Summary: The early church faced many crises that threatened its very existence but none greater than that posed by the Judaizers.
HOW THE EARLY CHURCH WEATHERED ITS FIRST CRISIS
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.” Acts 15:1-2
The early church faced many crises that threatened its very existence. Satan employed every device at his disposal in an attempt to eradicate the God-chosen vehicle for the proclamation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John wrote of evil-doers who attempted, and to some degree temporarily succeeded, in inflicting great damage upon the fledgling faith.
One of those crises became so overwhelming to the dynamic church in Antioch that it had to be addressed. It was a challenge that could not be ignored; a threat that showed no sign of diminishing over time. Today’s message depicts that early crisis and how the church triumphed in it.
I. THE CONTROVERSY THAT PROMPTED THE CRISIS
Certain men from the church at Jerusalem, called “Judaizers”, went to Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were ministering and told the church that a person had to become a Jew first before they could become a Christian. Paul and Barnabas took such strong issue with them that the church commissioned Paul and Barnabas to take this matter to the Apostles in the church at Jerusalem.
“So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.” Acts 15:3
II. CONFRONTING THE ISSUE HEAD-ON
“And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.’" Acts 15:4-5.
There are instances when it is wise to let controversy work itself out over time, but the magnitude of this issue required taking action and the apostles did. “Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.” Acts 15:6.
III. AS THE CONTROVERSY INCREASED, PETER SPOKE.
“And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: "Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they."
Peter had the strongest credentials of any of the Apostles regarding God’s dealings with the Gentiles. The tenth chapter of Acts tells us about Peter’s vision on the housetop in Joppa. He went up on the housetop to pray when suddenly he became very hungry. Falling into a deep sleep, he envisioned heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners descended to him and let down to earth. In the sheet were all kinds of animals of the earth, creeping things and birds. Peter heard a voice saying to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
Recognizing that this was the voice of God, Peter replied “Not so, Lord! I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” Again the voice spoke to him saying, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times and then the object was taken up into heaven.
When the messengers from Cornelius delivered the message urging him to bring the message of salvation to Cornelius’ household, Peter interpreted the vision as God’s command to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. This Peter did, and all those in Cornelius’ household received Christ as Savior and were given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
IV. PAUL AND BARNABAS TESTIFY HOW GOD WAS BLESSING THE GENTILES
“Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.” Acts 15:12
V. JAMES (the pastor and brother of Jesus) ISSUES A DECREE
“And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, "Men and brethren, listen to me: ‘Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: