The In-Between Years - Part 54
Series: The In-Between Years
November 14, 2021
The In-Between Years — Part 54
Let’s get down to business this morning. We just finished up chapter 10 where the gospel came to the Gentiles for the first time when Peter preached the good news of Jesus to Cornelius, the Roman centurion, and his household…
1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. Acts 11:1 (ESV)
They say good news travel fast. Well, gossip travels faster. The thing about gossip is it never tells the whole story, just the parts the teller wants to tell….
2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Acts 11:2–3 (ESV)
Reminds me of the story of an avid duck hunter was in the market for a new bird dog. His search ended when he found a dog that could actually walk on water to retrieve a duck. Shocked by his find, he was sure none of his friends would ever believe him.
He decided to try to break the news to a friend of his, a pessimist by nature, and invited him to hunt with him and his new dog.
As they waited by the shore, a flock of ducks flew by. they fired, and a duck fell. The dog responded and jumped into the water. The dog, however, did not sink but instead walked across the water to retrieve the bird, never getting more than his paws wet. This continued all day long; each time a duck fell, the dog walked across the surface of the water to retrieve it.
The pessimist watched carefully, saw everything, but did not say a single word.
On the drive home the hunter asked his friend, "Did you notice anything unusual about my new dog?”
"I sure did," responded the pessimist. "Your dog can't swim!"
The dog can walk on watering and all you think about is him not being able to swim? The Gentiles came to faith in Jesus in a glorious way and all you saw was Peter eating with them?
The thing is, at one time Peter would have been just like them. But we’ve watched his journey of letting prejudice go, of letting the gospel completely change him…
4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Acts 11:4–16 (ESV)
In that last verse (16) Peter looks back to what Jesus said just before he ascended…
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4–5 (ESV)
Jesus is talking about Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came down and the church was born in Acts 2, the sign or miracle giving it credibility was speaking in tongues, known languages. What happened with the Gentiles was like a mini-Pentecost. They too spoke in tongues when the Spirit came upon them…
17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:17–18 (ESV)
It’s incredible to see Peter’s journey and even the way the Jerusalem believers welcomed the Gentiles in. It was God’s intent from the beginning to graft us Gentiles into his plans for setting all things back to rights.
And so begins phase three of God’s great big witness projection plan instituted by Jesus in Acts 1:8 (this will be the last time I show you this verse. Maybe)…
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (ESV)
To the ends of the earth had begun, and it hasn’t ended 2,000 years later. We are still in phase three, folks. That’s why missions is so important in the life of the church. We keep phase three going until Jesus comes back to end the in-between years and establish his kingdom on a newly restored earth.
Now we know how Paul fits into the picture and why in chapter 13 he becomes the focus of Luke’s account. We actually saw this coming in his origin story. Saul, enemy number one of the church who would later become Paul, was gloriously saved on the way to Damascus. Remember how the experience left him blind?
9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:9–16 (ESV)
Did you catch that? Paul had been set apart as a missionary almost exclusively to the Gentiles. God loves to deal in irony. The man most insanely zealous for God’s law will become the same man God uses to convert a people group considered unclean according to the law. He will take what Peter learned (in God’s eyes no one is one is common or unclean) and live that out to the fullest when it comes to the gospel.
But as they say, there’s more to this story. When you look at the NT as a whole, you discover another irony, and a sad one at that. Some 17 years later Paul writes a letter to Gentile Christians living in Galatia. These poor folks had fits with a group of Jewish folks claiming to be Christians who taught that salvation was Jesus plus circumcision equals salvation against the gospel Paul preached which was Jesus plus nothing equals salvation.
Paul’s letter to them is a passionate and forceful plea to not fall for such blatantly false teaching. To make his case he recalls for the Galatians something that happened between him and Peter. Let’s get that in context by starting in chapter 2, where Paul gives some of his history to the Galatians…
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Galatians 2:1–10 (ESV)
There’s another saying: old habits die hard. Okay, prepare yourself. This is going to hurt…
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:11–14 (ESV)
Here’s the painful irony. The very one who had been so changed by the gospel when it came to welcoming the Gentiles in to God’s family, the one whom God had used to mark the validity of phase three, is the very one seen going back to his old ways. This is one of the most painful accounts in the NT.
Paul accuses Peter, the head of the church as chosen by Jesus, and Barnabas, the faithful son of encouragement, of blatant hypocrisy.
We are probably familiar with the origin of the word hypocrisy here, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. Actors in ancient Greek theater were called hypokrites (hippo tree tays). They would act as different character by wearing a mask. You can see how that eventually led to the idea of someone being a hypocrite as we know it today, a person who pretends to be something or believe something they aren’t or don’t.
Peter and Barnabas and other Jewish Christians in Antioch had been openly eating with their Gentile brothers and sisters in the faith. But when some of James’ emissaries showed up to check on things, Peter and Barnabas all of a sudden put on the mask of the circumcision party. So they stopped eating with them.
Tim Keller does a good job explaining the dynamics here…
… when Peter withdrew from the Gentiles, he was guilty of “hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:13). He had not changed his convictions—he knew the food and dress laws were only “Jewish customs”, and he didn’t keep to all of them (v 14). But when it came to Gentiles, he had simply stopped acting in accord with those convictions. And this hypocrisy was infectious: “Even Barnabas [a mission partner of the uncircumcised Gentile Titus!] was led astray” (v 13).
What caused this hypocrisy? “He was afraid” (v 12). Likely, Peter was afraid of criticism from “those who belonged to the circumcision group”—which is Paul’s way of describing “salvation-through-Christ-plus-something” teachers.
But in addition, racial pride must have entered into it. It had been drilled into Peter, and all the Jews, since their youth that Gentiles were “unclean”. While hiding beneath the facade of religious observance, Peter and other Jewish Christians were probably still feeling disdain for Christians from “inferior” national and racial backgrounds. Peter was allowing cultural differences to become more important than gospel unity.
Add this to the fact that sitting down to a meal with someone was the ultimate expression of acceptance in ancient culture, and you can see how Peter and Barnabas felt pressured to conform. But it’s still so hard to understand how they could fail so terribly, isn’t it? Especially good old Peter after watching his change of heart step by step in Acts. This messes with our world! At least it does mine.
My tendency is to make Peter, the disciples, Barnabas, all the big players into superheroes. Not the modern day superheroes that have to harbor some kind of angst, some kind of glaring weakness, some kind of demon to overcome, but the 1950s superhero. Superman is all over the place these days, but back in the 50s he was tried and true he never wavered.
I find myself making Peter kind of a Bible version of Superman. When he fails so terribly it devastates me. But that’s on me because God never intended for him to be a hero like that. Peter, like Paul and Barnabas and David and Abraham, were all great men of God who struggled with their fallenness, their humanness.
What’s our takeaway from this? What can we learn from the rest of the story when it comes to Peter’s journey on prejudice and his failure?
One is not to put people on pedestals for sure. Jesus is the only man ever to live who wasn’t fallen, who didn’t fail, who didn’t have feet of clay. You can confidently put him on a pedestal, but all others? Nope.
We put our heroes on such a high pedestal (comic book, sports personality, celebrity, pastor, or Bible character), expecting them to be perfect in a sense, maybe because we realize we aren’t and we desperately need someone, something to look up to. And then we are devastated when they fall off that pedestal. We hold them to standards we’d never hold ourselves.
This is especially true of pastors and Christian celebrities or leaders. When they show their fallenness, their humanness, we often either turn away from the faith or turn on them. I’ve tried to be pretty honest about my fallenness, about my unqualifiedness for being put on a pedestal. So if you put me up on a pedestal, that’s on you. I will fail you. I will let you down. I’m not going to pretend I won’t.
Might not hurt to tell the Celica story one more time. I shared it at our first church family meeting, but many weren’t there. How do we deal with this? Refuse not to love each other. To unite around the gospel above all.
Another takeaway is to be encouraged in your walk with God that even a guy like Peter messed up every now and then. This is why he really is my hero! Even the spiritual giants of the Bible had flaws and failures.
The writers of Hebrews encourages us with this…
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15–16 (ESV)
Another takeaway is the Bible can be trusted as true. The fact that the NT airs this dirty laundry is one big reason I trust that’s what’s written in it is accurate.
Conclusion: As we close I cannot help but think about Peter’s reaction to Paul’s confrontation. I mean, he couldn’t refute it, especially after the journey he’d been on. Did he get angry? Did he turn on Paul? Did he never speak to Paul again?
Believe it or not the NT gives us the answer. Some seven years to so after Paul wrote about Peter’s hypocrisy in his letter to the Galatians, Peter wrote about Paul in his second letter…
14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:14–16 (ESV)
What a testimony to his faith! It wasn’t that he never messed up, it’s when he did he owned it and loved his brother in Christ above all. Again, Peter is my hero because I identify with him. But Jesus is our hero in the truest sense. He never fails or falters, He always keeps his promises…
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)
Christian, are you putting someone on a pedestal? Has someone fallen off a pedestal because you held unrealistic expectations and you’ve turned on them?
Are you painfully aware of your fallenness? Be encouraged in Paul’s example and Christ’s faithfulness.
 Keller, T. (2013). Galatians for You (pp. 51–53). Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company.
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