Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Michael Hennessey: All Things have become new

Some of you may know that over the past six months, I have been doing a course studying the
book of Acts.

In this course I have discovered a lot of things about how the church got started that I didn’t know
before, and one of those things is to do with the process of change.

Change is something we don’t always enjoy coming to terms with, but it’s a necessary part of our development as Christians.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So that if any one is in Christ, that one is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

In other words, when someone chooses to follow the Lord, there is a change that takes place and
that change encompasses “old things” passing away and “all things” becoming new.

Those "old things” can include old perspectives, how we see certain people. Through a combination of our values, culture and even in some cases our prejudices, we often choose not to associate with “certain people.” But when “all things “become new” as stated in the Bible, “old things;” such as our old attitudes
towards certain people do pass away.

The Apostle Peter is an example of this taking place. Acts 10:1-47 talks of how Peter went from being a Jew who had never been in a Gentile environment before to someone willing to go to them and share the Lord.

How was Peter able to do that? If you have studied Jewish/Gentile relations in Biblical times you would know that Jews were taught not to mix with Gentiles…at all.

Here are some examples of laws Jews had in regards to relating to Gentiles.
  •  A strict Jew wouldn't allow himself to be a guest in a Gentile house; neither
  • would he invite one to be a guest in his own home. A scribal law said that the
    dwelling places of Gentiles were unclean.
  • No Jew would ever eat with a Gentile.
  • Milk that was drawn from a cow by Gentile hands was not allowed to be consumed by
  • If a Gentile was ever invited to a Jewish house, he couldn't be left in the room lest he defile all the food in the room.
  • If cooking utensils were bought from a Gentile, they had to be purified by fire and water.
  • The dirt from a Gentile country was also considered unclean. Consequently, whenever travellers left a Gentile country, they would always shake the dust off their feet, so they wouldn't bring Gentile pollution into Israel.
Peter had no doubt grown up with such attitudes, but somehow he was able to put all that aside to go to Italian Cornelius house (Acts 10:1), eat his food and even make a few friends while there.

This is proven in Acts 10:48 where it says,“…Then they begged him to stay certain days.”
Peter must have had a change in heart towards the Gentiles if they had begged him to stay. If Peter had held on to his Jewish prejudices there is no way his hosts would have pleaded for him to hang around a bit longer.

But Peter’s perspective had obviously changed towards Gentiles.  In saying that, you will find that when
someone becomes a follower of Jesus, their perspectives will change as well.

As I mentioned before, Peter had to undergo a massive change of attitude to even consider stepping into a Gentiles house. So how was he able to overcome all those cultural barriers in order to do that?

How does God enable us to change our perspectives on people we didn’t get on with before? Does He change us totally in an instant, or does He change us gradually?

The following verse would suggest that God wants to change us, but often He’ll do that gradually.

This was certainly the case with Peter. God didn’t tell him to go to Cornelius house out of the blue. God had been preparing Peter for a long time, gradually changing his perspectives and mindsets along the way. In this short blog, I want to show you two attitudes God changed in Peters mind that enabled him to be the first Jewish missionary to the Gentiles.

Firstly, Peter had his attitude changed towards Samaritans.

Acts 8:14 says,“And the apostles in Jerusalem hearing that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent Peter and John to them;”

We all know that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get on, but when Peter goes there, he has a change in heart towards these people. This is proven in Acts 8:25 where it says, “Then, indeed, having earnestly testified and having spoken the Word of the Lord also having preached the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans, they returned to Jerusalem.”

In spite of his attitude before going there, it seems that Peter was in no hurry to get out of the place, preaching in lots of Samaritan villages on the way home again. He’d had a change of heart towards these people.

Secondly Peter had a change of heart towards certain occupations.
Acts 9:43 says And it was many days that he remained in Joppa, with one Simon, a tanner.”
Joppa was the place where God used Peter to raise a lady called Tabitha from the dead. While there,

scripture tells us that he stayed with Simon, a man whose occupation demanded he work with dead animals. Because of this, tanners were regarded as “constantly unclean” (Leviticus 11:24) and had to live outside the city limits.

For Peter to choose to stay with a man like that, in an environment that was considered “unclean”
meant that he wasn’t as phased by such things as he was before.

So when God tells him to go to the house of Cornelius, where according to Jewish law was also “unclean” it wouldn’t have been such a big deal, had God not prepared him beforehand by sending him to Samaria and also a tanners residence in Joppa. God was changing Peter by degrees.

I have the sneaking suspicion that God often works that way with us also. Sure, there are some things in our lives that change immediately.

I know that in my case I was happy to attend my family’s church after my conversion as a teenager whereas my attitude towards church attendance before was apathetic to say the least. But now, 31 years later I can see there were some things that God changed in me over time, just as He did with Peter that enabled me to grow.

This was obviously the case with Peter. He became the first Jew to introduce Gentiles to the experience of speaking in tongues because he overcame some pretty significant cultural barriers in his mind.

As I observe his story, I can’t help but think that God can also change us into better people, empowered with better attitudes and perspectives, so when the time comes, we also will be ready to bring do something that brings Him into someone else’s world.

And that change is often bought about by “old things” such as perspectives and prejudices slowly “passing away” and “all things becoming new.

Michael Hennessey .... Senior Pastor Cornerstone AOG Epping

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