel. Not only was the gospel for the Gentiles, it would be the Jews’ task to take it to them. This is the lesson that Peter would soon learn.

In Acts 10:17-22 the men sent to Joppa to find Peter arrived, told him of Cornelius’ vision, and, after God assured Peter that He had sent them for him, he left for Caesarea with them.
When they arrived Peter entered Cornelius’ home.
*Acts 10:28
28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.

Cornelius told Peter of God’s command for him to summon the apostle to his home. And with that understanding of why he was there Peter made one of the key points to be found in the entire Book of Acts.
*Acts 10:34-35
34 And opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality,
35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.

Then, in vv. 36-43, Peter preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a home filled with Gentiles.
And while he was still preaching v. 44 says that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.” With that Peter immediately realized that God had just done for these Gentiles what He had earlier done for the Jews on the Day of Pentecost. That is to say that Cornelius and the Gentile believers in his home in Caesarea had just received the same Holy Spirit that the first Jewish believers had received in Jerusalem.

III. Text
Now Peter knows the truth. “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him (Acts 10:34-35).” Peter’s wrong thinking has been made right. But what about the rest
of the Jewish Christians; and what about the other apostles? And that brings us to Acts 11.
*Acts 11:1-18 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the Word of God.
2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him,
3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying,
5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, a certain object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me,
6 and when I had fixed my gaze upon it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air.
7 “And I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Arise, Peter; kill and eat.’
8 “But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’
10 “And this happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky.
11 “And behold, at that moment three men appeared before the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea.
12 “And the Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. And these six brethren also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.
13 “And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here;
14 and he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your
15 “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning.
16 “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
17 “If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Peter probably expected the welcome reception he got when he returned from Caesarea. It’s a good thing that he had taken six Jewish believers with him when he went to Cornelius’ home and preached the gospel. He needed their witness now. Those six men had all seen the Holy Spirit fall on the Gentiles just as He had fallen on them at Pentecost.

What happens in the first three verses of today’s text is something to which most of us can easily relate. Peter has to face some of the very same prejudices that he once held. Think about it. Before you were saved you held the same attitudes toward Christ and Christianity that are currently held by those to whom you now witness.
*Acts 11:1-3
1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the Word of God.
2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him,
3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

How would Peter respond to his accusers? He would tell them what happened to him. He would tell them what God had done in his life. That’s a pretty good strategy for personal evangelism. You may not be able to argue fine points of doctrine, but you can always tell others what God has done in your life. In fact, pastor and theologian Ray Stedman used to say, “Faith always rests on what God has done.”

Now look once more at vv. 4-16. Isn’t Luke just giving us a condensed version of what he’s already told us in Acts 10:9-45? It can be tempting to skip over these verses in Acts 11 because we already know the story. We know what Peter experienced both in Joppa and in Caesarea. But wait a minute… every serious student of Scripture knows that when God says anything it is important. In this instance the Holy Spirit has prompted Luke to report Peter’s experience twice. When God does that we need to sit up and take notice. Why?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (Paul speaking)
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, (and) for training in righteousness;
17 (so) that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Telling the story twice – once from the perspective of Luke, the historian, and once from Peter, the apostle – emphasizes its importance. It was critical that the minds of the Jewish believers be set right. Their wrong thinking about the salvation of the Gentiles would put an end to the spread of Christianity before it reached more than just a few people. Christianity was never meant to be just another sect within Judaism.

In Acts 11:2 word of Peter’s encounter with the Gentiles has the Jewish Christians indignant. They accuse Peter, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Take a moment to consider what these men – brothers in Christ – are saying. Let me paraphrase… “Peter, it is one thing to acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior, but it’s entirely another thing to assume that He is Lord and Savior of the Gentiles too.”

Right here is where you and I need to remember Acts 10:34 where Peter said, “I most cer-tainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality.” Right here is where we need to examine ourselves to see if there is anything like the pride and prejudice of the first Jew-ish Christians lurking in the dark shadows of our own hearts.

What do we do if we find any of that there? First and foremost, we must go to the Lord in prayer and confess it for the sin that it is. Then consider what we can do about it. How can our wrong thinking be made right? We can turn to God’s Word and remind ourselves of some of His most basic and elemental truths.

1. God’s sovereign purpose requires that those whom He has chosen for salvation
must come from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation on the face of the earth.

In Genesis 12:3 God prophesied and told Abraham that, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In Revelation the results of that prophecy are seen in the throne room in heaven when the Lamb of God is praised. Revelation 5:9 says, “…for You were slain, and You purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”

This is the “Mystery of Christ.” This is the mystery that was not revealed in OT times. The Apostle Paul will lay it out in detail in Ephesians.
*Ephesians 3:1-6
1 For this reason, I, Paul the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gen-tiles –
2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
4 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,
5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

If you wonder why this was such a radical thought to the Jews, you only have to remember that for 2000 years Israel had been God’s chosen nation. They alone were God’s chosen people. But in one moment, with the preaching of the gospel in the home of Cornelius, all of that changed. God made it clear that His saving grace would be available to all peoples.

Here is encouragement. Salvation is God’s program and God’s doing. He orchestrates the whole thing. He put the desire for salvation in Cornelius’ heart; He brought Peter to Corne-lius; He saved Cornelius’ soul. But he graciously used Peter in the process. Listen, Chris-tian, God wants to use you just as he used Peter. Isn’t it an awesome thought – God allows you and I to be a part of His program for the ages?

Here is encouragement. LBC is involved in missions, is it not? “Missions” isn’t just a pro-gram for the local church; it’s what the local church is and does. While we are not all called to go off to some deep dark corner of the world, we are all called to support and pray for those who are called to go. Rebecca Gassrud was called to go. Zhenya Prosyannikov was called to go. David and Carol Beakley were called to go. Chuck Sweetman was called to go. And make no mistake – Chuck Sweetman, even though he’s right here in Walworth County, is every bit as much a missionary as any of the others I just mentioned.

Before we bring personal pride and prejudice against others with us into the church we need to remember that God intends to save people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. And here is something else we need to remember.

2. We all bring wrong thinking into the Christian life and into the Christian church.

It is our nature to be ethnocentric. We all think we’re somehow better or in some way above those of other ethnic groups. The problem is that we bring such thinking into our Christian lives, and it spills over into our theology. Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” was one of the great theological minds of the nineteenth century. With regard to such wrong thinking he said…
“We’re all by nature born Arminians (those who think they sought after God), so that at first we think we came to the Lord ourselves. Only later do we learn from God’s Word that He first sought us.”

Spurgeon’s point was that wrong thinking is common among untaught believers. The early Jewish Christians were untaught. As a result of their spiritual ignorance, they were con-vinced that only they were God’s people.

But isn’t one of the primary goals of the church to do away with such ignorance? It is!
After the Apostle Paul laid out basic Christian doctrine in Romans 1-11, he immediately followed it up by saying this…
*Romans 12:1-2
1 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

How can we do that in the church? We have to recognize where we exhibit and embrace wrong thinking when it comes to other people outside of the church. For example…
• Do we think our traditions are more important than the salvation of the lost?
• Do we think that our church should consist only of people who are “like us?”
• Do we think that our ways are better than God’s ways? Of course, we would never say that, but do we sometimes think it?
If any of those thoughts linger in our hearts and mind we are mired in wrong thinking.

Here’s one example of how wrong thinking has permeated so much of the modern church. Stephen Cole, Senior Pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in Flagstaff, Arizona says…
“Church members are notorious for saying, ‘We’ve never done it that way before!’ For example, there are many in evangelical churches who think that if you don’t give an altar call, you haven’t preached the gospel. Yet neither John Wesley nor George Whitefield nor Charles Spurgeon gave altar calls, and they were some of the most effective evangelists in the history of the church. It was Charles Finney who popular-ized the idea (altar calls), based on some bad theology. But because it is the dominant method in our day, people think we have to do it that way. The test of any method or any way of thinking must be God’s Word, properly interpreted and applied.”

So we’ve seen that God’s sovereign plan for the ages calls for the gospel to be preached to all people everywhere. And we’ve seen that we are often mired in wrong thinking.

3. God can make our wrong thinking right so that He can use us for His glory.

This is the good news. If we read and study the Scriptures; if we walk with Him; if we be willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of someone else; and if we’ll remember that He is sovereign and we are not, then our wrong thinking will be made right and He will use us.

And that takes us back to this morning’s text in Acts 11.
*Acts 11:17-18 (Peter speaking)
17 “If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

In v. 17 Peter reasons with his accusers and tells them that God is doing a work that the Jewish Christians cannot deny. In v. 18 they “get it.” That acknowledgment should solve the problem of their pride, prejudice, and wrong thinking of the Jewish Christians, shouldn’t it? That should pave the way to get the gospel out to the Gentiles, shouldn’t it? Not so fast. The Jewish Christians understand that the door of the church is now open to everyone. But, as we’ll see in the weeks to come, their pride and prejudice will resurface anew. It will not be about whether Gentiles can be saved. That hurdle has been cleared.

Then it will be about what they must do to be saved. The ultra-conservative Jewish Chris-tians (Judaizers) would argue that the Gentile Christians would have to be circumcised and follow the OT dietary laws. In other words, Gentile Christians would have to “look” and “act” like Jewish Christians. That is to say, they would have to become Jewish proselytes (converts). If a Gentile wanted to follow Jesus, he must first follow Moses.

And in that you can readily see two massive problems begin to loom on the horizon. First, the Judaizers are laying the foundation for the false gospel of salvation by faith PLUS works. Second, they are encouraging the spread of a legalistic life-style among the believers. Such a life-style only fosters the pride and prejudice we’ve been talking about. We’ll leave that there for now, but this controversy will come to a head in Acts 15.

IV. Conclusion
The church in Jerusalem would never become a mission-oriented church. As a result of their refusal to embrace the Gentile world, the center of the first century church would gradually leave Jerusalem and move on to Antioch. It would be from there that Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, would begin his journeys to preach the gospel and establish churches through-out the Roman Empire.

I hope the lesson is clear. If we fail to respond to the opportunities God gives us, He will set us aside and use others. Don’t let wrong thinking do that to us here at Lighthouse. Ask God to change your thinking where it needs to be changed. When you and I think rightly about God, His Word, and the task He has given us, we will begin to have an eternal impact on those around us.

Let me close by repeating something I said earlier. You don’t have to be a theologian able to define and debate the fine points of settled doctrine. You can start by telling people what God has done in your life.

~ Pray ~