Who Can Withstand God? – July 18, 2021

Psalm 89:1-8, Acts 11:1-18
July 18, 2021

Today’s story is a follow-up to last week’s story, the one about Peter and Cornelius.  If you remember, Peter had a vision of something like a huge sheet, being lowered out of heaven by the corners, and it was filled with all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds of the air.  And he heard a voice that said, “Rise, Peter.  Kill and eat.”  He was being challenged in the whole business of the Jewish dietary laws, and he was being prepared for the acceptance of the Gentiles into the new Christian church.

Well, in our passage for today, the other Apostles, “and the brethren,” it says, were back in Jerusalem, and they heard about what happened with Cornelius.  So Peter went back to tell them the story.  He had a lot of “splainin’” to do!

It also says here that he had to deal with this group called “the circumcision party.”  Ok, without going into too much detail, they were believers, who were possibly part of the old Jewish leadership, and they felt very strongly that a person had to become Jewish before they could become a “Christian.” And they would continue to push for that for the next several chapters!

So, Peter had to explain to all of them what had happened.  Because not only did Cornelius and his family believe, but the Holy Spirit fell upon all of them!  There’s no doubt, in all of this, that this was God’s doing!

And I have to wonder, what did Peter think about all this?  Did he like all these changes that were happening?  Did he like what God was doing with the Gentiles?  Remember, he resisted the original vision three times!  And his vision was only about the dietary laws.  But as I said last week, he quickly realized that his vision, and the vision Cornelius had, meant the same thing.  God was changing their ideas about what was Kosher, and about who was acceptable in the new Church.  It seemed that the “Good news of great joy” was indeed coming “to all people!”

So, after telling them the story, in the last words of his explanation, Peter concluded, “Who was I to withstand God?”  That shows me that there was some reluctance, even some aversion to what God was doing.  Peter wasn’t crazy about it, but he couldn’t fight it!  The old “religious exclusivity” of the Jewish people still had its hold on Peter.  And even though he had changed a lot in the last three years, some of this was still hard to accept!  So at first, it seemed more like he was “giving in,” rather than “embracing the idea.”  “Oh, alright, God.  If you have to let ‘em in…”

When Peter finished making his case, Luke tells us this.  “When they heard this they were silenced.  And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.’”  So, they too seemed to accept it.  And they glorified God.  And this was a big thing!  But it wasn’t that easy!  That “religious exclusivity” still had a pretty firm hold on them, too!  And that was a hard thing to break in just one moment.  As I said, there were those who insisted on a person first becoming Jewish before they could become Christian.  And they were persistent, too.

Keep in mind here, that these were the Apostles.  These were the men who had been with Jesus.  They had seen first-hand how he reached out to the outcast.  They witnessed his love even for the unloved.  Yet still, having seen all that – for three years – they were reluctant.  Because still, they were human.

In the end, the Christian leadership finally set a “rule” about this.  They said that a person didn’t have to become Jewish before becoming a Christian.  And they wrote a letter to the other Christian leaders saying that.  They said that, when Gentiles came into the church, they only had to live a good life by certain simple rules.  But that final determination would come several chapters later!  It came in Chapter 15!  We’re only in 11!  These “changes” didn’t happen overnight.  There was some struggle.  There was considerable debate.  And there were a lot of people’s hearts to change!  It wasn’t easy

And you know, this is a good story.  Because we’re like these guys, aren’t we?  Because we too, know the stories of Jesus.  Maybe not first-hand.  But we too know how he reached out to the outcast and the unloved.  But like these people, are we not also reluctant sometimes to embrace the outcast and the unloved ourselves?  Because, like these disciples, we too are human!

Jesus’ love was and is an amazing love.  And it’s hard for us to fathom.  It has been described as a “radical love.”  It’s hard for us, even though we know and love his famous words, “For God so loved the world…”

It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around God’s unconditional, all encompassing, gracious love, the love we know about through Jesus.  Yet that’s the kind of love we are called to have.  And like these people, that’s not easy!  It doesn’t happen all by itself.  It’s something we need to work on every day!  Because we follow a Savior who calls us to love as he loved.

Think about Charles Sheldon.  He’s the one who wrote the book “In His Steps.”  In that book, he challenged people, in everything they did throughout the day, to think first, “What would Jesus do?”  You’ve probably remember those “WWJD” bracelets that people wore not too long ago.

That’s the practical side of learning to grow in God’s love, isn’t it?  Try it.  Try looking at each person you see during a day and thinking, “Jesus loves that person.”  Do it even for those people you disagree with!  Do it even for those people who may have just done an unkind or inconsiderate thing – to you!  Those are the harder lessons, aren’t they?  That’s why we refer to Christianity as the faith we “practice.”  We’ve got to practice it, if we ever expect to get better at it!

Having faith in God is trusting him a little bit more, each day.  It is doing more and more of the things Jesus did, each day.  Like Peter, we can’t “withstand God!”  His love and grace are amazing and unfathomable. Yet we can learn to live in that love, being changed, as Paul said, “From one degree of glory to the next!”


Eternal God, your love is amazing!  But it’s not easy to have ourselves.  It’s not easy to follow Jesus in the way he reached out to the outcast and the unloved.  We need the strength and inspiration of your holy spirit, as we try to live each day, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.  For we pray in his name, Amen.