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A People for His Name – Acts 15:7-21

15/10/2020

A People for His Name – The Jerusalem Council AD49

Acts 15:7-21

It’s AD49, and the first great council of the church is about to begin.  It’s the Council of Jerusalem.

Church Meeting

1 The Rivals.

There were basically three different factions at the council, and each of them seems to have a different theological position. They were:-

  • The Antioch Representatives.  That was Paul and Barnabas and some others, and don’t forget that even Barnabas had wavered at some point and had sat to eat with the Jews and not the Gentiles. Galatians 2:12-13  But now he is fully on board, and in total agreement with Paul.  They are strongly advocating the simple message that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, for God’s Glory alone.  They have two arguments, a biblical argument, and an experiential argument, and we shall see both of these in a moment or two.
  • The Judaisers.  Acts 15:5  Now, who were these people?  It seems that some of the people in the church at Jerusalem and been raised and educated as Pharisees, had met the risen Christ, and been converted.  They were Christians, genuine, born again, saved, believers!  But they were the product of their history, and their education and their upbringing.   Discipleship has a cost, and these ex-Pharisees, shunned now by their former colleagues, friends and even their families, had paid that price, given up everything, just by trusting Jesus for salvation.  
  • The Jerusalem Elders.   The position of the elders is best summed up as pragmatism. They wanted to keep the peace among the brethren, to keep everyone on board, to continue to bring the gentiles into the church, yet to do so in such a way as to be able to continue their mission among the Jews without any hindrances.  

So, all the parties are gathered, they are meeting in Jerusalem and the discussions are to begin.  Now it’s time to hear their arguments set out…

2 The Reasoning6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. 

Let’s see a little of their reasoning, their considered positions and arguments.

  • The case for the Judaisers. V The ex-Pharisees were not bad people, but if their views were allowed to influence the church then Jesus work on the cross would be in vain, and Christianity would never be anything other than a sect of Judaism.  They had to be opposed, firmly and vigorously, before their false doctrine spread like a cancer, a cancer of the soul.
  • The case for the Missionaries. Acts 15:7  Peter led the way. He who had already been taught in a vision that God was bringing the Gentiles into the church in Acts 10:15  He had already met the first Gentile believer, Cornelius, had visited his home and had eaten and fellowshipped with him.   Now, suitably chastised for his hypocrisy at Antioch and repentant he takes the lead in presenting the argument of the Antioch Church.
    • Peter’s Submission to the Council.
      • Peter’s vision recalled.  V7  
      • The Work of the Holy Spirit in Conversion.  V8  
      • Salvation is by faith alone, for both Jew and Gentile. V9-11 Galatians 3:28 Colossians 3:11 God is no respecter of persons.
      • The Purpose of the Law.  The very people who were demanding that the Gentiles keep the law were totally unable to keep it themselves! v10  So why was the law given in the first place? READ Galatians, 3:24-25   The primary purpose of the law is to make us understand that we cant keep the law!   
    • Paul’s Evidence is Submitted.  When Peter’s biblical argument is complete, Barnabas and Paul give the experiential evidence.  They tell the Council what the Lord had done among the Gentiles.  Acts 15:12   

3 The Ruling.

So what was the decision of the council?

  • The Chairman sums up. V13  After Peter, Paul and Barnabas had spoken there was silence!  Isn’t that significant!  It must have been a stunned silence, and after this pause, James takes charge with an air of authority. ‘Men and brethren, LISTEN TO ME!’  v14   He confirms the truth of what Peter , Barnabas and Paul have said.
  • The Law-books are consulted.  There is a more compelling argument than Paul’s testimony and Peter’s urgent plea.  The Judaisers what to claim the authority of the Law of Moses, but now James takes them back to the scriptures to show that it was God’s plan all along to bring the Gentiles into his kingdom.  Acts 15:15-18  James is quoting Amos 9:11-12, and applying it to what God is doing in Acts, among the Gentiles.  The ‘rebuilding of David’s fallen tent’ is the completion of God’s elect, through the incoming of the Gentiles.
  • The Verdict is handed down.  V19-21 

Peter’s conclusion is that no-one needs to be circumcised or to keep the law to be saved, but that those who are saved should be mindful of the brothers and sisters, so that in secondary matters they will not cause offence to others.  For example, Jews do not eat blood, they drain an animal of its blood after slaughter, so don’t order a raw steak when you’re eating with them!  No point in doing something that just annoys people.  Now that’s exactly what James is telling the Gentiles.  Paul must have agreed, for later, in Acts 16, when he wanted to take Timothy with him on a mission trip, he circumcised him!  Not for Timothy to be saved, but to stop murmuring among the Jews.  Acts 16:1-3  

Was this the end of the matter?  It should have been, but it is also that case that while the people arguing for salvation by grace and works at Jerusalem were genuine believers, seeking to understand the Scriptures and getting it wrong, their case was later taken up by false apostles, who were trying to lead the church astray, after the Council had issued its decree and clarified the matter.  Galatians 1:6-7  These people, if they did not repent, and turn from their wickedness would be cast into the lake of fire forever.

© BobMcEvoy October 2020

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