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Through the Grace of Our Lord Jesus

January 30th, 2022

No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (Acts 11) Passage: Acts 15:1-35

We learned last week about the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. There was great work of God in the cities they visited. But the Jewish leaders stirred up persecutions against the mission team. After visiting several cities in Asia Minor, the mission team decided to return to their home church Antioch in Syria. On their way, Paul and Barnabas revisited those cities in which they had preached before in order to encourage disciples to remain true to the faith. They said to them, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Today’s passage tells us about what happened after their first missionary journey.

Verse 1 reads, “Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’” The distance from Judea to Antioch is about 500 Km north. Certain people from Judea came all the way to Antioch to teach something other than the gospel.

Antioch church was an exemplary church grounded on the gospel with the good influence of Paul and Barnabas. The name “Christians” was first coined among the disciples of Jesus at Antioch church. When Jerusalem church was having financial difficulties, the disciples at Antioch church offered sacrificially to support them. While Paul and Barnabas were away during their fist missionary journey, some came to Antioch and confused the young disciples there with strange teachings.

When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, they had sharp disputes and debates with them. Paul and Barnabas realized that it was not a minor issue to be settled at Antioch. It was the issue of the doctrine of salvation. They decided to take this matter to the central church in Jerusalem. They went to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders regarding this matter. Verse 4 reads, “When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.” The first Christian Council was held in Jerusalem. The topic was the doctrine of salvation. First, believers from the party of the Pharisees spoke up. Verse 5 reads, “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.’”

Who were the believers from the party of the Pharisees? They were the Christians who strongly held onto the traditions of the Pharisees sect. The Pharisees sect was a religious sect, formed after returning from the 70 years of the Babylonian exile. The Babylonian exile was a great humiliation and devastation to the Jews who had their identity as God’s covenant people. The restoration of their nation was a long road of struggle for them. They had to rebuild their temple, their city, their identity, their language and culture. In their efforts of restoration, the Pharisees sect was formed. This sect emphasized strict disciplines to abide the Scripture, rules, and regulations. While their initial motivation was good to restore their nation. As time went by, however, they lost their initial spirit and held onto man-made rules and regulations. For example, he made more than 1,000 rules about keeping the Sabbath, far beyond the teachings of the Scripture. As they tried to impose these man-made rules on ordinary people, they often had conflicts with Jesus who brought the gospel and God’s grace.

The believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees were the ones who accepted the gospel and became Christians. But they held onto the tradition of the Pharisees sect. They insisted that even Christians should be circumcised. Probably they thought that circumcision was the bottom line to be a Christian. They addressed their point at the Council. Then apostles and elders had discussion in this matter. Let us go to the first Council in Jerusalem and listen to them. We will hear three short speeches from Peter, Barnabas and Paul, and James.

First, Speech from Peter. Verse 7 reads, “After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.” Here, Peter was testifying what he had experienced years before when he had visited the Roman centurion Cornelius. Peter himself was a Hebraic Jews with the exclusive view of God’s salvation among the Jews only. He was reluctant to associate with any Gentiles. With the dream of the basket containing all kinds of unclean animals and reptiles, a voice from heaven commanding him to eat them, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Peter had no choice but to come to the house of Cornelius, the centurion. There he witnessed God’s work among the Gentiles and was convinced of God’s way of work.


Peter continues in verses 8-9, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” Peter saw how God accepted the Gentiles through the work of the Holy Spirit just as he did to the Jews. Peter was convinced that God does not discriminate between the Jews and the Gentiles. Gospel is the greatest equalizer for all the peoples in the world.

Peter then appeals to them. Verses 10-11 read, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Here, “a yoke” refers to the burdens of man-made rules set by the Pharisees sect. The man-made rules were so strict that they themselves were not able to keep them. But they tried to impose this burdens on the Gentiles.

Peter concludes his speech, “No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Salvation through the grace of our Lord Jesus alone. It is the catchphrase of the Reformation by Martin Luther, “Salvation by grace alone.” Let us think about “Why salvation by grace alone in Jesus.” Why not human efforts contribute to salvation? We need to consider the degrees of problems we are facing. If we have a small cut in our finger, we can just put a bandage and time will heal. But treating heart diseases is beyond what ordinary people like me can do. Cardiologists who are trained for years can treat them. The most serious problem is our sin problem that separates us from holy God. Unless this problem is resolved, eternal separation from God and eternal condemnation is our destiny. No human beings are able to solve this problem. In his mercy, God took the initiative to save us and sent us his one and only Son. The Son of God had to die on the cross and pay all the debts for us. If we were able to solve our sin problem, Jesus did not have to come to the world or die on the cross. Salvation is 100% by the grace of Jesus. Therefore, any teachings with other than grace alone are considered heresy. Apostle Paul strongly warns us in Galatians 1:8, “...even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

What’s the purpose of the laws then? Why did God give laws to Moses? Without laws, we do not know what is right or wrong. The law leads us to know that we are sinners before God and we are in need of God’s grace. Galatians 3:24 tells us the purpose of the law. “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.” The law is like our guardian that leads to know who are before God and acknowledge Jesus’ grace. In the gospel, some laws such as circumcision and animal offering are obsolete, not effective anymore. But the spirit of the Ten Commandments is still effective all generations.

Second, Speech from Barnabas and Paul. Verse 12 reads, “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” Barnabas and Paul must have had a lot to say at the Council. But they shared the wonderful work of God during their first missionary journey, “the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” While Peter addressed the doctrine of salvation by grace alone in Christ, Barnabas and Paul shared their testimony of God’s work among the Gentiles by grace alone. Their testimony was powerful and convincing.

Third, Speech from James. Verse 13 reads, “When they finished, James spoke up. ‘Brothers,’ he said, ‘listen to me.’” Who was James who spoke up at the Council? James, the disciple of Jesus, had already been martyred. James here was Jesus’ brother, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He reiterated Simon Peter’s address. James found God’s vision in the Scripture as verse 17 reads, “...that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name...” It was a quotation from Amos 9:12. God had a vision that all the Gentiles would bear his name. God’s vision was not limited to the Jews only. His vision was to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation for all the nations in the world. 

James as the leader of the church provides a godly direction. Verse 19 reads, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Those who are in leaders’ position should not make it difficult for God’s flock in coming to the Lord. There are two types of barriers for people in coming to the Lord. The first type of barrier lies in the gap between God’s holiness and the sinfulness of mankind. God is holy and does not compromise with sins. On the other hand, mankind is sinful and does not want to repent of their sins. As long as mankind does not want to repent, this barrier exists. God lowered the bar with the gospel of Christ: whoever believes in him will be forgiven and eternal life.

The second type is a man-made barrier. Those who are in leaders’ positions are stumbling blocks between God and people. A typical example is the religious leaders like Pharisees. They made many man-made rules. Then they imposed those rules on people and make it difficult for them in coming to the Lord. Jesus strongly warned them. Matthew 18:6 says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” To Jesus, one soul is more precious than the whole world. Causing one soul to stumble is a serious sin before God.

James recommended four things for believers to abstain: “ abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” The apostles and elders in the Jerusalem wrote a letter. With this letter, Paul and Barnabas came back to the Antioch church. God blessed the first Christian Council with testimonies and messages of godly servants: Peter, Barnabas and Paul, and James. God guided them to establish the doctrine of salvation: Salvation by grace alone in Christ Jesus.

Young Disciple Christian Fellowship – RU