The Dividing Wall Destroyed

Dusty Burris • Acts 10:24-48

  • 2012-12-30 PM
  • Sermons

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Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to the book of Acts 10. As I was studying this text I was reminded that in the wake of World War II, the allied forces of the US, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union divided up the country of Germany into four parts, and they did the same thing with the capital city of Berlin. However, as you're aware, the relationship between the Soviet Union and the other allied forces quickly deteriorated, causing a rift between the two. Ultimately, Berlin was split into eastern and western parts, the East being controlled by the Soviet Union, communism, and the West prospering under democracy and capitalism. This relationship deteriorated to the point that on the night of August 13th in 1961 the Soviet Union, overnight, erected a wall that separated Berlin; we know it as the Berlin Wall.

It was interesting that on two sides of a wall were family members who were separated, people's jobs sometimes were on the other side of the wall and now they couldn't get there, and on one side people were living in poverty and hunger and on the other side people were prospering and doing much better. That wall that was originally just barbed wire and concrete pillars grew into a massive concrete structure with guards guarding the wall and they were instructed to shoot anyone who approached with an attempt to escape. For 28 years that wall stood. For 28 years those people were unable to reach the other side. And then, thankfully, in 1989, that wall was torn down and in 1990 eastern and western Germany were reunited amongst much celebration of family members who were reunited. And it's really an amazing story if you think about it. A lot of emotions involved in the Berlin Wall and what took place.

And tonight we're going to talk about a different wall. While that wall is significant in history because a nation was divided, there is another wall that's been broken down by our God that divides not a nation but humanity, that is the wall that divided Jews and Gentiles. And our God graciously has torn down that wall, which we see in Acts 10. Now, I have the privilege of teaching our college students, as most of you are well aware, and we are going through the book of Acts on Wednesday nights and it's just been an excellent study. I pray that you have the opportunity, if you have it, to study this great book as it's really the beginning and the birth of the church, and then the growth and expansion of the gospel as the church grows throughout the world and the gospel takes hold.

And in chapter 10 we're confronted with a man named Cornelius. Now we're going to be studying the second half of this chapter, but it's important that we understand the context as we go forward, so I want to give you some very important things that take place in the first half of chapter 10. It's a story that you're likely familiar with, but we're introduced to a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius is a Gentile, he is a God fearer but not a true believer. One day he's praying and God sends a vision to him through an angel and tells him that his prayers have been heard, and he's to send to Joppa for a man named Peter and that Peter will come and share a message with him and his household, so he obeys God, he sends for Peter.

Now, at the same time, or close to the same time, Peter has a vision from God and in his vision, it's one that you'll be reminded of, is a large sheet that is lowered down in front of him and on that sheet is a series of animals, both clean animals and unclean animals, and God tells him, "'Peter, rise up, kill and eat,'" and Peter says, "'No, God, I've never eaten anything unclean in my entire life, I can't do that.'" And God says, "'Don't call unclean what I've created,'" basically destroying or abolishing the dietary restrictions of the law. And he saw this three different times. Now, this vision ends up having a much greater significance than just abolishing the dietary laws from the Mosaic Law, which it does do that, but it has a far greater significance that we're going to see here in a moment.

So, Cornelius' messengers arrive, God tells Peter not to have any reservations about going with them, and so the next day they set off to Cornelius' house so that Peter can preach the gospel to Cornelius and his family. That stands in the backdrop of what I want us to look at today and we're going to begin in verse 24. Now, we're going to cover a lot of ground this evening, but I think it's important that we see this whole narrative take place. So normally I would read the whole text up front and then we would back up and go through it verse by verse, but because it's such a large text I want to let the narrative unfold as we go.

So, this really breaks down into four major scene changes that we will see. Number one, the meeting between Peter and Cornelius. Secondly, Cornelius' vision is explained. Third, the gospel is proclaimed to the Gentiles. And then lastly, we see a miraculous response. The theme of the passage is this, God has demolished the spiritual dividing wall between the Jews and the Gentiles. God has demolished the spiritual dividing wall between the Jews and the Gentiles.

Now, look with me at verse 24. This, again, is after Peter has gone with the messengers from Cornelius and is going to enter Caesarea, into Cornelius' house. Verse 24,

On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am just a man." As he talked with him, he entered and found many people assembled.

Now here's the meeting between these two men; there's much that we can glean from this. Number one, Cornelius was fully obedient to the vision that God had given him. Cornelius never shows any hesitation or reservation about sending for this unknown man named Peter to come and invite him into his household, let alone a Gentile Roman centurion inviting a Jewish man to come into his home. He does exactly what God says and he assembles his household, which would have been his immediate family and possibly some extended family and close friends, there in his house.

And when he sees Peter, notice that he falls down at Peter's feet to worship Him. This tells us really two things about Cornelius, number one, he's very sincere and wanting to submit and love God. That's the positive part. The second part is, he's not fully educated in his understanding of God because he falls down to worship the messenger instead of the One who is in the message that's coming. He confuses things by worshipping Peter and Peter's quick to tell him, no, don't worship me; I'm just a man like you.

But you can see how sincere Cornelius is, he's just excited God has met with him. I mean, you imagine if an angel had come to your house and said to send for this man. And he comes, he's overjoyed to see Peter and falls down to worship him. Even though his response in one regard is wrong, it does show that there is this sincerity in his heart, a desire to hear the message that this man Peter brings.

Notice the humility of Peter to immediately correct him. Think about this, Peter, a Jewish man, comes into the home of a Roman centurion, a man that would have had some authority, and the man bows down to him, and he didn't even take just a moment to say, just to kind of bask in the glory of this man bowing down to him, but the text indicates that immediately Peter reaches down and commands him, stand up, don't be confused, I'm just like you.

As a side note, MacArthur notes here that the fact that Peter doesn't allow Cornelius to worship him ought to cause anyone who thinks that we should worship saints to think again. If Peter wouldn't allow himself to be worshipped when he was alive, why would we think we should worship saints now that they're dead.

Now, Peter's opening address is what comes next and I find it, on the surface it seems a little bit odd, but as we explain it I think you'll see the greater significance here. Now, look at verse 28, this is Peter talking,

he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason have you sent for me."

Now, I don't know about you but that seems a little bit rude, doesn't it? I mean, someone invites you into their home and they're all there to hear you, and the first thing you say is, normally I wouldn't be associating with you people, but I'm here tonight. That comes across a little bit rude, doesn't it? But Peter's not being rude, we just have to understand the context.

If you would have been a Jewish person in this time period you would have never set foot in the house of a Gentile. You wouldn't even have associated with a Gentile. They wouldn't even buy food in the market place from Gentiles for fear that it was prepared improperly, not kosher, and that they would break dietary restrictions. Now, it wasn't in the law of God, it wasn't a law of God that they couldn't enter a Gentile's home, but it was considered taboo in the culture. You don't do that. As a Jewish man, entering a Gentile's house, in fact, in the next chapter, we're not going to go there, but when Peter begins to tell the other Jewish Christians what he's done in going and preaching the gospel to a Gentile, their main concern is that he went into the house of a Gentile man. I mean, it was an unheard of thing.

And so it's really right for him because the Gentiles would have understood, they would have found it strange that this Jew was so willing to come into their house and talk with them. And so, it is not a rude thing, it's really him addressing the elephant in the room. And he gives a great profound truth, he says, "'You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner; yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.'" When did God show Peter that? Back in verse 9. Now we didn't read it, but I told you about the vision that God had given to Peter, that vision of those clean and unclean animals, again, was not just about the animals, it was God telling Peter, from now on, don't consider any man that I've created unclean, in and of themselves; not only can you associate with Gentiles, but you should, bring the gospel to them. This would have been a revolutionary idea to the Jewish people.

It's important to realize that Peter got the real meaning of the vision. When Peter says here that, "'God has shown me that I shouldn't call any man unclean,'" he understood that that vision of those animals was not just about the animals, but that God was telling him, accept these Gentile people, who one day will be, in very short order, believers. And so, after giving this opening address, he simply asked the question, at the end of verse 29, "'So I ask for what reason have you sent for me.'" Now that they've had this long journey and he's travelled up to Caesarea and he's explained why he's there, he says, why am I here? Why have you brought me here?

That brings us to scene number two, Cornelius' vision is explained. This begins in verse 30.

Now Cornelius steps forward and this is what he says,

"Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold a man stood before me in shining garments, and he said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Therefore send to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.' So I sent for you immediately and you've been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you've been commanded by the Lord."

This is basically a word for word repetition of the vision that we see beginning in verse 1 in chapter 10. Now, why would Luke, the author of this book, repeat, basically word for word, the same vision? We just read it a few verses ago; we didn't, but if we had read the whole chapter we would have seen that.

Well remember, in Scripture, anytime, Old Testament, New Testament, anytime that an author chooses to repeat something, whether it's a word or phrase or in this case a whole story, it's to bring emphasis to that point. I think the reason that this is reiterated for us here, word for word, is because we need to understand that this vision, this meeting between Peter and Cornelius, goes way beyond just these two men. What happens here in this passage, what we're going to see, impacts you and me, it impacts every generation from here on out, because what happens here is God breaks down the dividing wall so now that the two become one, one family in Christ. I think that's why he repeats the vision, that's why the story is even in the Scripture for us, is because this is a huge turning point in redemptive history, this is a huge turning point in the history of the church. The church as we know it today is this way because God chose to save this man Cornelius.

Now, look at the end of verse 33. It says, "'Now then, we're all here,'" Cornelius and his household, "'before God to hear all that you've been commanded by the Lord.'" You can just hear the anticipation, the joy, the whole house is brimming with anticipation to hear what this man has to say. This is every preacher's dream. I mean, think about this, everyone in the building is on the edge of their seat just ready, not just to hear what the preacher is going to say but to do everything that he tells them. That's the idea here, these people are on the edge of their seat ready to hear this message.

Now, you imagine this, imagine that you're in your house, you sit down to have a sandwich for lunch, a normal day, maybe it's a Saturday, and your neighbor runs into the house in a panic and says, please come, I've assembled my whole household, my whole family is in our living room, we've seen the way you live and we want you to come share this gospel with us. Talk about choking on your sandwich. I mean, that just doesn't happen, but that's what's happening here. These men come to Peter and they say, please, come and tell us what it is that God would have you say. And not only that, but as soon as he tells them they are immediately willing to respond.

The deeper significance of this, I think, is that it testifies to the sovereign grace of God in salvation. Why were they so excited? Why were they so ready to receive the gospel? Because God had gone before Peter and prepared the hearts of Cornelius and his household. Now, here it was through a vision and an actual angel coming and speaking to Cornelius, but God still does the same thing today, not through a vision per se, but He still prepares hearts to hear the gospel and respond. This should be an encouragement to us. This is exciting news because when we go to share the gospel with someone, with a family member, or with a stranger on the street, it doesn't matter, we can have confidence that God can save that person, that God may very well have gone ahead of us and prepared that person's heart so that they will respond positively to the gospel message.

I think sometimes we get in a mindset, if we're not careful, when we share the gospel with someone that we're just waiting for the moment in the conversation where they're going to walk away and reject us, instead of coming with great anticipation, a realistic anticipation but still an anticipation, that this person may very well respond to the message, not because of me but because God is the one who saves the heart. That's what's going on here, is God sovereignly has gone ahead of Peter and has prepared the hearts of these people and now they're ready to hear the good news.

Now, in verse 34 there is a slight scene change yet again and we see the gospel proclaimed to the Gentiles. In verses 34 to 43, Peter opens his mouth and preaches the gospel message. Now, let's look at verse 34,

Opening his mouth, Peter said:
"I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) – you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed."

Now, before we go further, let's just look at this beginning part. That phrase, "Opening his mouth," is a Greek phrase that means something important is about to happen. Peter didn't go just to have a casual conversation, but the words and the address that he was about to give was a specific important weighty message.

And what Peter confesses here is profound. He says, "'I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality.'" This is not a new part of God's character, that's not what Peter is saying. God has shown Himself as one who shows grace to everyone from the beginning. You remember the Abrahamic promise, a covenant, and in Genesis 12 where he says, "'in you,'" or in your seed, which we know is Christ, "'all the nations will be blessed,'" that is, every nation. We see Jonah sent to a Gentile nation, there are several examples in the Old Testament that show God's character has not changed, this is not a new thing, but for Peter and for the Jewish people they had not fully understand just how impartial God really is, and now it's becoming clear that God is even far more gracious than they had dreamed. He's accepting the Gentiles, not just as like a subculture of Judaism, but as equals, on the same footing, in Christ.

And Peter understands this, that's why he says, "'in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to him.'" And when he says that, that "'the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him,'" he's not saying that we can somehow earn our salvation, that somehow these people in other nations, if they just have a general fear of God, that they're saved because of that. That's not what he's saying at all. We know that from several other Scriptures like Ephesians 2:8-9, but more specifically we know it from the context of this passage, because the whole reason that God sent down for Peter to come all the way from Joppa was because he physically had to share the gospel with Cornelius because Cornelius was not saved. It had already said that Cornelius was a man who feared God in some way, but apparently he wasn't a believer, otherwise God wouldn't have had him send for Peter.

So, Peter is not saying that a person can be saved just by fearing God and doing some sort of religious good works, but what he is saying is that God is impartial in the sense that He will save anyone who is willing to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Now he begins his gospel presentation and he begins with Jesus' public ministry in verses 34 to 38. Let's look at verse 36,

"The word which he sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) – you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed."

Now how would they know that? Why can Peter assume that these people know about Jesus and the things that He had done? Well, they were close enough in that vicinity to have heard of Jesus. I mean, Jesus would have been an extremely popular figure. I mean, you think about it, a man comes making the claims that He made and doing the miracles that He did, His fame spread all throughout the region, and so Peter is positive that these people have heard of Jesus, they just have not yet come to understand His true significance and God's plan. Verse 38,

"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all these things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead."

He begins by explaining Jesus's public ministry by calling their attention to the things that they've heard about Jesus and then he specifically moved to Jesus' death on the cross, which we saw in verse 39, where he says, "'They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross," which we know well and they knew well, was the death reserved for the worst of the worst, meant not just to physically harm a person and be excruciatingly painful, but to publicly shame them; it was a very shameful way to die. And yet, this Jesus, this Son of God, who he says is "Lord of all" back in verse 36, that's how He died.

But he doesn't just stop there, in verse 40 he mentions Jesus' resurrection, "'God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible.'" Now, that's an important point. Sometimes, I think, in our gospel presentations we get so anxious to get to the cross and Jesus' death that we just breeze over the resurrection. Listen, His cross and the death are extremely important, but so is the resurrection. If we don't have the resurrection then He was just a really great man that did great things and died on a cross. But the fact that Jesus rose from the grave validates who He was; it shows that God accepted that sacrifice as sufficient.

And Peter is quick to reiterate that point, He's not dead somewhere in a grave. Yes, He died on a cross, which was necessary, but God raised Him up on the third day and not only that, but He made Him visible and He points in verse 41 to the fact that the apostles are the chosen witnesses of Christ's resurrection. He says, "'not to all people,'" that is, not everyone saw Him after His resurrection, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, "'to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.'" This is why it was important that Peter was the one they sent for, because he was an apostle, he was giving them an eyewitness testimony, that's why he says, we "'ate and drank with Him.'" You don't eat and drink with a person who is dead, you don't eat and drink with a spirit, you eat and drink with someone who is bodily alive.

What he's saying is, we have real tangible proof that Jesus really did bodily arise from the dead, and we are witnesses of that fact, that's why God has sent us here to you. In verse 42 he says, "'And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify,'" to the people, "'that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead,'" that is, this Jesus, who died and rose again, is not just Savior but Judge, He is the one that you will stand before as "'Judge of the living and the dead.'"

And in verse 43 he explains the response that is required, "'Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.'" This gospel message requires a real response. That response, Peter says, it is a response of submissive faith in Jesus Christ. The word believes there is in the present tense, it's this idea of a continual action, that the person begins to believe and it is a change in the pattern of life, that now that their life is pictured by this new belief that they have in Jesus Christ.

When you think about it and I know we went through that passage very quickly, but when you think about it, this is really just a basic gospel presentation. Peter did not do anything in this passage that we would say is necessarily out of the ordinary, he just shared the good news, Jesus' life, His death, His resurrection and the response. What's interesting is how quickly and how, really miraculously, the people respond to what he says. It's almost like a room that's packed full of flammable gas, just waiting for a spark to blow the whole thing up, that's what this room is in the sense of these people waiting to respond to what Peter has said.

That brings us to the final scene in verses 44 to 48, a miraculous response. Look at this in verse 44, it says,

While Peter was still speaking these words, [so he's not even finished yet, while he's still speaking,] the Holy Spirit fell upon those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

How did they know that? Verse 46,

For they were hearing them speak with tongues and exalting God. And then Peter answered, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Verse 44, "While he was still speaking," Peter's not even done and there is an immediate response of belief and of true saving faith on the part of the people. And you say, well, how do you know that? It doesn't say that. Well, because God gives the Holy Spirit to them. So, God is validating their faith by giving them the Holy Spirit, so they must have responded in their hearts. While there's no visible, they didn't stand up and say, we believe, but there was something in their heart that clicked and they said, we believe that, we submit to that, and God gave the Holy Spirit to them, validating that they were, in fact, true believers.

Now, when the Holy Spirit fell upon them, look at the response of the men that came with Peter. Here they're just called "the circumcised believers." There were six other men that traveled with Peter that end up, really, being eyewitnesses to this very significant event. They are Jewish believers and it says that they came with him and they "were amazed." They "were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles." Now, they had already seen on the day of Pentecost, back in chapter 2, the Holy Spirit poured out on the Jews, but these are Gentiles. I mean, maybe God, maybe they could see that God would save them and God would allow them, you know, and they could kind of tag them onto this Christian thing, but they would be, sort of, separate.

But what happens here is God fully accepts these Gentile believers just as he did the Jews on the day of Pentecost. And the evidence of that is they speak in tongues, it's a miracle, it's a miraculous thing. The gift of tongues in Acts is always seen as a validation of what God is doing. The Book of Acts, we have to understand, is a transitory period, it's a transition. The new covenant has begun, the church has begun, and when the Holy Spirit falls on the Jews on the day of Pentecost and they speak in tongues which, by the way, were known languages that were unstudied, previously unstudied by these men, when they began to do that it was an evidence, on the day of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit really had come.

And what we see is as these men fulfill the great commission of going into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the utter parts of the earth, that God uses that same miracle to validate that it's the same Holy Spirit that these Gentiles have, as the Jews have. That's what's going on with tongues. Tongues is not something that we should then look at and say, well, then that should happen every time; it doesn't happen every time an Acts. It happens here because this is the first time that the Gentiles have been given the gospel message and so what it does here is these Jews, these on-looking Jews, Peter and his six companions, have nothing to do except say, God has accepted these people; we know that because the exact same thing that's happened to us happened to them. That's why Peter says, how can we not baptize them? I mean, who are we to stand in God's way? God obviously has accepted them and given them the Holy Spirit. They have the inward reality of the Holy Spirit, how can we refuse them the outward sign of being connected with Christ, of baptism?

What we should take away from this response is again, the goodness and sovereignty of our God. Peter did nothing but explain the gospel clearly and he had not even finished his message, and the people responded, all because God moved in their hearts. It's a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. We know that this is the exact same thing that happened on the day of Pentecost because that's what Peter says in verse 47 when he says that "'no one can refuse them water to be baptized.'"

The reason he gives is because they "have received the Holy Spirit just as we did," meaning in the same way, meaning they spoke real known languages, not ecstatic utterances, but real known languages that they hadn't studied. That same gift was given to them in this instance and he says, God has made it clear, His choice of these people, His inclusion, not just of these Gentiles, but of Gentiles in the work of the church.

If the significance of this is not ringing home to you, let me just say it this way, you are here today and we are in this place singing songs of worship to God, redeemed sinners, because God chose to do this in the church. This is a huge turning point. I mean, it changes the face, and as you read Acts everything begins to change from here. They continue to go to the Jews, but the Jews by and large reject the gospel and the Gentiles come in, in droves, by God's grace, so that the church ends up being predominantly a Gentile church.

A couple of points on this last section, they're not key points but they are worth mentioning. Number one, the Holy Spirit is given to these people before they are baptized which means baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is an outward sign that pictures what has already taken place. And also, there is no call for them to be circumcised, which later comes into play in Paul's ministry. God accepts them, they are uncircumcised Gentiles and God accepts them as they are based on their repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, as we draw this to a close and we try to think, how does this apply to us? There's a couple things that I want to mention. Number one, most importantly, the fact that God has broken down the dividing wall between the Jews and the Gentiles means, practically, that the gospel is for you. This good news is for you. Have you responded to it? Have you, like these people who were on the edge of their seat to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and who immediately responded, have you done that? Do you realize that the gospel is for you? I don't think that anyone here is of Jewish descent, you may be, but I would say the vast majority of us are Gentiles; we've been included in this by God's grace.

Let me remind us of Ephesians 2:13-14. It says,

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.

That spiritual barrier has been broken and that's the very reason why you now can hear this gospel and respond. The question is, have you done that? Have you responded to this good news? Secondly, for those of us who are in Christ, this is a call for us not to allow dividing walls to be built, really, by our own hands in our practice of evangelism and even in our Christian fellowship.

We would all agree that God accepts anyone, "whosoever will may come," so anyone who repents and believes in Him, anyone He draws to Himself, he accepts them. We would all say that. And we would probably say amen to the fact that people of all races or, you know, gender or whatever, should come to Christ; we would say a hearty amen to that. But practically, sometimes we build these own dividing walls in the way that we practice evangelism and even in the way we interact with each other in the church. What this means for us is that age, race, our gender, economic status, and on and on, have nothing to do with our acceptance before God. God will accept any of us, wherever we are, if we will simply repent and believe.

Let me tell you a story that really brought this home for me. As I was studying I came across a story in Kent Hughes' commentary from the biography, believe it or not, of Mahatma Gandhi. That's not a name I think I've ever said in a sermon before, but let me read this story to you from his biography that really brings home how this application of these dividing walls can rise up in our own churches. "Mahatma Gandhi shares in his autobiography that in his student days in England he was deeply touched by reading the Gospels and seriously considered becoming a convert to Christianity, which seemed to offer a real solution to the caste system that divided the people of India. And one Sunday he attended church services and decided to ask the minister for enlightenment on salvation and other doctrines, but when Gandhi entered the sanctuary the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go elsewhere to worship with his own people. He left and never came back." This is from his biography, "If Christians have cast differences also," he said, "I might as well remain a Hindu."

Now, practically, I think all of us would agree that that was wrong, what that church did, and our church does not do that, okay, none of our ushers would ever do that, but practically what we can take away from this passage is that as Christians in 2012, soon to be soon to be 2013, we need to be sure that we don't build our own dividing walls based on these things that don't matter, but that in our culture sometimes can matter. You know, sometimes it's not evangelism so much as it is who we spend time with in the church or who we are willing to get to know or fellowship with.

You know, just a short list of things that we let get in the way, we've mentioned race and social status, but maybe it's occupation or hobbies that we enjoy, maybe it's even athleticism and what teams we participate in or don't participate in, maybe it's family dynamics of the number of kids that we have or how we school our children or personality or how we dress or entertainment choices, you name it, the list really can be anything. But the question is, are there certain types of people that you are more likely to greet when they walk in the doors of our church than others, based off of the way they look or some assumption that we make about them? If we're not careful, we can spend our time, even unintentionally, rebuilding dividing walls that Christ has demolished.

What is unique, one of the things that's unique, about the church is that we are a group of people that come together that have nothing really in common except, we've been redeemed from our sins by Jesus Christ. And so, we can have fellowship together that crosses age boundaries. People that are twice my age are very good friends of mine. Why? Because we have a unity in Christ. When people look at the community of the church they should say, wow, that is an odd group of people that you wouldn't put together. Why are they together? Because we've been put together by Jesus Christ in a body. And we've got to be careful not to divide ourselves in our evangelism and who we choose to share with or even in the church in who we choose to interact with.

Now, don't get me wrong, it is natural to gravitate towards people that enjoy the same things you enjoy and that you have common bonds, and that is not wrong, that's normal. What I'm saying is, are there any types of people or any people you can think about in your mind that you intentionally exclude for one of these reasons?

What this text tells us is that when it comes to the gospel, all who will repent and believe are welcome and in the church we, literally, are a family, knit together. And so all of our differences go away in that sense and that we are called, even with people maybe that rub us the wrong way because we just don't quite see somethings the same way, we don't do things the same way; we're called to love each other, to fellowship with each other.

And believe it or not, what I found is that when the Lord, by His grace, helps me to interact with people that it is more difficult to interact with than others and make an intentional effort to do that with a good heart, God means that to be part of the sanctification process. That's a good thing. It makes us more like Him. What I think we have to be sure to take away tonight is, rejoice in the fact that God has removed this dividing wall, therefore we are in Christ, and let's live that out. Let that be true in this church in the way we love each other. Let it be on display every Sunday, every fellowship, that, you know it, anybody can come, anybody that's in Christ, they're welcome here. May that be the testimony of our hearts. Let's pray together.

Lord God, I pray that You would use Your Word in each of our lives. We are so grateful that You saw fit to save us, to reach out to us dead sinners deserving of Your wrath, rightly deserving of Your wrath, and save us, based not upon our own merit but on the merit of Christ. I love this church. I love what You're doing in this church. And I pray that You would continue to make this church a beacon of one that loves Christ so much that that affects the way we love each other, that we love the world, that we are a church that evangelizes, that reaches out to the lost, and who cares for the body. Thank You so much for all of these truths You've shown us tonight in Your word. May we live them out faithfully. In Christ's name we pray, amen.