We're Made One By God

January 5, 1997
日本キリスト教団 大阪のぞみ教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Osaka Nozomoi Church, Japan Church Christ
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA, Translated December 8, 2008
Acts 11:1-18

1. It's been a while since we read the Book of Acts. Today [we're in] chapter eleven. Since it is still related to chapter ten as an ongoing story, we will need to be reminded of the previous section, and fortunately, in the passage we read for today, Peter gives us a summary of it. We will go over the details later. In short, as it has at the start of chapter eleven, it is the event called, "The Gentiles also accepted the word of God," (verse one). As I stated before, this is a major and important event as seen from history. Through it, the gospel of Christ was brought to the Gentile world and was no longer [some] Nazarene sect [from within] Judaism. Without this event then, we could not relate the history of Christianity after it. Furthermore, we in the church in Japan also exist as part of the long line extending from this event.

2. Things progressed just as Jesus had said they would. Before the Lord went back to heaven he said the following. "When the Holy Spirit descends upon you, you will receive power. And not only Jerusalem, but in all of Judea and Samaria, and even going to the ends of the earth, you will become my witnesses," (Acts 1:8). The gospel had begun to proceed towards the ends of the earth. But, when we read today's passage, it seems that this event was simply not celebrated. It wasn't accepted. Instead it looks here to be the seed form of quarrels and divisions. And it continues up to the distant future. It develops until the crisis of a church split.

3. Where in the world can the problem be found? When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the brothers at Jerusalem had accurately heard of the events that had happened among the Gentiles. "The Gentiles had also accepted the word of God." The major parts were handed down reliably to them. However, the text says that later on "The circumcised criticized him and said, 'You went to the uncircumcised and took a meal with them.'" The Jews had a regulation regarding food. They had unclean food and clean food. They wouldn't eat just anything. They did not go and be the guest in a Gentile home because a lot of times the Gentiles ate "unclean" food as seen from the Jews' perspective. Therefore, sitting at the same dinner table with Gentiles was taboo. They had heard that Peter was sitting at a table with Gentiles. This information was not wrong either. It had been communicated to them accurately.

4. In short, the problem is "On which side were they putting their emphasis to make their point?" For them the more important point was that "Peter had a meal with Gentiles" rather than that "The Gentiles had accepted the word of God." The focus of their attention went towards Peter's breaking of a commandment. Thus, even though God was beginning to do wonderful works among the peoples, it often happens that a person will not turn his or her eyes to that part. Unable to rejoice in the miraculous works of God, their focus only goes on the negative.

5. Where do [you] turn your attention and focus upon? It seems like a small difference, but it is not really a small matter. As we see here in this text, because of this matter, the church was once shaken by it. For that matter, there was a period of time, once in America, when many hippies from back then had accepted Christ and started to gather in the churches. It was called "The Jesus Revolution" among other things. But certain persons were only ready to see the church carpets getting dirty (unclean), rather than the work of God taking place among the hippies. Going back just a bit more, the eighteenth century, during the time of John Wesley, the gospel was brought and publicized to the masses by him. But the Church of England at that time took up issue with his having preached outside the church doors.

6. We may understand it clearly if we look at it from a more familiar angle. For example, when new persons are led by God and are added in one church, then suddenly, it experiences all kinds of things. Perhaps in a small congregation something unpleasant, unlike anything they have experienced, may happen. At that time, where do they turn their attention and focus upon? Does the church focus on the work of God happening among the people, or does it only turn its focus on the many different negative things? This is not a small matter at all for the sake of that church's progress.

7. Peter was blamed for his having taken a meal with a Gentile. He did break a taboo of the Jews. But, he didn't merely try to offer up an excuse for it. He didn't defend himself against the charge. Instead, he tries to turn the church's eyes to where it should be looking. He has them turn their eyes to what God is doing because he knew that that's exactly where the solution will be found.

8. For that reason Peter "began to explain the circumstances around it in precise order," (verse four). This section is a repeat of chapter ten, and so I think we will want to listen to Peter's explanation while we recall what we have read so far. Please look from verses five to fourteen.

9. First of all, Peter gives an explanation of the circumstances around his having gone into the home of Cornelius, which was in Caesarea. This is the text where we find that a vision is revealed, 'the Spirit' gives a command, and he sees an angel standing. These symbols are not familiar to us, but to get to the point, what is being expressed here is that God has an interest in what happened here. Humankind did not arrange this meeting. Peter is trying to put across that point. To begin with, he himself never had any plans ever of entering into the home of a Gentile and becoming a guest there. He never entertained the possibility of it even happening. Then how did what was impossible to happen ever happen? Peter explains that God had arranged the meeting, he had set it up and did the leading of him to it.

10. Then Peter continues by saying, "When I began to speak, just as the Holy Spirit had first fallen upon us, he had fallen upon them as well," (verse fifteen). Where it says here in the text that "Just as the Holy Spirit had first fallen upon us," it refers to the event at Pentecost. It is recorded in chapter two of The Acts of the Apostles. At that time, in a form clearly visible to the eye, [God] let the Holy Spirit fall upon the apostles as well as some other Jews. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and "had begun to speak in foreign languages," says the scripture, (2:4). This was a demonstration given by God. Thus, the church was born. Just exactly the same as that time [when the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the Jews], this time around, the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles. On this occasion, God was doing it in a way that could be clearly understood by anyone's eyes. "(Those who came with Peter) heard the Gentiles speaking foreign languages and giving praise to God," says the scripture, (10:46). In a form similar to the first event at Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles had taken place.

11. What was Peter thinking at this time? The following words are given in the text. "At that time, I remembered the words of the Lord who had said, 'John baptized with water, but you will baptize through the Holy Spirit.'," (verse sixteen). It is very significant that it says Peter had remembered the words of Jesus. I say that because to Peter the "you (plural)" of whom Jesus was speaking did not originally refer to anyone except for Jews. He used to think that the "you" of which Jesus spoke contained only Jews [like] themselves. But here he had recalled the words from the Lord once again. And among that "you" of his, he became enlightened to the fact that it also included Gentiles, not excepting the Jews. It was an event in which God had clearly shown his particular will. God himself has shown that "God does not discriminate between persons," (10:34).

12. But we must be careful to note that Peter did not describe in detail here the phenomenon itself that had taken place among the Gentiles. In regard to the manner in which the work of God, done among the Gentiles, was revealed, he does not take it up as something very important. It doesn't seem like his concern is on the manner in which the gift of the Holy Spirit was manifested. The Jews, who had heard this, also began to praise God and simply said, "So then, God has let the Gentiles repent too, and he has granted them life," (verse eighteen).

13. Peter has been saying these things, trying to get them to turn their eyes on the work of God done among the Gentiles. But, it was not how God did such a marvelous thing among the Gentiles, it was not how he gave them such a wonderful gift, and it was not how the characters and the daily lives of the Gentiles were changed so much, that Peter was speaking to them about. It was not that or anything like that that he had been speaking about, but rather that God "has let the Gentiles repent too, and he has granted them life." "Repentance" [here] doesn't mean "to have regrets and to change." It means to turn to God. They turned to God, gave praise to God, and were made into persons who worship. They were included into an eternal fellowship with God, and presented with life from God. Because of this very fact, they saw the work of God.

14. The people who were criticizing Peter could not help but acknowledge the work of God there. Why is that? At the least, it is because they knew that this matter of "repentance" is a gift from God. It is because they knew that to be able to turn to God and to be made a worshipper is purely the grace of God. As a result, they could not fail to recognize that if there are persons there repenting, turning to God and worshipping God, then it is something that [must] come from God. Therefore, everyone, including the people who had first been doing the criticizing, praised God.

15. Well, when we see something or some person in the church, where in the world are we focusing our eyes and attention? We are being made to take another look at this. [This second take] is about whether or not we are able to turn our attention to God's work. It is about can we or can we not, then, see the work of God while we turn to God and worship together? It might even have to do with whether or not we can see the work of God in our own turning to God. If we find that our own turning to God and our own worshipping of God are truly a miracle from God, then we should be able to see the same work of God among other persons as well. And we must see it. And this matter of turning our eyes on the work of God is indispensable for the church to become one, whether in the church of the first generation or during modern times.

16. For example, I'm sure you've heard it and told it plenty of times yourselves, not insofar as the crisis of a church split, but the old familiar story, how that some Christians see other Christians and say, "If that guy comes to church, I ain't going," or "If that person's a Christian, I won't go to church." I get sick of hearing that, but the fact is you can hear something like that in most any church. I do understand the feeling behind where they are coming from on this, however, it's not right to say it. The direction in which they are looking is not right. Whenever one says, "That person is coming to church," we must look at the work of God in it there. I would say it is a good answer to say, "Because that person is coming to church, I am going to church too." Is it a good person, or is it a bad person? Is it a righteous person, or is it a person who has done wrong? We shouldn't be looking at that; rather, no matter what kind of person it is, we should look at the work of God, at how we are each turning to God and being made into persons who worship God.

17. Actually, the issue of Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians did not get resolved with this. It will have a lasting effect even into later generations. In the Acts of the Apostles, in chapter fifteen, it will surface in a much clearer form. In addition, beginning with verse eleven of Galatians chapter two, the scriptures say the following words. "So, when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, as there were matters upon which one should criticize, I opposed him directly to his face. I did that because even though Cephas was taking meals with the Gentiles, until certain ones had come from James, when they had come to visit, he was afraid of the circumcised and so he shrank back and was ready to withdraw himself from them," (Galatians 2:11-12). Even the Peter there and then [in Galatia] would drag in this issue later. When it comes to the church becoming one, these same questions will always and continuously be asked one time or another, which are, "What are we turning our focus upon?" and "How do we become one?" [Answering these questions] is a task for us today as well.