Invisible Barriers

Acts 11:1-18

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him  and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story:  ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was.  I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

‘I replied, “Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”

‘The voice spoke from heaven a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

‘Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying.  The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.  He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, “Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.  He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”

‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.  Then I remembered what the Lord had said: “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”  So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’

Several years ago, Fiona and I got a small white fluffy dog called Napoleon (big name small hound). Any who, in our first house we didn’t have much of a fence and we quickly learnt that Napoleon was able to escape all of the time… So, we put up a fence to keep him out of the house but safe in the yard. Nowadays Napoleon spends a lot of his time with his feet up in the sun enjoying the comfort and safe place he now calls home. We built the fence to keep him safe, we didn’t want to lose him or something terrible to happen to him. We had a lot of fears, and these fears led us to build the fence.

We build fences to give us a sense of safety and protection. It keeps the unwanted things and people out and those we love safe and secure inside. Looking through history we can see for example The great wall of China, a wall built to keep enemies at bay.

But what about the Berlin wall? A wall built to divide, separate, but also it divided the city and families, countrymen and so on. It is interesting how we view walls and fences though isn’t it? It depends which side of the fence you are on. If I am on this side of the fence everything is good, but when I am on this side of the fence things look very different.

Fences whether physical or invisible, they separate us, they divide us from one another and from God. When I think of invisible fences I think of, ethnic lines, philosophies, social, economic and ideologies just to name a few. It seems that the longer the fence or wall stays up the more “normal” it seems to become. But in today’s reading we get a picture of how God deals with fences

Acts 11 records how Peter defends his visit to Cornelius in Caesarea and tells of his vision. We read how Peter has gone and eaten with a group of gentiles “the unclean.” And on his return to Jerusalem, he is pounced upon and called to account by the circumcised believers. Acts 11:2-3 “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” You can hear the circumcised group right there can’t you.  It’s like, Peter come on mate; every Jew knows that you don’t eat with those guys. The gentiles! It’s us and them its taboo you just don’t do it Peter! God made the laws so we don’t become unclean Peter! These laws are for our safety and our protection.

In Jewish society at this time, the gentiles are unclean, they were not even aloud to go into the temple in Jerusalem and worship God. There is an invisible wall that separates people. The Jews are above the gentiles and look down upon them. And Peter has broken that law making Peter unclean. But look at how Peter responds to the Jews he tells them this story.

Acts 11:5-8  in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was.  I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

These creepy things came down and Peter denies to kill and eat, in fact Peter denies this three times! We read from verse 8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

Now I agree with Peter, I don’t want creepy things entering my mouth either these things don’t sound to delicious to me. But we can understand why Peter is like this. I mean, it is deep inside him, he was brought up with these values and beliefs and everything he has been taught is deeply embedded. It is instinctive, reactive which is reflective from the years of trying to be clean and those unworthy the uncircumcised are unclean and not worthy. These unclean people are not even able to worship God in his temple. In fact there is even a curtain to separate them, and we have that same fence or curtain today only we call it sin. The sin which separates us from God and His throne of Grace.

So what of this vision? The vision challenges the church, it challenges the church to rethink and reconsider what it means to be people of God. Is our identity defined by what we eat, what group we belong to what we wear? Or is our identity defined by who we are in Jesus Christ and in the kingdom that he was establishing is that our identity?

So how does God break down these fences? Through the Gospel, and Christ is the one who comes into our lives and breaks these fences apart. And he doesn’t stop there he says that this fence should no longer separate and will no longer divide the people from God the father, from his throne of grace. By Christ’s very own work, his work on the cross, His dying for us and rising again from the dead on that easter morning Christ has laid a sheet on death allowing Christ to walk with us over the sheet into the Kingdom of God. But this is not all, friends, Christ fulfilled the law, all those stories and laws you read about in the Bible. He completed it so that everyone can have free and full access to the throne of Grace… Everyone… The curtain in the temple is torn down by Christ from top to bottom. The very waters of baptism have joined us into Christ, and he feeds us with his body and blood so that we through the power of the Holy Spirit can go out and become the invisible and physical fence breakers too.

That’s all well and good, but how do we break down fences? Now I don’t mean physically with a sledgehammer (although that might help) but how do we remove the fences that need to be torn down? What fences exactly are we looking at? Well, the fences that separate the “them” and the Gospel of Christ that’s the fences we are on about. Look at Peter, what does he do? He goes. Peter gets up and shares the Gospel of Christ. He grabs some brothers and off he trots sharing the message of grace. So, whatever you do outside of these 4 walls, whether that is being a parent, someone in the work force or retired take the gospel with you, take it with love and grace and with Christ. And as baptized children of God Christ is with us, we are one with him by the work he has done for us. But before you leave this building with dynamite in one hand and a pickaxe in the other let’s go back to the text. How do we begin the process? Again, let’s look at Peter. Verse 5, what does he do? “I was in the city of Joppa praying. Peter prays, Peter is praying and using God’s word, Christs word and when he brings God into this breakdown process well now things are beginning to happen.

Prayer and God’s word is the spiritual dynamite we need. And God doesn’t just blow a small hole in the wall, he blows the hole fence to pieces, it is removed like the berlin wall! It is all torn down. Now we get to do the work on the ground the physical work, but it is God’s Word and through the power of prayer that actually allows these things to happen. But to do anything we have to go; we have to get our hands dirty like Peter and that’s ok. And if you don’t know where to start come talk to governance council or myself after the service. There are so many ministries you could be involved in which you could make the Gospel of Christ real for the “them.” But first pray, prayer is the key it is the conversation between you and God. Ask him to teach you, thank him for the fences he has removed confess that you have failed to follow him and ask for help as you venture out. We are Holy and pure people inside and out because we are what we eat, we eat His body and blood which makes us holy and pure.

Verse 14 Peter says, “He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.” The message Peter speaks of saved “those” people, the “them” a message full of grace and that gospel is for all people, no matter age, colour, race, socioeconomic background all people! Peter didn’t miss the opportunity he grabbed the bull by the horns and took it on. You do not have to know it all. I have missed heaps of opportunities to speak the gospel. But filling your life and conversations to the “them” with grace salted with the Word of God just give it a try. And Peter he noticed this, he sees the same Spirit which fell on him fall on the gentiles.

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with[a] water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.’ 

17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” The same Spirit that fell on Israel, because God sees us all the same, we are all one, because we are one in and with Christ and that is exactly what the father wants, all one family. So, Christ tore down these invisible fences and physical fences which separate us and the Father and the throne of Grace, and we receive this by the work and faith that comes in and through Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, teach us to pray, teach us to lean on you and to rely fully on you that in your time these fences will be removed. I ask you to remind us that you are with us, and I confess that we have failed to use the opportunities that you put in front of us. I pray that you would help us all as we leave this place to take you Word with us and to be with us as we speak into the lives of those around us.


16 ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:16-20)

Luke tells us that the Spirit surely did tell them what to say and they simply continued to say it, at any cost.

Surely Luke is telling us that this needs to be how robust and resilient we need to be for his mission. He wants to affirm you and us as his ‘Sent Ones’ (Apostles) who now live in the calling to speak of what we know and have experienced of God’s forgiveness, hope, light and life in this event, this man and this community movement of the good news to which we belong.

I know that I struggle to be this robust and resilient. I suspect you do too. Not everyone is in the movement or wants this gospel movement to be!

Some are like Thomas – they want living proof on their terms. Unless something happens the way they want it to happen, they write Jesus and his people off. We can only show them good words about the greatest miracle that has already happened – resurrection of a human being to defeat death matched with our loving actions. That is not enough for many.

Some are like the Sanhedrin – they want to be in power; in control of their lives and sense that this Jesus and his claims and his people are dangerous to self-powered living. He is, and they know it and don’t want him.

Some are like the crowds of people surging into the city to be close to Jesus and now we hear, Peter, or even his shadow to get their disease and despair instantly fixed. That was what was going on in all of this first church formation at this beginning of which Luke speaks. Many were healed, but did many return to live their thanks long-term?

Some are like the soldiers and guards of these very leaky prisons in the city. They are just confused and feeling very unsure of what it all means and what it might mean for them. I read once that an inmate escaping from the prison of which you are in charge means death!

I am not sure which one you are today?

Robust, resilient and ready and able to speak and do and bear witness to this event and the man who achieved it and proud and glad to be in this good news movement.

Or, looking for more proof that this happened before believing what I am saying it means.

Or sensing danger – saying yes to this event and this man who achieved it for you and belonging to his community of good news means saying ‘no’ to living on your terms and instead living out his calling on your life.

Or just a bit confused and a bit scared of what this Easter resurrection event and this Jesus and this church movement on the move really means for you.

Whoever you are today, I find very good news for myself and for us all when Peter and the others say WHY they keep turning up, keep being repeat offenders, keep speaking and going and breaking their parole.

“God exalted him through his cross and resurrection so that he (God) might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel” (v31). The purpose of Jesus suffering and death was God’s intention to save you, not condemn you! (Acts 5: 29-32)

They keep ‘buzzing’ around the BBQ not to take but to give, not suck the life out of people but to put life into people!

That does not mean skirting around the truth of things though.

They hit the Sanhedrin right between the eyes with the stark truth of the situation

30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.

This really offended (and worried) the Council! But it was the truth.

But it was not to simply pay back or judge or condemn them and feel good for a minute. No, it was for life.

“God exalted him through his cross and resurrection so that he (God) might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel” (v31). The purpose of Jesus suffering and death was God’s intention to save you, not condemn you! (Acts 5: 29-32)

Friends, we are called to be like these pesky ‘mozzie Apostles’. We are to be gladly ‘repeat offenders’, not to simply offend people but to bring this event and this man and his good news people to their life as we are able.

I know I am often not robust and fearless and resilient and inspired as Peter and the others. I also know that there is still a power struggle going on in our town and time.

If there was a Sanhedrin in Nuri, it’s goal might not be to protect religion but probably to protect current secular Aussie culture, lifestyle and belief on many issues we face.

“Keep this faith of yours a personal thing. Leave it at home. Don’t say a word. Don’t share this good news that has changed your life. Sure, do your work through your great schools, aged care facilities, Lutheran Care and Family Centre and Messy Church and Shed Happens and all your Sunday church services, but don’t talk about Jesus, this resurrection from death, the human guilt at rejecting this man of love and that thing called repenting and being forgiven, dead people being raised to life, healing within and without by God’s touch and etc … ”.

But Luke shows us without the truth of Jesus and his suffering and death and rising and ruling, and of the wrong and our guilt in rejecting him, and the call to repent of these things as we trust this resurrected Saviour and his work for us and in us, Jesus’ life-giving saving gifts are lost. The hope and the gifts of this Easter Saviour get shoed away and the world loses.

But the Spirit of God is the repeat offender here. No matter how much personal protection we plaster on ourselves, or super-duper technology we employ or control we want to have or confusion and fear we feel, he speaks, he breathes, he loves, robustly, truthfully, kindly and with resilience.

The Spirit breaks us out of our lostness and gives us the words to say and the ways to say it. He will not be stopped when we so easily can be!

For us weary, worn, tired, shy, forgetful, doubtful or sleepy at times Christians, we gain that robustness, that compassion, that resilience we need that they had.

When we forget to show up. He does. When we can’t find the words, he speaks. When we water it down a bit to save ourselves the difference, he remains who he is. When we settle for the easy way, Jesus always goes the full way and calls us back to it – the way of proclaiming things like resurrection from the dead, forgiveness for wrong, healing for broken bodies and spirits, community belonging for isolated people.

I hope we can be repeat offenders who break the parole conditions of our community as we turn up and do our ‘buzzing’ around BBQ’s at peace and at rest in the Spirit’s resilience and robustness so that the good news gets heard and resurrection life occurs.





Sunday 8:45am
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