• Last week we talked about Paul’s suffering and how he was permanently and painfully ill. How we approach God in suffering.
• There are moments in history that alter the shape of life.
• Sometimes they are well chronicled and noted like landing a man on the moon.
• Other times they fly under the radar and go almost unnoticed yet they are profoundly impacting.
• The Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15, was one of those events. Most of you have no idea it meant anything, but it impacts you greatly today.
• For 10-15 years the church had grown primarily with Jewish believers.
• But now that non-Jews or Gentiles were opening to Jesus a great debate broke out.
• What does it take to be a Christian?
• What does it take to be saved?
• Can you work your way to heaven? Be good?
I. FIGURING OUT HOW GRACEFUL GOD IS
• We are told that the first sermon ever preached in the early church came from Peter in Acts 2, at Pentecost.
• Nearly 3000 people, all Jews from all over the world gave their hearts to Jesus.
• But as far as they were concerned this was not new. It was a continuation of what they believed.
• It was an extension of Judaism. The next step past Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Jesus.
• 10-15 years later a problem arose…non-Jews were also coming to Jesus in Antioch, Syria and other towns.
• Many of the Jewish Christians were not ready for that and didn’t know what to do with these folks.
• Jesus was not “the” Messiah, but “their” Messiah.
• These new believers began to meet together and their meetings looked nothing like those the Jewish Christians ran.
• They were leaving pagan Gods, sensual slavery to follow Jesus. It was radical and life changing.
• But the Jews asked, “How can you follow a Jewish Messiah without becoming Jewish?”
• They didn’t leave all their old behaviors immediately which massively offended the Jews.
• They knew nothing of ceremonial cleansing before entering the temple. Something all Jews did.
• They ate things Jews would never eat!
• It was obvious to the Jewish believers that these non-Jews needed to be schooled in Judaism before they could participate.
• That may not sound like a bad idea until you understand that all Jewish men had to be circumcised according to their law.
• Which means they would have to tell these guys to get circumcised.
II. HOW DO YOU BECOME A FOLLOWER OF JESUS
Acts 15:1, And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
• At this point the real issue was are Christians different than Jews? Or are we a Jewish offshoot, a sect if you will?
• This is not unlike what Christians are going through today in Lebanon with Muslim converts coming to Christ. Do the women have to shed their head covering? What do you do with men who have four wives?
• Very important questions that Paul and Barnabas, both Jewish believers had strong opinions about that other Jews didn’t hold.
Acts 15:2, 4-5, And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue…when they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
• See they had a real problem here.
• What does it mean to follow Jesus? Can you do things to make God like you more?
• There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more and nothing you can do to make God love you less. He loves you out of who He is not out of what you do!
• Vss. 6-11 Peter speaks. One of the most important addresses in church history. It set the tone for the remainder of the meeting.
• The issue was grace. Are we saved by the cross or by doing something to make God happy?
• Vss. 10-12 - Why ask them to do what we have failed at doing? Great question!
III. JAMES SAVED THE DAY…AND US
• Vss. 13 - Something wild happened. Jesus’ half-brother James stood up to speak.
• May not seem like a big deal unless you understand James never believed in his brother being the Messiah!
• He is probably the most convincing evidence of Christ being the Messiah.
• I mean if your brother told you he was the Messiah what would you say?
• James only believed after the resurrection. It was so powerful and convincing he surrendered to reality.
• Even though it was tough!
• Vss. 13,19 - James carrying the day.
• At stake was not only circumcision and the Ten Commandments but the hundreds of laws all Jews were told to obey.
Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul wrote later about this. “By grace you have been saved through faith...”
IV. SET COMPLETELY FREE
John 8:36, “So if the son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
• Jesus said He came that we might be free from the inside out.
• Not bound from the outside in: washing and rituals, but Holy Spirit healing touches.
• NLT translation puts Acts 15:19 like this, “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
• Don’t make it religious or hard to understand; make it real and make it clear.
• So people can meet Jesus.
• His truth should free us, not bind us up. It should fill us, not throttle us and whip us into submission.
• The truth doesn’t need to be full of Christianeze or lingo, just truth.
Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
• Make it truthful and truth filled and make it graceful and grace filled.