The Way - Week 2: Stepping Through The Door
Two thousand years ago, a gathering of people in a middle-eastern city began a movement that would circle the globe and leave its mark on individuals and cultures on every continent. This movement would eventually become known as The Church.
The early members of this movement were first called “Followers of the Way”—a direct reflection of their desire to follow “in the way” of Christ.
Over the next several weeks, we'll be journeying through passages from the book of Acts in the New Testament as we learn some valuable lessons from the early Church.
Whether you consider yourself a church person or not, you are invited to join us on this journey as we find out what mattered to those early followers, and why what mattered to them, still matters to us today.
Today we're going to dig into a fascinating story from Acts chapters 10 and 11, and we're going to learn about just how big the Gospel of Jesus Christ really is---sound good?
Before we get into the sermon today, though. I need to get some stuff off my chest. I want to share with you a not-so-comprehensive list of the people who really grind my gears.
You have those kinds of people in your life, right? Or do you encounter them in different places that you frequent? We all do. Here are some of mine.
1. The person who shows up at Starbucks with the order for their entire office.
2. The person who speeds up when you are about to pass them on the freeway.
3. That guy who has no concept of personal space or modesty and then crowds me when I'm trying to get my stuff together at the gym.
4. The person who calls the store to ask about products when I drove to the store to ask about products.
Like I said, it's not a comprehensive list. Were some of these on your list, too? Did some of you recognize yourself on my list? Ha!
But what if... what if the things that ground our gears were serious and the differences we had with the people who ground our gears were deep? What if our feelings about these people were painful?
The person who supports issues/causes and organizations that target people like you.
The co-worker who stabbed you in the back.
That friend or relative whose political views give you angina.
A trusted person who abused you.
The religious leader who let you down.
Or it could be a group of people--people who are completely "other" to you because of fear, or past experiences... or simply because you've been taught there's something wrong with them for some reason.
So... are we good with God showing grace to them?
Here's what I want us to focus on today--our one big idea:
THE WAY LEADS US TO A BIGGER GOSPEL THAT TRULY IS FOR EVERYONE
Let's read Acts 11:1-18
Let's go back a bit so we can understand a bit more about this story, particularly the people about whom Peter is speaking.
When we meet Cornelius we learn some things very quickly. First, he is a centurion, which ordinarily might mean that he is the leader of one hundred soldiers, but in this case, Cornelius was also the leader of a cohort---a senior staff officer in the legion that was assigned to the Judean provinces.
Cornelius was also a leader within the Italian Cohort, a group that was stationed at Caesarea Maritima, which was one of the most Roman port cities in the region. This city was the headquarters of the governor of Judea and if you had to have an assignment in this region, this was where you wanted it. So, Cornelius was a man on the rise in the Roman army.
He is also the first person with Roman authority that is named in Acts---and he is not at all what we would expect.
The text tells us that Cornelius was a "God-fearer," who supported the local synagogue and gave alms to the poor. It is unclear if he was actually engaged in the prescribed rite of initiation into Judaism (circumcision), and also highly unlikely. He seems to be interested in Jewish faith and practice, however and seems very well thought of by the Jewish people.
He is, in fact, at prayer when he receives a vision to send emissaries to Peter, who is in Joppa some thirty miles to the south.
Meanwhile, Peter sees a vision of his own when he lies down for a nap on the roof of the house where he's staying. He sees a sheet full of animals---many of which are non-kosher and forbidden by Jewish law for him to eat. A voice tells him, "Kill and eat." In verse 14 Peter emphatically responds, "By no means... No way... Absolutely NOT!"
The word in Greek is medamos which is only used here in the entire New Testament. Peter has a gut reaction to what he sees and refuses to partake in the most vociferous way possible. This vision occurs three times, and then the Lord speaks...
In his vision, the Lord declares to Peter that there will be some men showing up at his door and when they do he is to go with them "without hesitation." The literal translation is that he is to go with them "without making a distinction or differentiation."