Using the two side of the sanctuary, divide into two groups.
East Side: Represent Jewish Christians. You know that God chose your people, and gave you special promises as well as a Law to live by. God has sent you prophets, and His own Son came as a Jew to die for sins. You are convinced that your ways are right, and that they are also godly, in contrast to the ways of non-Jews. It is clear to you that if a person really wishes to please God he must live as you do, subject to the Law as a good Jewish Christian should be. And you are ready to contend for this truth.
West Side: Represent Gentile Christians. You have been saved through faith in Christ and are part of a vital Gentile congregation. You don’t have anything against the Jews, but you certainly aren’t one. You don’t even feel comfortable with their strange customs, most of which have nothing to do with morality. You have been upset by these Jewish Christians who insist that you must give up your own culture and live as they do to be saved. You’re concerned, and a little bit angry too.
You guys are really at odds with one another. You have issues. Do you get it? Have I made my point?
Now, this side of the church like to have contemporary worship, as modern as you can get it, you always have, always.
The other side of the church is so traditional you would make John Wesley contemporary.
Think about that…. Just think. See how things divide us.
That example is not really as deep as the Jews and Gentiles one. We’ll look at that in a minute. In that manner, we have no excuse, no excuse for petty things to divide us.
In Ireland they have actual violence between Catholics and Protestants. Our violence is in our thoughts and I think that hurts God because we are the bride of Christ.
Let us look at this passage, but let me give you my theme, my great idea, your take away:
The Jerusalem Council meets and frees the church for evangelism. In doing so, they affirm that the Gospel is for everyone (verse 14) which means that they decide not to make it difficult for non Jews to become Christians (verse 19). A simple application, do you make it difficult for a non believer to become a Christian? Does our church? Do we care?
Let’s read Acts 15:1-29:
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
“‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,
that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’—
things known from long ago.
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Okay, now let’s talk about this. Let’s break it down.
First, what is a Jerusalem Council? Why is that important? I am getting ahead of myself but this was an official meeting of the church. They had to decide on a doctrinal position. We will get into that. We are going to skim over this passage.
You know how when you fly in an airplane you see things but it is not in great detail? That is what we are going to do with this passage. I am going to pick out some mountains, but for the most part we are going to give you the theme and some applications. What is the theme?
The Jerusalem Council reaffirmed that the Gospel is for everyone. (verse 14) That is the simple theme. They decided not to have barriers or great barriers in front of non-Jewish people to become believers.
The problem erupts in Verses 1-5:
Okay, so we see a low level fly by showing us that some people are trying once again to mess with what the Lord is doing.
NIV makes note that since they were from Judea they were given a hearing. Not that they correctly represented the apostles, they may not have.
They were probably Pharisees from verse 5.
Paul and Barnabas had great debate with them about this.
So, Paul and Barnabas are to go to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this.
They passed through Samaria and Phoenicia sharing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles and this brought great joy.
Interesting that this is mentioned here except to better make the case for the conversions
They arrived in Jerusalem to a happy group of people. Here is a John MacArthur study note: Throughout church history Church leaders have met to settle doctrinal issues. Historians point to 7 different ecumenical councils in the churches early history. Especially the council of Nicea (AD 325) and the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). Yet the most important was the Jerusalem Council because it established the answer to the most vital doctrinal question of all: “What must a person do to be saved?” The apostles and elders defined efforts to impose legalism and ritualism as necessary prerequisites for salvation. They forever affirmed that salvation is totally by grace through faith in Christ alone.
II. In verses 6-11 Peter gives his testimony
This was no small issue. There was much discussion. Here is another John MacArthur study note: “Peter gave the first of 3 speeches at the Council that amount to one of the strongest defenses of salvation by grace through faith alone contained in Scripture. Peter began his defense by reviewing how God saved gentiles in the early days of the church without a requirement of circumcision, law keeping or ritual— referring to the salvation of Cornelius and his household. (10:44-48; 11:17,18) If God didn’t require an additional qualifications for salvation than neither should the legalist.)
Peter refers to this Acts 10, Cornelius, experience as the early days.
Peter says that they are putting God to the test by giving the Gentile disciples a burden that the Jewish Pharisees and their father’s couldn’t bear. They couldn’t keep the law.
The law was given to show them that they were sinners (Romans 3:20)
Matthew 23:4 is a really good explanation about the Pharisees putting burdens on themselves that they are not willing to bear.
They believe that they are saved through faith as the Gentiles are.
Rev 2:23: God searches the hearts and minds
Gal 5:1: it is for freedom that Christ has set us free
Romans 3:23-24 deals with salvation and justification
III. In verses 12- 21 we hear Paul and Barnabas’ testimony and James makes a ruling
I what to fly a little higher at this point to emphasize the theme.
Paul and Barnabas talk about signs and wonders. The signs and wonders would confirm to the Jews that God really is behind what is going on.
Then we see that James makes a ruling. This James is the same James that later writes the New Testament epistles of James. He is Jesus’ baby brother. It seems obvious that He is the man in charge. He is the spokesperson for the group. We would think Peter would be in charge, but he is not. It is James. We would think Paul, but it is James. James was not an early disciple, but he is pastoring the Jerusalem church and he is in charge.
In verse 14, he says that God wanted to choose from the Gentiles a people for His name. That is extremely phenomenal. The Jews were God’s people, but now this wraps the Gentiles in as well. This is a special verse for today. He is saying that The Gospel is for everyone.
Then James quotes an Old Testament passage regarding Gentiles.
Then he says we do not need to get in their way. So,
Make sure they stay away from food sacrificed to idols.
Stay away from fornication.
Stay from what is strangled by blood.
Now, then James has a letter written which Paul and a few companions will send, this starts in verse 22. The letter will explain this and give them more contact with the churches.
The end of this chapter begins Paul’s next missionary journey.
Think back to the exercise we did in the beginning of the message today. Some of you were the Jewish side of the church, some the Gentile side of the church. Some of you were the contemporary side of the church, some the traditional side. You know that we all do have our preferences. Think about this:
Are your preferences guided by a full, Holy Spirit filled understanding of Scripture? How do you know? How can you be sure it is what God desires? Understand your preferences, give them to Jesus in prayer and let us be united as a church.
This passage calls us to unity for the great commission. Verse 19: we do not need to add obstacles in front of the Gentiles when we are sharing the love of Jesus with them… Neither do we. Let’s also share Jesus without added obstacles, barriers, or whatever else.
The Jerusalem Council meets and frees the church for evangelism. In doing so, they affirm that the Gospel is for everyone (verse 14) which means that they decide not to make it difficult for non Jews to become Christians (verse 19)
A simple application, do you make it difficult for a non believer to become a Christian? Does our church?
First, is your heart right with Jesus?
God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)
Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)
Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)
Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)
Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)
Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)