Craig Smith - The Final Exam
Well, hey, welcome to the last week of our Unleashed series. Today, I wanna talk to you about overcoming one of the biggest obstacles to living on mission with Jesus. Because that’s what we do here at Mission Hills, we help people become like Jesus and join him on mission. And I wanna talk to you about overcoming one of the biggest obstacles I think we all face to actually living on mission with Jesus. To do that though, I need to make sure we understand what the mission is. And I love the way the Apostle Paul described our mission. He said it this way. He said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old is gone and the new is here! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us, followers of Jesus, he gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. He’s given us a ministry and a message of reconciliation. And that’s what the mission is, it’s reconciliation. And that’s an interesting word. The Latin that it comes from has two words. It’s re-, which means again, and conciliāre, which means to bring together.
So, reconciliation is to bring together again. And really, the mission of reconciliation is to bring together again what sin has torn apart, right? And there’s a couple of pieces of that. The message that we have that allows it to is that God has made a way, right? That even though our sin has separated us from God, he sent his Son Jesus, he died on the cross. He paid the price for our sin. He rose from the dead. And if we put our faith in him, if we say yes to following him, our sin isn’t counted against us. And so, we’re reconciled to God. We’re brought back together again with God. And I think most of us probably kind of get that aspect of our mission, but there’s another side to the mission of reconciliation that we sometimes overlook, and that is, we’re also called to bring back together people that sin has torn apart. It’s not just our relationship with God, it’s also our relationship with others. And the reality is, unfortunately, that one of the biggest obstacles to the mission of reconciliation is just how comfortable we are with existing division. We’re not necessarily looking to reconcile with other people because we’re actually pretty comfortable with that. In fact, that’s a comfort zone. The divisions we have between other people is actually comfort zone. The problem is that division kills our mission.
It was the late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “11:00 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated, the most divided hour in America.” And I do think some things have gotten better, but we got a long way to go still. And it’s not just racial division, right? There’s all kinds of other things that the church has gotten pretty comfortable with, right? There’s stylistic division, that kind of music versus that kind of music. You know, there’s doctrinal division. And I’m talking about the core stuff, I’m talking about the tangential periphery stuff, the kind of gray area stuff. We’ll still divide over that stuff. It’s political division, right? I really worry that’s one of big problems as a church, is we have a lot of political division to get kind of just normal in the church, and that makes it hard to reach people.
There was a family that left Mission Hills last year. And they didn’t talk to me, but they talked to one of our staff people. And the reason that they gave for their leaving the church, and then it was reported to me was they said, “Hey, yeah, we’ve learned so much from Pastor Craig’s teaching. God’s really used him in our lives, but we can tell he’s a Democrat.” And I was like, “Well, first, I’m not a Democrat.” And they don’t get excited because I’m not a Republican either, right? I think it’s my job to preach to both sides of that aisle. And the thing is once I put a jersey on, it really gets hard to talk to the other team, right? If anything, I’m a referee. Okay? The problem is nobody likes the referee. Okay?
But they said, “Yeah. You know, God’s used him in our lives, but he’s a Democrat.” I’m like, “That’s kind of messed up actually, that you believe that God’s working through me and you’ve learned, but the very fact that you think I’m a Democrat, even mistakenly, means that you can’t be here?” That’s the kind of division. And, unfortunately, I see that happening in the church quite a bit, and I’m afraid that division’s killing our mission. Really, one of our biggest obstacles to the mission of reconciliation is just how comfortable we’ve gotten with division, with existing division. So, what I wanna do today is I wanna take you to a story of a man who confronted that tendency that we have to get really comfortable with division, but he realized that he could not be on mission if he was gonna be comfortable with division.
If you wanna follow along, we’re gonna be in the Book of Acts starting in chapter 10, verse 1 today. While you’re making your way there, I’ll just tell you, this is another story about Peter, the Apostle Peter. Now, if you were with us last week, you remember that we saw Peter make some huge progress in becoming like Jesus. We saw a couple stories where he looked just like Jesus. And the secret sauce to that spiritual growth was the fact that he began to be humbly willing to serve powerless people. And today we’re gonna kind of see his final exam. It’s kind of that God kind of gives him a test, “Are you really willing to serve powerless people?” But it’s a different kind of powerlessness that he confronts. It’s a powerlessness that we all face, which is our powerlessness to get what we most need, which is a relationship with God.
Acts 10, verse 1 starts off this way. It says, “At Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius. He was a Centurion who was known in what was known as the Italian regimen. And he and all his family were devout and God-fearing. He gave generously to those in need and he prayed to God regularly.” So, what we know about Cornelius is he’s a religious guy, okay? He’s not Jewish. He’s a Gentile, he’s a Roman. And he hasn’t fully converted to Judaism. He is what the Jews call a God-fearer, meaning that he followed a lot of the Jewish religious practices, but he hadn’t fully committed to Judaism. But he did a lot of good religious things, and I would assume that Cornelius, like all of us tend to do, is that we tended to think that, “Yeah. If I just do enough religious things, then I’ll be right before God.” Right? That’s how you get on God’s good side, right? You do the religion thing, right?
The problem is that religious practices don’t make righteous people. Do you know that? We tend to think that it does, but there’s one teaching in the Bible that’s really clear, it’s that religious practices don’t make righteous people. They make self-righteous people. But that’s a completely different thing. Religious practices don’t make righteous people. What Jesus taught us, and he’s very clear about this, is that righteousness can’t be earned by practices, it can only be received in relationship. It’s the essence of the Christian message. It’s what makes Christianity so different than every religion. Every other religion says, “Yeah. Yeah. You earn right standing by your religious practices and your faithfulness of those things.” Christianity says, “No, no. Righteousness can’t be earned by practices. It can only be received. It can only be given to you in the contexts of a relationship.” That when we say yes to Jesus, we put our faith in Jesus and what he did on the cross for us, it’s at that moment that God says, “Okay, your sin is not counted against you, and as far as I’m concerned, you’re righteous.”
And it’s hard for people to get a handle on because it’s counterintuitive. But the reality is that righteousness isn’t a religious score, it’s a relationship status. Do you hear me? It’s not a religious score. We go, “Well, you know, sure it is, right? I mean, I went to church and I prayed this many times, and I read my Bible this many times, and I gave generously, and I checked off all these boxes and all those boxes over there that I’m not supposed to do. I can check those off too.” I didn’t do those either. And we tend to go, “Yeah. Look, I’m righteous.” Maybe not compared to God, right? But I’m grading myself on a curve. Aren’t you? I don’t have to worry about, you know, God’s standard, I got to be better than you guys. And I’m better than you guys. Probably not, actually. But that’s what we do, right. We grade ourselves on a score compared to, “Well, that person over there.” We pick the person who did the worst on the exam and like, “I did better than them. So, I’m doing okay, right?” We tend to think about it like it’s a religious score, but the reality is what Jesus taught us is that righteousness isn’t a religious score. It’s a relationship status. It’s only ours because we’re in a relationship with him.
You know, I’m working on my 30th year of marriage Coletta. And because we’re married, there’s some things that I do. There’s some practices that I have. Like, you know, I wear a ring, right? I don’t date other women. Very basic. Right? Surely, nobody is here and needed to hear that message today, right? If you’re married, you don’t date other women. But the thing is like, those practices don’t make me married. They don’t make me let Coletta’s husband. I’m Coletta’s husband, not because of those practices, but because I committed to the relationship, right? Well, we said, “Yeah. It’s you and me till death do us part.” It’s a relationship status. And it’s like that with righteousness. It’s not a religious score. It’s not a result of the practices. It’s result of a relationship. We can only receive it in relationship.
Cornelius is a good guy. He’s a religious guy, but…and this is so important to understand, he’s powerless to get what he most needs, which is a righteousness that would give him eternal life. He’s powerless to do that. That can only be received. It can’t be earned. The problem is he’s a Gentile. He’s not a Jewish guy. And up to this point, pretty much all the people who’ve entered into this relationship with Jesus have been Jewish people, or at least they’re close to it. Now, there have been a couple of exceptions, couple of interesting hints about what God’s doing, but the Apostles and Peter haven’t been involved in any of that. So, Cornelius is kind of on the outside. He’s on the other side of a division that would get in the way of that relationship.
But one day at about three in the afternoon, he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God who came to him and said, “Cornelius…” And Cornelius stared at him in fear. What is it, Lord?” He asked. And the angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” He says, “They’re good things. They’re not gonna get you into heaven, they’re not gonna make you truly righteous, but they’re good and God’s paid attention.” But he said, “Now, send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who’s called Peter. He’s staying with Simon, the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” And when the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendance and he told them everything that had happened and he sent them to Joppa.
And what we need to understand is that Cornelius probably was operating under the assumption that this wasn’t gonna go well because he was sending Gentiles to a Jewish man and saying, “Hey. Why don’t you back to my house, to a Gentile house.” And Jews and Gentiles didn’t do that. There was a division between the two of them. And so, his natural assumption would’ve been like, “This is not gonna be an invitation that’s gonna be accepted.” But the angel has given him just the tiniest little bit of hope. He said, “Yeah. You’re gonna find this guy in the house of Simon, the tanner.” Now, if you were with us last week, you may remember that. That was kind of an unusual place for Peter to be because tanners were unclean in the Jewish faith. Tanners worked with dead animals, tanning the hides, and the Old Testament law said that anyone who touched a dead animal is unclean until morning. And so, good Jewish people tended to create a division between them and people who dealt with dead animals. But Peter is staying at a tanner’s house. That was an unusual thing to do. And so, maybe Cornelius has a little bit of hope that maybe Peter is not gonna maintain the traditional division, that maybe he’d be willing to step over that boundary.
Now, about noon the following day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up to the roof to pray. He became hungry and he wanted something to eat. And while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to the earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals as well as reptiles and birds. And then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat.” “Surely, not, Lord,” Peter applied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Now, what that’s telling us is that in this sheet that he sees, there are both clean and unclean animals. And there’s two words being used here, by the way. There’s clean or unclean and then there’s pure or impure. And sometimes people have tried to go, “Well, maybe there’s referring to two different things.” But they’re actually talking about the same concept.
The Old Testament word was clean or unclean, but by the first century, a lot of the Jewish people were using the language of pure or impure. But they’re talking about the same concept. It was a new word. Because language changes over time, right? Like, if went back in time and, you know, somebody showed me their cow and I was like, “Hey, that’s a cool cow.” Right? They’re gonna be like, “Nay. It half not a chill.” Right? It’s just a word that changed. Well, over time, the word had kind of moved from clean to pure. It moved from unclean to impure, but the two words referring to the same thing. And what they’re referring to is the fact that in the Old Testament Law, God had told the Jewish people, his people, he said, “Hey. Basically, there’s clean animals. There’s unclean animals. As my people, you’re only gonna eat the clean animals. You’re not gonna eat the unclean animals.”
Now, a lot of people have argued over the centuries about what exactly made an animal clean or unclean, what God’s, you know, sort of rubric was for that process, how did he figure it out? And, honestly, I think we’re probably barking up the wrong tree there. The Bible doesn’t tell us why some animals are clean and others are unclean, and I think trying to get really detailed about something the Bible doesn’t go into I think is probably a waste of effort. What we know for sure is this, that telling the Jewish people, “These animals are clean, and I want you to stay away from the unclean ones,” was intended to create a temporary social division between the Jewish people and the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people. It was intended to create a temporary social division.
And we always intend it to be temporary, but even so, you might go, “But why would God want even a temporary social division?” And the answer’s basically two things. Number one, He was creating a light in the darkness. He wanted the Jewish people to stand out to be different so people could say, “Hey, why do you guys, you know, do those things and why don’t you do these things that we all do?” And they were able to say, “Well, God told us not to.” “Who’s this God?” And that gave them the opportunity, the platform, just to speak the truth of God’s actions on their behalf, of his love. So, they were intended to be a light in the darkness.
The second reason that he told them to, you know, stay away from the unclean animals and to create this temporary social division was to preserve his people until the Savior arrived. But by creating this temporary social division, it protected them so they didn’t kind of get mixed in and lost in the rest of the tribes. And so, they were kind of there waiting for the Savior to arrive. But it’s a temporary social division to do those kinds of things. And so, now Peter is in kind of an interesting place. He sees this sheet coming down and it’s got clean and unclean animals in it. And the voice says, “Go ahead and kill any eat.” That’s a problem because God had already told him not to. And the voice didn’t say kill the clean ones. It just said kill and eat kind of all of them. Well, he can’t do that and obey the command.
And then there’s also the fact that they’re all kind of jostling around together and there’s an Old Testament command that said that if clean meat touched unclean meat, it became unclean. So, these animals are all touching each other. So, there’s no way that Peter can obey the Old Testament commands, and this voice apparently coming from God. So, he probably thinks it’s a test, right? He’s probably like, “Okay. God’s testing me to see whether or not I’m really gonna obey him.” And he realized like, “Yeah. I’m really hungry. So, I’m maybe kind of at my most temptable.” So, he goes, “Yeah. God’s testing me.” So, he says, “Surely not.” Which is very, very emphatic in the original language. It’s basically like going, “No way, Jose. Not a chance, Vance. I am not gonna do that, God. Not a chance. I’m not gonna do that.”
But the voice spoke to him a second time and it said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” That would’ve been incredibly unsettling for Peter because this wasn’t a suggestion. This wasn’t something that the Jewish religious leaders had come up with. This was Old Testament commandment stuff. God had said, “Those things are unclean. Don’t have anything to do with them.” And now God is saying, “Go ahead and eat them.” And when Peter goes, “No, I’m not gonna do that,” God kind of responds. There’s a little bit of kind of indignation, “Hey, stop calling unclean what I’ve made clean.” And Peter’s natural question at that point, it would’ve been like, “When did you do that? Like, did I miss a memo? Is there a book of the Bible that I didn’t know about? What exactly happened here?” And most Christian scholars, and I include myself in this particular group, we believe that what’s being referred to there is something that the Son of God did, that Jesus did.
In Mark 7:15, Jesus said, “Nothing outside a person can defile.” Or literally, make them impure. They’re using that impure word. “By going into them. Nothing outside a person can make them in pure by going into them, rather, is what comes out of a person that defiles them makes them impure.” And after he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about that. “Are you so dull,” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them, make them impure, for it doesn’t go into their heart, but into their stomach, and then it goes out of their body?” And in saying, this Jesus declared all foods clean.
Now, that’s an interesting statement. And it’s what we call an editorial remark, meaning it’s not what Jesus said, it’s what the Gospel of Mark writer said about what Jesus said. But what’s really interesting about that is that the source of Mark’s Gospel, we talked about this last week, the source of Mark’s Gospel is actually Peter, the Apostle. Peter’s the one who was telling Mark these stories in writing them down, so, this is well might be Peter’s editorial remark. And so, at some point, Peter’s kind of looking back on the ministry of Jesus, he’s thinking back on his experience there on that rooftop with this weird vision and the voice of God saying, “Don’t call unclean what I’ve called clean.” And he kind of puts it together eventually. He looks back on this thing that Jesus said, he goes, “Ah, I see what you do it there. All right.”
But even so, it’s kind of an unsettling thing because God seems to have changed a commandment, which raises the question, “Can God just change any commandment? Are all the commandments up for grabs?” And the answer’s no. And it’s a complex conversation, but let me give you a basic grid for thinking about this. All of God’s commands come from one of three places. All of God’s commandments to us, Old Testament, New Testament, they come from either his character, the creation, or a particular context. All of God’s commands come from character, creation, or context. And what I mean is some of God’s commands come because they are who he is. And he’s calling us to live in a way that lines up with who he is. And so, you know, God says, “Don’t lie or don’t break your promises,” because God is truth and he’s always faithful. And so, he gives us commands so that we would line up with his character.
Some of God’s commands come from the nature of the creation he’s made. He’s created the world in a particular way, and there are some commands of flow from that. I would put as probably the easiest example, God’s commandments about sexual intimacy. This comes from the fact that God created sexual intimacy to be experienced and enjoyed in the context of a lifelong committed marriage between a man and a woman. There’s a lot of commands around that, but they’re related to the nature of the creation.
Now, it’s kind of interesting. There’s no particular reason why there has to be man and woman. Like God didn’t have to create two genders. He could have created like no genders. Like, we could reproduce by sporing, right? We could just release spores. He could have done it. He did it with some creatures, but that’s not how he did it with human beings, okay? And so, there’s a nature of creation. There’sx2 some commands that come from that. But then there’s some commands that are related to a specific context, meaning they’re intended to do a specific thing in a specific kind of situation. And I would put the dietary laws into that category. The purpose of them, again, was to create a temporary social division between the Jewish people and the Gentiles so that they could be a light in the darkness and so that they could protect God’s people until the Savior could arrive.
But when that context changes, those commands can change. Now, commands that come from God’s character are never gonna change because God doesn’t change. Commands that come from the nature of the creation aren’t gonna change because this is the that we’re in. But commands that come from context might change if God’s purposes change. We can’t change them. But if God chooses to, he has the authority to do that in those particular situations. And the dietary laws were part of that because, again, his point was to create this temporary social division, but now that Jesus has come, the Savior’s arrived, and Jesus isn’t the Savior Jewish people, he’s the Savior of all people.
And so, that message of reconciliation needs to be shared with both Jews and Gentiles. The problem is that division is gonna make that impossible because the Jewish people who have the message aren’t gonna be able to share that message with people that they can’t enter into relationship with. And the dietary laws made that impossible. It’s a little hard for us to understand, but in the ancient world, one of the clearest ways that you signaled the willingness to be in relationship with somebody was that you ate together. It was called table fellowship. And Jews didn’t have table fellowship with Gentiles. Jews didn’t have relationship with Gentiles because they couldn’t eat the foods together.
And so, God says, “That needs to change.” And so, Jesus changed it because the context has changed. He’s doing something new, he’s doing something different. Because Jesus said, “You guys need to understand, I have other sheep. They’re not Jewish sheep. They’re not church people. They’re not people who grew up in the church. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also and they too will listen to my voice and there should be one flock and one shepherd.” And you see the complete lack of division there? But the problem is that the dietary laws created a division, and now that division needs to go away because the context has changed. So, Jesus declared all foods clean.
And now Peter is on the roof and he is confused. This is such a deep part of his cultural identity and for God to suddenly say, “Yeah. It’s all different now. It’s a new world.” It’s interesting. Acts tells us this happened three times and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. In other words, God told him, “Hey, stop calling things unclean that I’ve called clean. So, go ahead and kill and eat.” He’s like, “No way, Jose.” Or, “No way, Yahweh,” I guess it would be. I don’t know. Three times Peter refused the commandment of God. And it’s not because he’s stubborn. It’s because it’s such a deeply ingrained part of the way that the Jewish people thought about what it meant to be faithful. And if you weren’t raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, there’s probably no way for you to really understand that.
I was talking to a friend who was telling me about this meal that he was having in New York City. There’s a lot of Orthodox Jewish people there, and so, people kind of understood that situation. He was eating with a Jewish friend. Now, he was a Messianic Jew, meaning that he was a follower of who happened to be Jewish and he’s like… You could tell he was Jewish. You looked at him, you just kind of knew, but he was a Messianic, which meant that he didn’t think that the dietary laws were something he needed to pay any attention to. He understood that Jesus had kind of changed that, but he had ordered a veggie omelet because that’s what he wanted. And then as he started eating, he realized, “Oh, it’s a ham and cheese omelet.” So, he called the waiter over just to let him know, “Oh, you gave me a ham thing.” And this guy saw that he was Jewish and saw there was a ham on and he just turned white and he started trembling, and shaking, and he just assumed, “I just lost my job.” Because even today among Orthodox Jews, that is a deep, deep identifier. For Peter, this idea that God’s saying, “Hey. There’s no more clean or unclean food. Just feel free to eat.” How can that possibly be the case?
While Peter was wondering about this vision, about the meaning of this vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and they stopped at the gate. And I want you to notice they stopped at the gate because they assumed there was a division, that they were not gonna be welcomed to crossover. They assumed there was a division that they would not be welcome into a Jewish house. So, they stopped at the gate respectfully. And I was reading that and I found myself wondering, “Huh? I wonder, what would the people in my life who don’t know Jesus yet, what would they probably assume will create a barrier to relationship?” Because that’s what’s happening. They’re just assuming there’s a barrier to relationship, and it’s like, “What would that be like for me?” I got people in my life who don’t know Jesus. I wonder what they assume is a barrier to my relationship with them. And I’ll be honest, I’m a pastor, and pastors freak people out. So, like, you know, like Coletta and I’ll be walking through the neighborhood and sometimes we’ll see neighbors and they’re out there drinking a beer and they see us and they’re like. They assume I’m gonna be offended by the presence of a beer. I’m not offended by a beer. I think it’s icky, but that’s a totally different thing.
Or sometimes I’ll be talking to a nonbeliever and they’ll say a bad word and then they’ll be like, “Oh, no.” Kind of like, “Are you okay? Are your eardrums bleeding? Right? They just kind of assume that there’s a barrier to relationship because I’m a pastor, but I start thinking too, “You know, it’s certainly possible that we create that assumption that there’s a barrier by things we do.” Right? I mean, the reality is Christians sometimes can be judgmental. And sometimes people hear that judgementalism coming from us and they just assume, “Nobody’s gonna wanna be in a relationship with me when they’re judging me.” And it’s tough, right? We live in a tension. We live in a tension between grace and truth. And if we’re all grace, then we never tell people, “Hey, you’re living in a pit dug by your sin.” We just leave them there. But if we’re all truth, then they have no idea that we’re willing to reach down and help them get out of that pit in the name of Jesus.
So, we have to live in a tension, but here’s the thing. Tension is where we make music, okay? Think of a guitar string. How do you get the right note out of it? You get the right amount of tension between those two things. We tend to go one direction or the other. And it’s not an easy thing to do, but I do wonder, what kinds of things do I do or say in the hearing of my unchurched friends, people who don’t know Jesus yet, that might give them the assumption. Yeah. He’s not gonna want a relationship with me. And I encourage you. I challenge you to ask yourself that question. Well, what are your friends who don’t know Jesus yet, people in your life who don’t know Jesus, what do they just naturally assume is gonna be a barrier to your relationship with them? Maybe because of some things that you’ve done or said.
These guys assume, “Peter’s not gonna want a relationship with us.” So, they called out asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. Now, while Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon three men are looking for you. So, get up, go downstairs, and do not hesitate to go with them for I have sent them.” And I love that. He says, “Don’t hesitate.” Because he understands, the Spirit understands there’s gonna be some natural hesitation. These are Gentiles inviting Peter back to a Gentile house. Everything in Peter’s upbringing says you’re supposed to hesitate on that. And so, the Spirit says, “Hey, don’t hesitate.” And Peter’s like, “No.” “No, no, no, no. Don’t hesitate. Don’t give them any impression that there’s any kind of a division between you and them. Don’t you give them the slightest fear that you’re unwilling to be in a relationship with them? Do not hesitate to go with them for I have sent them.”
So, Peter went down and he said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” And the men replied, “We’ve come from Cornelius, a centurion. He’s a righteous and God-fearing man.” From the Jewish perspective, from the worldly perspective, he was righteous. Not righteous enough for God, because that only comes from relationship. They said, “He’s a good dude who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house.” Or literally in the Greek, “To come into his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” And Jewish people didn’t do that. They didn’t go into Gentile houses.
And so, Peter’s in kind of a weird place here. He’s suddenly realizing, “Huh?” Something he’d probably seen in the ministry of Jesus, but now he’s confronted with the reality of it himself and he’s uncomfortable, but he’s realizing, “Huh? Yeah. Old ways can be obstacles to reaching new people.” The old ways can be obstacles to reaching new people. In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus said. He said, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins. The wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” Old ways create obstacles to reaching new people, and he’s got a whole world of new people to reach.
So, I find myself this week asking this question, “Huh? What are some old ways that I prefer that could be barriers to reaching new people?” It’s easier to do with other people, actually. I remembered a youth pastor that I used to work with, I was leading a church that God, by his grace, had given us a lot of growth. We’d gone from like 150 people to 450 people in about a year. And in that time then the church had tripled, the youth group had gone down, and I was trying to figure out what was going on, and why aren’t these new kids engaging? Their families are coming, why aren’t they connecting?
So, I sat in on a youth group night and I heard our youth pastor, he preached a message, and it was interesting. He was using the King James Version of the Bible and I was like, “Dude, what are you doing?” And he knew the kids didn’t get it because he was translating as he went. He’s like, “Well, this old English word actually means this modern word.” And I was like, “Why are you translating a translation?” That’s an old way that’s probably getting in the way of reaching to people. What’s going on? And I said, “Do you think it’s more accurate?” He said, “No.” I said, “Then why are you using it?” He said, “Well, that’s what I grew up with. I just like it better.” Yeah. That’s an old way getting in the way of reaching new people.
But we all do it. I can tell you, you know, I look back several years, seven or eight years ago, I began to realize that like reaching people through the digital realm was gonna be a part of church going forward, and I didn’t like that. I’m an old-school preacher in the sense that I kind of like people in the room laughing at my jokes. I like when I can see they’re nodding or they’re not with me. Like the online thing, I didn’t like that, but I began to realize probably seven or eight years ago, “That’s kind of where the world is, and my preference cannot become an obstacle to reaching new people.” And so, I was starting to lean into that even before Mission Hills. And it’s amazing what God does with it. I was looking over some data that we have, and what we began to realize is that almost no one comes to an in-person service anymore before they’ve been to at least two online services.
That online matters, right? That digital ministry matters. Or I was in the lobby of our South Littleton campus a few months ago and there was a young couple that came up and they said, “Hey. We just wanted to just say hi. This is our first time being here in person, but that’s awesome.” And I’m just asking some questions. They said, “Yeah. We’ve been kind of part of Mission Hills for a year, but this is our first time in person.” I said, “Yeah. Where do you live?” And they go, “We live in Tampa.” And I was like, “Huh? Where’s Tampa?” And they said, “Like, Florida.” And I was like, “Oh. Okay. Man, how did you find us? How’d you get connected to Mission Hills?” They said, “All our parents go here.” I was like, “Oh, so, your parents live here?” And they go, “Well, they live in Pensacola.” By the way, if you’re listening and you’re from Tampa, Pensacola, we love you guys. We’re so glad you’re part of our movement, of our ministry.
But that’s kind of the reality of the world that we live in, but my older way of thinking about it could have gotten in the way of that. And I challenge you to think a little bit about the possibility that there are some old ways that you prefer that could be getting in the way of reaching new people. Can I brag on some of the boomers in this church? Boomers are like, “That doesn’t happen.” Right? When we were first trying to decide whether or not God was calling us Mission Hills, one of the reasons that we really felt like he was because we kept encountering older people who were coming to the 8:00 a.m. service. At the time, the 8:00 a.m. service was in the big room at the South Littleton campus. We didn’t have another service and we couldn’t make the change between the types of worship between the 8:00 a.m. and 9:15. And so, it was contemporary, and they did not like the music.
But what I heard consistently, and I loved this, was they told me, “Hey. Yeah. We really don’t like the music.” But if this is what it takes to be relevant to the next generation and reach them with a Gospel, that’s what matters. Wow. That’s one mission thinking right there. I loved that. It’s one of the reasons we’re here, is that this is a church that wants to be on mission. This is a church that doesn’t say, “We’re gonna hold on to old ways, that that’s gonna keep us from reaching new people.” What about you? We have a lot of old ways we can get in the way, old ways of just hanging out in our comfort zones, prioritizing our preferences, all these things we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks.
So, then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. That’s unheard of. He invited the men into his house to be his guests and then the next day, Peter started out with them and some of the believers from Joppa went along. And what you see Peter doing here so important. He’s living out a principle that social differences cannot be Gospel barriers. Hear me, church? Social differences cannot be Gospel barriers. So, just ask yourself the question, “What social differences am I allowing to be Gospel barriers?” Maybe it’s race, maybe it’s politics, maybe it’s something else. Well, those people are just different from me. Yeah, they probably assume you’re not gonna be willing to have a relationship with them. But if that doesn’t happen, then how can you possibly be on the mission of reconciliation?
And the following day, he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. And as Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” That’s humility. While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people and he said to them, “You are well aware, aren’t you, that it is against our Law for a Jew to associate or visit a Gentile?” But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” See, he’s getting the message. He’s putting the pieces together now. You know, what God was telling Peter through the vision wasn’t intended to open up new culinary options. You get that, right? It was intended to remove a social barrier that needed to go for the ministry of reconciliation to move forward.
“But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. And so, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” Cornelius answered, “Well, three days ago, I was in my house praying at this hour at 3:00 in the afternoon and suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon, the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ And so, I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come.”
You can almost hear behind the words there, “I didn’t really think you would. But here you are. And it was so good of you to come. And now we’re all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” And so, then Peter began to speak. And he said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but he expects from every nation, the one who fears him and does what is right.” You know the message, God sent to the people of Israel announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil because God was with them.
We’re witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews. And in Jerusalem, they killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He wasn’t seen by all people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen, by us 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’s the one whom God appointed as judge of the living in the dead and all the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers, the Jewish followers of Jesus who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God, and then Peter said, “Surely, no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They’ve received the Holy Spirit just as we have. And so, we order that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” And they ask Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Two things. If you’re joining us today and you’re not a follower of Jesus yet, you wouldn’t say that you’ve committed to that relationship. And maybe you’ve heard for the first time today that righteousness isn’t the result of religious practices, it’s only something we can receive in relationship. And if that’s you, what you need to understand from the story is this, is that there are no barriers between you and God except the ones that you put up. God has removed them all. And so, if you’re going, “Well, I don’t know that I can follow Jesus because I’ve done a lot of bad stuff.” Now, Jesus died to pay for all that stuff. Maybe you’re going, “I can’t follow Jesus because I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. I don’t know anything about church.” Doesn’t matter. There’s no barriers between you and God except the ones that you put up. Or, unfortunately, sometimes the ones that you’ve borrowed from us, followers of Jesus. Because sometimes the way that we’ve lived have communicated to you that there’s a barrier that doesn’t exist. And if that’s the case, I’m sorry. And then my prayer would be that you’d forgive us. But you would understand that there are no barriers between you and God except the ones that you put up.
And so, right here, today, you can say yes to following Jesus. Your sin can be forgiven and you can have eternal life. All you need to do is right now, say to him, “Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me. I believe you rose from the dead, and I’m gonna be your follower from here on out.” That commitment begins a relationship that changes everything. And if you’re ready to make that decision today, my encouragement is just tell us you’re ready to make that decision by texting the word Jesus to 80875. Just tell us you’re ready to make that decision.
But maybe you’re already a follower of Jesus. And so, you’re going, “Well, what do I do with this?” The bottom line of the story, but also really, this entire section of Acts that we’ve been walking through for the last 10 weeks, it’s this. If we wanna live unleashed, we have to let go of old ways that keep us from reaching new people. Otherwise, we’re not engaged in the mission of reconciliation. If we wanna live unleash, we got to be willing to let go of old ways that keep us from reaching new people. Whether those are old ways of doing church, old ways of living in our comfort zones, old ways of prioritizing our preferences, old ways of just kind of honestly keeping to ourselves instead of living out loud with the faith that we have. You got to be willing to let go of those to reach new people.
And so, as we’re wrapping up this series today, I’m gonna give you a final exam. Here’s your final exam. To live out what we’ve been learning for the last 10 weeks. It’s a very simple question. “Who am I going to invite to an Easter service?” It’s a great way to apply what we’ve been learning. Who are you gonna invite to an Easter service? And I know some of you are like, “Hang on a second. Did you just preach a 10-week series intended to make us invite people to Easter services?” Yes, I did. Because we’ve been given a ministry and a message of reconciliation, this is a great way to practice that. Now, I know that can be awkward. And maybe you haven’t seen it done really well, and so, we put together a little video to tell you how not to do this, how not to invite anybody to Easter service, okay? So, check out this instructional video.
I don’t know how to follow that. I don’t know who those guys are, but they’re good. Someone should sign them. Oh, man. Well, we covered how not to do inviting people for Easter, but maybe just some creative ways of how to invite someone to Easter. Do it out of relationship, of course, and find somebody that you know. I always like to ask people what they do for Easter, Typically, just ask them, “Hey, what’s your tradition? What’s your Easter tradition? That usually opens the door for a conversation that leads to me saying, “Hey. Well, you can check us out online.” You know, I’ll give them the link. Or, maybe, “Hey. Even come check out Mission Hills if you’re in the area.” Or something like that. But, of course, we do those things out of relationship with people we know. And so, hopefully, God’s put somebody on your heart through this season and even today, and you’ll have the opportunity to grab invites on your way out as well. But, hey, let’s stand. It’s good to laugh in church, right? That’s okay, right? Yeah, it’s good. Let’s stand and just thank God for how good he is.