This is Grace: Acts 11

Pastor Carrie Baylis
November 4, 2020
Wednesday Morning Service

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace, peace and mercy to you from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Years ago Monk and I went to Israel on a trip with the seminary. One of the things that is pretty typical on these tours a taking a “Jesus Boat” out onto the Sea of Galilee. We got to Tiberius and went down to the port and the boat was waiting. It was built out of wood and was rocking back and forth. I stared at it trying to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad. It was getting closer to my turn to step on. Finally one of the crew took my hand and helped me down the step. I lasted about 30 seconds and said I have to get off or I’m going to be sick. With me about 4 others stepped off. I wonder about the fisherman of Jesus day. I would bet that their boat was not nearly as sturdy as the one I exited, and certainly didn’t have a motor. Fishermen were manly men, men of action, afraid of little and they worked in the toughest of conditions. Some of these simple fishers would leave their nets and follow Jesus, Peter, imperfectly perfect, was one of them.

Peter, who might have one of the greatest redemption stories of the bible.

In the synoptic gospels Peter was identified as the first disciple called on by Jesus, and in the book of Luke it paints a picture of him and Jesus having a moment of trust and understanding at the very beginning of their relationship. A trust that would serve them time and again when Peter faltered. In that first encounter Jesus tells Peter to go back out on the sea and cast his nets and then when the nets are filled with fish Peter comes back to him and declares his sinful state and gives glory to the Lord before him by falling to his knees and exclaiming, “‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’”. Yet Jesus looked at this wicked man and said, “‘Don’t be afraid;

from now on you will fish for people.’” And it is then that he leaves his nets behind to become a fisher of men. In this moment Peter laid his sin before God, not feeling worthy of just the fish in his net, but as he bears his sin Jesus lifts him up, and calls him to serve as a fisher of men. This is grace.

Peter is far from perfect, he goes with Jesus as a disciple, and while he makes mistakes Jesus continues to love Peter wholeheartedly, and he uses him in the kingdom work. Peter goes on to make proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah (despite that Jesus may not have been ready for the declaration), he is witness to the transfiguration (if seeing is believing then Peter had a front row seat). Jesus holds him close, perhaps it reminds us that even Jesus needed a close knit circle to hold confidence with, to be in relationship with, and that even when those confidences were broken Jesus would continue to love, with no partiality. Jesus desires close relationships just as we do, and he held those with normal, everyday people, and he continues to do with each of us today. Jesus took this man who by all accounts was a simple fisherman and sinful by his own claim and loved him with no conditions and many reasons not to, giving us the assurance that he can do this for us as well.

Peter grew in maturity as a follower of Jesus his spiritual maturity and even integrity wasn’t fully developed from the time he met Jesus but continues to grow as he learns more about himself, about Jesus, and about the world around him beyond just the Sea of Galilee. Peter was eager to have a mighty faith, but was sometimes leary of the path to get there, he would falter, which seems to have been expected. Jesus called him to walk on the sea, to keep his eyes on Jesus, he (understandably) begins to doubt, he gets nervous, fear sets in and Peter begins to sink. Later as Jesus fortells of his death, Peter is exasperated and cries “Never Lord” sometimes I think maybe that Peter just didn’t have an inner monologue? He is doesn’t ever seem to be ready for the things that Jesus is going to tell him or ask of him. I wonder if he ever wanted to just say, “can I get back to you, or can I have a day to think about it?” And then as Jesus is arrested and heading towards trial and ultimately death, Peter denies knowing him, three times. Jesus had already told Peter this would happen saying “I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you , when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” I wonder if in his denial Peter calculated, or did he just respond with that fight or flight response to save himself and deny knowing Jesus, his friend. Sometimes I feel like I get Peter, he seems to be unsure or wavering or in an effort to do the right thing he muddies it up with some other perception of what the right thing is. Fortunately for Peter, and for us, Jesus sees through our uncertainties, our iniquities, and brings us back to him in ways that we might not even know are the work of our Savior. Jesus told Peter before the denial that he prayed for him, that power of prayer, might have be unknown to Peter, but it is a grace that brings him back into ministry and to strengthen those around him, just as Jesus said it would. Jesus love for Peter never faltered, even when Peter did.

And at the ascension, Peter is restored and forgiven and becomes the spokesperson for the apostles. 30 years of kingdom work sharing Jesus message. Showing maturity in leading a Spirit led life where even when we stumble there is room get up.

Peter showed the world that Jesus is for them, for ALL.

After Jesus death and resurrection and ascension Peter continued in his discipleship. He went to Caesarea and there after a dream he was directed to meet Cornelius who had also had a vision and had sent men to bring Peter to him.

Peter went to the house of Cornelius, a gentile, after being summoned, and was invited to share all that the Lord has commanded. Peter shares with them his story and then says to them “‘if God gave them the same gift of the Holy Spirit he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’” And in response to Peter’s faithfulness the Jewish Christians respond, by having “no further objections and praised God saying, ‘So then, even to the Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’”

God wanted to be sure the whole world knew that when He gave His life for all, He meant for all. And He used Peter to make this clear, to show us just how big His love is and just how capable His grace is—that it can forgive the sins of all and give all everlasting life. For as Romans 3:22-24 states, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

At least at this particular moment, this is the essence of the gospel for Peter: the local efforts of Jesus to heal amongst his neighbors take on a universal significance with the resurrection. In this way, Jesus shatters the distinction between the local and the universal, the provincial and the all-encompassing.

Were we to understand our faith in a nutshell, what theological elements would remain as most essential? Were we to tell a simple story of Jesus’ deeds and his person, what would we say?

Of course, our answers may depend on the context of our confession of faith. Peter’s gospel story or understanding emerges from a specific series of experiences full of significance. From the three-fold vision that led him to Cornelius to the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, Peter must express the gospel in a world radically changed before his eyes. This sounds familiar to those of us who have had to grapple with change, whether tragic or wonderful. Whether as an effect of loss or gain, our lives change, and the gospel must respond. This text reminds us that in the midst of change, the Christian’s instinct ought to be to restate anew the living word of God and to remember that God is the ultimate actor who has moved ahead of the church to embrace all of the world’s people. God is a God of grace and it seems we are still trying to catch up.

Peter stumbling doesn’t remove his identity in Christ.

As we are learning to catch up we remember that we are made in the image of God, and in that we are also one with Christ. As a disciple Peter made a decision to follow Jesus, to learn from

him, seeking to be Christ-like in his life. In the time that Jesus was with Peter his first words to him were “follow me” and I suspect with great intention his final words to him were also “follow me”. Between those first and last words all of the ministry that Peter accompanied Jesus with happened, and also Peter’s denial of even knowing Jesus. Jesus who was brought to earth to understand our failures and trials, understands our weakness and could forgive Peter, again understanding what it is to be imperfectly perfect.

It was also in this in between time that Jesus reminded Peter of his identity, and told him that the church would be built upon the rock. And I wonder where are the places that Jesus reminds us of our identity in him, how do we continue to build the church upon the rock? Just as it was for Peter we are gifted with forgiveness when we fail, but also just as Peter our relationship with Jesus continues to mature and Jesus continues to say “follow me”.

Peter’s story is one of coming to faith through stumbling over and over again. For every time that Peter stumbles I can think of a time in my own life where I have stumbled, sometimes in doubting that my faith is strong enough, sometimes in doubting that I am worthy of God’s grace, sometimes in hiding the truth for protection or out of fear. Like Peter I too am imperfectly perfect. But here I am, a child of God, forgiven and chosen, called and sent, living as a disciple in a world that still needs to know God is with us and in us, overflowing with grace, and that even though we are imperfect, our perfect lies in him. Amen

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