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Who Am I to Stand in God’s Way?

May 9, 2022

Caesarea Marítima, the ancient deep sea port city where Peter baptized Cornelius and his family and friends. (DCR 1/8/20)

“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 baptized with water, but you will be baptized 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?” (Acts 11:15-17)

There are many great quotations about the inevitability of change.  One of my favorites is one from John Maxwell: “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”  We will all be faced with challenging changes throughout our lives.  We can choose to grow as a result of those challenges or remain rigidly fixed and self-absorbed.  As Christians, we should seek to do God’s will, not our own, in all circumstances.  It’s not always easy to follow the plan that God has laid out for us.  Among other obstacles, our fragile egos may be bruised or our pride may well up to prevent us from “walking the walk.” 

Jesus summed up the gospel in one word, love: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).  Love is an emptying of ego, of self, of pride, of selfishness for the benefit of others–for the benefit of God’s children.

The late Sergei Fudel described what love is and what it is not: “The nature of love . . . is divine; but we know one thing, if there is pride, there is no love.  Love is a humble disregard of oneself, a giving up of oneself for others, for God and for God’s children. . . when I judge others, when my feelings are hurt, when I am irritable, when I hate, when I greedily snatch at things,  .  .  . I am asserting myself, my own selfishness, my ego, instead of the non-ego, instead of God and other people, instead of love.”[1]

The early church faced many new challenges and had to adapt their thinking to follow where Jesus and the Holy Spirit led them. They faced a turf war as many organizations face today–there are always those who want to run their own show instead of opening themselves up to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  The question then was, “Did Jesus come to save Gentiles as well as Jews, and if so, would the Gentiles have to comply with all Jewish customs, such as circumcision?”  Peter concluded that salvation was open to all–who was he to stand in God’s way? 

The Scripture texts for next Sunday assure us that God is with us to guide, help, and comfort us during all of life’s challenges.[2]  The Holy Spirit helps us as we transition to new phases of our life and as we encounter new challenges.  We need to listen to the Word and pay attention to the Holy Spirit—because who are we to stand in God’s way?  Who are we to charge off in a direction that God has not guided us to?  

Pay attention to the new ways that God is working in your life, and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you.  Try to remove your ego and pride over turf, titles, treasure, etc. so that God can do his work.  Get out of God’s way.  He will use the most difficult circumstances in your life and fit them into his plan. 

 John recorded that Jesus spent his last hours with his disciples teaching a seminar on the Holy Spirit. He told them that though he was leaving them, help was on the way: “But I am telling you the truth: it is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you. But if I do go away, then I will send him to you . . . When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth” (John 16: 5-7, 13, Good News Bible).  It was a difficult lesson for the disciples to hear.

They expected Jesus to throw off their Roman oppressors and become the king of Israel. They didn’t understand why he had to leave them, just when he had revealed himself as the Messiah who would usher in a great renaissance for the Jewish people.  Why couldn’t he just accept the kingship that would be offered to him, so that they could all work in his administration?  Instead, Jesus continued to educate them on how they were to carry on without him. 

As noted above, after the resurrection and even after the disciples and others received the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter encountered a major challenge when he felt called to minister to Gentiles.  There was confusion in the early church over whom God intended to save by Jesus’ resurrection. In the first lesson Peter reports that he has been hanging out with Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18).  Most Jewish believers thought that God only offered salvation to Jews because God had given the law to them.  Others thought that Gentiles could be saved if they followed the Mosaic law, including circumcision.  Both were proven wrong by the Holy Spirit.  Peter discovered the meaning of what Isaiah had written: “See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:19).

In Acts, chapter 10, Luke told us that Cornelius, a Roman centurion, sent emissaries to Joppa to summon Peter to come to his home in Caesarea. When Peter arrived at Cornelius’s house he found a crowd of people—Cornelius’ relatives and friends. “Peter said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or to visit him. .  . . May I ask why you sent for me?’” (Acts 10:28-29).

Peter understood that God had arranged the meeting when Cornelius explained that a “man in shining clothes” stood before him as he was praying and told him to send for Peter (Acts 10:30).  Peter gave the group the Cliff Notes version of what had transpired with Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” (Acts 10:44-46).

The psalmist confirms that everyone has cause to praise God—even the Gentiles, as strange as that was to the Jewish religious establishment in the first century.  We all play an instrument or sing a song in God’s orchestra and choir: “Praise the Lord from the heavens . . . Praise the Lord from the earth . . . sea creatures . . . mountains and hills  . . . wild animals and all cattle . . . kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children” (Excerpts, Psalm 148: 1, 7-12).  Each of God’s creatures reflects his handiwork.  Each creature and person–regardless of title or treasure– is an exquisite piece of craftsmanship that glorifies God. 

Peter went back to Jerusalem to explain himself and to clear the air on the question of whether Gentiles would be accepted into the fold without following all of the Jewish traditions and customs, including circumcision.   He told the church in Jerusalem what had happened in Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, including how the Holy Spirit had come upon the Gentiles. His closing argument was: “It is clear that God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, then, to try to stop God!” (Acts 11:17, Good News Translation).  The account of the Holy Spirit’s presence among the Gentiles was the final piece of evidence that led the Jerusalem church to conclude that God had extended his saving grace to everyone through Christ’s resurrection (Acts 11:18).

The grand finale of our lives will be in the new heaven and the new earth described by John: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea . . . for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Excerpts, Revelation 21: 1-5).  John testified to God’s voice confirming that he is doing a new thing—during my life and in your life, and after our time on earth is over.

Peter understood that God was doing a new thing.  It threatened the establishment, the status quo, but Peter wasn’t about to start arguing with God.  God isn’t happy with the status quo.  He will put people and circumstances in your life that will challenge you. Don’t try to derail his plan or make unreasonable demands by inserting your pride, ego, and selfishness into the equation. 

 Change can be difficult—whether you are starting a new job or leaving an old one, entering into or ending a marriage, adding or subtracting a child to or from your household, learning to live without a loved one, or facing other challenges.

When you enter into a new phase of your life or when you face new challenges, make sure that you consult with the Holy Spirit as you move forward.  And rest assured that God will fit this new challenge into his plan for your life.  He will be with you every step of the way as you move forward in faith.  

Prayer: “Grant me, O Lord, heavenly wisdom, that I may learn to seek you above all things, and to understand all other things as they are according to the order of your wisdom. Amen.”  Thomas a Kempis

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Sergei Fudel (1900-1977), a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, was imprisoned in the Soviet Union for much of his life because of his beliefs. This quotation is from one of his best- known writings, Light in the Darkness.

[2] The Scripture text for the Fifth Sunday of Easter are Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-7; John 16:12-22 or John 13:31-35.

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