Three Temptations that Derail our Faith (Acts 10 and Galatians 2:11-21) SERMON
3 Temptations That Derail Faith
Acts 10 and Galatians 2:11–21
Welcome, I am pastor Rob, and it is my pleasure and joy to bring to you God’s Word.
Over the last few weeks, we have enjoyed Easter and the followup story of Jesus as he meets his disciples. We have learned background material about the early church and the author of the letters we are studying this year by the Apostle Peter.
WORD TO THE CHILDREN
To the children out there this morning. As I tell stories of Peter, try drawing what happens. Have your parents take a picture of it and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like. We will try to feature them for the next service or weekly email. Thanks.
BEGIN WITH THE ENDING
Let me begin with an ending. Pastor Jeff mentioned it last week. In 1563, John Foxe published a series of short biographical accounts on the martyrs of the faith. Using various sources, he wrote, “[In 67 AD] emperor [Nero] was ...thinking to abolish and to destroy the whole name of Christians in all places... In this persecution, among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death, and crucified…. [Peter insisted] his head being down, and his feet upward; .... because he said [he was]... unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord.” 1, 2 Thus, Peter gave up his life to follow Jesus. How was it that Peter could stand up for his faith to the point of death? Last week, we talked about Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Peter did, but it was not without challenges. He faced several trials that could derail his faith.
STRAIGHT PATHS AND SUFFERING
Many of us think it sure would be nice to have a straight path and clear direction about the future. We might ask, “God, give me a mission, tell me the steps, and guide me along the way.” In John 21, God laid out a journey before Peter, he would stretch out his hands, and some would take to a place he would not want to go and dress him. I don’t think Peter knew that his enemies would crucify him for his faith. John tells us that was what Jesus was getting at. What if God’s path for you was hard. What if he had you wandering in the wilderness for decades? What if he had for you a walk through years of heartache and loss? For some of you, that is your lot in life. Peter’s journey was like that. How do we stay strong, finish the course, and keep the faith? In the events that follow, I see three temptations that threaten to derail the life of faith
Before we continue, let’s pray.
Dear God, I need your grace to share your word. I believe you want to arrest our minds and focus our attention not on me or ourselves, but on you and how we can follow. May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our heart be pleasing to you, our Rock and Redeemer. AMEN.
TEMPTATION OF SUPERIORITY
TEMPTATION OF SUPERIORITY
The first temptation I see Peter successfully overcomes. It is one of superiority. Luke records the command of Christ to the disciples to wait for the Spirit to come to them in Acts 1. And the Spirit did in Acts 2. With the descent of the Spirit came the power to witness not only in Jerusalem but also in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of Earth. Jesus gave this great commission to go to all nations, and that was what they did.
SOCIAL DISTANCE BECAUSE WE ARE BETTER
But not right away. There was a problem; the Jews didn’t associate with non-Jews. They were chosen and set apart, holy, and clean. To give you an idea of the distance between Jews and Gentiles, look at this. It is a 2000-year-old warning about Gentiles coming into the Temple at Jerusalem.
This stone says, “Let no foreigner enter within the parapet and the partition which surrounds the Temple precincts. Anyone caught [violating] will be held accountable for his ensuing death.” It was deadly associating with the wrong people.
JEWS AND SAMARITANS
Another example of the social distance Jews made with Gentiles is found in John 4. Jesus asked for water from a Samaritan woman as he passed through the region. She was shocked. She asked him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria” (John 4:9). Her incredulity derived from the understanding that Samaritans were unorthodox, unclean, and common. The Jews, on the other hand, were different, superior in a sense, Jesus didn’t see her ethnicity as a barrier to ministry.
THE STORY OF ACTS
After Jesus died and rose and the Spirit fell, the gospel was moving out beyond Israel to Samaria, breaking down these walls. In Acts chapter 8, Philip followed the prompting of the Spirit and took the good news to an Ethiopian. He became the first from the continent of Africa to hear the gospel. In chapter 9, God converted a persecutor of the faith from Tarsus, nowadays Turkey, Saul. He went on to write much of the New Testament, plant churches, and God commissioned him as, “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Before Paul, AKA Saul did that he went to Jerusalem. There he crossed paths with Peter, who left for Joppa, and that is where the story begins this morning. This is what Luke recorded through Peter’s witness, “And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he [Peter] stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner” (Acts 9:42–43). The Spirit was moving. Miracles were happening, and the gospel was spreading. Peter was following the Lord.
FIRST GENTILE CONVERT: CORNELIUS
In chapter 10, we hear of what many think was the first Gentile convert through Peter’s witness. Kids, this is one of the two stories you might draw. The convert’s name was Cornelius. He was a soldier, a leader, a philanthropist, a prayer warrior, and a God-fearer. Acts records,
"About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror." (Acts 10:3-4)
Picture that. It is three o’clock, and you are praying, and an angel appears to you. Cornelius was alarmed. He asked, “What is it, Lord?”
The angel responded, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter” (Acts 10:3–4). Then the angel left, and Cornelius obeyed.
Thirty miles south, in Joppa, less than twenty-four hours later, Peter had a vision. The text says,
He fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the Earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. (Acts 10:10–16 )
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
What was God doing? What was God saying? Peter didn’t understand. He left that supernatural experience perplexed. God made dietary laws obvious in the Old Testament. Those rules advanced the Israelite culture above others with the special revelation that science has validated as hygienic. Some animals are not safe to eat, so God forbade them. We see the detrimental effects of disease eating unclean things around the world today. God’s laws demonstrated his wisdom, care, and holiness.
WHY THE DIETARY LAWS
Leviticus 20 is an example of this.
“You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (Leviticus 20:22–26)
Peter was not perfect, but when it came to dietary laws, apparently, he never disobeyed. He was holy. He was the Lord’s. He was following God. That being the case, what was going on? It is wise to be suspicious of something that seems contrary to Scripture. The Bible warns that Satan will disguise himself as an angel of light. The Devil used the scriptures to tempt Jesus three times. So, what was God saying? What were the deeper meanings and principles of Leviticus 20 and this trance? How do we interpret the dietary laws in 2020?
MEMORY OF JESUS’S INTERPRETATION
Perhaps, this event triggered a memory of Jesus' teaching. Christ said, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:10–11). He also taught that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5). He said to his followers they were to make disciples of all nations baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that he commanded (Matthew 28:18–20). What did Jesus command? How does he fulfill the Law and Leviticus 20? The Gentiles, including Cornelius, was part of the nations Peter was to be a witness to and teach. Here is where ethnic superiority can tempt one to isolate oneself from obeying God and derailing the faith? The gospel is that Jesus is our holiness now. He makes us holy through his once for all sacrifice on the cross, not by our attempting to comply with the law perfectly.
TEMPTATION OF SUPERIORITY
The first temptation I see in the story is superiority. The Jews were God’s chosen people, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession. God revealed himself to them in a unique way over the centuries. Naturally, Peter could justify ignoring these Gentile visitors based on history and theology.
In our day, we can put our stock in our country, economy, and community. We can have an ethnocentric and prideful arrogance that hinders us from humbly hearing God speak and taking an honest look at ourselves, our resources, our circumstances, and God’s Word. I am not sure how hard it was for Peter to comply with God’s invitation, but the number of times God spoke, maybe a hint as to the barriers he had to overcome. Xenophobia or nationalism can be a massive wall to listening to the Spirit. The enemy is not an immigrant, refugee, or stranger. The enemy for Peter was himself and the perspective that Jews don’t associate with the common or unclean. Do we think we are better than others? Can we follow and submit to God, who might lead us out of our comfort zone and safety?
HOLY SPIRIT CONFIRMATION
The Holy Spirit confirmed what Peter needed to hear. The text goes on,
And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” (Acts 10:19–20)
As soon as this revelation ended, the men from Cesarea arrived looking for Peter lodging in the house of Simon, the Tanner just as he had said. The Gentile visitors explained themselves, further authenticating and helping Peter identify that God was behind this odd feast. The call to rise and eat in his trance was symbolic of future fellowship. Peter was to go against cultural and historical traditions to extend the gospel in radical ways. He resisted the temptation of seeing himself as superior by submitting himself to the Spirit, he listened to the voice of God, and he obeyed his Word.
GOD SPEAKING TO YOU
How is God’s speaking to you? What is the Bible telling you? How can you follow him? God has stripped away much of what distracts. We can fall into tribalized perspectives. God calls us to follow him and love our neighbor, regardless of religion, race, politics, occupation, age, or class. Following can be uncomfortable. Certainly, with social distancing, it has challenges. Our hope, friends, is not in being “made in America” or a bull markets or likes on Facebook and Instagram, no our hope is in God.
OBEDIENCE IS THE KEY
Another thirty miles of walking and Cornelius was ready for what Peter would say. He brought friends and family to hear. Peter began with the “lawfulness” of the meeting. This social interaction was unheard of and illegal to many. Peter attacked this temptation of superiority through obeying the Spirit.
PREACHING THE WORD - AGAINST COMPLACENCY
Which brings up a second temptation that would derail our faith: complacency. So, the first I see was a temptation of superiority, and the second was a temptation to complacency.
TEMPTATION OF SUPERIORITY TEMPTATION OF COMPLACENCY
Cornelius and Peter shared something. They both were law followers. Peter knew God’s law. He complied with God’s law. Cornelius was a good man. He had a good reputation. He managed a hundred Roman soldiers and executed the law. However, following the rules was not enough; it was not adequate for God.
Let’s listen to Peter’s sermon.
“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10:34–42)
What did Peter say? Was he saying that anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable? Look at verse 34 again. What does it say? “in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Peter said, Cornelius gave to the poor, feared God, and prayed regularly. Indeed, he was acceptable to God. If that is true, why did God send Peter to Cornelius? Why did he take time to have Corneilus send men thirty miles away and thirty miles back? Why did Cornelius gather all the people to hear Peter?
Peter answered that in the last sentence of his sermon, which I didn’t read, verse 43. Peter said,
To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
That is why Cornelius needed Peter. There is a sense that Cornelius’ prayers were acceptable, yes. God heard him, yes. Yet, he was not forgiven. He did not know Jesus. His destiny was eternal punishment and death. He needed forgiveness and eternal life that can only be found in Jesus.
WHERE ARE YOU AT WITH JESUS
Where are you at with Jesus? Do you trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior? Do you know your sin? Do you feel it? Do you see it? If you do, good. Then, fly to Jesus for forgiveness. He is the only way to God our Father. He offers forgiveness freely without cost to you. Don’t fall into the temptation of complacency. The reality is that Jesus died for a purpose (1 Corinthians 15:3). As acceptable as Cornelius was, he still needed God’s forgiveness. If you have found it, praise the Lord!
FORGIVENESS FOR WHAT?
What is sin? A couple of hundred pastors asked that question in England hundreds of years ago. They came up with this simple definition: “Sin is any want [meaning lack] of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Answer 14). The Jews, during Jesus’ day, tried to enumerate all of God’s laws and came up with 613 rules. Jesus summed them up with two, Love God and love people (Matthew 22:37–40). If you fail to love God in one part, you fail all of it (James 2:10). You are a lawbreaker the Bible says and need forgiveness, just like me.
WE NEED TO SEE OURSELVES CORRECTLYWhen following Christ, we must see ourselves correctly. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, took a good look at himself. He said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). I think much of our problems today would be alleviated if we view ourselves as the foremost sinners whom Christ has forgiven.
WHO IS THE BIGGEST SINNER YOU KNOW?
Friends, do you see yourself as the biggest sinner, you know? Do you see your sin? Or do you rest on being well-liked, relatively good, law-abiding, and acceptable? Take a moment to consider how you have fallen short of loving God. Jesus said we are to love him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Do you? That is what he wants. The second commandment he said was to love your neighbor as yourself. Do you?
You can tell God your sin right now and receive his forgiveness. It was true 2000 years ago, and it is true today. Jesus took your punishment, so you wouldn’t have to. Turn from sin and believe and be forgiven. Do you believe? As long as you believe, your sins are forgiven. That is amazing! That is the good news emanating from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to Ethiopia, to Joppa, and now Caesarea. God has his people all over, relying not on morality but the messiah. The good news continued to expand beyond the superiority of ethnicity and the complacency of morality.
As Peter spoke, the Spirit again offered proof that God was behind this. The Holy Spirit fell on these men and women, and they received the gift of tongues and praised God. Convinced of God’s work, Peter commanded them to demonstrate their faith with action: baptism. If you say you follow Christ, identify with him.
THE THIRD TEMPTATION OF HYPOCRISY
So, we have seen two temptations to derail the faith: superiority and complacency. Peter avoided the first by listening to the Spirit and the second by relying on Christ, not his or Cornelius’ relative goodness. Lastly, in the story of Peter that follows, we see a temptation of hypocrisy to derail the faith.
TEMPTATION OF SUPERIORITY TEMPTATION OF COMPLACENCYTEMPTATION OF HYPOCRISY
The gospel was spreading. Kids here is another event you could try to draw. The good news of Jesus spread quickly three hundred miles north of Jerusalem to a city named Antioch. Barnabas was there and saw people coming to Christ. He left to get Paul to help him establish the church. Sometime between Acts 11 and 12, Peter visited and got into a theological argument with Paul. Acts doesn’t document this, but Paul does in his letter to Galatia.
But when Cephas [That is Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11–14)
What was happening? When people came from James in Jerusalem and saw Peter living like a Gentile, they disapproved. Peter reacted to that disapproval with fear. He began teaching people to live under the Mosaic Law as Christians, even though he lived by faith in the gospel of grace. This was the temptation of hypocrisy that Paul pointed out.
WHY WAS PETER TEMPTED
Why? Peter wanted to identify with his friends rather than God. He cared more about what they thought than what Jesus thought. He followed people, not the Spirit. Proverbs 29:25 states, “The fear of man lays a snare.”
DO YOU FEAR WHAT PEOPLE THINK?
Have you ever been caught in that snare? Have you gone with the flow to places you shouldn’t? Have you laughed at jokes you shouldn’t? Have you been a chameleon, changing how you live based on who you are with? Would people call you a hypocrite? That was what Paul said of Peter.
Paul called him out. He wrote what we should believe,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:17–21)
Paul said that the truth we embrace, the hope we cling to, is Jesus. It is not circumcision. It is not the Mosaic Law. It is not living a good life or being a good person. It is no giving to the poor, praying continually, or being religious. If we could get to God based on upbringing, relative goodness, or any other way, Christ died for no reason.
HOW DID PETER RESPOND TO CONFRONTATION?
How did Peter take this? We don’t exactly, but several chapters later, Peter goes back to Jerusalem, and the issue comes up a second time. Is following the Mosaic Law necessary for forgiveness or not? Here is what Peter said,
“Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (15:5–11)
Peter returned to faith in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sins.
WHAT IS OUR HOPE?
Whether you are young, or old, rich or poor, white or black, male or female, whoever you are, your only hope is Christ. If you believe, you will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Peter rotted in a Roman prison for his faith, the last thing we have his writing is this,
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:15–18)
Peter and Paul died for their faith in Rome. They were on the same team proclaiming the same gospel to that same end. They persevered through many trials and temptations and fought the good fight of faith.
Where are you at with God? God has stripped away much of what we cling to and find comfort. Where is your ultimate hope? Do you think yourself superior, or are you complacent, or hypocritical? Let me encourage you to take some space. Enjoy the spring and go for a walk with God. Take a seat and grab a pen and a bible and talk with God. How? Here are four things to do.
Thank him for the good that you have. Share with him your burdens, fears, disappointments, frustrations, and desires. Listen. Read your Bibles, and ask what does it mean to follow, today and this week? Then commit to take the next step and obey.
Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for your word. Help us not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Help us be humble and obedient. Help us not be stuck in ruts of complacency. Instead, help us to obey the promptings of your Spirit and embrace the truth of your Word. Help us not be hypocrites or chameleons. Help us be honest and forthright, faithful, and courageous. We need your help to that end for your glory and our joy. AMEN.
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2. In 313 AD, Eusebius wrote of Emperor Nero, “publicly announcing himself as the first among God's chief enemies, he was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.” https://www.fisheaters.com/eusebius.html