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“Let Me Explain” (Acts 11:1-18)

First Baptist Church https://fbcbartow.org

I want to tell you about a time that I was accused of something. My family and I were driving to my brother’s wedding in Texas. Well, if you’ve not driven in Texas, you may not know this, but the speed limit is like 150 mph or something. Anyhow, I was driving rather fast, and a police officer had a car pulled over. I couldn’t get over, so I hugged the far side of the lane that I was in so that I wouldn’t be close to the police officer’s car. After it was safe to do so, I veered back a little to center my car in the lane. Well, wouldn’t you know it, that police officer finished what he was doing and then pulled me over. He said it looked like I was swerving. He wanted to see if I was impaired while I was driving. My wife, Jennifer, had a smirk on her face because she always has an opinion about my driving. But I could not believe that I was being accused of poor driving. So, I said to the officer, “Let me explain.”

In today’s passage, Peter is going to face an accusation and he is going to explain what happened. Today’s sermon is entitled, “Let Me Explain.”

You may recall from last week what happened in Acts 10. If you were out last week, that’s ok because Acts 11 provides a bit of a recap from last week’s passage.

So, let’s look at the passage in Acts 11:1–18:

1 The apostles and the brothers and sisters who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

4 Peter began to explain to them step by step, 5 “I was in the town of Joppa praying, and I saw, in a trance, an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it came to me. 6 When I looked closely and considered it, I saw the four-footed animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. 7 I also heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’

8 “ ‘No, Lord!’ I said. ‘For nothing impure or ritually unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a voice answered from heaven a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call impure.’

10 “Now this happened three times, and everything was drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to accompany them with no doubts at all. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we went into the man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 14 He will speak a message to you by which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning. 16 I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If, then, God gave them the same gift that he also gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?”

18 When they heard this they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.”

Let us go to God in prayer and ask Him to speak to us now through this passage and through this sermon.


Now, let’s identify three sections of this passage and listen to what God might be teaching us:

First, we see . . .

‌I. The accusation

Verse 1 points out that the news of the Gentiles coming to God had spread all throughout Judea.

Remember, Judea is the region surrounding Jerusalem.

You may remember this map , which contains the journeys of Peter in Acts 9 and 10.

Well, Judea is pretty much right here.

Judea was the center of early Christianity and also the home of most of the traditional Jewish Christians.

So, the work that God accomplished through Peter in Caesarea By the Sea (which we learned about in Acts 10) had spread all throughout a major portion of Israel, the region of Judea.

As the news spread, some people didn’t like what they heard, so they confronted Peter about what they didn’t like.

Verses 2 and 3 say, “When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”

By the way, to say that these men were uncircumcised was to say that they were non-Jewish; they were Gentile; they were “unclean” according to the Jewish law.

Notice that they weren’t critical of Peter for sharing the gospel with non-Jewish people; rather, they were critical of Peter for eating with non-Jewish people.

To eat with somebody means that you get up close and personal.

Further, if you’re a traditional Jew, when you eat with “unclean” people, you might expose yourself to “unclean” food.

Notice, also, that those who were critical were called “the circumcision party.” More than likely, this phrase refers to a group of ultra-traditional Christians who not only wanted to maintain their Jewish roots but they wanted others to conform to their ultra-traditional preferences.

Now, I want to be careful not to be too hard on these accusers because Christianty was new, and it started as an exclusively Jewish faith.

Up to this point, the Christians were Jewish, so they were still trying to figure all of this out. They were still trying to figure out how Jesus made all things new.

They had not yet understood the implications of what Jesus meant when He said, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

Similarly, they had not yet fully understood what Jesus meant when He said in Luke 22:20 “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”.

So, these ultra-traditional Jewish Christians may not have been people just trying to cause problems; they may have still been hung up on the law, which they had clung to as part of the heart of their worship of God.

It’s interesting, though, that they chose to criticize Peter. Of all the people they could criticize, they were criticizing Peter?

Who besides Peter at that point had stood more boldly for the cause of Christ? Who besides Peter had preached more faithfully in front of thousands of people? Who besides Peter had God used to do more amazing miracles in the early church?

Yet, Peter is the one they are criticizing.

Let this be a side note, church: This is not the main point of this passage, but here’s a little nugget we can learn. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing great work for the Lord that yields great success for the church, you will still be criticized. That’s ok; you’re in good company with Peter.

Also, other times you will totally mess up and deserve criticism. That’s ok, as well; you’re also in good company with Peter from some of his other stories.

Nevertheless, let’s go back to our main point: Peter is accused of eating with unclean Gentiles.

Well, how does Peter react? Let’s look now at . . .

‌II. The explanation

We see in verses 4-17 that Peter largely gives a recap of what happened in chapter 10.

By the way, it’s worth noting that the accusation leveled against Peter was absolutely true. Peter did eat with non-Jewish people. However, much more took place besides gathering around a table for a meal.

Peter describes the vision that God gave him, he describes the vision that God gave Cornelius, he describes how Cornelius’ men escorted him to Caesarea, he describes how he spoke about Jesus to all those gathered in Caesarea, and he described how the Holy Spirit came down upon those who were gathered there.

Peter then says in verse 16, “I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Peter is quoting what Jesus said in the beginning of Acts, from Acts 1:5.

Peter then says in verse 17, “If, then, God gave them the same gift that he also gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?”

Here’s what Peter is getting at in his explanation: God was clearly at work among these Gentiles.

Peter said he had a vision from God not to call something unclean that God has made clean.

Peter said he was instructed to go visit a man who was once considered “unclean” simply because of his cultural and genetic background.

Peter said after he spoke to this man and all those with him that the Holy Spirit came upon those non-Jewish people in the same way that the Holy Spirit came upon the Jewish Christians, presumably speaking about the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.

Peter then recalls how Jesus said that a sign of someone who follows Jesus is when the Holy Spirit comes into their life.

Everything started to click for Peter, so he couldn’t help but be obedient to what God called him to do, which is why he asks in verse 17, “How could I possibly hinder God?”

Peter’s explanation is that God told him to do it, he did it, and God showed up in a powerful way. I mean, what can you say to that?

Well, how did those who accused Peter respond?

That takes us to our final point:

‌III. The glorification

How did the accusers respond? Look at verse 18 again:

When they heard this they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.”

We learn in verse 18 that these accusers, this “circumcision party,” these ultra-traditional Jewish Christians, heard what happened, and they glorified God!

This reaction is incredible! This is how things should go, right? An accusation is made, an explanation is given, and the two sides come together in agreement. In this case, they come together in agreement to glorify God because non-Jewish people can be saved from their sins by the work of Jesus Christ.

This was something that was totally unexpected and probably unfathomable to committed Jewish people. They would have never thought that non-Jewish people could be saved by the Jewish Messiah without having to actually convert to Judaism. After all, they said repentance had come “ . . . even to the Gentiles.”

They were learning that Jesus came to save more than just the Jewish people. They were learning that the covenant through Jesus was much more powerful than the covenant through the Jewish law.

As they learned these beautiful realities, they glorified God.

God’s people were starting to recognize God’s work.

That brings us to our bottom line:

‌Bottom Line: God’s true people will recognize God’s true work.

Listen, church: If God is in something, God’s people should be able to recognize it.

Now, in order to recognize God’s work, we must be close to God.

We must know Him by reading His Word.

We must speak to Him through prayer.

We must listen to Him by meditating on His Word and sensing His Spirit speaking to us.

Listen, church: God will lead you to do supernatural things in your life. God will lead our church to do supernatural things.

You must recognize God’s call and God’s work. We must recognize God’s call and God’s work.

We must all be obedient together, and we must give glory to God together.

‌Weekly Challenge #1 – Consider if you might be opposing the work of God.

Peter said in verse 17: “How could I possibly hinder God?”

You might ask yourself that question: How could I possibly hinder God? How could I possibly oppose God? How could I possibly try to stand in the way of what God is doing?

The reality is, God can do amazing things in our lives, but we sometimes have a spirit of resistance to what God is doing.

Similarly, God is sometimes doing amazing things through churches, but some of the people from within that very church have a spirit of resisitance to what God is doing.

So, ask yourself this week if you are opposing the work of God.

‌Weekly Challenge #2 – Celebrate the lifegiving grace of God.

What a joy that the gospel came not just for the Jewish people but for all who call upon the name of Jesus.

As Paul celebrated in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.”

As they did so in verse 18, may we celebrate and glorify God because He gives repentance that results in life to everyone who believes.

(Gospel presentation)

(closing prayer)

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