Reaching This Generation Through Principles From The Book of Acts
Deaf Ear Disciples
One of the most famous Hawaiian songwriters of modern times was my friend and “boss” Rap Reiplinger. Known mostly as the greatest comedian that Hawaii ever produced, Rap’s song about a surfing accident, and a stay in Queen Hospital in still sung at luaus and garage parties through the islands. I last heard Rap sing this as the opening for the Beach Boys concert on Maui in June of 1983, which was the last event that we worked together, and the last time I saw him alive. It is worth hearing:
Narration: I wrote this song about an hour before I had a massive brain hemorrhage and I would like to do it for you now.
This is the story about the day I died
Bodysurfing Point Panic and got caught in the tide
Swept 500 miles out to sea
Took the Coast Guard four days to find me;
I was deaf ear and never like listen
Now I stay in Queens in critical condition;
My friends Bernard came in and said
Wis time maki, I thought you was dead
I said Bernard do one favor for me
Give my aloha to the people you see
Tell Fate Yanagi I love her
Tell Fate Yanagi I need her
Tell Fate Yanagi no go cry
And no go out… wit Mits Funai .
Because he had “deaf ear” and “never like listen”, our hero ended up in Queens Hospital in critical condition. This is a common experience to all mankind, especially the followers of Jesus Christ.
The disciples of Jesus were guys who sometimes just didn’t connect the dots. They were caught up in their own thinking of how things should be, and often simply not believing the things that Jesus said to them. For example, many times, He told the disciples about the upcoming crucifixion and resurrection.
17 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. 18 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. 19 Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” Matthew 20:17-19
Yet still, because of their worldly thinking, they could not believe that something like this would happen.
After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went to the disciples, who were grieving and weeping, and told them what had happened. But when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her.
Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them.
Still later he appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating together. He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead. Mark 16: 9-14
Deaf Ear Disciples! They didn’t believe what Jesus told them. They “never like listen to their Lord when He told them stuff!”
We somehow think that may those that were actually in the presence of Jesus were different from us. Not true! We disciples all have our own issues, and disbelief is always a major bump in the road of spiritual maturity.
Jesus gave the “Great Commission” to His disciples, telling them to “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). Then Peter, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit proclaimed to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost that this “commission” was not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles.
Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Acts 2:38-39
Luke records for us a time in the life of Peter when he is walking in a full anointing of the Holy Spirit. Many miracles are being performed by him. Yet even in this anointing, we discovered that Peter is still a “Deaf Ear Disciple”.
Meanwhile, Peter traveled from place to place, and he came down to visit the believers in the town of Lydda. 33 There he met a man named Aeneas, who had been paralyzed and bedridden for eight years. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up, and roll up your sleeping mat!” And he was healed instantly. 35 Then the whole population of Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas walking around, and they turned to the Lord.
36 There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas*). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. 37 About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room. 38 But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”
39 So Peter returned with them; and as soon as he arrived, they took him to the upstairs room. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other clothes Dorcas had made for them. 40 But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Tabitha.” And she opened her eyes! When she saw Peter, she sat up! 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then he called in the widows and all the believers, and he presented her to them alive.
42 The news spread through the whole town, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And Peter stayed a long time in Joppa, living with Simon, a tanner of hides. Acts 9:32-42
Healing a paralytic and raising the dead are not everyday miracles! Obviously there is nothing impossible for one walking in faith — except when God wants you to do something that goes against everything you have learned and experienced in this life.
Overcoming habitual thinking in the life of a believer is perhaps the greatest miracle of all.
It is interesting to note that Peter had moved to Joppa. Perhaps this is a reminder to us of another Biblical Character that was in Joppa a few centuries earlier.
The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh! Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the Lord. He went down to the seacoast, to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping that by going away to the west he could escape from the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3
Assyria was the cruel neighbor to the north of Israel that was exerting military and political pressure against the Jews. They were known for their barbarous manner of conquest and deportation of populations, and their custom of “impaling” captives on sharp poles.
You can see this manner of execution on ancient Assyrian reliefs commemorating the siege of Lachish. In a sense, they were the Nazis is their time. Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, would be the last place that Jonah would like to see a move of God happen. Everyone agreed that the Assyrians deserved nothing but Divine Wrath, not Divine Mercy. This was why Jonah jumped on a ship that was sailing in the opposite direction of Nineveh.
Just like Jonah, Peter is about to be confronted with a mission that goes against all his cultural values. God is about to use Peter to do the unthinkable! And the result will require some fast talking to the most spiritually mature group on the planet.
In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.
Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel.
And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.”
As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa. Acts 10:1-8
Roman Centurion? Not just your everyday guy down the street. These were commanders of a hundred soldiers, in charge of keep order in a Roman occupied territory. Most Jews, like Peter, hated the Roman heavy hand on their lives. They were taxed heavily by the Romans, forced to carry the burdens of Roman soldiers at least one statute mile, and even give them their cloaks if necessary. Jews could be jailed and beaten without any trial, and had little rights when brought before the Roman legal system. Roman culture was decadent, and an affront to the lifestyle of a Religious Jew. The clash between these two cultures spawned a violent group known as the Zealots, who believed that all Romans should be killed. One of the Twelve Disciples of Jesus was Simon the Zealot – who was forced to share a campfire with Matthew, the tax collector for the Romans. Imagine that relationship!
This Roman Centurion was a man who had been touched by God. There was a plan in effect to bring this unlikely character into the Kingdom, as the angel told Cornelius that is prayers had been heard by God, and that his giving to the needy had been noticed. As we have already discovered, taking care of those around you who have less has always been at the center of God’s heart, and an indicator of one who is close to that heart. Now Peter was the one who was going to be used to burst open the door to Heaven for Cornelius, and ultimately guys like us.
But first Peter must get over his preconceived notions of what God “should” be doing, and recognize what He is doing! God knew that it would take a transformation in the mind of Peter to carry out this mission, so He sent him a vision.
The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”
“No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”
But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.
Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house. Standing outside the gate, they asked if a man named Simon Peter was staying there.
Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them.”
So Peter went down and said, “I’m the man you are looking for. Why have you come?”
They said, “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.” So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. Acts 10:9-23
Three sheets filled with “unclean animals”… Three “unclean men” arriving at the gate. Coincidence? Peter was getting a hint that God was about to do something very abnormal, according to the customs of the Religious Jews. Peter believed enough to invite them in, and to allow them to spend the night in his home.
The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa. They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. Acts 10:23-24
Caesarea is about 40 miles north of Joppa. Today, you can drive it in about 60 minutes. For Peter it was two days of walking with these hated pig-eating-pagan-Romans. What were they talking about? Probably Peter was telling them about his time with Jesus, and all about God coming to Earth to save all mankind.
At least we think he was, or should have been.
The reality was that Peter, like many of us, probably spent his time walking in silence, asking God again and again what the heck was going on! Why was he, a faithful Jew, on his way to a hated Roman officer’s home. This made absolutely no sense!
As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.
Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” Acts 10:25-29
Not your best user friendly approach to evangelism! Insult your host? Especially when you utter a questionable statement: “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home or even associate with you”.
Was this indeed true?
Actually God instructed Moses and the Jews to show hospitality to foreigners, and to care for them.
18 He gives justice to orphans and widows. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. 19 You, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. Deut. 10:18-19
He also instructed His People to provide food for foreigners at each harvest time.
19 “When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do. 20 When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don’t go over the boughs twice. Leave some of the olives for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. 21 This also applies to the grapes in your vineyard. Do not glean the vines after they are picked, but leave any remaining grapes for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. 22 Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command. Deut. 24:19-22
God even instructed them to include foreigners in their celebrations.
11 Afterward go and celebrate because of all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. Remember to include the Levites and the foreigners living among you in the celebration. Deut. 26:11
God has always been inclusive in His Love for non-Jews. Peter however has grown up in a culture of hatred to the oppressive Romans who have taken away their freedom. It is easy to forget God’s Principles and substitute our own prejudices, and make it appear to be Biblical. Look at how we Christians have treated Blacks in the South, minorities in the cities, and haoles in Hawaii.
Peter is obviously not thinking that God wants these pig-eating-pagans to be invited into the intimate circle of the family of God. In his mind, this is a relationship for Jews only. Yes, Cornelius and his friends could become Jews by having “the operation” and throwing out the pulled pork, bacon, catfish, and lobster from the kitchen. This had been done in times past, but for some reason, Peter is not thinking of his visit to the Roman Centurion’s home as a time to evangelize.
Cornelius then tells the assembled crowd about the appearance of the angel and his command to send for Peter. Now he states what is obvious to him, his friends, and us, but not Peter, the Deaf Ear Disciple.
So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.” Acts 10: 33
Oh! That Message! Finally the light goes on for Peter. Jesus! Yes, Our Lord, who told us to go to these kinds of people and tell about how He died on the cross to save humanity from their sins.
Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34
Suddenly the cross cultural barrier is broken for Peter! Despite all his training, his experience, what others have told him, Peter realizes that God is inviting all to come to Him! Not just the Jews! This is a revolutionary concept. With boldness he proceeds to tell them the basic message of his experience with Jesus. It is a good outline for our conversations with those being invited into God’s Family.
This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, 41 not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” Acts 10:35-43
Note the elements of Peter’s message for your next encounter with one who is not yet part of God’s Family:
- There is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who lived in Israel in the First Century, and is Lord of All.
- He was born as man and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do great miracles and heal all who were oppressed by the devil.
- He was God in the flesh and was crucified by the Romans.
- He proved He was God by coming to life after His death on the cross on the third day.
- Over five hundred witnesses saw Him alive.
- He is coming back to Earth again as our Judge, and
- Everyone who believes in Him and becomes His disciple will have their sins forgiven because of what He did on the cross. He paid the price for our sins.
This is the simple message that Peter proclaimed. Can we add anything to it? Perhaps just the testimony of our own personal experience with Jesus.
Now suddenly the Holy Spirit invades the airspace, and falls on Cornelius and all his friends!
Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongue and praising God.
Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days. Acts 10:44-48
An amazing thing has just happened! God has blown the paradigm of Peter and his Jewish brothers! Without any observance of the covenant with Abraham, or obedience to the laws given to Moses, the Holy Spirit has gathered this group of non-Jews into the Family of God. It appears that all in the room now share a common experience- the filling of the Holy Spirit! No longer is there a division between these two distinct cultural groups!
Peter cannot believe his own eyes, yet he accepts what God is doing, and makes a decision: It is time to baptize these new followers of Jesus. He does, and spends the next several days with these new brothers. Imagine their conversations! They had to shed many prejudices to sit and share a meal together, because in the Biblical culture, you only eat with your friends. Now there is a bond of fellowship between Jews and Romans.
However, when news of this event reached those Christians back in Jerusalem who still held on to their preconceived notions of what God would and could and most importantly should do, they became upset and confronted Peter.
Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. 2 But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. 3 “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said. Acts 11:1-2
Peter has some explaining to do. He told them the entire story from angelic visitation to Holy Spirit falling. This was obviously a mighty move of God which no man could dispute.
15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”
18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” Acts 11:15-11
God often has plans for us that go far beyond our expectations, and our concepts of what He actually will do. This story of Peter and Cornelius is one of unlikely brothers, separated by culture, hatred, and suspicion. Yet God all along had a plan to bring the Gentiles into His family. His biggest obstacle to this was not the unbelief of the Romans, but rather the prejudices and expectations of the Jews, His own people. They had their minds made up as to what God was doing, and would do. This new direction surprised them, even though they had been told ahead of time what God was planning to do.
We often walk with Peter and his Jewish brothers in this same mindset of God’s plans. We allow our own preconceived notion of what God wants to do determine what we will allow God to do in our lives. His designs on our lives are often much grander that our own limited perspective. And we often do not accept the capabilities that God has given us, but rather dwell inside our own limitations.
If we could only get free of our habitual thinking, and allow God to take us to the extremes of the adventure that He has prepared us for! Imagine what God could do with that mindset in the majority of His Family!
Flexibility is essential to those who want to be effective in the Kingdom!
We should not allow ourselves Deaf Ear Disciples. Whatever God says to us about our identities, our capabilities, and our purposes on Planet Earth, we should accept that, and order our lives accordingly.
James Kawika Reiplinger provided us with many moments of laughter as we worked together in 1983. He was a natural comedic genius, who was an astute observer of life.
Rap’s father was a Naval Aviator who married a locally famous hula dancer. Maybe that is why Rap accepted my friendship. He heard my stories about my life before and after Jesus. My cousin Kean and I invited him to church many times, and he did show up at a few of our picnics. But he didn’t appear interested in our spiritual lives, although I knew that he was watching us, listening to all our interactions. We developed a genuine affection during the six months that we worked together, and I hoped that something I said or did would somehow make a difference.
Rap left Hawaii in June 1983 for Los Angeles, where he had an opportunity for a major part in a movie. In November, I heard from Kean that he had moved back to Oahu, where he had married a local newscaster named Leesa Clark in October. Sometime in December, I decided to write Rap a letter, telling him everything I could about a personal relationship with Jesus. It was eight pages and hand written, and I included a photo of a painting of Jesus that an artist had done based on the image on the Shroud of Turin. I didn’t hear anything back, and I could only hope that he had “received” the message.
It was the last week of January that I heard the bad news- Rap had disappeared, and his body had been discovered days later on one of his favorite hiking trails on Oahu. He had died on January 19th, and the autopsy revealed a very high level of cocaine in his blood. His sisters claimed there was foul play, as Rap had turned his back on drug usage.
It was all a mystery……but there is more to the story.
In 1988, I was scheduled to speak on Sunday at Hawaii Kai Christian Church. After the service, a lady approached me an identified herself as Leesa Clark, Rap’s widow. She told me that Rap had indeed received my letter, and read it carefully. He took the photo of the painting of Jesus, and affixed it to the top of their Christmas Tree. Leesa told us that something changed in Rap that season, and she and Rap began attending a local church. Rap had received Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and their lives changed forever. She thanked me for taking the time to say to him the things I did, and to write that letter.
It was a combined effort of many that resulted in Rap hearing the Good News about Jesus, and receiving him as Lord. His parents, his sisters, my cousin Kean, and I were a few who had the opportunity to speak into his life. None of us had a plan other than to live our lives in a manner that would display the power and grace of God in our lives, and to love him. We all enjoyed that aspect, as Rap was sweet-hearted guy. When it came time to say specific things, we all did.
I’m glad that we did, because I look forward one day to seeing my brother James Kawika on the other side in Heaven.