HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, September 11, 2022
Youtube link... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91oLLs9_P9Q
Teaching Series - “Doing Life with Jesus"
Weekly Topic - “Change Is Hard: Old Law vs. New Covenant”
Texts – Acts 15:1-35
In the Christian worldview you can find some who possess an unhealthy fascination with all things Jewish. Shofar horns, prayer shawls, observance of the festivals and special Sabbath days, and the use of the Hebrew names for God used as though they hold some mystical power to get His attention that other means of worship can not. The nation of Israel is held up for special consideration amongst the nations and Jewish voices are given greater authority than others on theological matters, simply because they are Jewish.
Now please understand, I am no xenophobe and understanding the Jewish nation’s story and the context in which the Bible was written are incredibly important. Abraham’s descendants through Isaac were chosen by God to be a special people set apart. God’s plan was to use the Jewish nation to reveal Himself to all the nations; it would be through Abraham’s descendants that the Messiah would come. And it is the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, through whom all the nations are blessed…he is the reason that all the nations can now be included in Abraham’s family line through faith. In the many references to the ‘new Jerusalem,’ ‘Israel’ and ‘God’s specially chosen people,’ we find inclusive metaphors that do not only include ethnic Jews who follow the Messiah, but people from all nations who live in obedience to God’s new covenant. We have all become God’s specially chosen people together…not separate nations, but one people with a shared faith in Jesus Christ as our Redeemer. Gentiles have been grafted into God’s family (Romans 11:17). There is no distinction between ‘Jews’ and ‘Gentiles’ (Galatians 3:28), rather ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers.’ God’s family, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, is made up of individuals from all the nations across the globe as one specially chosen people.
As much as we might still struggle to fully grasp this concept today, imagine the difficulty it posed for the early Church which was initially made up of ethic Jews and converts to Judaism. As the Gentile branch of the Church grew, theological differences began to become apparent. …And simply choosing to ‘agree to disagree’ was not an option!
Acts 15:1-6 – “While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.
4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. 5 But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”
6 So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.”
The heart of the theological debate concerned the sufficiency of Jesus’ death and resurrection alone to bring about salvation. Is our salvation secured through belief in Christ alone…or is it based on continuing to follow the laws of God given to Moses, plus Jesus?
In 50 AD, approximately 15-20 years since Jesus’ had returned to heaven, the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees were sure they knew the answer. In order to be saved, one must first become a Jew, then they could become saved through the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. Afterall, weren’t the Gentiles simply outsiders wishing to join a Jewish movement?
They had precedence for their belief. Under the original covenant God had made with the Israelites in the time of Moses, any outsider who wished to become a member of God’s covenant family must first become a Jew….and of course, the first step was circumcision. Didn’t it therefore make sense that this same principle would apply for those who wished to become part of God’s family through belief in Jesus as the Messiah?
Paul and Barnabas were adamant. “No!” They had seen how God had been working in a new way within the Gentile communities and recognized a new covenant was at work. The debate became so contentious, that it was decided to send a delegation to Jerusalem to gain some further guidance.
Once in Jerusalem, the debate continued. There was a definite difference of opinion. Many of the Jewish believers, even though professing faith in Jesus, were still religiously observing the Law of Moses as well. On the other hand, many of the leaders had witnessed firsthand the Gentiles being accepted by God when they believed without following Jewish customs. Given that this issue was at the core of their beliefs, the apostles and elders recognized that they needed to find a resolution.
Acts 15:7-21 – “7 At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. 8 God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. 10 So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? 11 We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
12 Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
13 When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. 15 And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written:
16 ‘Afterward I will return
and restore the fallen house of David.
I will rebuild its ruins
and restore it,
17 so that the rest of humanity might seek the Lord,
including the Gentiles--
all those I have called to be mine.
The Lord has spoken--
18 he who made these things known so long ago.’
19 “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. 21 For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”
Luke tells us that a long discussion ensues after which Peter gets up and reminds them of his experience. God had called him to share the Good News with Cornelius, a Roman officer, and his whole family. He had witnessed firsthand the Holy Spirit coming upon the Gentiles, demonstrating for all present His acceptance of them. God had made no distinction in giving the gift of Himself to those who had faith, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, circumcised or not.
Peter then provides a needed reality check for these Jewish believers and leaders. What was the point of enforcing expectations on the Gentiles which the Jews couldn’t live up to themselves, past or present? Furthermore, did they not realize that by insisting on more ‘Jewish’ hoops for the Gentile believers to jump through, after God had very obviously accepted them, they were challenging God himself? Did they dare presume to know better than God?
Peter then affirmed the truth again, “we are all saved the same way, by the underserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” I suspect, that when the text says everyone listened quietly, you could have heard a pin drop. Rather than arguing for their own positions, they all listened attentively to Paul and Barnabas as they presented more proof to Peter’s position. It appears, that despite their earlier disagreement, everyone in the room was becoming aware of the radical shift of law vs. grace that Jesus represented.
This shift was a challenge not simply concerning how the Gentiles could be saved, but also for the Jews, many of whom had continued to follow the Law of Moses in addition to having belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Obedience wasn’t what secured a place in heaven…faith in Jesus was.
Did this mean that obedience was no longer important? Of course it was. Obedience to God was and is the tangible proof of having a relationship with God and serves as proof of one’s gratitude and love for Jesus. It is not, however, a means by which we earn our way into heaven. Only faith in God’s incredible grace and Jesus’ death and resurrection do that.
After the testimonies of Peter, Paul and Barnabas, James (who was the brother of Jesus) speaks on behalf of the council. Is not what is happening in the Church exactly as was predicted by the prophets Amos and Isaiah? God is fulfilling prophecy. God has restored the house of David, by providing a descendant to sit on the heavenly throne as king so that all peoples may be accepted into God’s family through belief in His Son, Jesus.
The decision of the council is written down and delivered by Judas and Silas who accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to deliver the good news.
“DIRECTIONS FOR THE GENTILES”
Acts 15:22-35 – “22 Then the apostles and elders together with the whole church in Jerusalem chose delegates, and they sent them to Antioch of Syria with Paul and Barnabas to report on this decision. The men chosen were two of the church leaders—Judas (also called Barsabbas) and Silas. 23 This is the letter they took with them:
“This letter is from the apostles and elders, your brothers in Jerusalem. It is written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings!
24 “We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them! 25 So we decided, having come to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question.
28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: 29 You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”
30 The messengers went at once to Antioch, where they called a general meeting of the believers and delivered the letter. 31 And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.
32 Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith. 33 They stayed for a while, and then the believers sent them back to the church in Jerusalem with a blessing of peace. 35 Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch. They and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord there.”
The delegation arrives in Antioch and an assembly is called to read the letter. The believers, which we can safely presume were made up of both Jews and Gentiles, are ecstatic. The letter makes it clear, that those who caused the initial trouble were never sent from Jerusalem and that the council of Jerusalem has come to complete agreement. Circumcision is not required.
But what are we to make of the four other requirements listed in the letter? Are the Jerusalem leaders still not advocating for the observance of Jewish law to be saved? No, I don’t believe so.
In my research, I came across what I believe to be the most probable reason for these four requirements proposed by the Jerusalem council.
Rather than outlining the means for the Gentile believers to be saved through the observance of Jewish law, the four requirements were actually intended to create unity and prevent unnecessary offense. Let’s read them again, “You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well.” Verse 21 provides us with a clue as to why the leaders thought these necessary for retaining harmony amongst the Jewish and Gentile believers, “For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”
Now, while some of the items would result in a hearty ‘amen’ even today, such as sexual immorality, others make lists Paul later writes, as well for the purpose of preserving unity. For instance, 1 Corinthians 8 reads,
“Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.
4 So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. 5 There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. 6 But for us,
There is one God, the Father,
by whom all things were created,
and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things were created,
and through whom we live.
7 However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.
9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 12 And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. 13 So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.”
Paul is advocating for abstinence, not because of the Law of Moses, but to preserve unity amongst believers and to promote the need to give consideration to the spiritual health of others who may hold to different opinions.
Unlike some today, including the Hebrew Roots Movement which has been around in various forms for the past 100 years, there does not appear to be any basis for the notion that the Law of Moses, the old covenant first created by God with the Jewish people, is still in anyway applicable. It has been, in the words of the author of Hebrews, abolished. We are not bound to the Jewish calendar of feasts and special sabbaths, we are not required to maintain a kosher diet, and there is no advantage to referring to God by the names used by the Jews, blowing shofars or adorning our robes with tassels. We are no longer under law but can now come to God through Jesus because of His grace, which forms the basis for the new covenant between God and humanity.
· Satan loves nothing better than to divide the faithful along the lines of theology. He doesn’t care what we believe. His strategy is simply to stoke the fires of disunity. If he can encourage the followers of Christ to become a fractured group intent on shoring up our sides against one another, he knows that our effectiveness for the Kingdom of God can be sidelined
· Notice that the whole council is represented in James’ judgement. It appears that even those who had been insisting on the need for circumcision (at least in this gathering at Jerusalem) were themselves persuaded. Even though they had strong opinions, they remained teachable. Are we truly teachable or do we let our pride and inability to admit we could be wrong place unnecessary obstacles in the way of our working with other members of Christ’s family?
· Are we fully convinced that it is only faith in Jesus that saves us or are we still trying to earn our own way with his help? There is a difference. Further yet, have we created our own little Christian ‘hoops’ for others to jump through before we will accept them into God’s family when they express their faith in Christ?
· Our salvation is by faith in Christ-alone and our obedience to God—to love Him and others—is to serve as the outward declaration of our devotion to Him.
References and for further study / inspiration…
· Defending the Biblical Roots of Christianity – R.L.Solberg – “Why were only four restrictions given in Acts 15” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDCowRTOGJ4
· Enduring Word – David Guzik – “Grace & Graciousness” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r2PfXQO5QA
Sunday, October 2, 2022 – 2022 Theme - “Doing Life with Jesus – Disagreements Arise” - In-person and Online
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
(Collingwood EMCC Church)
"Learning and Living the Way of Jesus!"
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!