From the Old to The New Takes a Little Courage
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
12 January, 2014
Acts 10: 34 – 43
Gentiles Hear the Good News
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
Matthew 3: 13 – 17
The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
The baptism of Jesus was a rather radical event, certainly new, and certainly controversial. It must have taken a little courage on his part, as the Son of God, to have engaged in this novel ritual.
In psychology, neophobia is defined as the persistent and abnormal fear of anything new. In its milder form, it can manifest as the unwillingness to try new things or break from routine.
Researchers like Robert Wilson and Thomas Kuhn believe that new ideas, however well-proven and evident, are implemented only when the generations who consider them ‘new’ die and are replaced by generations who consider the ideas accepted and old.
As a result there are those who believe that were it not for huge social disruptions, like warfare, which force us to adopt changes, we would still be hunting and gathering like the cavemen of old.
Why do we cling to the old? Why do we not grasp the new, even when it so clearly holds life and excitement for us? It’s fear – that opposite of faith. Faith requires trusting, not in the old and familiar, but in God. And, paradoxically, how wonderful an experience that is. And O how we hate doing so.
I can only compare this to the experience of going down an extremely steep, stepped and sandy incline on a mountain bike, where you lose traction in both front and back wheels; where everything in you is screaming “No!” but where (if you keep your head and go with the flow) you can, by simple balance and shifting body weight, “float” down and through the obstacles. It is the most wonderful feeling. But it’s also terrifying. We hate losing control. We hate giving in to something that is not mundane, predictable and, yes, boring. As long as we are in control, not some thing or some One else, we feel safe.
The societies that are most resistant to change are those who have adopted at some point in the past an element of the new – and stuck with it. When this finds itself in a setting of relative affluence and is mixed with a sense of identity that values independence (i.e. I am in control) and hedonism (i.e. my pleasure is my first priority), we have a recipe for spiritual death by slow degrees of calcification. There are none so conservative as those who believe they are not so.
Now I’m not going to point the finger at Devonport, its relative affluence and its not all that well-hidden old hippy influences. The disease of fearing dependence upon God is common to all fallen human beings, and secretly all human beings want out of that. But what I am going to do is hope that God’s word challenges us this morning.
You see some things never change. Fear of change affected biblical characters (people just like you and me) as well. In our reading from Acts Peter is speaking to a group of Gentiles which on its own is a risky business. As he says in Vs 28 “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile…”
Peter is highly aware that what he is doing is new – indeed forbidden by God’s Law – but his heart is in the right place and after initially objecting, he listens to the voice of the Holy Spirit, puts his fear aside and heads off to what will become the opening up of the faith to non-Jewish believers. A momentous occasion, because he put his reputation, his religious instruction, his cultural prejudice (and all manner of fearful influences) aside in order to obey God.
And the God Peter obeys is fully revealed in Jesus. He’s not selling something to these Gentile listeners. God has already created a hunger in their hearts for the truth. He’s simply telling them the story of Jesus. It’s no different for us. People are still hungry and Jesus is still the answer to that hunger.
Blessing comes when ordinary men and women ignore their fears and step out in faith!Spiritual growth comes when ordinary men and women ignore their fears and step out in faith.
The supreme example of blessing coming out of ‘faith conquering fear’ is encapsulated in part of verses 39 and 40 of Peter’s talk. Peter says: They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; (followed by) 40but God raised him on the third day.
The supreme example of pocketing fear is Jesus saying to the Father in Gethsemane,“Take this cup from me, but not my will be done, but yours”. Jesus obediently gave up control to the crucifixion process and God raised him to life triumphant over death, fulfilling his life’s work as the Messiah of all humankind. We too have life because of Jesus’ obedience. Blessing comes when fears are put aside and we are obedient to God in faith.
You see you don’t gain anything if you don’t risk anything.
- It takes courage to ride down a very steep, stepped and sandy slope on a mountain bike, but the rewards if you let go of fear are tremendous.
- It took courage for Jesus to give up his life but the rewards for the entire universe were inestimable.
- It took courage for Peter to share the Good News with a group of Gentiles but he did so and Christianity grew from a Jewish sect to the worldwide movement God intended it to be.
It took courage for Jesus to submit to being baptised by John. John recognised this and tried to make it easy for him by saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
But Jesus pressed ahead in obedience and his step of faith is rewarded with a tremendous endorsement from God the Father: 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
We all seek approval from God. We all seek reward for our efforts. The reading from Acts this morning gives us a clue as to how we can please God. Another way of putting this is: what is the command of God to us? If we know that, we can carry it out and please God.
Peter tells his assembled listeners: 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.
The most basic work we have to do as Christians is to share Christ with other people. The story of Jesus is our bread and butter. It’s the Jesus of that story who sets people free, who meets their needs, not us. We simply share our love for the Jesus of the Gospel story.
Some of you might know former England cricketer, Robin Jackman, who ended up coaching in South Africa. Have a look at this short video and ask yourself what Christians did to share the faith with Robin.
What did Robin’s friends do? They put fear aside and shared Jesus with him.
Did you notice what Robin said after he found himself sitting next to Titch Smith at dinner? “I wanted to know more”. People have a deep hunger for God. They might not admit it, but they do. It was Blaise Pascale who said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”
How keen are you to please God? How prepared are you to put aside your fear, to pluck up your courage and take a step of faith? Robin Jackman got asked to a dinner. That is all you need to do to participate in the upcoming Alpha Course. Pray for someone and ask them to a dinner where their questions about faith and spirituality will be treated with respect.
Robin Jackman’s last words on the video are, “Finally, I’m learning the joy of surrender.”How keen are you to do so as well? I know it’s my daily challenge.
The way I see it is this. We have a simple choice in life and it is between the fearful, safe, bored and regretful on the one hand; and the faith-filled, risky, exciting and fulfilled on the other.
Is telling someone about Jesus a strange idea to you? Would doing so be an example of change that is threatening to you?
What you choose from moment to moment, day to day; is up to you. But it’s worth remembering that there may be someone desperate to choose life, and you may be the only person to reach them.
Think about this as the tremendous opportunity of Alpha approaches.
God bless you this morning.