BSF Acts: Bible Lesson 9 – Acts 15: Lecture

Acts 15

Aim: Salvation (justification) comes from faith through grace alone and cannot be earned either by adherence or works

Introduction: You can’t afford the gift you are receiving.  When I look around the room of children’s leaders in our class I am surrounded by business owners, executives, doctors, the chief legal counsel for a multimillion dollar company, accountants, law enforcement officers.  Frankly the bill rate of the people I sit with for three hours every Saturday morning would be astounding.  Yet, the gift of time is freely given in love, not only for the children and other men in the group, but more importantly for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Do not lessen the gift that you are being provided by even imagining that you could pay for it.  You simply can’t afford it!  There is no level or adherence to the law that could even provide a fraction of the cost that Christ paid in dying on that cross and to imply that it could is insulting to our master.  (OK, this’ll preach!)

Division 1: Acts 15: 1-11 – A dispute over circumcision requires a decision by the church leadership. Peter, Paul and Barnabas testify to the Holy Spirit’s presence in Gentile believers.

Acts 15: 1-2 – P&B sent to Jerusalem to conclude: circumscision required or not

Acts  15 3-4 – P&B to Jerusalem, testify  on the way, welcomed by apostles, they give a report.

Acts 15: 5 – Party of the Pharises states their belief: become Jewish to become christian

Acts 15:6 – Apostle and elders meet to consider this question

Acts 15: 7-11 – Peter presents: no distriction between J&G, through grace we are saved.

Principle: The rock stands strong in his testimony: Faith is sufficient

Illustration: I don’t agree.  You say yes I say no.  How do we resolve it?  That was the question facing the new church.  When disputes in belief or practice arise, what do we do?  Go our own ways?  Give in?  In these verses we see step one.  The dispute is presented to a body of leaders and elders who discuss it and look for the hand of God and the direction He is leading.  We see that in the testimony of P, B and Peter.  Look – see – There is God!

Applications: Are you watching for God’s hand moving in your life and your church?  What disputes do you need to quit harboring and get resolved? Do you rely on your intellect first or do you first look to God?

Division 2: Act 15: 12-21  James states the judgment of the Jerusalem Council

Acts 15: 12-18 James reinforces the works of God by the word of God

Acts 15: 19 James judgment: remove difficulty from Gentile converts to Christ

Acts 15: 20-21 James directs Gentiles to follow the Mosaic laws specifically stated  for Jews and Gentiles

Principle: God’s word is the final word

Illustration: In the United States, the Supreme Court is the ultimate decision on the interpretation of laws.  If a judge rules against you, you can take it to the next higher court.  But if the Suprement Court rules a certain way – it is done.  In the same way, God’s word is the final word. 

Applications: What do you want to be right or OK that God’s word says is wrong?  Do you yield to the authority of the gospel or ignore it?  Do the words of the bible hold weight to change your convictions or do you try to change the words to match your desires?

Division 3: 3 witnesses are sent back to testify to Antioch: P&B, S&J and the letter

Acts 15:22-23  – Judas and Silas are picked to go to Antioch with P&B and the letter

Acts 15: 24-29 – The letter: becoming a christian not a burden, but there are suggested restrictions

Acts 15: 30-31 – The letter is delivered and received with gladness

Acts: 15-32-35 – A time of peace, blessing and strengthening continues in Antioch

Principle: The is only one body of Christ on the earth – one church

Illustration: God describes His church on the earth as a body of believers.  We can sit around in our big comfy chairs watching college football and our body will rot away.  God tells us to do something different.  To work.  To go.  To spread His news.  But like any other work, sometimes the work of the body of the church causes strains and they can be painful.  But we have the choice when our arm hurts from a strain or injury.  I guess we could just lop it off.  At least it wouldn’t hurt anymore, right?  But we normally don’t do that.  We nurse it.  We tend to it.  We protect it and we help it get stronger.  That is the message God has for us as His church as well.

Application: Who among believers have you “lopped off”?  What is dividing you from doing God’s work?  What is wrong that you need to be bold about and cause it to stop?

Conclusion:

This wasn’t easy for anyone.  The Judaisers believed they had scripture behind them.  Paul didn’t have a relationship with anyone in Jerusalem – he had only spent 15 days with them.  Barnabas did, but he clearly could see both sides of the argument.  And the leaders in Jerusalem had never faced a challenge like this before.  But they did three very smart things: 1 they looked for God’s direction 2. they stood on the bible 3. they maintained their sights on the ultimate goal – spreading the good news of the gospel.

BSF Acts: Week 8, Day 4, Acts 15:13–35

Acts 15:13–35

Summary:

 The “Council of Jerusalem” meets to settle the disagreement within the church regarding circumcision.  The council decides that it is not a requirement but suggests/decrees 4 halakhah laws that new believers, regardless of background, should follow.  Silas and Judas are dispatched with Paul and Barnabas and the letter back to the church at Antioch and everyone is pleased and comforted.

Questions:

9. a. James suggested that believers within the Gentiles are also a people chosen by God and that they should not be burdened with additional requirements but instead should be encouraged.  He also suggested they abstain from certain practices that the Jewish Christians would be abhorring and vulgar.

b. He spoke as an authority of the church of Jerusalem (It is my judgment therefore), but everything he spoke and suggested was specifically stated in the scriptures where he quoted from Amos 9

10. a. Judas and Silas delivered the letter

b. Acts 15:31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message

11. a. (Challenge) The council provides a watershed moment because it becomes the launching point of a Christian faith separate from traditional Jewish faith.  As importantly it provided a means of unification within the church.  Prior to the council Messianic Jews would have been prohibited from many associations with Gentiles including breaking bread with them – thus no shared communion/eucharist.  Galatians 2:12 and Acts 10:28

It provided a model for any subsequent disputes within the church.  It empowered the ability for the Christian Church to grow during a time when the temple was destroyed.  It ordained a Christian church outside of Judaism.

In the short term, it also paired Silas with Paul for his return mission trip and who became a life-long companion.

b. My personal answer to this question will sound trite, but it has tugged at my heart a number of times.  I am willing to give up the words, “I hope” and replace them with real and actual prayer.  (more to follow in post entitled Hoping versus Praying)

Conclusion:

This division within the church and the method of resolution provided an opportunity for the church to stand or fall.  Through leaders empowered by the Holy Spirit the church stood on the scriptures, specifically Amos, and opened the door for unabated association, unity and communion within the church of believers regardless of background or foreskin.

There are 2 interesting points within this. 

The first is where did James come up with the 4 items within the letter?  These appear to be directly from Lev 17-18.  These rules were outlined by God to Moses and specifically call for them to be adhered to by “any Israelite or any alien living among them.”  There are other rules outlined in these chapters and under the Mosaic law, but these are the ones specifically for Israelites and aliens.

Second: are these items rules or guidelines?  James appears to view them as rules to be strictly followed, while Paul appears to be more in line with the men’s group in BSF seeing things as guidelines rather than rules.  In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul lays this out basically saying don’t get too hung up over the little things such as what you eat – that isn’t what brings you closer to God.  However, he also admonishes against doing anything that would cause another brother to fall into sin.

BSF Acts: Week 8, Day 2, Acts 15: 1-12

Acts 15:1–12
Sumary: The question of ritual comes into play in the new church.  Must someone become a jew to be a christian?  Must they undergo circumcision and follow the Mosaic law to be saved through Christ.  Paul, Barnabas and Peter say no.

Questions:

3. The christians at Jerusalem were footed in the jewish tradition and the teachings in the temple.  The believers in Antioch were not, or at least not to the same degree.
4. The Jews were jealous (Acts 17:5).  The Jews were prejudiced (Gal 2).  The jewish believers may have felt outnumbered and still carried a subservient view (They were under Roman rule and this now brought them out of bondage as it had the Jews of Moses time.)

b. They believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people and saw the path to salvation only through their tradition and ritual.

c. He was “all in” for Christ.  If salvation came through the gift of Jesus’ death and resurrection alone, then any requirement of works or ritual distracted from that covenent and lessened the gift.  Rom 10:12 – “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, the same Lord is the Lord of all…”

5. Peter refers to his vision of the sheet with all matter of animal, clean and unclean, and his subsequent understanding of the vision through the interaction of the Holy Spirit with Cornelius the centurion who received faith.

Conclusions:

The bible is so simple in its requirements – believe, change and be saved.  Yet we can add such complexity.  You must go through these classes.  You must attend these meetings.  You have to be baptized on this day.  You were baptized in what synod, we don’t count that.

There is nothing wrong with teaching, with prayer and with being a shepherd to new believers, but the avenue to a relationship with Jesus Chris does not come with barriers that new believers have to jump over.  Christ seems to be happy that we are on the right path.