Summary: When God brought the Gentiles in it was a major hurdle for some of the Jewish Christians. How did they deal with the divisive fall out? How can we practice what God taught them?
We really need to review where we’ve been to appreciate where we are in Acts 15.
Here it is in a nutshell. Just before he ascended back to heaven, Jesus commissioned the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for power from God to accomplish the witnessing work of bringing the gospel to the whole world. They waited, prayed, studied and replaced Judas with Matthias, so when Pentecost came there were 12 apostles. God’s spirit was moving on the face of the waters again and the light of the Lord was about to shine in the darkness. The Holy Spirit came and filled and brought together a huge crowd of Jews from all over to hear the message of Jesus, God’s Christ whom they had rejected and crucified, but whom God had raised from the dead. Peter proclaimed and the multitudes were moved and 3000 repented and were baptized that day! God added the saved to their number! But all was not roses. They faced troubles without and within as thousands and thousands continued to come to Christ. Jewish leaders without tried to shut their mouths. Deceivers within tried to destroy integrity and purity of their communion. Ministry to the needy threatened to disrupt their unity. But with each trial, God provided and guided and the church prevailed and grew. But they all stayed in Jerusalem. Then came Stephen’s death and Saul of Tarsus appears. God used a terrible persecution led by a powerful persecutor to scatter the disciples all over and spread the word of the gospel everywhere they went.
In Chapter 8 Philip goes to Samaria and brings the gospel to them. This was a stretch for the Jews, accepting Samaritans, but nothing like what will happen in chapter 10, when God opens the door for the Gentiles. Samaritans were one thing, but Gentiles? You’ve got to draw a line somewhere. Cornelius was about as good a man as one could be and yet he was still not saved. But God has a way of bringing in those he knows will listen. Just as he saved Saul the great persecutor, (chapter 9), now he will save Cornelius the first gentile, (chapter 10). For many Jewish Christians, Saul’s conversion was easier to swallow than Cornelius’. When God brought Gentiles into the church, the impact rocked the whole body and the effects are still in motion when we get to chapter 15. Those who were scattered because of Saul’s persecution went as far as Antioch preaching the gospel only to Jews. But some, brave souls that they were, began preaching Jesus to Gentiles and, lo and behold, they were believing and being saved! Thousands of Gentiles are obeying the gospel of Christ!
Once you let one in the door, watch out! Jerusalem sent Barnabas to see what was happening up there in Antioch, and Barnabas arrives and sees the grace of God and joins right in working with them and encouraging them. That’s what his name means. As God continues to bring in the Gentiles, Barnabas goes to get Saul, who comes and also joins in and helps. So… when God decides who he will send out to the Gentile world on the first missionary journey, who do you think he will send? The two Jewish guys who seem to be so excited about what God is doing to save Gentiles! Barnabas and Saul! A Levite from Cyprus and a Pharisee from Tarsus! What better team could you send? They go! God gives them great success and churches spring up in Cyprus and Galatia. Jew/Gentile churches that is. Much to the chagrin of the synagogues where Barnabas and Paul preached as they went.
You know how rumors fly. Oh, now this news is all over the Jerusalem church news papers and in their bulletins! This is getting out of hand! Some of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem team up and decide to do something about it.
Thus we enter chapter 15 of Acts.
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."
Where did these men go? It looks like they went wherever Jew/Gentile churches could be found. Some of them obviously made it up to Galatia as well as Antioch, as we see in the letter of Paul to the Galatians.
Aren’t you glad we don’t have problems like this in the church today? All the issues have finally been settled and we can just relax knowing exactly where all the boundaries of who’s saved and who’s lost finally clearly are… right? No disagreements any more, right?
Listen, I know God has given us a perfect plan, but we are still imperfect people. Thank God he still loves us and is working in us even in our imperfections, Amen? What we see in Acts 15 is a great example from God’s own word about how we can come together and discuss and even debate issues at times, as we seek to settle issues that disturb the peace and unity within the body of believers in Christ.