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The Church that Changed

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
June 12, 2024 12:00 am

The Church that Changed

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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June 12, 2024 12:00 am

Perhaps you can identify with having recently changed your geography, your career, or your family dynamics. Whether it's moving from the coast to dryer land, transitioning from an office career to a stay-at-home life with a newborn, or experiencing an empty nest as children leave for college, change is a constant in our lives.

No change is easy. We naturally resist the rough waters and hardships that come with it. One of the most difficult changes is regarding lifelong traditions and past heritage, especially when it involves our relationship with Christ and how we worship.

In Acts 10, we see a significant change in the early church as Peter's lifelong beliefs are challenged. Peter, staying in the home of Simon the tanner, receives a vision from God that contradicts the Old Testament dietary laws and paves the way for the inclusion of Gentiles into the church. This vision required Peter to set aside his traditions and embrace something new.

Upon returning to Jerusalem, Peter faces criticism from the Jewish believers for associating with Gentiles. However, he calmly explains his vision and the work of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles. This moment in church history marks the dramatic inclusion of Gentiles into the body of Christ, breaking down long-standing barriers.

As we navigate changes in our own lives, we can learn from Peter's example. He was willing to change something ancient for something new, embrace someone different, and defend something new. This willingness to change allowed the early church to grow and include all believers, regardless of their background.

As believers today, we must be open to change, especially when it comes to following God's leading. We need to distinguish between godly disciplines and legalism, and learn to embrace biblical commands while letting go of personal preferences that are not scripturally mandated.

In the drama of the Christian life, change is inevitable. The key is to embrace it with a heart open to God's direction, trusting that He is guiding us through each scene of our lives.

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And I love this phrase. You ought to underline it. Who was I that I could stand in God's way?

Isn't that good? Do you expect me to stand in the way of God who's at work? And by asking that, by the way, he implies the same question to them. Are you going to stand in God's way? The question was, as one author phrased it, would they loosen their grip on the past?

Would they relearn centuries of tradition and practice? Sometimes God calls us to change in ways that feel uncomfortable. That was certainly the case for Peter. As a Jewish man, he was taught to follow the Old Testament dietary laws.

Some foods were clean and others were unclean. In Acts 10, Peter received a vision from the Lord. God showed him some previously unclean animals and told Peter to eat them. This was a radical departure. God was calling for a change that went against everything Peter thought. Today, Stephen will challenge your convictions and help you distinguish between convictions and God's commands. In our last discussion, we observed Peter in the crucible of change.

And I use the word crucible intentionally because it is a difficult thing to be involved in change. Perhaps you can identify with change. Maybe recently you changed geography.

You moved here and maybe you left Flatlands and you moved to Wake County and the rolling hills and all the trees. And maybe some of you have gone through the changes of leaving a career and now you're at home with a newborn baby. Maybe you've gone through the change or you're looking just a few months ahead and you're seeing change coming where your last child is entering college and you'll have what they call the empty nest syndrome, whatever that means.

Maybe you know now and you're going through it. Maybe your first child is about to enter school in just a few months. Now I can remember that with our oldest daughter. Now her older brothers, it wasn't a big stretch.

It's like, guys, it's time to go. It's time to get into kindergarten. But her is kind of different. The girls were different. And I took her to school. And if you had seen us, I can still remember that afternoon or that morning.

If you'd seen us from about 30 yards away, it was a picture perfect scene. She was wearing her new shoes and she had her new shiny lunch box and I was holding her hand and we're talking. But if you'd gotten with an earshot, you would have realized we were arguing. She's trying to make me go back and sit in the car.

She does not want me to take her to kindergarten class. And I'm arguing with her. I am taking you to class. Now let's go. You might be doing fine, but I'm not.

I'm a little insecure here so pipe down. I remember that change to this day. Some of you are involved in the changes related to married life. Maybe you have changed your life dramatically and that you're now a single parent.

Maybe a few months ago or a year or so ago, it was a team effort and now you're alone. Maybe some of you have changed from busy career to retirement and you're sort of juggling now all of these extra hours that you have and you're seeing them sort of evaporate into busy activity and you're sort of going through the changes related to that and you're working through that. Now maybe some of you have changed from being healthy to being sick, whatever the list is long, but we naturally resist the rough waters of change, don't we? We'd like the Lord to smooth everything out and bring us as little change as possible and it's sort of like hello to the Christian life, which is change.

And we talked about that last time we were together as it involved one man by the name of Peter. But I happen to believe that some of the most difficult changes that you encounter that we go through are changes related to what you believe, changes related to the church, more specifically changes in the way you worship or a passage that God is using in your life to change you and you know how difficult and the controversy within your own soul that comes from thinking through things that relate to the word change. Well, fortunately, we're not the first Christians to encounter change.

We started this subject in our last discussion. Now let's pick it back up with chapter 10 in the book of Acts where we left off. We don't have time to restudy all of it, but if you'll go back to chapter 10, let's refresh for just a little bit some of this. Now Peter's in the home of Simon the tanner and in chapter 10 of Acts verse 11, we read that he beheld the sky open up on a certain object like a great sheet coming down lowered by four corners to the ground. And there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, arise, Peter, kill and eat, verse 14. But Peter said, by no means, Lord, for I've never eaten anything unholy or unclean. And again, a voice came to him a second time. But God has cleansed no longer consider unholy.

And this happened three times and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. Now, if you're following along in the notes provided you, I'm going to give you three things about this vision. First of all, this vision from God, if obeyed by Peter and others, would directly conflict with earlier revelation from God. This is not choruses versus hymns. This is not robes versus suits. This is something that directly is prohibited by Old Testament scripture.

You do not eat ceremonially unclean animals. This is a significant radical change. And if it's going to be obeyed, you have to understand it's conflicting with earlier revelation as God now is making vast changes, not contradicting himself. He's just changing as his revelation continues to man. Second of all, this vision from God, if followed, would dramatically change the course of first century Christianity.

And that's really where we are. The first nine chapters of the Book of Acts are to the Jew, to the Jew, to the Jew, to the Israelite nation, first and foremost and only. Now it's going to be formally introduced to the Gentile world through this household of Cornelius, a Gentile man.

Third, this vision from God, if applied, would change the thinking forever toward the Gentile peoples of the world. Now, if you remember in our study last time, following the vision, the servants of Cornelius arrived and asked for Peter to come back with them because Cornelius had had a vision that Simon, a man called Simon, would come and explain to him the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so they arrived. He went to their home. He preached to them. He fellowshiped with them.

He ate with them. And these are shocking developments, by the way, not so shocking to us because of where we are in church history. There are shocking developments within lives individually in our congregation.

I met with a family in their home a few weeks ago that were Orthodox Jew. And all of these changes related to some of these things here were impacting their lives as well as they had come to faith in Jesus Christ as their own personal Messiah. Well, it doesn't take long for the word to get back to Jerusalem that Peter is in the home of a Gentile. He's eating with a Gentile. Peter is in big trouble by the church in Jerusalem. That's where we left off. Now let's pick it up there in chapter 11, verse 1.

Now, the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him saying, you went to uncircumcised men and you ate with them. Peter, as it were, we've put up with your stuff, your shenanigans before. Well, this time you've gone too far.

We can't allow this. They don't ask Peter for his point of view. They don't even throw in an Old Testament verse of Scripture to kind of set the stage. Peter's been away. The news has reached him. He's been in a Gentile's home. The jury's met.

They've decided. Peter arrives. Peter, you are in sin.

Shame on you. That's why I think one of the reasons the next phrase of verse 4 is rather striking to me, it says, but Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence. And I had to think, is this Peter we're seeing here? Short-fused, emotional, sword-swinging, ear-chopping Peter? It raised the question, how do I treat people or how do you treat people when we're accused?

Furthermore, how do you treat people when you're accused wrongly, when you know you're right? Peter knew he was right. He'd had the vision from God. He'd spoke with God. He knew he was on track and they were all wrong. Usually that's when you get on the soapbox.

Let me straighten you out. Well, I think that's why it's interesting that Peter was confronted like this. He is accused of hypocrisy, basically. He's accused of inconsistency. He is frankly accused of ungodliness. And I would have never imagined learning from Peter a lesson in tactfulness.

And that's exactly what we're about to learn. I want to give you three observations as we go through this. First observation is this, then we'll read the passage. Peter restrained his actions and his emotions. These leaders have unloaded their guns on Peter.

They've pinned his hide to the wall. You would expect verse 4 to begin by reading this way. But Peter began yelling and shouting back at them, which you'd expect. But it says that Peter began to explain to them in orderly sequence.

Explain is the same word that gives us the word exposition. He carefully, calmly took them through what had happened. You know, Proverbs tells us that the one who refrains his lips is wise. Solomon writes that a gentle or a soft answer turns away wrath. Someone whose tongue is under control, he writes, is able to avert or pacify contention. This is what's happening here in Peter's life. Observation number two, Peter showed respect toward the vantage point of his accusers. Now, this is an explosive issue right here just all by itself. A Jew's gone to a Gentile's home.

A Jew's eaten with a Gentile. But let me set the stage historically a little bit for you and help you understand a little bit more of how the emotion would be so high. This occurred, as we put the clues together chronologically, around 40 or 41 AD. That's when Peter went to Caesarea.

It is around that same time, in fact, 40 to 41 AD, that a man is the emperor of Rome by the name of Caligula. If you know much about Roman history, you know Caligula was a mad man. He had had an illness, and after the illness or following the illness, he seemed to go mad, stark raving mad.

He would get his senators out of bed at night, and he'd force them to come to a room where he'd stand on the stage and act and sing and play instruments and force them through the night to listen. He killed most of his family. He enjoyed having people tortured in his presence while he dined.

He was a madman. Then he came up with the idea that he was God. He decided to have temples built to his divinity and sacrifices offered to his own glory. Then he turned his eyes toward that group of people that were committed to their worship of the one true God, the Jews, and he ordered that a likeness of himself be placed in the center of the temple Jerusalem. And he sent a large Roman army around 40 to 41 AD. He sent them marching toward Jerusalem with the orders that they were to kill any Jew that got in their way, and they were to set up his idol or the idol of his own image inside this temple, and they were to offer sacrifices to himself. You can imagine what that meant to the Jew. History tells us that Petronius was the Roman leader who was taking his vast army there, and when he arrived at the shore of Galilee or at the shores of that sea, he was met by tens of thousands of Jewish people, leaders who begged him not to do it.

They were able, they succeeded in causing him to hesitate, and in fact they so challenged his thinking that he was willing to write a letter back to Caligula asking Caligula to change his mind. Now we're sort of waiting in this point of history for war to erupt, and for Jerusalem to just sort of be wiped off the face of the earth by this madman who would be incensed that his orders had not been followed. It was at this point in time that Caligula then was assassinated by his own protective Roman guard, and I tell you that to tell you how deeply the feelings must have been in Jerusalem. Not only is Peter hobnobbing with a Gentile, that's bad enough, but he's wanting to include into the church here a Roman centurion. Cornelius was a ranking officer in the Roman army that at that point in time, in fact at that very moment may have been sent by the Emperor to Jerusalem to destroy and kill and whatever necessary, but so to desecrate the temple that Judaism would be obliterated in that city. And this is the kind of Gentile that he's been, he's been fellowshipping with. Can you imagine how dramatic the news was when he came back? And isn't it interesting as God chooses the first Gentile convert that he chooses this guy?

Does he want change or what? And so Peter evidently respected their historical vantage point. He could see how they felt.

Can you do that? Can you slip into their sandals who accuse you and see how it must appear to them or how they must feel? And that's really a difficult thing, isn't it? Hardest thing about it. Well, he respected theirs.

Third observation is this. Peter recognized his accountability to the church body. Had Peter been the head of the church, infallible in his actions, he would not have explained, wouldn't have needed to explain his actions or what he said. He could have simply said, I said what I said, I did what I did, and you're not to accuse me. Instead, we see Peter giving a full explanation to the church family. Here's what I did and let me explain to you. He was accountable to them in his actions.

Now with that in mind, let's just read through his response. Verse four, but Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them an orderly sequence saying, 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. 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. And also heard a voice saying to me, arise, Peter, kill and eat. And I said, by no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth, but a voice from heaven answered a second time.

What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy. This will directly relate by the way to the Gentile people. And this happened three times and everything was drawn back up into the sky. Verse 11, behold, at that moment, three men appeared before the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea 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 and he reported to us how he'd seen the angel standing in his house saying, send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter brought here. And he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household. And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as he did upon us at the beginning.

And I remember the word of the Lord, how he used to say, John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. In other words, they're having what some have called the Gentile Pentecost here. The Holy Spirit is not descending a second time.

He already descended at the Jewish Pentecost. That was the establishment of the church. But this is a manifestation. And you see the significance as we've studied in detail in the past, how this manifestation of the signed gift to the Gentile convert was exactly that which was evidenced by the Jewish convert communicating to the entire body that they were equal. They had received the same spiritual gift. They had received the same spirit. In fact, that's Peter's application. Verse 17, if God therefore, here's his verdict, gave to them the same gift as he gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I love this phrase, you ought to underline it, who was I that I could stand in God's way?

Isn't that good? Do you expect me to stand in the way of God who's at work? And by asking that, by the way, he implies the same question to them.

Are you going to stand in God's way? The question was, as one author phrased it, would they loosen their grip on the past? Would they relearn centuries of tradition and practice? Simply put, would the church at this moment be willing to change? I think it's interesting that at this moment in church history, it's what you would easily call a defining moment. I could see the leaders looking at each other and the church body kind of mumbling a little bit, and wow, maybe some people are kicking the dirt with their sandals and thinking, God's done this. Peter's standing here with his six witnesses. That's twice the amount needed by the Mosaic law.

God evidenced the supernatural sign gift through the Gentile Converse as he did the Jewish, and eventually smiles begin to appear, and they realize that God indeed was including the Gentiles in the church. I find it interesting, by the way, that Luke spends so much time on this event. He's writing a vast survey of church history, and yet he spends nearly two chapters on this particular event.

Why? I think the answer is, among others, the fact that Luke was a Gentile. This was a dramatic, personal, life-changing truth that he and the Gentile peoples of the world were on equal standing in the Church of Jesus Christ. Well, you know, this is the next verse, verse 18, and when they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, well, then, well, God is granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life. Incredible change. Now, I'd love to tell you that everybody bought into it.

Everybody didn't. There are references to a certain faction that would develop over time. They're called the circumcised believers. Then they are called later those of the circumcision. By the time you get to Galatians chapter two, it's referred to as the party of the circumcised. There is a warring faction within the church that seeks to mix Judaism with the gospel, and they get in the way. They remained in the way of what God was going to do. Now, how do we apply this passage here specifically to us? How do you distinguish between godly discipline and legalism?

How do you determine what to keep and what not to keep? How do you know as you think about change and that change that God's working in your life, the things that you're to hold on to and develop and the things that are not essentials that can come and go? I found it interesting to pull from history again in the second century. Here's a young man who's writing his church leader, asking him, how can I more closely follow Jesus Christ? His specific question was, what must I forsake in order to follow him more closely? Here's the rather disappointing answer from the church leader. And by the way, this is about 150 years after the ascension of Christ, which shows you how quickly things got messed up. Here's what the leader wrote, quote, forsake colored clothing. Remove everything in your wardrobe that is not white.

This is evidently taken from Revelation, where we read that the saints will be robed in white. I think he was unfortunately applying it a little too early. He writes, stop sleeping on a soft pillow and taking warm baths. I'm striking out.

How about you? If you are sincere about following Christ, he writes, never shave your beard. To shave is to attempt to improve on the work of him who created us.

Interesting. Well, that was the way that he felt that you could follow Christ more closely. And unfortunately, he dealt with a list of non-essentials. The question from this passage in Acts is, how do you keep from being driven by non-essentials so that the essentials kind of go by the wayside? What kind of guidelines could we develop?

And I want to give you some very quickly. Number one, if the Scriptures warn against something, don't play around with it. Don't use this passage on Peter's vision as license. You know, you have a sheet that came down and nothing's unholy.

You just sort of dump everything into that thing, even though it may be a tempting thing or maybe even immoral thing or something that does not allow you to walk distinctively, or you just kind of pile it all in there. And if anybody ever questions you about that, you come back with, well, I'm under grace. Some people are under so much grace, I'm surprised they're not crushed.

Well, be careful that you don't just let anything come into your life and then say, well, I'm under grace. Being under grace does not mean you can use grace to cover impurity or laziness or a lack of godly discipline or a tolerance of sin. Paul said, should sin abound, the grace abound more. In other words, since grace abounds, do we sin more?

It's covered. And he ends that phrase by saying a double negative in the Greek language, God forbid. Furthermore, number two, if the Scriptures forbid something, don't try to justify it. The Bible says this is the will of God, even your sanctification that you abstain from fornication. Fornication is a long word that refers to sexual relations outside of marriage. The Bible forbids it. Don't justify it.

Don't say, well, we love each other or we're going to get married. Or surely, you know, in these days, God understands. I want to tell you, He does not. If the Bible specifically forbids something and you want to walk with Christ, don't justify it. Third, if the Scriptures are silent about something, then they really don't mention it.

Don't go door to door with it. Don't turn what God is doing in your life into a public crusade. God is doing things in your life and in mine. But some practice, some devotional methods, some discipline that He is developing in your life, remember that it's not for everybody else's life. Learn the difference between a biblical command and a personal preference. Both are important.

Personal preferences are those things that you consider important for your family or for your life. But the Bible is, for the most part, silent. I think Christians need more of these preferences. But be careful that you understand the difference. The reason I'm wearing a suit today, and not a robe, the reason that I'm called Stephen or Pastor instead of Elder Davey or Bishop Davey, it's not because the Bible refers or commands either one. In fact, every title that I just gave you is biblical. And they're all found in the book of Acts.

But they're just personal preferences. If you're my peer or older, you can call me Stephen. I like that name. My mother gave me that name.

If you're younger than me and you call me Stephen, I'm telling your mother. Did you know that in the third century there was a controversy on the posture of prayer? What kind of bodily posture should you assume when you pray?

In AD 220, this is long after the Lord's freshly deposited in heaven, Tertullian is a well-known church father. He sent down some guidelines. He says if you lift your prayer or hands toward heaven when you prayed, which was a custom, he sort of settles the controversy. They don't need to be washed every time before prayer.

There was a controversy raging. If you raise your hands in prayer, if you forget to wash them, sacrilege. He just let them know that it's okay to not wash them. How do you pray? Do you fall on your face? Do you kneel? Tertullian said don't kneel on Easter because that day is celebrating the risen Christ.

So you'd be contradicting what is happening in Christian world. See all these things. And how do you pray? Do you wash your hands each time? Do you raise them? Do you lift your eyes?

Do you know what the problem is? The scriptures don't command any particular posture. They're silent on the issue, and these men took their personal preferences and taught them publicly as biblical commands. Number four, if the scriptures encourage it, don't try to ignore it.

Find out more about it. What's God doing in your life? What is this passage? How is it being applied to your life as the Spirit of God does a personal work inside of you? You seek to walk with Christ.

Maybe he's addressing a needed area of change in your life. If the scriptures encourage something, don't try to ignore it. Then lastly, if the scriptures teach it, don't try to live without it. Don't try to live without it.

These were important principles for us to learn today, weren't they? Spiritual change means listening to God and letting him open your eyes to his kingdom and its people. It's about loving those you wouldn't have before, serving in ways you never imagined. Is it uncomfortable?

Well, of course, but growth rarely is comfortable. It's about giving up control and letting God transform you from the inside out. This message is called The Church That Changed. It's part of Stephen's Vintage Wisdom Library, going back to 1997.

We'll continue through this series from Acts in the days ahead. If you tuned in late and missed part of this lesson, or if you want to go back and listen again, you'll find it posted on our website, wisdomonline.org. Perhaps even more convenient is the Wisdom International app, which contains the complete archive of Stephen's teaching. You can listen to each day's broadcast, but you can also access the full length messages all the way back to the beginning of Stephen's teaching ministry. The Wisdom International app is available in the iTunes and the Google Play stores. Thanks so much for joining us. We're going to continue through this section of Acts next time. So join us here on Wisdom for the Heart.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-12 00:11:39 / 2024-06-12 00:22:38 / 11

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