Peter’s encounter with a sheet full of sin is one of the hardest passages in all of scripture to deal with.  Peter is called by God directly in a vision to do something, something major, that God had forbidden again and again in His Word.  The fact that the vision comes in the form of a sheet, or literally a sail, makes this particular call personal for Peter, but nonetheless, what do we do with this story?

Many have used it as an excuse to ignore any uncomfortable Old Testament (or even New Testament) laws they might want to ignore.  “If God called Peter to ignore an Old Testament law, then they must not matter that much.”  Unfortunately, we’ve used the other side of the argument to super-emphasize the Old Testament Law as well.  “If God had to make such a drastic intervention just to circumvent this particular prohibition, He would have done the same for any others He wanted circumvented, but He didn’t.”

In truth, the relationship between the OT Law and following Christ isn’t as easy as either of these lines of thought.  We cannot simply ignore Exodus or Leviticus because Peter was told to have some bacon.  And we cannot simply ignore our freedom in Christ because Peter wasn’t invited to work on the Sabbath.  This takes wisdom, prayer, and the Holy Spirit.  And a whole lot more space than we have here.

Instead, when we read this passage, we need to see Peter’s calling to share the gospel with anyone and everyone, even those he would not normally interact with.  But we also need to see Cornelius’ similar sentiment.  When God calls us to something, He also is at work preparing the hearer.  When you made the decision to follow Christ, what things had transpired in your life to prepare you for it?  Mentors?  Family?  Situations?  Youth ministry?

If God told you to walk up to a stranger and offering them healing like Peter did here in Acts 9, would you do it?  What if there was no direct command from God’s lips but rather you chose to offer it in Jesus’ name while walking downtown one day?

Jesus told the disciples who were with Him that they would do even more powerful miracles than He did through the Holy Spirit.  More powerful than Jesus’?  He raised the dead, calmed storms, and yes, healed the crippled.  Peter was there when Jesus promised that.  And the promise was for him.

But if the promise is, “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will do even more powerful things than this,” then what do we do with that?  (1) We are followers of Jesus like the Disciples were.  (2) We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us.  (3) We are the recipients of that promise just as Peter was.  If our theology is correct, and our faith is true, we can heal people!  So why don’t we?

In the book, “Jim and Kaspar Go to Church”, Kaspar the athiest, upon hearing a preacher tell a story of God healing someone through him, asks Jim the pastor why that pastor is wasting his time preaching here when he could be at a hospital healing people.  Caspar says it in jest, but points out an interesting point.  Why don’t we heal more today?  Why are there no YouTube videos of Christians healing people on the street or in their services?  Is it a lack of power, or a lack of faith?  That is the question this text asks of us today.

What would it take for you to record yourself healing someone born blind, deaf, or crippled?

“I don’t thank God for the gutters He pulled me out of. I thank God for the gutters He kept me from in the first place.”  This sentiment was part of a lecture by Bob Stromberg many years ago, and it so resonated with me that it has become my story as well.

In my youth, the church’s primary means of evangelism was to bring in someone with a frightful story, and the more frightful the better.  Drugs, alcohol, sex, gangs, prison… these were the best story settings.  And then came the inevitable twist – God saved them from that life and now they follow Him and everything has turned out great.

Next, the story was similar but the endings were a little more believable.  God saved them from their horrible lives and while everything isn’t peaches and rainbows, they follow God and He gives them purpose.

In each of these periods of Evangelical evangelism, I felt left out.  I had a really great childhood.  My parents loved me, cared for me, raised me in the church, and I never had need of the racier sins.  To this day I’ve never even been buzzed let alone drunk or high, and I was a virgin on my wedding night.  My wife is beautiful, smart, and Godlier than I am, and  I have raised 4 great kids with amazing lives themselves.  So my testimony is pretty boring and sounds way too much like bragging to be a good evangelism tool.

So, I have to borrow from the bible and its accounts of redeemed sinners.  Paul is the prime example, but Moses, Abraham, Gideon and many others fit this storyline.

So, as a sinner who lived a really great life, all I can say is that by my experience, following God has never let me down.  If you aren’t following Him, think about it.  Don’t wait until you have no other choice.

What are the odds?  How unlikely is this whole story?  Looking at Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch, we can’t help but ask how this could possibly have come to be.  But then we remember that God is involved, and it begins to make sense.

The treasurer to the Queen of the Ethiopians, a believer traveling to Jerusalem to worship, is heading home when he happens to be reading a scroll of the book of Isaiah.  He happens to be reading one of the primary Christological passages of that book, but can’t understand any of it.  Philip “happens” to be standing next to the chariot and asks if he can help.

This story really doesn’t strike us as odd, though, because we understand that where God is involved, coincidences happen.  It seems like a typical act of God that this important man’s salvation would be orchestrated so distinctly, and yet must have seemed so lucky.

What parts of your life seemed like coincidence at the time, only to be revealed as the work of God in your life?  What might He be doing right now for you?  Watch out for coincidences – they may be much more!

Our motives matter.  Why we do something is sometimes as important as what we do.  In seminary, as I read and studied, I began to formulate an entire theological framework around the idea of motives rather than behaviors.  Unfortunately, that kind of thinking leads to horrendous acts perpetrated with good motives.  For example, in the recent Avengers: Infinity War movie, Thanos would be considered the hero rather than the villain, for his motives were frankly heroic – to save the universe from overpopulation and self-destruction.  The fact that the means to this end was to kill half the population of the universe wouldn’t matter.  So, my Motive Theology falls short, but nonetheless, motives still matter.

Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 faces the opposite dilemma.  He wants to do the right thing – giving people the Holy Spirit – but for the wrong motives – self aggrandizement.  We can’t believe that someone would consider paying the apostles for the ability to bestow the Holy Spirit on others.  And yet, how often do we fall into this same trap?  Not with the giving of the Holy Spirit, but in other more subtle ways.

Have you ever wanted to serve the poor to help your resume become more attractive?  Ever stood for the downtrodden so that you could feel like you were taking a stand for a cause rather than to help them?  Ever come to worship so others would see you there rather than giving God your attention?  In these and so many other ways, our discipleship can so quickly become self-serving.

For Simon, trying to buy the Holy Spirit led to a condemnation of his wickedness by Peter.  Who loves you enough to point out the selfishness of your faith, not so they might feel better about themselves but because they love you enough to risk your friendship in order to see you grow more like Christ.