Sermon by the Rev. Steve Schave
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should
ear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
You can’t deny that Jews and Gentiles were distinct. The covenant belonged to God’s people, and the lineage of the Messiah was theirs. While those Gentiles worshipped all sorts of idols and chased after false gods. Yes, Israel had the commandments, the prophets, the purification rites, the holy temple… and the Gentiles were unclean unholy pagans. So is it any wonder that the brothers were concerned about the Gentiles breaking rank to be numbered among God’s people? Surely, they will never be at the same level of holiness! And if those heathens wish to be saved they must follow the custom and Law of Moses perfectly, right? That’ll show ‘em if they think they belong!
But it has been a long time now, since our brother Peter was chosen by God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, it has been a long time now that they have been receiving the same Holy Spirit and cleansed hearts to show, there are no distinctions by heritage – and yet the resistance and debating continues. Those Judaizers, am I right? They will always see us and them, second class citizens in the church, putting God to the test by placing the yoke of legalism on the neck of the disciples – that even their own fathers were unable to bear. Tempting God to weigh so heavily upon the second-class disciple that they will not have the strength to reach their level of holiness, to be of the same Spirit.
But what of us? Will we put God to the test? As Lutherans we are not bewitched by a false gospel that requires works of the Law for salvation. We were taught that we did not have to perform great deeds in order to become inheritors of the Kingdom. We understand that we are branches grafted into the family tree of Abraham by grace through faith alone. Surely, we would not fall for some false understanding of second-class citizens in the Christian church, with some of us on a higher spiritual plane than others. Certainly, we would not show some distinction like the Judaizers in the early church, or like the very pillars of the church there in the holy city who question Peter and Paul for who they associate with and how to make disciples. But do we really desire that by Peter’s mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe? Guys like Peter and Paul have been spending their days in those God forsaken cities… gentile capitals… the worst of the worst centers for worshipping heathen gods among pagan people. To sit at table with the lowest of the lowdown filthiest sinners? Would we put God to the test, with prejudice against certain zip codes or certain people groups? Would it make your stomach queasy at the thought of sharing the table with someone really unclean, or unfit to be a member of the household of God because they are not of the right pedigree? Would you have God put a yoke on their neck to drive them to the ground? What if God put His yoke on you to reach His level of holiness? I think we all know that we would be crushed under the weight of His perfect Law. We would soon see that there is no distinction in our heritage: pimps and prostitutes, heroin addicts and drug dealers, human traffickers and gang members… and us… we are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We all have unclean hearts filled with prejudice and disdain for our fellow man. Not one of us can carry the weight of the Law or keep our heart clean from sin.
No, the only way we will be saved is if God will put His love to the test. Betrayal, trials, denials, scourging, lashing, piercing, suffocating… blood and sweat and tears… the love of God is put to the test. And His love alone will prevail, for us all. Christ stepped into our zip codes, reclined at table among sinners, spoke to us at the temple and at our wells, preached to us in the temple court and from our mountainsides… for all who had ears to hear. Jesus died on the cross without distinctions, He suffered and died, and carried the yoke for the sins of Jews and Gentiles alike, unworthy sinners that we may be. And now the Spirit has told us to go, making no distinctions – to go where the Spirit sends. To the small towns and the big cities alike, to the rich and to the poor, making disciples of all ethnos – here at our doorsteps and to the ends of the earth. To see in all people, fellow sinners that God desires to add to the family tree, to have a seat at His table. Sent into every home to proclaim the message that saves, baptizing these whole households with the Holy Spirit. As even those we would least expect are welcomed into the family of God. To stand in awe of the grace of God as the same gift that was given to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, is given to even the least and the lost among us. That we might have the joy of bringing these gifts, even if it is to the chagrin of those who are offended by whom we associate with. As we too have been on the receiving end of mercy that we could never deserve, and yet nothing would stand in the way of Christ’s love for us. And so, as we bring Christ in these dark and latter days to a broken and dying world, we will simply say, “Who am I to put God to the test, as to who might be saved, when His love was tested for us all upon the cross?