Acts 15 - Skip Heitzig
Welcome to Expound. A verse-by-verse study of God's word. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God by explaining the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
A brother showed me before the service started a bulletin from 1987. We had been in this building about a year, and I was just looking at the design, the front cover of the design, just where we've come from and what it took to design something then and get on the typewriter and then reproduce these things. But I remembered back to getting into this building because I saw that bulletin.
And I remember that it was not easy. It was a dispute. That is, many of us were excited about it, but there were some people who just thought it was wrong that we should get such a large building. And we should just be happy, and we couldn't ever fill this even ever in our history.
And so, why, are you buying that big building on Osuna. So I smiled at that in my heart, but then I thought, you know what? That's just typical stuff. That's typical human stuff. Typical family stuff.
People disagree. Do you agree? OK, good, didn't know if you were going to disagree with that. People disagree, all people disagree on something, somewhere. Give them enough time, and they'll think differently than the person next to them.
Walter Martin used to frequently say-- the founder of the Bible Answer Man, if you can find two people that think exactly alike on everything, one of them is not thinking. And I suppose he's right. Wherever there's a will, there's a won't.
You know, somebody wants one thing. The other person wants something else. Well, I set that up because we are entering a chapter where there is conflict and resolution of the conflict, only followed by more conflict. And that conflict that we closed the chapter with, if by God's grace, we actually do close the chapter tonight, it's a conflict that will not be resolved here between two mature men of God. So we will see conflict, and we will see unity in the same chapter.
Now when I say, all people disagree, I would also add that all spiritual people disagree. You can be spiritual and yet not agree. And sometimes the disagreement is over carnal things. It's all about carnal reasons for it.
Remember when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and he said, one of you says, I am of Paul and another says, I'm of Apollos, and another says, I'm of Cephas, another tries to trump everyone and be more spiritual and says, I am of Christ. Paul said, you're all carnal. So there can be division over carnal reasons. But not always. Sometimes there is a division not because of carnality but because of caring, you care deeply.
To be unified with another believer, again, does not mean to agree on everything that that believer stands for or believes in or does. And sometimes we are called to divide. Jude, in chapter 1 of his little epistle, there is only one chapter and in verse three, he says, "Contend earnestly for the faith, once for all delivered to the Saints." Contend, be contentious over it. Contend means put up a good fight for the faith.
So if someone blatantly denies one of the pillars of the historic Christian gospel, we're not supposed to say, well, it doesn't matter. Who cares, let's not be divisive. Let's just sing, all you need is love and we'll sway back and forth and carry on. That would not be loving at all.
The loving thing to do is to speak the truth in love. So sometimes division is for carnal reasons, and sometimes it's for caring reasons. But even spiritual people disagree.
For example, way back in the Old Testament, Abraham's herdsmen had a contention with Lot's herdsman over the land that was before them because there wasn't enough land for what their cattle and their family needed. So there was a dispute, a disagreement, an argument. Later on in the same book, Jacob has a disagreement with Uncle Laban over many things. Finally, he has to part company.
When we get to the New Testament, the disciples disagreed with other disciples. They are all following Jesus in the flesh. They are hearing him and seeing him every day and yet among these revered apostles of the faith, they disagreed on who would be the greatest in the kingdom.
There is a disagreement in the Book of Acts, we've already seen it, in Acts Chapter 6, where the Hebrews and the non-Hebrews, the Hellenistic Jews have a dispute over the widows daily distribution. Some thought the other group was getting preferential treatment. So a disagreement broke out.
And here in this chapter, we see a disagreement over the most important thing in the world, how do you get saved? What constitutes a believer versus a nonbeliever? How does a person get to heaven? That is a dispute in this chapter, and unfortunately, it's still a dispute in the church.
Because people have a hard time with a free gift of grace. Surely, there's something I must do to gain God's favor, or if not gain it, to boost it so that God will love me more. He will shine his countenance down on me more, lavish more blessing on me because I have earned it.
We have a difficulty with the finished work and free gift. They did to. So in chapter 15, that's where we begin, verse 1, "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--" Barney-- "Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. So being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia."
Phoenicia is what is mostly modern day Lebanon, north of Israel, the Phoenician-Lebanese seacoast, Tyre and Sidon, and Samaria, what would be today the central portion of the West Bank. "Describing the conversion of the Gentiles, and they caused great joy to all the brethren." Now they caused joy to all the brethren because Phoenicia is Gentile territory and Sumeria is sort of half Jewish, half Gentile, they were considered more half breeds, not fully Jewish. So you can understand there would be a rejoicing in these areas because Gentiles are saved by faith.
"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." The first missionary journey was over with. Paul and Barnabas left the area of modern day southern Turkey, the Province of Galatia, after being in Cyprus and Galatia they returned now to Syria, Antioch of Syria. That was the first real missionary church.
Jerusalem was the home base, the mother church, the mother ship, so to speak. But Antioch is the place where the Holy Spirit said, "Separate unto me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So they left on their first missionary journey.
And when they went out to all of these places, and they shared the message of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, beginning in the synagogue first, they made an astounding discovery that non-Jewish people were attracted to this Jewish Messiah because of the gospel as Paul presented it, of free salvation to anyone who believes. So already, a few Gentiles had been saved. Samaritans have been saved. Cornelius has been saved.
But keep in mind, the Gentiles, like Cornelius and his family and the Ethiopian Eunuch, these were people who had a Jewish background. They were God-fearers. Though they didn't keep all of the rituals of Judaism, they worshipped the Jewish God. They got up close enough to the Jewish form of worship as is possible without a full conversion into Judaism and keeping circumcision, et cetera.
So it was accepted reluctantly, but it was accepted. Peter reluctantly accepted it. The Jerusalem church reluctantly accepted it. But now they're getting used to the idea that those who are akin to going through Judaism can be saved.
But just the idea that a Gentile without a Jewish background, without Law-keeping, without any ritual of circumcision, without doing anything in the old covenant, can just believe in Jesus and be admitted into the church and be guaranteed heaven, well, it was an affront to the Jews. They didn't understand it.
And it's hard for us to get that, but you have to just think of what it was like to them. God had given his covenants in the Old Testament, and they believed in the covenant of Moses. They believed in the covenant of Abraham. And they, these Jewish people who were believers, man, they kept so many rigid rules and regulations their whole lives. They have gone through all the necessary channels to be acquainted with the one true God of Israel.
Now somebody comes in and just says, oh, I believe in Jesus, I'm like you. It was hard for them to accept it, sort of like expecting somebody to understand a movie who comes in at the end scene. They didn't sit through the whole play or the whole movie.
Suddenly they just come in and they go, I get it. And you're-- no, you don't get it. You don't understand the setup for this. You don't understand the early character development.
For you to just come in and see the ending or the trailer and think you've seen the movie, well, you haven't. And so they felt like, I've gone through these channels, you haven't. I've been religious my whole life, you haven't. You've been a pagan. So there is some resistance.
Now notice the resistance comes from Pharisees who are believers. This is why it's important that Saul of Tarsus is on the scene, Paul the Apostle, Saul of Tarsus. He once was a Pharisee himself. He understood their thinking completely.
Were it not for the Damascus road experience, he would have completely said, yeah, first of all, I don't believe in this Messiah called Jesus. Second, if there is one, and he is the Messiah, you can't just, as a Gentile, believe in him and expect to go to heaven.
But he thinks differently now. He's seen it with his own eyes. He's had his own experience. He's been out on the road preaching, and so he comes with a different story. Now what starts as a trickle, that is, just a Gentile here and a Gentile there. And then a few more here, is becoming a torrent. Saul of Tarsus, Paul the Apostle and Barnabas coming back to Antioch are so amped, man, they're so pumped to tell the story of how non-Jewish people from the wildest places and weirdest backgrounds believe.
The gospel was the gospel of faith. Now I want you to see it so go back to Acts chapter 13 for just a moment, just turn the page and look at verse 38. Paul and Barnabas say, "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man--" man is capitalized referring to Christ-- "is preached to you the forgiveness of sins. And by Him, everyone who believes is justified from all the things which you could not be justified by the Law of Moses."
Verse 42, "So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them again the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, whose speaking to them persuaded them to continue in the grace of God." Now think about keeping the Laws.
Go to verse 46, "Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said it was necessary--" he speaks to the Jewish audience-- "that the word of God should be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I have sent you as a light to the Gentiles that you should be salvation for the ends of the earth. Now, when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life, believed."
Chapter 14 verse 1, "Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews and so spoke that a great multitude of both Jews and of the Greeks believed." Down to verse 23, "So when they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed."
It was all just faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. And what was the basis of their faith? The basis of their faith was the Jewish Messiah predicted in Jewish scripture. They understood that. Paul made that clear, that we have a book, we have a Bible, the Old Testament at that time. He was quoting from the Tanakh, what we call the Old Testament.
And he mentioned, he told them that the Messiah was predicted by our prophets, our Scriptures, and his name is Jesus. He has come. If you believe in him without keeping the Law of Moses, you can be saved. They got all jazzed about that, excited. We'll do it.
I can be forgiven? I'll do it. So place after place, that was the message they brought, and that's what the people responded to. And it was on that basis.
Enter the Pharisees. They're saved. OK, they're saved. They're from Jerusalem, but they're Pharisees. Now, I don't doubt their sincerity when they say, you have to keep the Law of Moses.
You have to be circumcised or you can't be saved. I totally do not dispute their sincerity. They were sincere. But they are sincerely wrong. And sincerity is not enough when you match sincerity up to the truth.
You might sincerely not believe the truth, you are sincerely wrong. And so the people from Jerusalem, Judea, go up to Antioch. It says, down to Antioch because the elevation of Jerusalem was higher than Antioch. So you're going down hill, effectively, lowered elevation. But they're going from south to north, they go to Antioch and they bring this message.
Hey, if you want to be a saved person, you first have to be a Jewish person and then believe in the Jewish Messiah. But you can't just willy-nilly not keep the Laws of Moses. You have to keep them and be circumcised to be saved.
Now the region Paul has been in-- what region did I tell you he was in? Galatia, he was in the region of Galatia. He writes a letter to the Galatians later on. And by now, Paul's gospel that he preached in Galatia, the Judaizers, the Pharisees who were saved, who are saying you have to keep the Laws of Moses to be saved, have gone from Jerusalem to Antioch and to all the places where Paul started churches.
Interesting how heresy develops. A lot of people, they won't start their own church. They'll just find churches that are already started and try to just sort of work their way through. So they made it all the way over to these places in Galatia, and when Paul writes his letter to the Galatians, he calls these people troublemakers.
So let me just read it to you. If you've got a Bible handy, you can turn to Galatians 1. I'm in verse 6, "I marvel," he says to the Galatians, "that you are turning away so soon from him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different gospel, which is not another" they're not preaching a whole different gospel, I mean, they're saying they believe. They are believers.
"But there are some who trouble you." These are the troublemakers. "Who want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." Now that's pretty hefty language. That's pretty strong stuff that he's dishing out here. Let him be accursed.
Why is it so dangerous? It's dangerous because they're trying to mix two mediums, like oil and water. They're trying to mix Law and grace, they're trying to add to the finished work of Christ. They're trying to stitch up the torn veil. You remember in Luke 23, the veil of the temple was torn in two.
A signification that God was opening the way freely for those in the future to come to a relationship with him through what Jesus did on the cross. The Judaizers, the Pharisees who are now saved, who have a Jewish background and think you have to go through the Laws. What they're effectively doing is saying, hey, let's stitch that veil back up. Let's make it harder for people, not easier.
God made it easier, we'll fix that. We'll help God out. We'll add rules and regulations that God never intended. They're trying to stitch up the veil.
Now, why is this so ludicrous. Well, if it's a finished work that God did, you coming along and trying to add to that is as stupid as me being in the Rembrandt museum, looking at one of Rembrandt's pictures, taking out a pencil and saying, I'm going to fix that. I'm going to add to that masterpiece.
Standing in front of a van Gogh, or a Rembrandt, or a Picasso and thinking, you know, he wasn't really on it that day. I can see some of the flaws. I'm going to fix what he did. It would be even more ludicrous for a child with crayons to have that mentality. That's what it's like to approach the finished work of God on the cross and say, I'm going to add my works to that.
So he says, be careful of these troublemakers because they are perverting the gospel. And he says, let them be accursed. Part of me thinks, poor Paul and Barnabas, man, they're flying so high. It's been so awesome, in Iconium, and Lystra and Derby and Pamphylia, Perga, Cyprus.
People are getting saved. Now they come back to the church that sent them and they find it's divided. Not everybody is so happy about it. There's the legalist who scowl.
The gospel has often been hindered by closed minds who stand in front of open doors and keep people from getting in. The door had been flung open, the veil had been wide open. But these are the gatekeepers, we're not going to let you in unless you're circumcised and keep the Law of Moses.
Now think for a moment, if those Judaizers would have had their way in Jerusalem and Antioch. And what if the church would have just started this way? No, no, no, you have to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. What if that's the foundation? What if they would have won?
Well, our hymns would certainly sound different, wouldn't they? We'd be singing, Amazing Circumcision, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Our anthem would be, what can wash away my sin? Nothing but the Law of Moses. But it's Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. And anything other than that is a perversion of the gospel.
Now verse 6, Acts 15, "The apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them, men and brethren--" so they're back in Jerusalem now. They've gone from Antioch to go check out what the apostles have to say, the big wigs, the men in charge. "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."
What's he referring to? He's referring to Acts chapter 10 when he went down to Caesarea and there was this centurion named Cornelius. A God-fearer. A Gentile, but he's interested in Judaism, the God of the Jews.
But he's received a revelation to go get Peter. Peter tells him about Jesus. This Gentile God-fearer comes into a personal relationship with Christ. The door has been opened to Cornelius and his family by Peter's mouth.
Then verse 8, "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us. And he made no distinction between us--" Jewish believers-- "and them--" Gentile believers-- "purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore--" and I love this verse. "Now therefore," and I love Peter for standing up and doing this.
Because you know, Peter wasn't always like this. If you know your book of Galatians, you know that Paul said that in Antioch, when Peter was up there for a while that Peter was two-faced, he would eat with Jewish people and pretend like he was kosher. But when he was with the Gentiles, he would pretend like he's all full of grace, but not with the Jews, like no, no, we don't do that. And so Paul had to rebuke Peter publicly to get him back on a course correction.
But now at this council in Jerusalem, Peter is standing up but he's got a right. And so he says, verse 10, "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?" Oh, I love that. Peter is saying, you're putting something-- now a yoke was a steering device they put on an animal to pull a plow.
The animal would often chafe under the yoke. And so you are laying a device, you are laying a yoke on the Gentiles, but he says-- it's interesting-- though you're telling them what to do to be saved, it's a yoke, this Jewish yoke is something we've never even kept.
We, the Jewish people, and our forefathers have never kept fully the law. He could have gone into the reason for the Babylonian Captivity, the Book of Judges, the Book of Joshua, on and on and on. He had a lot of historical record against them.
Why are you putting on them a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were ever able to bear. We couldn't do it. We don't do it. And now you're telling them to do it.
You're telling them to do something that nobody's done yet. Jesus said of the Pharisees, by the way, they bind heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they don't pick up that burden with one finger. They don't do anything to fix it. Peter is basically saying the same thing.
Why? Well, by this time, Judaism didn't just have the Old Testament, they had the oral law. They didn't just have the Ten Commandments, the rabbis said, oh, no, there are more than 10, there are 613 commandments. And you have got to keep them all.
613 commandments, divided up into two groups, positive and negative, 248 positive, 365 negative, 365 to 248. 365 prohibitions, one thou shalt not for every day of the year. That was their mentality, that's how they lived their life. 613 commandments broken by those who espoused to keep them, and now trying to lay it on other people. I don't have the time now, but if you want some kind of brainiac fun, go look up the 24 chapters written in the oral law, the Talmud, 24 chapters on how to keep the Sabbath.
Imagine, 24 separate chapters on how to keep the Sabbath laws, down to, can you carry a fig on the Sabbath? Can you carry a comb in your hair on the Sabbath? And then the disputes back and forth, how much weight can you carry? How far can you go? Down to the craziest detail.
So Peter stood up and gave that testimony. "But we," verse 11, "but we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus, we shall be saved--" and I like this-- "in the same manner as they." He didn't say, they can be saved like we are, he says, we can be saved like they are. We Jews can only be saved by faith in Jesus, just like them. "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."
Now they get up and go through their first missionary journey. And you know, there are speeches in the Bible that just tell you that they said something, but they don't tell you what they said, and I always go, man, I hate that. I wish this was recorded. Just like Matthew 24, the Road to Emmaus speech that Jesus gave. The first post-Resurrection teaching, and it was a prophetic sermon, not recorded. This one, not recorded.
But I'm sure he started in Cyprus and talked about Sergius Paulus, the intelligent man who was interested in the gospel. But Elymas, the Sorcerer came and withstood him, and so Paul said, you're going to be blind. And he was, that was a miracle. Then he gets to Iconium, and we read that many signs and wonders were done at the hands of the apostles.
And they said, then we got to Lystra, and there was a guy who had been blind from birth, but he had faith to be healed, and I knew it. And by the power of God, stretched out my hand, and the man was healed. But then it got really weird because they thought that we were their gods come down from heaven, Zeus and Hermes, and they started to worship us. And so I told them, not to. And they didn't do it.
And they took me out and threw stones at me instead. And they thought I was dead, but then when I got back up again, I went back into the city and I started talking again. What a great, great, great message this must have been. Sorry, it's not recorded.
Though it's not recorded. I ended something. I ended our time last week saying something that I just want to flesh out a little bit. Some believe that when he was stoned, and you know when I say that, what I mean by that, right?
I don't have to go through the modern idea of being stoned versus the ancient biblical term of being stoned. He had stones pelting his head. They thought he was dead. And some believe that it was at this point, in that state while he was on the ground that God did something to him and for him that changed his whole ministry, and gave him a focus and an impetus like nothing else.
And that is something that is recorded in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 where he says, "It is doubtless, not profitable for me to boast, but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago, whether in the body, I do not know, or whether out of the body, I do not know, God knows. Such a one was caught up into the third heaven--" the word is harpadzo, the same word as rapture. He was immediately taken up into heaven, the third heaven. "And I know such a man, whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know, God knows, how he was caught into the paradise and he heard inexpressible words which is not lawful for a man to utter, of such a one, I will boast."
In other words, Paul is saying, I'm the guy that I know. I've been speaking about me all along in the third person, but now I'm just saying, I'm the guy. I had an experience.
I couldn't tell you if I was in the body or if I had actually died and gone to heaven. But I was caught up in the third heaven. That's the abode of God.
The first heaven is the atmosphere, birds and clouds. The second heaven is the celestial realm of interplanetary stars, et cetera. Beyond that somewhere is the heaven of heavens where God is. He was caught up there, and he saw paradise. He saw a vision of heaven.
And it could be from that stoning experience that he developed what he calls a thorn in the flesh, also in this chapter. An impairment could have been an eye disease. It could have been epileptic seizures of some kind after that experience. We don't know.
But it could be that he was taken up into heaven. He had this vision, but then he says, and it was just so amazing, you know, it's not even lawful, it would be like a crime for me to even try to describe it. So I won't.
And there it is again, there's another one. It's like, really, you got to see that, and you won't give me a taste of how utterly cool that must have been. Because words wouldn't do it justice.
I always found that fascinating because I've heard of people who claim to have left Earth and gone to heaven. And they write very extensive books about it. And for $25 they'll tell you what it was like. But it's interesting, the biblical descriptions of heaven are very sparse.
Now, we can examine them and get some information, but it's very little information. So it could be that during this time is when he was caught up into the third heaven, couldn't be sure, but many believe so. So he goes through his speech in Jerusalem about what happened on that first trip, how God worked among the Gentiles.
Verse 13, "And after they had become silent, James answered saying--" and you go, what do you mean, James, I thought he was killed. He was. This is another James. The James that was murdered, killed, beheaded, was James the brother of John. This is James, the half-brother of Jesus.
After Jesus was born by a virgin birth, Joseph and Mary had normal husband or wife relations, had many children. One of them was James. So James is the half-brother of Jesus. Also James, this James is the author of the Book of James.
He is known as, in history, James, the Just, or James the Righteous. If you've ever read the Book of James, it's very fitting because it's a very righteous-oriented book. And he was also, because of his prayer life, known as James the Camel-kneed because the stories say he spent so much time physically on his knees in prayer that he developed these gnarly looking calluses like camels do. This is that James.
Now, James stands up after hearing the testimony of Peter and Barnabas and Saul, and he is going to make the final deliberation. Why is this important? Because it shows you that historically, biblically, Peter was not the first leader of the church, James was.
So if you try to say, well, we have a Papacy that is based on historical evidence that goes all the way back to the first Pope named Peter, you have a real problem with Acts chapter 15. Because Peter is not calling the shots, Peter is being sent out and dispatched by James, the half-brother of Jesus, who is the first leader in charge of the Church of Jerusalem.
So James stands up, not Peter, and he speaks and notice what he says in verse 14. "Simon has declared how God at first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name." When he says Simon, who is he referring to? Peter, but why didn't he say Peter?
Now, I'm asking you the question because I want you to start asking those kind of questions when you read your Bible. And you'll look, and you'll find the answer, but let me just tell you, so you don't have to do a whole lot of digging. The issue he's dealing with is a Jewish issue, a Hebrew-oriented issue. So he uses his Jewish name, not Peter, not the new name Jesus gave him, but the birth name, Hebrew birth name, Simon, Shimon. So he uses that name because it's a Jewish issue.
And verse 15, "with this--" what he just said. What Peter said, what Simon said, "and with this, the words of the prophets agree just as it is written." Now he's going to quote Amos chapter 9. "After this I will return and rebuild the Tabernacle of David, which has fallen down."
The Tabernacle of David refers to the House of David. The House of David has been busted up because of the sins of the nation. Do you remember that? Because of the sins of the nation they were taken into captivity.
The bloodline, the royal bloodline stopped at Jeconiah. The bloodline was cursed after that. There is absolutely no hope for the Messiah to come since the royal blood line of David has been cursed. The only fix to that bloodline curse could be a virgin birth.
Which is why Jesus was born of a virgin, and why one geological record traces the ancestry of Jesus back to David through Solomon, the line that was cursed. That's Joseph's genealogy, and traces Jesus' bloodline back to David through another son of David named Nathan, not Solomon. So the blood line is cursed on Joseph's side, but it gives Jesus the legal right to reign, but the blood line is cursed. That's OK, God got around his curse by having Jesus born of a virgin in Mary's womb.
So the Tabernacle has been broken down. The House of David is the promise of the Messiah through the lineage of David that's fulfilled in Christ. That's why he's quoting this. "I will rebuild his ruins and set it up. So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord--" now watch this-- "so that the rest of mankind--" not just Jewish people-- "may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by my name says the Lord who does all these things."
Now, he's rooting his decision in Scripture. He's quoting Amos chapter 9. And he's showing them, oh, by the way, Amos says nothing about them first becoming Jewish proselytes and then they're admitted into the kingdom. It says that all the Gentiles may come to this knowledge. Verse 18, "Known to God--" verse 18-- "known to God from eternity are all his works."
That's a verse you may want to memorize because from time-to-time, you're going to run into people who believe in what is called Open Theism. Open Theism says that though God is omniscient, knows everything, that because God has given volition to mankind, free will, you have the will to choose this or that, that God doesn't know what you're going to choose. So that God is learning by the choices that you are making. You're teaching God. Isn't that a fabulous thing. You're God's instructor.
Open Theism teaches that though God may be omniscient, there are certain things where that is limited. So then, he's not omniscient. And that is, will a person choose or not choose to believe? This verse flatly says, "Known to God from eternity are all--" all-- "his works," including salvation works, the work of salvation.
"Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city being read in the synagogues every Sabbath. Then it pleased the apostles and the elders--" probably not some of those Pharisees-- "with the whole church to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely Judas, who is also named Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men of the brethren."
So a two-fold decision is formulated by James. For the Legalists, he's saying, be inclusive. Be inclusive you Legalists. Don't add man-made rules and man made regulations to the faith of non-Jewish people. Don't make them become Jews first. That's what they were saying, you have to become a Jew before you can be a Christian. So to the Legalist he is saying, be inclusive, lighten up, don't add your own man-made regulations.
To the converts, he's saying, be sensitive. You need to realize that these people with this background, this baggage of religious law have certain sensitivities that's going to drive them up a wall if you do certain things. So when he says-- and he gives three restrictions one of them is moral, two of them are sensitive, just kind of conscious sensitive, Jewish sensitive. "That you abstain from--" verse 20-- "things polluted by idols."
In those days, they would take animals and sacrifice them in the altars, the pagan altars, and sell the meat in the butcher shop of the pagan temple. So it had been sacrificed to idols and then purchased in the butcher shop, taken home and eaten. That's why Paul later on when he writes his letters, he goes, don't even ask where they bought it. Just eat it. If you don't want to eat it, don't eat it, but tell the other people not to.
So when he says, things polluted by idols, that's what he's referring to. "From sexual immorality--" it doesn't just mean laying around or sleeping around together. That wasn't as big of an issue as it is in our day. The idea is associated with worship.
The pagan worship was very sensually oriented, and sexual acts were often undertaken during pagan worship. So it's avoiding a pagan worship system altogether. Buying meat that has been sacrificed to an idle in a temple butcher shop, and from blood.
Now you can go today to the UK and you can go to Scotland to get what they call blood pudding. I don't recommend it. So I have no problem at all with this restriction. I don't say, wait a minute, I have freedom in Christ, I can eat blood, OK. I have never been interested in that. I'm not like, oh, I can't wait to get a blood pudding.
Now some like it, but I wouldn't recommend that with your Jewish friends. Because of the restriction in Leviticus that says, "The life of the flesh is in the blood." So everything had to be bled according to kosher law for it to be suitable to eat. So he's saying, you need to be sensitive. Things that have been sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, refrain from that, and from blood.
It pleased the whole multitude, and then he's going to write a letter to them. And the letter says as much. So I love this. He's saying look, we believe you're saved by faith. Just be careful morally and sensitivity issues with Jewish believers.
The law of love, now I like this because it's not like, OK, what are those things again? There's like 613 things I have to memorize. No just remember these three, just do that. You're saved by faith, now in your practice, do these three things, or stay away from these three things. These are the restrictions.
And I love this because Jesus said, my yoke is easy, man, my burden is light. He didn't say, my yoke is very hard and my burden, it will crush you. It's light, and they all agreed.
So they wrote a letter, "The apostles, the elders, the brethren to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words--" now you know what troubled means from Galatians 1-- "unsettling your souls saying, you must be circumcised and keep the law, to whom we gave no such commandment, it seemed good to us being assembled with one accord to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas-- this is a different Judas, not Iscariot, of course, he's long dead-- who will also report the same things by word of mouth--" report the same things by word of mouth-- "for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things, that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you do well, farewell."
So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch. When they had gathered the multitude together and delivered the letter, when they read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. Man the burden was lifted. Peter said, you're trying to lay on them a burden, a yoke, which neither we nor our fathers have ever been able to bear. They're hearing these Judaizers come from Jerusalem into their church, saying no, no, no, no, you have to do these things.
And so they've been weighed under that. Now comes the letter saying, you don't have to do those things. Just refrain from these things, farewell. It was like, a sigh of relief, heavy sigh.
"Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets, also exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words. And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles. However it seemed good to Silas to remain there. Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch teaching and preaching the word of the Lord with many others also.
Conflict resolved, but now there's another conflict that goes unresolved. In fact, whereas the first conflict is reconciled, the second one makes them part company with each other. It's a conflict between two men, two ministers, two brothers, two friends who don't see eye to eye on something that's not even substantive.
It's not a doctrinal issue, they all agree on that. It's not a biblical issue, they all agree on the scriptures. It's a methodological issue of how we're going to go on the next missionary journey, who's going to be on that team.
Verse 36, "Then after some days, Paul said to--" Barney-- "let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord." Let's see how they're doing.
Now why would they need to do this? Well, they were gone from Antioch and everything was going good when they left Antioch, but they came back and it was already divided. It doesn't take long. The cat's away, the mice will play.
Now Paul and Barnabas founded those churches, but he's probably thinking, man, by now, who knows what they're into. Let's go back and see how they're doing. "Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark, but Mark insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed--" the word departed is a very strong word. It means deserted, failed them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. "Then the contention--" very strong word, again-- "became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas, and he parted being commended by the brethren to the grace of God, and he went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches.
Now we're about to enter the second missionary journey. When we pick up next time, we're going to pick up here. But we're going to pick up with this dispute and here's the question as we close, who was right and who was wrong? I know, the easy answer for us would be well, Paul was right, because Paul, like, wasn't he always right? And so to determine and discover who was right in this, we're going to have to wait for next time.
And we will pick it up as we go into chapter 16, into the second missionary journey. But I want to save time for the distribution of the elements and for us to focus on our unity because the truth is, not all of us agree on everything and we have to declare and agree on this that that's OK. We have to understand and agree, I believe, that God reserves the right to use people who disagree with you. And I've noticed that God uses people who disagree with me. I don't understand that he would do that.
But because he does, whenever I have a dispute over an issue with somebody, I'm able to walk away and give them the freedom to be wrong and to live in inaccuracy, while all the while loving them and having communion. As long as we agree on the historic pillars of the Christian faith, there's a lot of stuff in between that really is irrelevant. Like who should go on the missionary journey, on the second one, or not.
We can agree on what's important and throw the rest to the wind. Jesus loves you, Jesus died for you, and he died for me, and he loves me, and we're going to take these elements, and they're going to go into my mouth and they are going to go into your mouth. And the bread that comes from the common loaf is assimilated into me and assimilated into you. And thus in a sense, we are becoming one.
We're being nourished by the same source. Just as we are nourished by Christ in His death and Resurrection. And so we're symbolizing our unity, our communion tonight. And so we do it with respect and with great regard.
As I pray, I'm going to ask the communion board to come forward. Father, thank you for the time we've had in your word. And thank you, Lord, now, for this time of worship where we take these elements that Jesus said we ought to do often in remembrance of him. And we do remember him.
We remember by reading the scriptures of those things that took place long ago, but we understand that principally, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life." So Lord, we who believe from different backgrounds, some atheists, some very religious, we've all come to the common understanding that it's by faith alone, through an act of your grace alone, in Jesus Christ alone, that we are in your family.
And when we look at those around us, we've been saved the way they've been saved. We've come into the fold the way they've come into the fold. And so Lord, may we express, not only by these elements but by our deeds, our love. May we express that love, and may we feel satisfied to be part of a family that loves each other deeply, sincerely, in Jesus' name, amen.
For more resources from Calvary Albuquerque and Skip Heitzig, visit calvaryabq.org.