The Agony of Change

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I almost named this series, “The Agony of Failed Expectations.” Among us as a church, things are not at all what we expected them to be. If fifty years ago people knew for a fact that the 2000’s would begin with: (1) more financial worth in buildings, parking lots, and property than we ever knew as a church in America, (2) the best-trained men in the ministry that we as a church have ever had, and (3) the most projects we as an American church have ever had, I wonder what anticipation and expectations those adult Christians would have held? Whatever their anticipation and expectations, such would not reflect the reality of today in the church.

Change always has been difficult for Christians! In every age those who dare to be Christians have some among them who are certain: (1) they understand, and (2) they have collected everything that is true. They are so certain of this that they will either confront or attack anyone or anything that is not in total agreement with their conclusions. The result is that they often fight against the Bible to defend what they are certain are Bible teachings. The irony: such Christians oppose the Bible to defend the truth of the Bible.

In every generation, human expectations demand conformity to those expectations. When Christians think they have found and understood all truth, they confront a major temptation. That temptation arises if they decide to tell others, “You do not need to understand scripture. You just need to accept and believe what you are told. Our understanding is correct and needs nothing other than what we know.”

  1. We need to begin with some basic understandings that are critical to grasping what happened in the period of the New Testament when the church was born and spread.
    1. Understanding one: The Jewish people including Jewish Christians thought they had God correctly “figured out.”
      1. They were certain they had “changed enough” just by understanding that God sent Jesus to be their Christ.
      2. To understand that God sent Jesus to be Savior of the world, not just the redeemer of Israel, was a huge transition in Jewish thinking!
      3. The Jewish people had known the Living God since the lifetime of Abraham.
        1. Certainly, there were times when they failed God terribly.
        2. But even in bad times, they knew God existed.
        3. After all, they always had the scriptures.
        4. From Solomon’s time they had the temple.
        5. The prophets arose from them and most of the prophets spoke to them.
        6. From the beginning of their existence as a nation, God gave them His law.
        7. God had never given anyone what He gave them!
        8. They, and they alone, were God’s people!
        9. Nobody knew God like they knew God!
    2. Understanding two: Jews thought gentiles had no understanding and no access to God.
      1. The Jewish people considered any person or people who were not Jewish to be gentile.
      2. A person could become a part of the nation of Israel in two ways.
        1. The person could be born of a Jewish mother (Acts 16:1-3).
        2. The person could be a proselyte [convert] to Judaism [the Jewish religion] (Acts 2:10).
          1. This person learned Jewish ways, traditions, and morals.
          2. This person, after lengthy indoctrination, went through a conversion process.
      3. Most people who were gentiles grew up in families who worshipped idols.
        1. Almost all of the world known to these people was idolatrous.
        2. They commonly had moral values that were quite different than Jewish people.
        3. They commonly lived and acted quite differently than Jewish people.
      4. Jewish Christians did not oppose gentiles being converted to Christ–they just opposed gentiles becoming Christians before they became Jewish proselytes.
        1. It was essential that gentiles learn Jewish ways of doing things.
        2. It was essential to get those idolatrous ways out of them before they entered the church.
        3. If a person did not know how to do things the ways Jewish people did them, he or she did not know how to belong to God.
        4. It was necessary to get all the idolatry out of them before you could put Christ in them.
    3. Understanding three: devout Jews and gentiles were radically different.
      1. They had almost nothing in common.
      2. Jews had scriptures they studied in synagogues; most gentiles had no scripture in any form.
      3. Jews worshipped in the temple of the Living God; most gentiles worshipped numerous gods in pagan temples or in private settings.
      4. Jews morally were not to steal; many gentiles could steal and be moral.
      5. Jews morally were not to get drunk; many gentiles could get drunk and still be moral.
      6. There commonly was a striking difference in the lifestyle of a devout Jew and a gentile–their worlds and lives were quite different.
  2. If you think I am exaggerating Jewish Christians’ rejection of gentiles, consider the reaction to Peter’s visit to and baptism of Cornelius in Acts 10.
    1. The most desirable gentile (to the Jews) was a “god-fearer” gentile.
      1. This gentile knew and respected the Living God of the Jews as unique.
      2. This gentile also respected Jews and Jewish ways.
      3. This gentile had adopted Jewish ways religiously–the primary thing he lacked in becoming a proselyte was circumcision.
    2. Cornelius was a “god-fearer.” (Acts 10:1-2)
      1. He helped Jewish people in need.
      2. He prayed to the God of the Jews continually.
      3. Indication is that he prayed at the Jewish times of public prayer.
      4. He influenced his family and servants to know and worship God.
      5. Luke called him a “devout” man.
    3. The amount of “convincing” it took to get Peter to accept his visit to a gentile is amazing!
      1. First, Cornelius spoke to an angel and received a message just for him. (Acts 10:3-6)
        1. He understood the message was from God.
        2. He was told his prayers and charitable acts were a memorial to God.
        3. He was told to send for Peter.
        4. He was told where Peter was.
        5. He immediately sent two household servants and a loyal soldier to Peter.
      2. Second, before Cornelius’ commissioned men arrived the next day, Peter had a dream just before noon when he was hungry.
        1. A sheet was lowered to Peter filled with unclean creatures. (Acts 10:9-16; Leviticus 11)
        2. Peter was instructed to kill and eat some of the creatures.
        3. He refused saying he had never eaten a forbidden creature.
        4. This happened three times.
      3. Third, Peter awoke from his trance just as the men arrived. (Acts 10:17-23)
        1. Peter was thoroughly confused by his dream.
        2. The men asked if Peter was there.
        3. The Spirit told Peter to go with the men in full confidence because “I have sent them.”
        4. When Peter asked the men why they were there, the men told him about the kind, Jew-approved Cornelius and the instructions of the holy angel.
    4. The next day Peter accompanied the men to Cornelius.
      1. He found Cornelius, Cornelius’ family, and Cornelius’ friends waiting for Peter to come.
      2. He understood something he never understood before.
        “Opening his mouth, Peter said: “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).

        1. Until that moment, Peter did not fully understand why he was sent to Cornelius!
        2. Understanding that God wanted to save all people–including non-Jewish people–was a major insight!
      3. The Holy Spirit fell on his audience.
      4. He baptized them.
  3. Now I ask you to pay careful attention to the reaction of the Jewish Christian community to Peter’s visit to Cornelius. The reaction is found in Acts 11:1-18.
    1. The information of what Peter did got back to Jerusalem to the apostles and brethren before Peter did.
      1. “Those who were of the circumcision” would be Jews [remember that author is a gentile writing to a gentile].
      2. They “took issue” with Peter’s decision and actions.
        1. More is at stake than just Cornelius’ acts of conversion.
        2. Peter did things with gentiles that no devout Jew could or should do–he went into their house and ate with them.
      3. He told of his vision, and those Jewish Christians were not touched.
      4. He told of his heavenly instructions, and those Jewish Christians were not touched.
      5. He told of the message of the Spirit, and those Jewish Christians were not touched.
      6. He told of the men’s message, and those Jewish Christians were not touched.
      7. Only when they heard about the falling of the Spirit on those gentiles did the Jewish Christians quiet down.
    2. Consider:
      1. Before this incident, Peter was the most popular Christian in Jerusalem–he was the important Christian, a man of significant status in the Christian community!
      2. Cornelius did not worship idols!
        1. He knew and respected God!
        2. He was kind and helpful to the Jewish people!
        3. He was, by their standards, a good man–a choice prospect for conversion!
        4. But he was a gentile, not a proselyte–therefore he was unacceptable!
      3. Note that both of these men were prominent–this incident did not involve a couple of nobodies who were doing something silly!

We would be tempted to think this was the end of the matter, but it was not. As we shall see in coming lessons, this was a major problem in the early church.

When people are so certain they understand absolutely all of God’s expectations, it is hard for them to learn anything different–even when God Himself tells them.

David Chadwell

Author: Greg

Welcome to Gods Message on the web. My name is Greg and I want to welcome you. I started doing these Podcasts, MP3, and Audio Books back in 2007. Stay awhile and make yourself at home. The Christian Podcasts here are free and for everyone to enjoy. I’m doing a complete series on David Chadwell who is a retired minister from Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’ve also done an Audio Book for Wayne Jacobsen’s the Naked Church. Plus a series of MP3s for Pastor Billy Crone and his The Final Countdown series.

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