Sermon Options: May 19, 2019

March 29th, 2019

OVERCOMING BARRIERS

ACTS 11:1-18

Part of the gospel's resurrection message is the breaking down of human prejudices and barriers that separate humanity. All have sinned according to God's Word, and all who receive the grace of God are assured the hope of eternal life promised through the resurrection of Christ. Some would be willing to give salvation to any and all people, but hold back certain privileges in the kingdom to those they do not deem worthy to receive them. This text is another example of Scripture confronting our Christian or religious bigotry.

I. Caught in the Tradition
The brothers were angry at Peter because he broke the tradition of not associating with the Gentiles. Peter's own prejudice in this area would be tested later, but here he had to defend his actions as being directed from God. Here is the hard part of this story. Many times God's desires have little to do with our traditions. We work to preserve traditions out of respect for our ancestry and to firmly establish our identity.

Meanwhile, God is working to do a new thing in our midst. He desires to break the previously held notions and humanly imposed limitations. Although we resist the very concept of change, God is moving to change our identity, to make us look different in comparison to previous generations and more like him. In short, when we work to preserve our identity and history, we could be working against what God is doing in our lives.

II. Choosing to Move God's Way
As usual, God uses things we can understand to explain things we cannot grasp. Peter is given a vision of impure food and directed by God to eat it. The issue was not food, it was the preservation of a tradition that excluded some from kingdom privileges. Peter is confident of his righteousness in this regard, for nothing unclean ever entered his mouth (forgetting that his Lord taught that it was what came out of a man's mouth that defiled him).

God will clean whatever vessel he chooses. Not only can God use Gentiles, he can and will also clean Peter up spiritually to be used for the kingdom. Peter must be cleansed of this bigotry that makes him choose his way over God's command. It seems God has this notion that he is God and can expect obedience from his servants, even to step over their tradition. God corrects Peter's self-justification and makes it clear that obedience is better than following the routine of religion.

Moreover, Peter is not left to simply agree with the proposition that human-imposed barriers in the kingdom are wrong and must be destroyed. No, Peter is confronted with his personal prejudice and must apply the principle to his actions. His speech alone will not suffice here, he must be a doer of the word and not a hearer only. God places a task in front of him that he can handle. Peter can choose obedience in this instance.

God has not changed. He is looking to destroy the humanly imposed barriers that segment the body of Christ. He will challenge us where we live, to move past our human traditions, and to be transformed into what he has created us to be. His body operates with Christ at the head and all parts are to conform in obedience without fragmentation. (Joseph Byrd )

A BRIEF GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN

REVELATION 21:1-6

Every now and then you hear some well-meaning soul say something like this: "Even if there were no life after death, even if God doesn't exist, living the Christian life on earth would still be worth it all." This seemingly noble sentiment is a feeble effort to remind us that the Christian life does make a difference here and now. But it is precisely because of our eternal hope that the sufferings of the present life pale by comparison to the full manifestation of God that shall be revealed in us. Easter was only a month ago and already we need to be reminded.

I. God Is Doing a New Thing
That phrase comes from the lyrics of the Christian rap group, dc Talk. John's vision of the a new heaven and a new earth is a reminder of God's new thing agenda. The temporal order of the first heaven and earth is transitory. Mere physical existence is but a vapor. And it is a poor substitute for life. Jesus said that he came that we might have a full life—not mere subsistence existence.

In the Hebrew mind the sea was to be feared. It was the insurmountable boundary. John's vision is of a new order where there are no longer any boundaries. In that new order we shall know with the same depth and clarity by which we are known by God.

II. Heaven Is a Place
Looking toward the cross Jesus told his disciples, "I am going to prepare a place for you." Heaven is that prepared place for a prepared people. The people of God are called the bride of Christ. Our eternal abode is a fantastic union of humankind in the power and presence of God. Heaven is a wonderful place of no more—the list of human ills and the pangs and pathos of existence is seemingly endless. Yet heaven is a place where God says "no more" to death, mourning, crying, or pain. The old cycle of birth, life, and death is displaced by God's new order. Heaven is a place where the new has come.

III. The New Has Come
How many new year's resolutions do you remember? How many have you kept? You may be thinking, "Preacher, you are crazy. We just had Easter, not Christmas!" The sad reality is that it takes more than good intentions and the turning of the pages of the calendar to make a new start. We enter a new year with the old self and soon fall back into our familiar rut. But, as Paul Harvey says, "Now, for the rest of the story."

I saw a button some years ago with the letters "P B P G I N F W M Y" which stood for the phrase, "Please be patient God is not finished with me yet." I hope all of us are a work in progress, a Christian under construction. There is coming a day when God's construction project will be complete and the new will stand fulfilled. John says in that day the old order has ceased to be and the new has now come to fruition.

In the meantime, we live in the light of our ultimate destiny. Free from the fear of death we can now embrace life to the fullest. A new Christian once began reading his Bible but like many, became impatient with the gradual unfolding of redemption's story. So he turned to the last chapters of Revelation and said, with a sigh, "In the end, God wins." This is why Christians face death differently from non-Christians. We do grieve but not with the hopeless and helpless grief of the world. We know that our good-byes are not final, they are only "until then."

It was the doctrine of the resurrection and the eternal hope it gives that enlivened the early church. Paul said, "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" ( 1 Cor. 15:13 NIV). However, because of his confidence in the resurrection power of God, he concluded this wonderful chapter of hope with "Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58) . (L. Joseph Rosas, III)

THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT

JOHN 13:31-35

It is the last night before Jesus goes to Calvary. One of his disciples, Judas, has just left to put the wheels of betrayal in motion and Jesus remains with the other eleven. It will be his last night with them. What does he want to say to them during these last few precious moments?

First, he tells them that he has glorified God and is about to be glorified by God. Then he tells them that he must go on a journey and that they will not be able to go with him. He must make this journey alone. But before he leaves them, he must give them something that will serve to guide them on their own subsequent journeys—a new commandment!

That's right. Jesus, on the last night of his life, gave the disciples a new commandment to be honored and kept. The giving of this commandment was made even more important by the fact that it is one of the last teachings Jesus gave them. And what is that new commandment? Three simple words: Love one another (John 13:34) .

I. The Significance of the New Commandment
What is the significance of Jesus giving a new commandment? The significance is found in Jewish history. For it was at the very beginning of the Jewish nation that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. These Ten Commandments were to serve as the foundation for all the other laws and regulations given to Israel. And Moses was given one of the highest places in Jewish history because he became known as "the lawgiver." When Jesus, then, proceeds to give a "new commandment," he is placing himself above Moses, as the new lawgiver. In effect, his new commandment becomes the Eleventh Commandment!

In a comparison of the events surrounding the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 19–20; Deut. 5) and the Eleventh Commandment (John 13:31-35), a few interesting things should be noticed. First, the Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses (Israel's leader). The Eleventh Commandment was given by Jesus (God in the flesh) to the disciples (the movement's soon-to-be leaders).

Second, God's promise to the nation of Israel was that if they faithfully kept these commandments God would treasure them as his nation and they would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:5-6). Jesus' promise to the disciples was that if they faithfully kept this commandment, all people would know that they were his disciples ( John 13:35) .

Third, the Israelites' response was to become impatient and frustrated and to make another god (Exod. 32). The disciples' response was to get sidetracked and miss the point. Peter focused, not on the giving of the new commandment, but on the earlier statement about Jesus going on a journey that they could not follow (John 13:36-37).

II. The Church Has Become Sidetracked Through the Ages
This same response, that of getting sidetracked, has become a recurring pattern for the Christian Church throughout the ages. How many times have Christians fought Christians down through history? Killed Christians? Burned, starved, hunted, tortured, and mutilated Christians? What do people in the community think of our church as a family of God? Do they see us, as a congregation and as individuals, living out the Eleventh Commandment?

The Jews lived and died by the Ten Commandments. Why don't Christians live and die by the Eleventh Commandment? Is it any less binding? Is it any less important? Remember, it was given by God through Christ and it was to be the sign to the world that Christians were God's people and the people of his kingdom.

III. We Can Live the Eleventh Commandment
"Love one another." These are the simple and brief words of Jesus that make up the Eleventh Commandment. And just as simple and brief are Jesus' instructions on how to carry it out in our lives. Jesus said: "As I have loved you, you also should love one another" ( John 13:34) . In other words, Jesus tells the disciples, "Just do as I did to you."

But note that the focus is on disciples loving disciples, on Christians loving Christians, not Christians loving the world in general. This is not a general call to love everyone but a more basic step. After all, a church cannot effectively reach out with the gospel for very long if its members don't love one another first.

How did Jesus love the disciples? Jesus loved the disciples in at least three ways.

Sacrifice: Jesus loved the disciples by making sacrifices for them. He sacrificed his time, his energy, his emotions, his schedule, his family, his privacy, even his life. If we are to live out the Eleventh Commandment and love one another, then we will also have to make sacrifices for one another.

In order to love one another we will have to sacrifice our time, energy, emotions, schedules, families, privacy, maybe even our lives for one another. These sacrifices may need to be made in order to visit the sick or hurting, help others with a problem, or responding when called on in an emergency. Remember, this call to love one another and therefore call to sacrifice for one another is for all disciples, not just the ministers.

Share: Jesus loved the disciples by sharing himself with them. He listened to their fears, he cried in their pain, he laughed in their joy. He prayed with them and for them. He gently showed them their sin and helped them onto the right path. Jesus shared who he was with them. He opened himself up to them.

If we are to live out the Eleventh Commandment and love one another, then we will also have to share ourselves with one another. In order to love one another, we will have to share others' pain and laughter, gently point out faults and then forgive, seek forgiveness when wrong, and open up ourselves to others. In other words, we need to be genuine and real with others, not phony.

This sharing may be required when comforting the bereaved, celebrating another's achievement, confessing a specific sin and asking for forgiveness, or privately going to another to express concerns about the way they are living.

Serve: Jesus loved the disciples by serving them. He called them to follow him, became their master and teacher, and then proceeded to serve them. Earlier in chapter 13 the Son of God was washing the disciples' feet!

If we are to live out the Eleventh Commandment and love one another, then we will also have to serve one another. That means no matter who you are in the church, you are never too good or too mighty, too important or too wealthy or too educated, too old or too young to serve anyone else in the church. If the Son of God can serve men and women of all kinds then so can you.

How do we love one another as Jesus loved? We sacrifice for one another, share ourselves with one another, and serve one another. Are the situations different in our times? Maybe in the details and the names, but not in general. Are there disciples who need to be sacrificed for? Are there disciples who need someone to share their burden? Are there disciples who need to be served? If yes, then there are opportunities for you and me to love one another. Trust yourselves and your instincts to do the right thing. God has been with you: teaching, guiding, loving, encouraging—now go and love one another. (Michael M. Jones)

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