Summary: The council at Jerusalem concludes that grace and faith come to both Jews and Gentiles.
They are called “Watershed Events.” They may seem insignificant at the time, but they change our lives or even the course of human history. Today’s story of the First Church Council of Jerusalem is such an event. The decision to allow Gentiles into the new, growing Christian community without requiring them to observe all of the traditional Jewish customs set the stage to enable Christianity to become the dominate religion in the world.
A brief survey of what happened at the Council of Jerusalem gives us insights as to how those actions of so long ago affect our lives today.
GOD KNOWS THE HEART
One of the first affirmations of the Council of Jerusalem is that God knows our hearts. Peter, in his testimony before the council made this abundantly clear.
And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us;
We’re not like God. We look at people and judge them by their appearances and actions. Like the Pharisee Christians, our judgment is usually not gentle. The Pharisees felt that the new Gentile Christians needed to attain their level of holiness.
God saw the heart of the Gentiles. What God saw was that the Gentiles were God’s creation and God’s people who were worthy of God’s love and forgiveness. Without hesitation God filled the Gentiles with the Holy Spirit.
WE CAN’T DO IT
Peter reminds to council that the law given to the Israelites through Moses was too great for them to bear. The Jews were never able to keep it.
Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? (Acts 15:10)
Peter should know. He tried to be a good follower of Jesus. Still, he ended up failing miserably. He denied Jesus three times. It was only because of Jesus’ love, forgiveness and grace that Peter was able to rejoin the disciples and become one of the leaders of the church.
WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE
Peter summed up his testimony by saying:
"We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Grace saves us, but what are we saved from and for? Certainly we are saved for life after death. Salvation is more, however.
Salvation is the freedom of living by faith in God’s kingdom. We are free from living the lie that power equals greatness and that the earth is ours to do with what we want. Instead, we are free to live in a kingdom of love, service and acceptance.
We are able to experience our salvation now.
SALVATION FOR ALL
The council decided that the salvation given through Jesus Christ was a salvation for all people. No one was excluded from the work of Christ.
James quotes the prophets:
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
The Church was beginning to understand that the commission to be Jesus’ witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth, meant that everyone was in and no one was left out.