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Going--Across Boundaries
07/18/2004
Scripture: Acts 10; 11:1-18
Track 8 of 14 in the Being with Him Compels Us to Go for Him series


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Sermon for Sunday, July 18, 2004
"Going--Across Boundaries"
"Being With Him Compels Us to Go for Him"
(Acts 10:1 - 11:18)
C. Sackett

Crossing borders has become such a simple thing to do. It actually began to change around the world back in 1989. One of the people I traveled with this summer was wanting to know if she would have any trouble getting across the border on the train. And I said, "My guess is you'll never know it even passed." They might come by and let you know that you've crossed over from Austria to some other country but it's unlikely that you'll ever know the difference unless, of course, you happen to be from Moldova because the Hungarians will not allow you to cross their borders. Proved to be a significant difficulty for some students who were not able to come to the class that we were having this summer.

It occasionally does get harder to cross borders. I don't always know exactly what happens. We were taking the bus into Canada and happened to have a student from India with us. They're part of the British commonwealth so we just assumed. . . .he assumed. . . . .the Consulate in Chicago assumed . . . . .no problem, you won't have any trouble getting across the border, India, Canada, they're France. Apparently not! He ended up on a bus to Buffalo. We ended up in a bus to Niagra Falls and picked him up on the other side twenty-four hours later.

There are those border crossings that are just a little scarey. I remember the first time that I encountered that. In 1989 we were going from Hong Kong into Cheng-chow,(?) China. We went from colorful, delightful, exciting, vibrant to drab olive green, razor wire and sub-machine guns. It was just kind of one of those odd experiences that I would like not to repeat or wouldn't want to have to live with as a regular experience in crossing those kinds of borders.

That's really what we're talking about in the text today. We're talking about crossing borders. The text we're looking at is Acts 10 and 11 and it's a lengthy text that I'm going to read bits and pieces of in a little bit so let me just tell you the story.

There is this gentleman that you have met along the way. His name is Peter. He's going to have an encounter with a fella that we're about to meet whose name is Cornelius, who happens to be a Roman soldier. Cornelius is a Godly man. He is a man who is a worshiper of Yahwe. He is a man who prays and gives alms, has a good reputation. He's the leader of one of the segments of a Roman army.

He sees a vision one day of an Angel saying, send over and get this fella named Peter who is at Simon, the tanners house. Have him come and tell you what to do. Well, while all of that's happening, Simon Peter, the one we know as the apostle, is up on the roof. It's about lunch time. He's praying. He gets hungry. He asks for lunch and God responds rather than the folks from downstairs. There is a sheet that comes down out of heaven. There is all of theses unclean animals on here and the voice says, "Peter, rise and eat." Peter says, "I'm sorry Lord, I have never eaten an unclean animal in my whole life." Three times the sheet comes down. Three times the voice says, "Peter, get up and eat" and three times Peter says, "I don't think I can do that." Then God says, "Peter, there's going to be some fellas show up down here at the gate. Their gonna want to see you. When they say something to you, you go down, greet them and go with them wherever it is they take you." And sure enough, about that time there's a voice from the courtyard. "Peter, we're here to see you." some friends. . . they come in. They have this evening together. The next day they leave early. They go to Cornelius' house in Caesarea. Cornelius sees them coming, Peter and six of his friends. They fall down in front of Peter to worship or at least acknowledge him.

Peter says, "Get up, I'm just a man." Cornelius recounts all of this information. Peter says, "Well, I must be supposed to preach to you." So he does, he preaches him a sermon. About two-thirds of the way through the sermon, the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius' household like he fell on the disciples on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

Peter makes this amazing discovery. God must be opening the door to these Gentiles. If that's true, then they need to be immersed and so he commands them to be baptized.

Peter makes his way back to Jerusalem to the church where some of those folks in the Jerusalem church are saying, "That was not a smart thing to do. You ate with Gentiles." Peter explains the situation. Basically the first half of Acts 11 simply recounts all of Acts 10 and the final conclusion in Acts 11:18 is this. The church says

Wow! God has even made it possible for Gentiles to come into the Kingdom.

Now there are some really obvious borders that have been crossed. One of them is for Peter to cross between clean and unclean food which is nothing more than a metaphor in this case for crossing over between clean and unclean people.

And there is the very clear distinction that we have so abundant throughout the New Testament, there is this Jewish/Gentile boundary that has to get crossed.

There are two or three statements in this text that just stand out. Among them being the one that closes the chapter and the paragraph when it says, basically. . . .God has even allowed Gentiles.

But there are some more subtle barriers, more subtle boundaries I think. Borders that get crossed. It's ten years into the church from Acts 2 to Acts 10. We have seen the beginnings of Acts 1:8 carried out. Go into Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the outer most parts of the earth. We have seen the boundaries crossed out into Judea. We saw them crossed (in Acts 8 ) to Samaria and now God begins to open this door.

This is the third time Peter has been involved in this process. First time with the Jews in Acts 2, then with the Samaritans in Acts 8, now it's with the Gentiles in Acts 10. It is as if God is fulfilling that promise that Jesus made, Peter, I'm giving you the "keys to the kingdom." You're gonna be the one that opens the door for the Gospel.

Well, what are some of those subtle boundaries? In the life of Cornelius, for example, he had to go from religion to relationship because piety was not enough.

I want you to look at something here in Acts 4. Look at the description, rather Acts 10 in the first four verses. Look at the description of Cornelius.

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"

Cornelius stared at him in fear, "What is it, Lord?" he asked.

The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa. . . . . .

He is a pious man and he's described as a man who is doing good things, even right kinds of things. You come down to Acts 10:22 The men replied, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say."

Again in Acts 10:34 we begin to see what unfolds. Peter comes to Cornelius' house, this man, who is a pious man, recognized for his outstanding works. But look what happens.

Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached--how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

"We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen--by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Peter comes to this pious man doing right things and preaches to him the simple message of the Gospel. Jesus came under God's command, died and was raised so that those who believe in him can have forgiveness.

If you go over to Acts 11 where this story is recounted. Look at Acts 11:13 & 14 in particular. Peter recounting what Cornelius says, He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.'

One of the subtle borders in life is moving from religion to relationship. It's moving from doing right things. It's moving from being in the right place at the right time on a Sunday morning to actually having a living relationship with God in which you and he are together. And there is such a significant difference. The difficulty is that I'm not sure how to explain the difference. Because in the relationship you will still do the right things, but it's not in the doing that matters.

One of the privileges of where I serve in the summer in Europe is that I actually have things like telephones and this is really not a hard mission trip to go on and with some regularity, I call home just to find out how everything is going. And typically, what I really want to do when I call home is have a conversation with my wife. I don't like to talk to the answering machine. That's not exactly why I call, especially at international rates. One particular day I called, I must have caught my wife off guard because what I got at the beginning of the conversation was, the computer's not working, we have a leak in the sink. . . . . . . .there were about four or five things that came out, just kind of bubbling out and I thought to myself. . . . . .that's not why I called! Number One: I can't do anything about it AND Number Two: That's not why I called! And I spent the next several days thinking about that and my own relationship with God and wondering how often God and I get together in a connection and the first thing I do is give him my litany list of this is what I need. This doesn't work, this doesn't work, this doesn't work. . . . . .and I think what God is saying, that's not why I called! What I called about was to talk with you. To have a relationship with you.

That's what Cornelius was missing. He was doing the right stuff. He just wasn't in a saved relationship with Jesus.

There is another border that I think Cornelius had to cross and that was from independence to dependence. Do you notice how much Cornelius doesn't ever feel the need, I mean, shouldn't, he is a Roman legionnaire. He is the Captain over one of the Division's. This is a man who is well respected. This is a guy who have money to give away. This is a man who has reputation and yet, he is put in a position of saying,

"I need to send for Peter to tell me something to do because I don't know yet what I'm supposed to do." You see it show up over in Acts 10:30-33 where we get just ahead of Peter's sermon.

Cornelius answered: "Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.' So I sent for you immediately. . . . . Now there's an attitude.

Any men here want to ever admit having thrown away the instructions before you started putting the project together? Surely none of you are like me. Now, where did those instructions go and why do I have three pieces left over? We are by nature independent creatures and we think we can do it all ourselves. This man is the epitome of what it means to be an independent person and yet, did you notice the language? So I sent for you immediately. . . . .

When a person is in a journey toward God, nothing hampers the movement forward except us. We'll choose whether to take the next step in the journey or not. Cornelius came to a border of dependence and recognized he couldn't get the answers without help and so he went and asked for help.

Cornelius also crosses over what I think to be a significant border of experience to obedience. At the end of the sermon something really profound happens. Look at Acts 10:44. Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out (listen to this language) even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

You come over to Acts 11:15 when Peter is recounting the story.

‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?"

Cornelius was having an experience. He had seen an angel. He'd had an opportunity to converse with one of the beings of God. He was a worshiper, a God-fearing man, a prayer, a giver and yet, even in the midst of that experience he still was required to be obedient to God.

Some of us have incredible experiences and yet, experience alone is not sufficient. Feeling good is insufficient. Having come into an assembly, whether it be this one or some other one where your heart races with the sense of God's presence is insufficient, if you, at the same time, are unwilling to be obedient to God when he calls for you to do what he says.

One of the major borders we all cross is the border between experience, feeling and obedience where we do what God calls us to do.

But Cornelius is not the only one who's got borders to cross. In fact, he may be the least of my concerns because I'm not Cornelius.

Peter had some interesting borders to cross too and they affect me a bit more than the ones that Cornelius crossed. Maybe it's because I've been around the church now for thirty years and have forgotten what those borders were like for people like Cornelius. But I understand Peter's. . . . . . .He was going from being legally right to lovingly open. There was this difficulty of actually going from the kosher to the unclean. The story unfolds as Peter is praying and God sends this sheet covered with unclean animals. (verses 10 through 19) and reminds Peter to get up and eat. And Peter, this good, righteous, kosher Jew says, I have never eaten unkosher food in all of my life.

I don't know about you. . . . .but as a good, you know, middle-class American, kosher food has never been high on my priority list. Food. . . . . .YES. . . . .doesn't matter to me whether it's kosher or not, just as long as there's lunch.

I'm not sure because of who we are, we fully understand the significance of what's going on in Peter's life. The Jews held those dietary laws in absolute highest regard. In fact, just a few years. . . . . oh a hundred and fifty years or so before this when the Jews were under occupation, the Romans came in under Antiochus Epiphanes and were forcing the Jews to eat pigs. I mean, that's about as high as unclean on the chart as you can get.

In 1 Maccabees, the book that records that story. I want you to listen to these two little verses 1 Maccabees 1:62-63 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die.

Jews would rather die than eat unclean food because it violated the covenant relationship that they had with God. And here God, himself, is saying, Peter I want you to eat these unclean animals. It's no wonder Peter struggled. . . . .and then came to this amazing awareness. . . . . .It must be that God does not show favoritism.

I've worked with people. Maybe I've been one of those people who would die for a position even if it meant destroying other people. . . . .who held so strongly to something that I believed to be important, that I'm not even sure a vision from heaven could ever shake that kind of foundation.

Peter moved not only from being legally right but from also being an elitist to one who included others. In Acts 15:7 we begin to see how that kind of unfolds in Peter's life.

Acts 15 is this story of the church in conflict over whether you had to be Jewish in order to be Christian and Peter recounts in rather interesting terms this experience.

Acts 15:6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."

Peter came to understand that there was this elitism that existed. It's easy to fall into that you know, that spirit of elitism.

Huh! I had this really odd thing happen to me. It's happened to me on three of the last four airplane rides I've been on overseas and I'm beginning to get a little too accustomed to this. I was late getting into Chicago with my friend Tom to catch the plane to Europe and so I did what any self-respecting person did, I cut to the front of the line to say. . . . hey, I'm late, is there something you can do to help and this lady says, oh, you're gonna miss that flight for sure. It's over-booked! You and your friend stand over here. We'll see if we can do anything to help. A few minutes later they came over and said, "I'm sorry we can't get you two seats together but we do have two seats on the plane. I think you'll like them." We got on the plane and they were in "business class". Seats that lay down flat, silverware, glasses that actually would break if you dropped them. I got on my way home and I went to the counter in Vienna and I said, boy! I had the chance to sit in the world class coach or whatever they call it. That was really nice and the guy looks at me and says, "I have you a place where I think you'll be alright." Okay! It's Row 13. It's got to be close to the front. I get on and on the way home. Guess what? It's "business class" again. I'm sitting in the aisle, in my little sit that's gonna lay down flat in about a half an hour where I'm gonna take this long nap over the Atlantic Ocean and I'm thinking to myself. . . . .you poor people. . . . .go on back there to the cattle car. And suddenly I went from a commoner to the elite. It's not hard to do is it? To become us versus them. . . . .

The Jews understood that. It had always been that way. They were God's chosen people.

You remember the book of Jonah? Jonah I want you to go preach to the Ninevites. I don't want to preach to Ninevites. You know what Jonah's fear was? Jonah's fear is captured in Jonah 4. God just might give them repentance. God forbid that Ninevites could come to faith, then they would be just like us.

One of the challenges that we all face is understanding we're not the elite. Did you hear Peter's language in Acts 15. The discovery is they were saved by grace just like we are saved by grace.

Peter also went from theory to practice. His response was, I heard this message from God Acts 10:28-29 and I did not hesitate to come to you.

You know it really is, it is one thing to believe that God really does have an inclusive heart. It's one thing to believe that God is open to other people becoming Christian. It is one thing to believe that it's okay for everyone to know Jesus. It's one thing to believe that we all should go. It is radically a different thing to actually do something about it. Isn't it?

I just got back from the North American Christian Convention last week and there was so much about reaching lost people. The outrageous opportunities that God has opened the doors, that God is getting us through and I'm sitting there feeling more convicted and more convicted because I think I've told you, I'm not a natural evangelist. It's just difficult for me. I don't come by it easily. I come out of Einstein's where I've gone in to get a muffin for breakfast and my wife is sitting at this little table and there's another gentleman there who has joined her because there's not many seats in this little area to sit. They're having a conversation about coffee shops. Go figure! I'm enjoying this conversation. . . .and the next thing I . . . . .he asked me what I do. I teach in a seminary, I preach in a church. Oh, he says, my grandfather was a preacher. I'm feeling a little more courageous about this stepping out of your zone kind of thing and I'm thinking............I'll follow this question up.....and I said, "Did that continue through the family?" He said, "I'm Jewish. I'll be seeing you. I have an appointment." And I mean, up and out of there he went. And I thought. . . . . .what? . . . . .what did I say?

It's just harder to do than it is to think about. I believe everybody ought to have a chance to know Jesus. I even believe that I ought to be talking to more people than I do about Christ but when it comes right down to that guy sitting in the next booth over, the person on the other side of the backyard fence, the person in the cubical next to you, the person down the line. . . . .it just gets a little harder to actually do.

And Peter crossed that boundary between just theory to practice.

Well, lest we think it's just Cornelius and Peter, the church also faced some interesting difficulties.

Did you hear the language of Acts 11:1-ff. The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them." Huh! Did you notice what the comment was? Did you notice what they didn't say? Peter, how could you possibly baptize a Gentile? They didn't say that. Peter, how could you preach the gospel to a Gentile?. . . .didn't say that! Peter, how could you have supper with them? Huh! It seems so trivial and yet, fundamentally, that was the biggest issue that the early church faced, was that Jewish/Gentile divide and there was something about putting your feet under somebody's table that indicated that you accepted that you accepted that person as a peer, as an equal.

It's all of Acts 15. It's Galatians 2. It is so difficult for people to get over this border of understanding that there is no difference between us. We have to move across this border. Well, I don't know what words to use for it. . . . .tradition vs. truth. I'm not sure what to call it but there is some kind of a border out here that often causes us to stop taking one more step.

I was intrigued by one of the workshops that I went to at the convention. Erwin McManus, who preaches at Mosaic in Manhattan, a church that has probably fifty or sixty different ethnic groups represented in their congregation was asked this question about how do you become a more inclusive congregation. His answer was brilliant. I want to cut down to just a very small piece of it.

He was at a church, a large southern California church being asked this same question in a conference. He had about a hundred of their leaders, their key people in the church and they were saying how can we become more inclusive. He said, I looked out and it's an all white audience. And so he said, I asked this simple question. How many of you have a friend who is different than you are? He said, Not a single hand went up. Then he asked this question. How many of you have neighbors who are different than you are? And every hand went up. And his response was very simple. You can't become what you're not. If you're not open to your neighbors, your church will never be open to people who are different than you. His profound deep answer was this simple. Go out and make some friends with people who are different.

Eighty percent of people come to church because of what? You know the answer to this question. Because they are invited by a friend. So if you want your church to be full of different people, then you gotta make friends with people who are different. And it's so hard to cross that border, and yet, what is so absolutely profound is that we can cross the border from possibility to reality cause God's already done it. That's the thing that is so remarkable about the story. God has already done this.

The story that we read in Acts 10 and 11 is not about Peter, is not about Cornelius, it's not even about the church. . . . .it's about the activity of God. He is the feature in this story. God sends the sheet. God sends the angel. God sends the message. God does the miraculous sending of his Spirit. All Peter and the church do is recognize what God is already doing.

And that is the challenge. . . .to recognize that people are so important, we will cross over any border to see that they know Jesus. And the reason we would do that is because God has already done it. He sent his Son in human flesh to cross the border of humanity to live and die so we might know God personally.

My question is, is there some borders you're having trouble crossing? For those of you who do not yet know Jesus, is there a border that you have run into, a boundary that you've come up against that you don't know what to do about? Have you run into a question that you just don't know the answer to? I'm going to invite you to be like Cornelius and just ask. Go across that border of independence to a spirit of dependence that says, whatever it is that God desires for me to do, that I'm willing to do. . . . . . .since I don't know what it is, I'm gonna ask. I'm gonna get direction.

To go from experience to obedience. . . . . .from the place of enjoying a friendship with God to actually entering into a relationship with Him whereby you do what he says.

And so you know at the end of every service, there is an opportunity for you to come and ask. You can find me. Find one of your friends here. Find somebody from the staff. Ask the question. What do I do now? But for those of us who already know him, what border do you need to cross? Because my guess is, there are some personal, some social borders that all of us need to be willing to step across because we live in a world that needs to hear about Jesus. And like Cornelius, they never will if Peter doesn't come down off his roof top and go into a strangers house and cross over those borders that have kept us apart as we begin to make friends with people who need Christ.

Would you commit yourself today to looking carefully at your life and asking, what are the borders? And asking God to give you the courage to take that step, to cross that border, to build that friendship, to say that word, to change your own heart.

Then if God does not show favoritism, as Peter says, how could we oppose what he's doing?

Let's stand.