Here are the notes from my sermon preached on Acts 15 at Cross of Christ Fellowship in Naperville. Audio here.
Acts 15 “Jerusalem Council”
Intro: Friend becomes a Christian; Someone tells them they are not saved unless they follow all OT laws, imagine fear/insecurity
-This was the situation that faced the church in Acts 15: a group within church argued for Jesus PLUS OT laws to be saved
-Can one be saved simply by faith in Christ, or must one also follow ceremonial laws of the OT?
-Acts 15 gives pivotal clarification of gospel, which is a gospel of grace, and Christian’s relation to the OT laws.
M.S.: The good news of Jesus is the good news of God’s GRACE!
RELEVANCE: What took place in Acts 15 brought dramatic clarification to the gospel and impacted the church in every age
-Because of what took place in Acts, you and I live our faith in Christ a particular way
-We need to reminded of these truths today as hear what God would speak to us through his word.
1. The Good News of the Gospel in Question (1-5)
CONTEXT: Paul and Barnabas are with the church in Antioch, teaching and encouraging them in the faith
*PIVOTAL QUESTION: How is a person saved? Must a new Christian follow OT ceremonial law to be saved?
-SOME MEN come and teach (1,5):“Some men…”(1) “Believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” (5)
TEACHING: – ““Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”” (1)
-““It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”” (5)
–SUMMARY: It is not enough to believe in Jesus, one must also keep the OT ceremonial laws: Jesus PLUS view…
-Paul and Barnabas debate and dispute the claims and teachings of these men “had no small [HUGE!] dissension and debate”
*APPLICATION: NOT everyone’s beliefs about God are right, true, or beneficial.
-When the truth of gospel is hindered, we must speak up.
-SOLUTION (2b): Check with the apostles and elders about the question
-Jesus called his apostles to lead his church and he worked through them to establish it
-Apostles are foundation of the church (Eph 2:20)
-JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM: Paul and Barnabas are bearers of joy along the way (3)
-Welcomed at Jerusalem (4)
-The Question about the gospel and OT law is brought up in Jerusalem as well (5)
-SAME CLAIM of argument about gospel is made today by some groups: Worldwide Church of God; Hebrew Israelites
-SAME KIND of move is made by legalists: Jesus PLUS… homeschool, no drinking, other things
–Luther saw it in Roman Catholicism: Saved by Jesus PLUS our baptism, penance, and good works.
2. The Good News of the Gospel Clarified (6-30)
In this section we see God work through his apostles to bring about a clarification of the gospel and its relation to the OT.
-The gospel really is the good news of God’s grace, a grace that saves sinners not because of their works.
-The Christian message of salvation is that a person is saved by grace alone, not by Jesus PLUS anything.
-ORGANIZED around 3 Witnesses and a Letter.
1. FIRST WITNESS: Peter (6-11)
-There is much debate about the matter (7a), but apostles gather to discuss
-God is leading his church through his apostles to bring clarification about important question of salvation.
-Peter stands up and reminds them of how God used him to preach to Gentiles (7b)
-This refers to Acts 10-11 (Cornelius, Gentiles believing, HS falling on them)
-God “gave them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and made not distinction between us and them” v 8
-NO distinction! Both groups are “cleansed…by faith”
-It is a mistake to impose OT ceremonial laws on Gentile believers (10-11)
-Even Jewish believers cannot fully obey OT law (10)
-Jewish & Gentile Believers saved same way: “we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
–KEY verse to this whole passage!
-KEY to right understanding of the gospel: we are saved by grace, not works of any kind.
–Romans 3:28, Eph 2:8-9
-OT Ceremonial Laws are fulfilled in Christ and not required for Christians: Col 2:16-17
-Attempts to add to the gospel of grace—Jesus PLUS—is a distortion of the gospel.
-See further elaboration in Galatians.
2. SECOND WITNESS: Paul and Barnabas (READ 12)
-Paul and Barnabas recount “signs and wonders God” did “among the Gentiles” (Acts 13-14)
-These miraculous signs (healings) confirmed the truth of the gospel.
-SIGNS also confirm that God was really working through the gospel message Paul and Barnabas preached
3. THIRD WITNESS: James (13-21)
-James is the brother of Jesus (became a believer in Jesus as the resurrection)
-James quotes from prophet Amos to confirm God’s desire to save Gentiles (13-18)
-A “people for his name” (14)à “Gentiles who are called by name” (17)
-James’ JUDGMENT (19-21)
-Do NOT TROUBLE the Gentiles who turn to God by asking them keep OT laws (19)
-Jesus PLUS anything brings TROUBLE and FEAR
-It brings an unbearable YOKE.
-It denigrates the finished work of Jesus—claims it is not enough
-SOME INSTRUCTIONS FOR GENTILES TO ACCOMMODATE JEWISH BELIEVERS (20-21)
-These were not for salvation, but so as to not bring unnecessary offense to Jewish believers (see Rom 14-15).
APPLICATION: MUCH of the Christian life is being inconvenienced in love for brothers and sistersàPhil 2:3-4
-Old being loving inconvenienced for the young, and the young being loving inconvenienced for old
-Wealthy Christians being loving inconvenienced for the poor, and poor being loving inconvenienced for rich
-Christians without children being loving inconvenienced for families with kids
-Families with children being loving inconvenienced for singles
-ALL willingly inconvenienced in mission and love for the lost: 1 Cor 9:22
-The way of sacrificial love for lost is the way of Jesus, and much better than getting all our wants
–LIE of SUBURBIA: You are entitled to get what you want when you want it.
–TRUTH of GOSPEL: Saved by grace to lovingly lay down our preferences for others
APOSTOLIC LETTER (22-30)
-An official, authoritative letter bearing the authority of apostles will be sent (22)
-CONTENT of Letter (23-29)
-Addresses Gentile believers as brothers (22)
-Clarifies that “some persons” have brought teaching “unsettling minds” and were not from apostles (24)
-Gentiles are NOT required to keep OT ceremonial law (28-29)
-NOTICE “Seemed good to the Holy and to us…”
–God was guiding this process and decision.
-Letter is delivered to the church in Antioch and also carried with Paul on 2nd missionary journey (30)
*SUMMARY: Good news of the gospel is the GOOD NEWS of God’s grace
-God protected his church from gospel distortion, through apostles and Scripture
–LUTHER: We must constantly reinforce the truths of the gospel to ourselves and others.
3. The Good News of the Gospel Brings JOY (31-35)
Here we see the result of the gospel: JOY!
-The RESULT of believing and being assured of the gospel is JOY (31)
-Great and incomparable joy that comes from really understanding God’s grace.
-Further instruction given by Judas, Silas, Paul and Barnabas (32-25)
APPLICATION: A right understanding of God’s grace leads to JOY!
-JOY that God would be so kind to sinners who so much deserve his judgment
-JOY that our hope is completely in Jesus who paid the whole penalty for my sins
-Romans 1:16 and LUTHER (‘like windows of heaven were opened for me’)
PROBLEM: Have you lost your joy in God?
SOLUTION: Ponder the amazing grace of God again.
-Plead with God to help you grasp it afresh and delight in it anew.
4. Unity in the Gospel Does Not Mean There Will Never Be Division in the Church (36-41)
Painful ending to this chapter: two gospel ministers divide.
-This happened in the Early church and still happens today: Christians divide.
-Sometimes it’s over very superficial reasons
-Other times there are differences of conviction that lead to a painful impasse and separation.
SITUATION: Different opinions over Mark (37-39a)
-Paul did not want to bring Mark with them on the 2nd missionary journey
-Barnabas did want to bring Mark
-“Sharp disagreement” (39a)
-“they separated from each other” (39b)
-Barnabas took Mark and sailed away to Cyprus (39c)
-Paul took Silas and went north through Syria and Cilicia (40a)
-He was still “commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (40b)
QUESTION: Who was right and who was wrong?
ANSWER: We don’t know, and Luke does not give us an answer.
FURTHER: Paul did reconcile to Mark (mentioned in Colossians and Philemon; requested for in 2 Timothy).
APP: There will be unfortunate separations between faithful gospel ministers and ministry, but God’s kingdom continues to advance.
The gospel of Jesus is the good news of God’s grace toward sinners and Christ, and it will continue to advance!