God is life, life that is eternal. He is uncreated and undying, an ongoing and powerful living Being who always is. And us? From birth our days are numbered, for death is within us. It is a “negative” power that works within us and weakens us over time. It makes us susceptible to disease and injury, and finally brings an end to our lives.
This is all because of sin. God eternally lives because He is powerful in His holiness and goodness. And us? Sin is within us from our conception and birth, and it battles within us to turn us away from God and His good. God in His powerful holiness never has to struggle to know, and then do, what is good. He can, and would, do no other.
For us, this is a constant struggle. Do you ever feel like two different people? An angel is on one shoulder and a devil is on the other, and they are battling within you. We feel division within ourselves, and so it is no wonder that division afflicts our lives. Division marks our society; and increasingly so, it seems to me. It reaches into our churches and our homes, separating family members and spouses.
God Himself is undivided. Even though Jesus speaks of three – the Father, Himself, and the Spirit – they are not divided, but are one. “All that the Father has is mine,” Jesus says; and the Spirit shares in this, for He “will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Although three Persons, God is one and undivided.
Now, what is the point of this deep theology, of this learning who God is and how we are not like Him? In order to not be divided from us, God made Himself one with us. Jesus, who has all that the Father has and is glorified by the Spirit – He is the one God, one with God – became a human being, just like us. He is not even divided from us in our sin, for He took our sins upon and within Himself, and on the cross was divided from His Father because of them as He endured God’s judgment of them. But, His death ended your judgment and healed the division from God which your sin brings. Jesus is now risen from the dead and lives forever in the Father’s love; and this oneness with the Father in His love and joy is what the Spirit now takes from Him and shares with you. By Christ’s words and by baptism into Him the greatest division of all is healed and you are made one with God!
Every person who believes in Jesus and is baptized into Him shares in this oneness. We are kin. This healing of our division from God that we have in Christ from the Holy Spirit now works to heal our divisions with others. It begins with Christ and is accomplished in Him, however, and not by anything we do.
It’s so important to realize this. We desire kinship and unity, and especially in the Church; or, at least we should. It’s so sad that Christianity is divided into many different denominations, isn’t it? It is; and this is nothing new. Already at the beginning division threatened, as we heard in our reading this morning from Acts 11. Peter is criticized for eating with uncircumcised men; with Gentiles. You see, the first Christians were Jewish people, like Peter, who came to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah and their Savior by His death and resurrection. They were baptized into Christ and began worshiping Him, while also continuing to worship in the temple in Jerusalem and follow their Jewish laws and customs. But, trouble arose when God directed Peter to go to a Roman army officer in Caesarea to tell him and his family about Jesus. The Holy Spirit came upon the man and his family as they listened to Peter and they believed in Christ, and Peter baptized them. When Peter went back to Jerusalem some of the believers there were upset with him for doing this, as Jews did not associate with uncircumcised Gentiles. Trouble arose. Division threatened to divide the followers of Jesus.
Notice how Peter dealt with this. He told those who were concerned how God had directed him to go and what He had said to him. He connected the Gentile army officer’s faith and reception of the Holy Spirit with Jesus’ words, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This was all God’s work, he concluded, and they could not stand in the way of it. Hearing this, those who had been upset with Peter not only understood and accepted what he had done. They glorified God. He was the One who had done this great work of granting repentance and life to the Gentiles, apart from Jewish laws and customs.
We should pray for an end to the divisions among us: in the Church; in society; in our families. Then, we should work to heal divisions. But, we must follow God’s direction in doing so. Government passes laws to force unity and end division. This doesn’t work very well, does it? We can’t even agree on which public bathroom a person should use! It won’t work well in the Church or in your family, either.
To heal division, begin with listening to Christ and confessing your own sin. Rejoice in the healing you have in His forgiveness, the oneness He gives you with your God. Then, focus upon His Word. It is from the Spirit of truth, and so is God’s truth. Be willing to speak and talk about what God says in His Word! I know we don’t like arguments, and I am not suggesting that you argue. But, only God can create true unity in Christ; and He does this by His Word. The greatest reason why there is such division among Church bodies today is that God’s Word as truth is no longer believed and confessed by many. We need to focus upon our Lord’s words, as Peter did.
Peter, and those first disciples – I know they were not Lutherans. Martin Luther came along 1,500 years later! No, it is we Lutherans who confess that we are like them, for we are of the “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” We are kin, for we are baptized into the one Christ. May He heal our divisions and make us one in His Baptism and Word, to the glory of His name and our eternal blessing! Amen.