Divine Guidance and the Will of God, Part 2
NKJ Isaiah 40:31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
We are studying how to know the will of God. We started this last time as sort of an interlude in our study of Jacob because we see specific guidance from God taking place in the life of Jacob. People get all kinds of funny ideas about how to know God's will and divine guidance. Over the process of time people have developed different views. As we go forward in church history, different doctrines come to be understood with greater clarity in certain words and verbiage that sometimes have been used probably ought not to be used because of the nature of our culture, because of things that are going on in the world around us. Other times we come to the realization that perhaps some of the words we have used aren't the best words and biblically they aren't used that way. One of those is "the leading of the Holy Spirit". The leading of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18 doesn't refer to divine guidance. We will study that on Thursday night. You see great little hook to get everyone back on Thursday night.
We will get into that on Thursday night and that dovetails with what we have been addressing there in terms of the pressures on the individual believer from both the rationalistic empirical world view on the one hand and a mystical type of world view on the other hand. When people are coming out of either one of those kinds of world views and they come to the Scriptures and they interpret it within that grid, then it leads to slight misinterpretations one way or the other. This has always happened down through church history.
I was reading to today doing some study on the whole issue of Calvinism and Arminianism and free will and the soul. Most people want to articulate those debates on the will of man and the sovereignty of God in terms of historic Calvinism or Arminianism. Most folks don't know that it goes back to an earlier debate that occurred between Augustine who was the bishop of Hippo in about the 4th or 5th century AD and a British monk by he name of Pelages. That grew out of certain influences that took place in the early church in the late second and early third century as Platonism and then later neo-Platonism began to influence the thinking of the major theologians. Specifically a man named Origen as well as several others. Clement of Alexander was another one. It also influenced Augustine later on. Those were such major thinkers and they were so influential in the early church that it literally took 1,000 years or more to begin to divest the church of the garbage that they brought into theological thinking in Christianity. The vestiges of that are still with us. You can go to some churches in town. You have amillennialists and covenant theologians. They can trace their heritage and the way they think about certain passages using an allegorical or a non-literal interpretation of prophecy back to Origen. So we still deal with these problems today. There are always these misunderstandings.
One area that I started last week is on the issue of divine guidance. How do we know God's will? How does God direct us? How do we face the issues of life and say, "What is God's will for my life?"
So last time I started off with some introduction. We had 9 points last time. I am not going to review the 9 points tonight. If you want to get all nine of them listen to the tape from last week. I will just summarize them.
Often the way that the will of God and knowledge of the will of God and divine guidance are presented in many, many cases is that you need to learn to live in the center of God's will - God has a specific will and plan for your life – a geographic will, His will professionally, His will in terms of only one particular person that is right for you to marry, one right job for you. Dare I even say one right pastor or one right church? All of this boils down to the idea that there is only one specific will of God for you in all of these different areas and if you miss it or if you make the wrong decision or if that other person makes the wrong decision, then you are toast. You will miss out on God's best for your life and you will never experience it because that woman married some loser or that guy married some girl friend of his from high school instead of waiting until college. Or that man who was supposed to be your right pastor decided to leave his wife and chase some sweet young thing. Whatever it is, now you are hung out to dry. So you see there are basic problems with all these different views.
I remember years ago talking to Charlie Clough and he had a guy in his church who was getting his PhD at Texas Tech in early 20th century literature. He pointed out that one of the things that dominated fictional literature at the end of the 19th century and two or three decades into the 20th century was this Platonic idea that there was one ideal mate. As soon as I use that word ideal if you know anything about philosophy, what ought to come to your mind? What ought to come to your mind is Platonism. It has plagued us down through the centuries. We even talk about certain kinds of relationships as platonic. That is just a platonic relationship. We even talk about ideal woman or the ideal man or the ideal marriage. That dominated the thinking in America and it was a part of a return to romanticism that occurred in reaction to industrialism and liberalism that was dominating things at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. So all of this entered into and had an effect in Christianity. There are all kinds of people who at times have at times taught these kinds of things down through church history.
The question is, does the Bible teach it? The question that people need to ask is, where in the world in the Bible do you get this particular doctrine? Give me some verses. It may not say it specifically like the trinity, but at least you can give me five verses that if I put them together so I can see the conclusion. So we have to address this. What is the way the Bible presents these facts to us in making decisions? Is there just one and only dot that we have to live on? X marks the spot and you've got to find it. If you take that out to its logical conclusion you have a right job, you have a right house, and you have a right dog. You have a right cat. You have a right kid. Ooops! Some of us didn't get the right kid.
The contrasting view is the view that teaches that God has given us doctrine and we make choices on the basis of the doctrine in our soul. That emphasizes personal responsibility for making decisions. In the other view what you end up doing often is blaming God for the decision. I have to wait for God to tell me exactly what person or what job or what school or what car to buy. Should I put on my Nikes or my Adidas this morning? You have to take it all the way out to its logical conclusion. What is the right thing for me to do today? Then when you get that liver quiver and God tells you it is this one or it is that one and if there is a problem and it doesn't work out, whose fault is it? It's not my fault. I didn't make a bad decision. It's God's fault. It was God's will. So we wrap it up in this holier than thou terminology. We sanctify the bad decisions by saying it was God's will. So God gets blamed for our poor decisions.
I am not saying that God doesn't direct or lead us. But it is covert rather than overt. For those of you who don't understand computers this is going to go right passed you. The Holy Spirit's and God's direction in our lives is often like some of those programs that are running in the background on our computers. Those of you who are computer guys understand what I am talking about. When you start up your computer, there are various things running in the background. You don't have any idea what is going on and you don't see it, but they are directing the decision making that is going on in the processor in your computer. You are making decisions and choices, but there are things in the background that are guiding, directing, and overseeing the process. That is how God's will operates.
So we began last time by trying to define some terms. The first term was God's sovereign will. God has a sovereign will. This also known as His decretive will. This also includes His permissive will. His sovereign will is His decision of what will take place in human history. We don't know what that is. We don't know what His sovereign will includes or what it excludes until events happen.
Then we have a second category called God's moral or revealed will. In God's moral or revealed will we have the mandates in the Scriptures (the "thou shalt's) and the prohibitions (the "thou shalt not's). We have the emphasis on studying the Scripture, praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all things. All of this describes the boundaries of God's revealed will so that if you are walking by the Spirit, you are filled with Spirit, you are speaking all things in love, you are loving one another as Christ loved the church, you are making a priority out of the knowledge of God's Word, you are giving thanks for all things; then whatever decisions you make within that circle is God's will.
When you get out of fellowship and you are walking according to the sin nature nothing you do is God's will because everything you do no matter how good, no matter how wonderful it is whether that includes getting up in the morning and praying for 30 minutes, memorizing Scripture, reading your Bible, witnessing to people; but if you are out of fellowship it is what? It is all works of the flesh. That is not God's will.
The issue is walking by means of the Spirit within the framework of the clear statements in Scripture describing God's moral and revealed will and then it is okay. Then you evaluate your decisions and you look at the resources that God gives you. You look how the most responsible ways are that you utilize the resources that God gives you – your money, your time, your energy, and your gifts. Whatever you do as long as you are in fellowship, walking by the Spirit, giving thanks for all things, all those other commandments (loving your wife, being submissive to your husband, and all of those things), then you are in God's will. It makes it real simple. You don't have to always be concerned about finding that "X" marks the spot and hoping that God will reveal it to you. So we have God's sovereign will which includes both the existence of sin and evil and the permissive will to allow free creatures to make bad decisions.
Then we have God's moral will that describes what He has revealed. The circles overlap because there is some area where God's sovereign will includes His moral will. But there are areas in God's sovereign will that are outside of His revealed will. That is permissive will. He allows sin to take place. He allows you to disobey the "thou shalt's" or the "thou shalt not's". We concluded by saying that the specifics of God's decreed will are secret, unrevealed, and unknown. You can't know them. You can't figure it out. Whatever happens is what was in God's decreed will. They can't be known until after the fact. You can't outguess God. You can't try to play games.
When you were a kid, you said, "Maybe God wanted me to do this."
I remember doing silly thing like that when I was a kid. Then you realize that whatever you do is what God decreed so you can't outguess Him.
Human history is the outworking of God's sovereign decree. We can only know the specifics of His revealed or moral will. If revelation has ceased, then there is no more revelation of His will. You have to rely upon the Scriptures and make those decisions that are consistent with the precepts, mandates and prohibitions of the Word of God. Since we can only know the specifics of God's revealed or moral will before the fact, questions about the will of God relate only to revealed information. So when people start asking questions - should I go to college, should I not go to college, should I go to tech school, should I major in this or major in that, should I go to Texas A&M, Texas Tech, or University of Texas - as long as they are in a place where they can learn the Word of God, where there is a local church they can be involved in, where they can be part of the body of Christ, where they can grow and mature as a believer and where they are not going to put their spiritual life in jeopardy because of a decision that they make as to where they go. For example if they go to the University of Utah they might have a problem. Where are they going to get their spiritual food? Where are they going to grow? If they dare I say go to Harvard or Yale or Brown… Brown is the most liberal school in the whole country if you didn't know that. That is located in Providence, Rhode Island. There is not one registered Republican on the entire faculty of Brown. Probably not one Christian on the whole faculty either if the truth was known.
In this class what I want to look at examples from the Scripture. How did people go about making their decisions? How did God reveal His will? What are the dynamics of decision making that we get from biblical situations and biblical examples? So the first example I want to go to is one of the most obvious ones. That is in Judges 6.
I remember when I was floating around and listening to different teachers that I went to a Bible class over at Spring Branch Community Church. They were looking for a new assistant pastor so they were interviewing a guy from Dallas Seminary. He came in and gave a message on how to know the will of God. I think I was more confused when he got through than when I started. I was at that age of 22 or 23 and I was saying, "How do I know if God wants me to go to seminary or not? How do I know what God wants me to do?" So I was really interested in what he said. Of course, he took Jonah as his paradigm for how to know the will of God. As I look back on it, he needed to spend a couple of more years in seminary.
This is Gideon. Gideon is often misused in teaching on how to know the will of God. People go to the later part of the episode that begins in verse 36 and they use the putting out of the fleece as a way of trying to determine what God's will was.
NKJ Judges 6:36 So Gideon said to God, "If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said --
The key interpretive phrase there if you haven't taken the time to look at the context and studied the first 35 verses of the chapter which would keep you from misinterpreting this is that one little phrase that Gideon said, "As You have said." This indicates that God has already revealed to Gideon what He wants him to do. The putting out of the fleece isn't to discover what God wants him to do because he has already been told by God not only by direct revelation but by a theophany of the Angel of Yahweh who had appeared to him and given him instructions.
NKJ Judges 6:37 "look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said."
That is the second time we have seen that phrase.
NKJ Judges 6:38 And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water.
Notice he has twice made the statement "as You have said." So what was it that God said? Turn back earlier in the chapter to verse 11.
NKJ Judges 6:11 Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites.
The situation here is that the Israelites continue to disobey God. They go through these cycles of disobedience and then divine discipline. Finally they get so miserable from the divine discipline of foreign conquers coming in and stealing all of their produce and all of their goods. They finally turn to God and cry out to God to send them a deliverer. They have cried out for a deliver. God sent them a prophet back in verse 8 to remind them of what the issues are.
They need to obey God's voice which they have not done. Nevertheless, despite the fact, they continue their compromise to live in moral relativism which is the theme of the book of Judges that everyone did what was right in their own eyes. How contemporary.
If you haven't listened to the Judges series (Let me give a little commercial here.), you need to go listen to the Judges series. I still think it is one of the most important books that need to be studied in this day age because it is all about moral relativism and what happens to a culture that gets into moral relativism and spiritual relativism and goes into cultural decline. It is a tremendous book for a lot of implications for politics, for leadership, for what happens in local churches. I encourage you to listen to that series if you haven't listened to it.
God is going to be gracious despite the fact that they have not turned to Him. They have just cried out for deliverance sort of like a spanked child who is sorry that he got caught but not sorry that he did it. They are ready to turn to God only because they are tired of getting run over by the Midianites at every harvest.
This was a small clan in the tribe of Benjamin.
NKJ Judges 6:12 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, "The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!"
Now the picture is that the Midianite confederacy keeps sweeping in every harvest and stealing everything. So here you have Gideon who is hiding out in the wine press to see if he can thresh out a few things. He is not the picture of a valiant warrior. He is the picture of a coward who isn't trusting God who is hiding out hoping that he can get away with keeping a little bit of his produce instead of losing it to the enemy.
NKJ Judges 6:13 Gideon said to Him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites."
He is the skeptic. If God is really there, why isn't He delivering us like He did back at the Exodus? Why isn't He giving us victory over the enemy like He did with Joshua at Jericho and later at Ai and defeating all of these other enemies? If there really is a God, why isn't He protecting us any more? That is his question. He is not the picture of faith. I will come back to that in a minute because there is tremendous encouragement for us in all of this. He is complaining about the fact that God doesn't care anymore.
NKJ Judges 6:14 Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?"
The first rule in Bible study is observation. What you should observe at this point is that the personage who has been talking to Gideon up to this point has been referred to as the Angel of Yahweh. Now the person is referred to as Yahweh. This is one of the strongest passages to show that the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is not an angel but is identified as Yahweh. Since he has seen the angel of the Lord and John 1 says that no one has seen God at any time, we put two and two together and realize that the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament was the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. So the Lord Jesus Christ appeared here.
NKJ Judges 6:15 So he said to Him, "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house."
"I am from the smallest clan. I am from the smallest family. You can get all of my cousins together and we don't even fill up a room."
NKJ Judges 6:16 And the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man."
This is a promise from God to Gideon. He is giving him personal direction. We call this special revelation. This is a form of special revelation called a theophany. There are different kinds of special revelation in the Old Testament. Sometimes God spoke audibly. Sometimes He appeared in dreams or visions. Sometimes He appeared as He did here as the Angel of the Lord in a theophany. So He gives specific direction to Gideon and then tells him what to do.
So He says, "Okay the first thing you have to do if you are going to deliver Israel and part of the problem is their moral compromise, you have to deal with the moral compromise in your own family and you have to sanctify your own household. Your father's got a huge altar that he has built to Baal and you have to destroy that."
It is comparable to confession of sin and sanctification. In other words, you have to clean up the mess that is going on in your own family first; then we will take you to the next level. The point that I want to make here in terms of knowing the will of God is that God has made it very clear, hasn't He? God has chosen Gideon for this particular task. It is not a task that he wanted. It's one that he wants to avoid.
So when he starts putting out the fleece to set up these circumstances he says, "God if you really want me to do this then let's create a set of circumstances that are somewhat difficult to perform and if that happens then I will know that it is Your will."
He is not even trying to get confirmation of God's will. He is trying to come up with impossibility so that he can avoid God's will. He doesn't really believe that this can happen. So he sets out the fleece here and the first thing is there will be dew on the fleece but the ground around it will be dry. After that happens he thinks, "Well maybe that was pretty simple to do. Now we are going to reverse it. I am going to put the fleece out. If the fleece is dry and the ground is wet…."
He can't figure out how that could happen. You have probably done this if you have been a Christian more than a couple of years. You know God wants you to do something and you want to avoid it.
You think, "Give me a sign."
What are you asking for? You are asking for special revelation. Special revelation ceased with the closing of the canon. God has given us all the information we need in order to perform His will. We don't need anything else. It is sufficient. That is what sufficient means – it's enough.
So Gideon is not an example of how to know God's will at least in the episode of the fleece. He is an example in that he is given specific direction by God as to what to do and later as he goes into battle against the Midianites, God is going to give him as he did earlier with Joshua, specific strategy as to how to defeat the enemy. It is not a strategy that you would find in Sun Tzu or Clausovitz or any book on military strategy. It is let's get down to the fewest number possible - down to 300 going against 135,000. It started with 30,000. God whittled them down to 300.
He said, "Now we are going to demonstrate that victory is the Lord's."
So in the process he learns something about doing God's work God's way. It is not according to presuppositions of human reason or empiricism. It is according to the basis of divine revelation. Gideon (at least putting out the fleece)is not an example of how to test the waters, cast lots, or draw straws or any of the other things that people do to say, "If God really wants me to do this then this will happen."
What we are supposed to do is to be obedient to the special revelation that God has given.
The other person that people go to when they are going to preach on knowing God's will is Jonah. You knew we would get there eventually. Now Jonah is not a book that is written to tell people how to know the will of God. It is definitely a book that gives us information on how to know God's will. We know it because God gives specific revelation once again. Direct revelation comes from God to Jonah.
NKJ Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
NKJ Jonah 1:2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me."
God has a specific geographical direction for Jonah at this time. There are times in our lives when God does want us in a specific place at a specific time. God will get us there. That is the lesson from Jonah. No matter how much Jonah wants to avoid the assignment of going where God wants him to be, he ends up being exactly where God wants him to be geographically.
The principle from that is that when you as a believer are positive to the Lord, walking by the Spirit, making a tough decision in life whether to work for this company and go to Dallas or that company and go to Austin or some other company and go to Cambridge, Massachusetts. You have to work through a decision making process and you are thinking, "Where is the place God really wants me?" If God for some reason has a geographical plan for you and wants you in Cambridge, Massachusetts and you chose to go to Dallas because you don't know how you can live up there among the heathen Yankees, then guess what is going to happen? God will so superintend the circumstances that that door will shut down in Dallas. The opportunity will still be there for you to go to Massachusetts. That is how God works. If you are doing all the right things in the decision making process and God truly does want you in one specific place then you can't avoid it. God will get you there. He is not going write it out in handwriting across the sky. You are not going to be able to go out to your favorite restaurant and buy a piece of chocolate cake and hope that it is written in the icing on the chocolate cake and give you the answer. God will make sure that as you go through the process if He truly wants you someplace then the other options will shut down and you will end up in that particular location, in that particular place. That is what happens with Jonah.
We are all pretty much familiar with this story. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. He gives him a specific responsibility to go to Nineveh. Jonah knowing the will of God wants to do the opposite.
NKJ Jonah 1:3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
If you don't have a good map in your mind of the ancient world, Nineveh was to the east of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Nineveh was about 500 miles to the east. Tarshish is 1000-1500 miles due west. He wanted to go as far and as fast as he could to get away from the direction God wanted him to go.
What doctrine does that bring to mind? Omnipresence. David said it in the psalm.
NKJ Psalm 139:8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
You can't get away from the presence of God. Therefore you can't avoid God's specific will for your life if there is a specific will for your life in a specific decision. God will make sure that it is brought about.
He does that with Jonah. He works out the circumstances so that there is a storm. Jonah gets thrown over the side of the boat. There is a large fish, not a whale. Whales don't have throats large enough to swallow a human. You need to know that. But there are a number of large fish that can and have swallowed human whole. There have been examples of whalers who have fallen overboard and been swallowed by different types of fish then a day or two later they will find the fish, cut it open, and they come out.
The interesting thing is that in the two or three instances when this has occurred, the stomach acids have had an interesting effect on the individual. They are bleached white. Their hair is bleached white. They look like a walking ghost. They will scare the devil out of you. You can just imagine what Jonah looked like after three days in the belly of the fish where the stomach acids have bleached him as white as he could be. He comes walking into the streets of Nineveh announcing that God is about to bring judgment on the city of Nineveh.
So you see God multitasks. Not only did He have a good way to transport Jonah back from the middle of the Mediterranean back to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, at the same time he was creating a scenario where people would want to pay attention. It was an attention grabber for Jonah. God is the original multitasker.
As a third example of knowing the will of God we have seen in our study of Genesis Abraham. Abraham is living his life according to whatever revelation God has given him. And he is worshipping the Lord down in Ur of the Chaldeans. Then God appears to him and gives him direction. Now we are going to get there in a couple of weeks but I finally circled and highlighted this verse because I kept running across it but I never could find it when I needed it. Whenever we study the life of Abraham and his background in Ur of the Chaldeans, everybody goes over to the verse in Joshua that talks about the fact that Abraham came out from his ancestors who were moon worshippers. Everyone gets the idea that Abraham comes out of this family and they are all pagan except for him. So how did he come to know the truth? They were moon worshippers but they were worshipping a bunch of different gods including the true God.
NKJ Genesis 31:53 "The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, and the God of their father judge between us." And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.
Laban is talking to Jacob. They are creating a covenant. This is the end of the chapter that we are about to start in the next couple of weeks.
Nahor is Abraham's father and Laban's grandfather.
The god of their father was Tirah.
This is a clear indication that Abraham's father and his family may have come out of an environment of moon worshippers and astrologers caught up in the Chaldean pantheon which is associated with the stars but they also knew who the God of the Bible was and they worshipped Him. So he doesn't come out of the pure pagan background that nearly everybody mentions. When I first started studying Abraham I had read through this and noted this verse. In commentary after commentary, people ignore that verse or they are not aware of its presence. It has a tremendous impact.
So here is Abraham. He is living for 60 or 70 years in Ur of the Chaldeans and then one day God says, "Now I have a specific plan for your life. I haven't had a specific plan up to now. You lived in Ur. You could have lived wherever you wanted to. Now I have a specific plan for your life and I want you to get out of your country, I want you to leave your family and go to a land that I am going to show you. You don't know where you are going, but you have to trust Me."
Abraham as we have seen in our study did not fully obey God. God's will was "leave your family and let's go." He didn't leave his father. He took his father and his nephew Lot with him. They headed out to Haran. They got to Aram. They half way to the Promised Land and stopped for about 15 years before they moved on. So God inHhis permissive will allowed Abraham to be what? Partially obedient. It also meant that it was going to postpone the time of blessing in Abraham's life. When we are in carnality and we are violating the moral and revealed will of God, it slows down the process. So Abraham is an example of God's directive will. We see the same thing occurring in our passage in Genesis 31.
Going back to Genesis 28 Jacob is leaving the land and God appeared to him. Again it is a theophany. He sees this ladder or stairway that goes to heaven and the angels ascending and descending. God tells him that wherever he goes He will be with him. The implication there is that wherever you go not as long as you go to my specific places. God doesn't specify where he is supposed to go it is just that wherever he goes God will be with him. When the time comes for Jacob to return to the land in chapter 31, God is going to appear to him in Genesis 31:3.
NKJ Genesis 31:3 Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you."
It is a direct correlation to what He said in Genesis 28 at Bethel when Jacob was on his way out of the land. God has protected him. He has provided him. He has blessed him wherever he went. Now it is time to go home. When it was time to leave and when it was time to come home he knew it because there was special revelation. How did he know God's will for his life? God gave him special revelation. Special revelation isn't going on today so we can't follow that as an example. Those are some Old Testament examples.
Let's turn to some New Testament examples. Turn to Acts 10.
This is a famous story in the midst of the transition from a Jewish oriented early church to a Gentile early church. Acts 10 marks that transition. Peter up to this point has been the predominant apostle. He is the leader of the apostles. The church is centered in Jerusalem and 95% of the believers are Jews. But now there is going to be a shift. It is foreshadowed by the fact that the apostle to the Gentiles is saved in the previous chapter.
The first 7 or 8 chapters focus on Peter. Then Paul comes in and you have a transition period where you hear about Peter then Paul the Peter then Paul then Peter. Then it is Paul from there on out. So God is going to give direction to Peter to take the gospel to Gentiles. We see Peter here as a uptight somewhat racist Jew who doesn't want to go even into a Gentile home because he is afraid he will get out of fellowship. He will eat the wrong thing or touch the wrong thing. He is still thinking in terms of Old Testament Mosaic law. He is still thinking in terms of all of the laws of cleanness and uncleanness. So God gives him a vision. It is another form of special revelation.
He saw heaven open up. He falls into a trance in verse 10.
NKJ Acts 10:11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth.
NKJ Acts 10:12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.
NKJ Acts 10:13 And a voice came to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."
Let's get the background here. We don't understand what is going on. In the Mosaic Law and dietary laws it was prohibited for Jews to eat certain kinds of animals for food. They couldn't eat wild animals. They couldn't eat birds, certain kinds of bird. They couldn't eat pork. And of course they couldn't eat crawfish or any kind of crustacean because they are scavengers.
Every time I talk on this we have to have a little side bar. You will be always run into somebody who is going to promote a diet that is a biblical diet. You will be sanctified and holy in your eating habits even more so because this is from the Bible. All of a sudden the tone gets somber. They go back to the Mosaic Law as if the Mosaic Law and the dietary laws had anything at all to do diet or anything to do with nutrition. Here is why you know it didn't have anything to do with nutrition. It didn't have to do with the fact that they didn't know how to cook pork so they wouldn't get trichinosis. It didn't have anything to do with not cooking shrimp or crawfish or anything well enough. It had to do with the fact that God used the dietary laws and all of the cleanness and unclean laws in the Old Testament to reinforce the fact that visually as training aids that whenever you were involved or touched or participated in anything that was directly related to anything in the Genesis 3 judgment of sin, then you were ceremonially unclean. There had to be a sacrifice. In other words if you touched a dead body, (There is nothing immoral or unhealthy or sinful in touching a dead body. I am sure they had morticians and they had to do that.) you were ceremonially unclean. If you were the equivalent of the ambulance drivers that came to pick up someone who died of a heart attack, you are going to be touching a dead body. You would be ceremonially unclean for a period of 7 days, then you would have to bring the proper sacrifices into the temple. But that's not sin. It is picture that when a human being is involved in any of these things that sin separates from God. This is a visual image that these things that are related to sin related to death. For example, if a woman gave birth she is ceremonially unclean for a week. Why? It is because it was part of the penalty for sin was that the woman would experience increased labor and pain in giving birth. All of these different things had something to do with the curse of Genesis 3 and its working its way out in history. Most of these animals that we are talking about whether they are pigs, jackals, crawfish, catfish, these things are scavengers. They eat dead things. So the Jews were prohibited from eating them or touching them.
But now they are on a tablecloth. A beautiful heavenly sheet or tablecloth comes down from heaven with all of these unclean animals on there. Peter is told that it is God's will for him to eat all of this.
Unlike Jews today who usually can't wait to go down and have pork chops and bacon as soon as they get saved, Peter was very hesitant about this.
He says, "No, Lord. I have never let anything unclean touch my lips and I'm not going to do it now."
God had to repeat Himself a couple of times (3 times) before Peter was willing to rise up, kill, and eat. I think it is interesting that he had to rise, kill and eat. It would make the PETA crowd very upset because all he had probably was a dull knife. It's not the easiest thing to do. So that's special revelation. It doesn't have anything to do with health code. God doesn't say that when you kill the pig and start cutting up the pork chops you have got to get that meat to 180 degrees to make sure you kill those trichinosis bacteria. He doesn't say anything about making sure that when you are frying the catfish that you make sure the oil is at a certain temperature or that you clean the catfish a certain way. There is no introduction of any new data in the history of mankind at this point related to bacteria, health or nutrition.
NKJ Acts 10:15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, "What God has cleansed you must not call common."
It is at this instant in history that man knows that all of these things that have been unclean are now clean. Nutritionists may come up with all kinds of correlations and they do that. But let me tell you, don't ever do it because it is biblical because that is not why God did it. It had nothing whatsoever to do with diet. It had to do with theology and only theology. It was a visual aid in understanding the impact of sin on mankind.
After this, Peter was given one form of revelation. He is wondering within himself what the vision which he had seen meant.
NKJ Acts 10:17 Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate.
Cornelius had been introduced earlier. He was a Gentile soldier, a centurion that was a god worshipper. He is on positive volition and he wants to know God so God is going to take Peter to him to explain the plan of salvation that Jesus has died for his sins. So when the Gentiles coming looking for him Peter is thinking about the vision.
NKJ Acts 10:19 While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are seeking you.
This is once again special revelation. Notice the specificity.
NKJ Acts 10:20 "Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them."
I think it is interesting to note here that when you do have dreams and visions all throughout the Old Testament, the individual is not left to try to figure out what the dream or the vision means. It's not like you have been out contemplating your navel or like the American Comanche Indian mystics would do – take a peyote button and chew on it until they hallucinated and then they would see all of these different spirit animals and power animals appear. Then they would come out and interpret the dream as to what it meant. This isn't what is going on. God always in these situations always explains what the dream or the vision means. God doesn't leave us out there to guess at what the symbols mean.
So he has the vision of the tablecloth coming down. He is not left on his own to interpret what it means. God speaks and gives the interpretation to him. The significance of it is that you can no longer make a distinction between Jew and gentile. You can go to a gentile home and eat and have fellowship with them and you don't have to worry about what they are putting on the table anymore because you're not under the Mosaic Law anymore. So the Holy Spirit gives him specific direction.
Another example is in Acts 13.
NKJ Acts 13:1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
NKJ Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Once again it is special revelation and it was something that was heard by all of them. It is not a voice that is heard within the head of one of them. It was heard by all of them. They knew what God's specific will was.
NKJ Acts 13:3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
It was the beginning of the first missionary trip.
Now one other example that I want to go to is in Acts 15. This is at the Jerusalem Council. This was the first ecclesiastical gathering of church leaders to try to resolve a doctrinal issue. The issue here flows out of what we first saw in Acts 10 with Peter. These gentiles are trusting in Christ by the truckload.
"What do we need to require of them in order to be saved? Do they need come in under the Mosaic Law? Do they need to be circumcised? Do they have to follow dietary laws? What are we supposed to do?"
So they all came together.
NKJ Acts 15:6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.
These are apostles. They are not getting together and praying to the Holy Sprit and saying, "Speak to me and tell me what to do here." They are coming together and they are going to look at the Scriptures and are going to discuss what Jesus taught and then they are going to make a wise decision based upon the doctrine that they already have. There is no direct revelation anywhere in this passage. There is no special revelation.
NKJ Acts 15:7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: "Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
They are arguing with each other. One stands up and says one thing; another stands up and says something else. Finally Peter stood up and talks about what happened to him when he went to see Cornelius and everything that transpired there. Then after they listened to Peter, then they were all silent.
NKJ Acts 15:12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.
They listened to Paul and Barnabas talk about how many gentiles were coming to Christ as a result of their ministry.
Then James spoke and sort of summarizes everything.
NKJ Acts 15:13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, "Men and brethren, listen to me:
Then they come to a conclusion. They have heard all of the arguments and come to a conclusion. Notice the Holy Spirit doesn't speak to them. God doesn't appear to them. They don't have inspiration. We don't get the moving of the Holy Sprit. We don't have the act of inspiration. What do we have?
NKJ Acts 15:22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.
Watch the verbiage there.
They made a decision on what they thought was the best course of action in light of the data.
They reached a conclusion here. Their conclusion was that back in verses 19 and 20 that they wouldn't require the gentiles to come in under the Mosaic Law. All they would tell them was to abstain from things polluted by idols and abstain from sexual immorality and from things strangled and from blood.
All of this goes back to what? Pretty much the Noahic Covenant, not the Mosaic Law or the Abrahamic Covenant, but to the Noahic covenant where you are prohibited from eating or drinking blood and of course from idolatry. Sexual immorality had always been wrong. So they made a decision.
Now how do we broadcast this? Okay, let's make a decision. So they send Paul and Barnabas and a couple of others back to Antioch to communicate the decision to them.
Then in verse 24-25 they express in this letter what their decision is.
NKJ Acts 15:24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, "You must be circumcised and keep the law" -- to whom we gave no such commandment –
Some troublemakers tried to enforce circumcision.
NKJ Acts 15:25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
You ought to underline that phrase "It seemed good to us". That is how they reached the decision. They evaluated all of the data and said, "It seemed good to us in light of what we know from Scripture and what Jesus taught. We have come to this doctrinal conclusion."
No special revelation was involved.
Then in verse 28 we read.
NKJ Acts 15:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:
They are not getting any special revelation. The reference there to the Holy Spirit is the fact that the Holy Spirit has been working not overtly but covertly behind the scenes in and through their decision making process to bring them to this conclusion as they were in fellowship. It is not a decision that is reached through special revelation or some sort of liver quiver or an inner vibration or anything like that. This becomes the paradigm for how decision making is going to occur once the canon is closed and the apostles are off the scene and all we have is the completed canon of Scripture. When we have decisions to make in life what we do is make sure that we are in fellowship, we focus on the Word, we put together all of the issues, we search the Scriptures to see what God has revealed with regard to this particular type of decision in our lives and the we make a decision that will provide for the very best for us within that context remembering that the greatest priority is not how good a decision looks on a resume, how good that man or woman looks, how much entertainment or how much activity there is in that particular city.
I always thought that God was calling me to somewhere like Gunnison, Colorado where I back packing and hiking and skiing. But God had other plans.
So you make decisions based on your spiritual life, where you are going to be fed the Word the best. and where you are going to be involved in the ministry the best and where you are going to able to grow to spiritual maturity.
We will come back next time and wrap up our study on how to know God's will and how God's will was made manifest in Jacob's life.