“TAKING A RISK TO FOLLOW GOD”
My heart was pounding. The excitement was building inside of me. For several years my cousin has been a season ticket holder for St. Louis Blues hockey. In all those years, I have been trying to convince him to let me borrow the seats for a game. We could never get the dates to work out and I had never been able to make it to a game. Then, just last week, he called with exciting news. He had come across some extra tickets and wanted me to come. I could hardly contain myself. I was on the verge of yelling with excitement. Then I asked, “What is the date”? As he told me the date, I felt the excitement level go from 100% to 0%. He said, “March 16th”. This would be fine, except that my second child is due the very next day. I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to go. With disappointment in my voice I explained to him that it would be impossible for me to make it to the game.
Maybe you have found yourself in a similar situation. You are so excited that you were able to go to an event or that you were able to take part in something, that you could not wait to tell people. You purposely would try to come in contact with people so you could share with them the joy you had from your experience. Then, you tell them the exciting news and their response is anything but interesting. As a matter of fact, they could care less about what you were telling them. All that comes to your mind is, “how can they not be excited?” Maybe you have been the one who takes the excitement away from someone else. Either way, we all have been apart of something like this.
The great Bible character, Peter, had this very thing happen to him. In Acts 10 we find Peter receiving a vision from God. Through this vision, Peter was called to the group of people known as Gentiles. This was a challenge for Peter because he knew that the Jewish Religious group would be extremely harsh towards a decision to break bread with the unclean. In the vision, God made it clear that His grace was available to whoever would accept it. Therefore, Peter was called to this unclean group in order to share the message of Jesus Christ and redemption through His death, burial, and resurrection. The end result was the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. Lives were changed. The lost were brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. As we look at this occurrence, we can understand that Luke noted the importance of this event because it is important to the non-Jew, which includes everyone here today. First, had the Holy Spirit not come to the Gentile, none of us would be able to have a relationship with the Father. We are the Gentiles. Second, the risk that Peter took to share the Truth had definite consequences. We can not underestimate the fact that obedience to the Father can come with harsh consequences. Today, we are going to try and understand how we can be sure that we are being completely obedient as we take risks to follow God. The key is that, WE MUST BE LED BY GOD!
Read Acts 11:1-18
As we look at this passage, the response of the religious people to the falling of the Spirit on the Gentiles is very interesting. Luke writes that, “when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision CELEBRATED with him”. Is that what your bible says? NO! The scripture says that “when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision CONTENDED with him” (11:2). How sad it is that the religious people refused to celebrate what God was doing in the midst of the lost Gentiles. Instead, they chose to hammer Peter for taking a risk.
Surely we would never do this, would we? Just last week I sat on an ordination council during the questioning of a candidate that was being ordained. If you do not know what that is, well it is when a bunch of preachers and deacons take a future preacher in a back room and scourge him with a cat of nine tails and kick him while he is down. No, not really. It may seem that scary sometimes for the candidate, but it is a great thing. We talk to the candidate about things he needs to know. The council helps the candidate talk through things dealing with theology, marriage, scripture, and life. During this council, the issue of drinking was brought up. The candidate stated that he “chose abstinence” with regards to consuming alcohol. Yet, the conversation continued about alcohol and the status of drinking with regards to sin. What I heard next from a deacon amazed me. He said, “Well, if one of my friends wanted to talk and I had the chance to share the hope of Jesus with them, but I had to go to the tavern to do it. I guess you would see one of your deacons in the tavern”. My initial response was surprise. But I truly believe the deacon made a good point. But, many would advise him that this is not the best thing to do. Many would say, “A good Christian should never be seen in the tavern”. I came to the conclusion that if God is leading, then we should trust him.
Peter realized that he was going to have to explain himself. He realized that he was going to be forced to let the religious people know that he was being led by God. The points he made are key for us to understand how we can be led by the Spirit.
A. Peter knew he was being led by God because he had communication with God (vs.5)
1. The first thing that Peter mentioned as he recounted this amazing story was the fact that he was PRAYING. Surely the religious people could not dispute the fact that Peter was praying. I mean, this is a staple in the religious circles. Good religious people pray. This is when Peter caught the vision. If Peter was talking to God, then God surely would have been talking to Peter, thus presenting this vision.
2. If we want to be led by God then surely we must understand that we have to communicate with Him. It is extremely difficult to hear from someone if you are not communicating with them. The problem is that what many believers call “communicating with God” is actually asking Him for what we want. We come to Him and ask Him to bless our food, provide us money, heal our aunt Betty, and protect us from the evil one. These things are all good, but we need to understand that we must stop and let Him speak to us. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan has a chapter entitled “Stop Praying”. In this chapter, Chan explains how we as believers need to step back and stop praying like we do. We need to enter in to a time of communication with the Heavenly Father with an understanding of His greatness. Many times we just need to come to the Father and not even say a word because He needs to speak to us.
Over the last year I have had the opportunity to do play-by-play and color commentary for Sikeston High School sports. I enjoy this because I love Sikeston High School and I love sports. My partner and I switch of doing play-by-play and color. I enjoy the play-by-play side much more. It is easier for me to do. All I have to do is watch what is going on and tell the people listening exactly what I see. But, color-commentary is more difficult. To be a good color man you have to listen to the play-by-play and comment off of what is being said. This is hard for me. I struggle trying to think about what I am going to say while listening to another person talk. Many times I have found myself saying something that does not make sense because I was not listening to the other person. Many times, we as Christians find ourselves doing something that does not make sense because we are not listening to God.
Psalms 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”. If we want to ensure that we are being led by God, we first must have communication with Him.
B. Peter knew he was being led by God because God is about redemption. (vs. 9)
1. Again, we find an idea that the religious people could not deny. “What God has cleansed shall not be called common, or unclean. How could the people who have been made clean by God argue this fact? They knew that God was about redemption. They had been redeemed themselves. This was a fact that would be devastating if rejected. But, this did put a wrench in one way of thought in the early church. They thought that being clean was based on their genealogy. They thought that the only way to be clean was through the connection with the Jewish heritage. But, through the statement in the vision, God opened the doors for “whosoever will”.
2. For us, we have the tendency to think that God does not want a relationship with someone unless they look or act a certain way. We have a boxed view of God that says that if the person does not stop what they are doing and act “correct” then they can not be accepted by God. Where do we get off with this idea? We must understand that redemption is about life change. If we expect the lost to start acting redeemed, they must be redeemed first. God established this through the working of the Holy Spirit. It comes at salvation to convict of sin. Then, it draws us to righteousness as we work out our salvation. Then, it justifies us through the blood of Jesus on the Day of Judgment. (John 16:8). None of this can be done apart from the Holy Spirit. None of this depends on anything that we can do.
God’s redemptive nature must be understood if we want to know we are being led by Him.
C. Peter knew he was being led by God because God had prepared the way (vs. 11-16)
1. Immediately, the vision was fulfilled. Can you imagine that? God gives you a vision and immediately it is fulfilled. Peter had three men in front of him. They led him to the house of Cornelius. Once in the house, Peter heard of what God had been doing to prepare the harvest for Peter. Cornelius explained how God had sent a vision to him. As he explained this, I can picture Peter having an epiphany has he fully understands what God has been doing.
2. As we sit hear this morning, God is preparing divine encounters for us. In fifteen minutes we will dismiss from this building and head to restaurants all across town. Most of you will have an encounter with a waiter or waitress who does not know Jesus as Lord. God has already prepared for the meeting. You ask, “How do I know who to speak to?” I say, if we have communication with God, He will show us what He is preparing.
Just this week, a good friend of mine had some encounters that he did not plan on having. Wednesday he was driving his tractor trailer in Illinois, when a vehicle crossed the center line and hit him head on. There were two men in the other vehicle and one of them actually died. My friend, through all this, has had contact with numerous doctors, family members, truck drivers, and media people. He has had the chance to share how the Lord protected him.
God is preparing the way for our obedience. When Peter obeyed, he experienced the joy of seeing life change take place. He got to be part of this grand event in history. The Holy Spirit came for the common man. It was during this time of obedience that Peter realized what Jesus was talking about when He said, “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
As Peter finished his story, he challenged them with this: “If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us (Holy Spirit), who was I that I could stop God?” By asking this he was implying to them, “who are you that you can stop God?” See, none of us want to stand in the way of what God is doing. We talk a great game when we say we want to let God work. But, many times we have a hard time being led by God and taking risks with obedience because it may be dangerous or messy. By refusing to be obedient, we stand in the way of letting God use us. He can still accomplish what he wants, but we will miss being a part and experiencing the joy.
How did the religious respond? They became silent and glorified God. They stopped and listened to Him. They acknowledged his greatness. The understood his redemptive nature. They finally stopped to listen for God.