Acts 15-16

Philippians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:26
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Acts 15-16

-The major question that the early church was asking was: What does it look like now that the God of Israel has opened the doors to allow all nations to become his covenant people.
-Israel was a very exclusive religion in the fact that you were born into it.
The Israelites always welcomed people to worship the one true God, but that didn’t automatically make you part of “israel” or “God’s Chosen people”
That’s why in the book of Acts we read about “Jews” and “God-fearing Gentiles”
They’re a separate class of people. Because they are worshiping God, but they’re not part of the covenant community.
They’re not chosen people.
What Jesus did, and what happens in the book of Acts is that door is bust wide open. Now through Christ, all people can become part of God’s Chosen people.
The big question is “What does that look like” \
Paul’s first Missionary Journey
2 Things you need to know
1) Paul primarily goes to the Synagogues
2) Paul stays relatively close to home base (Jerusalem/Antioch)
Paul goes to Jewish areas, he preaches to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, and basically preaches that salvation is through Jesus, and that the God-fearing Gentiles are now full members. They have full citizenship now.

Acts 15:1-5

Acts 15:1–5 NET 2nd ed.
Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this point of disagreement. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they were relating at length the conversion of the Gentiles and bringing great joy to all the brothers. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all the things God had done with them. But some from the religious party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe the law of Moses.”
Acts 15:5 NET 2nd ed.
But some from the religious party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe the law of Moses.”
Now that the covenant community of Israel is open to all nations through Christ, the major question is “What do the gentiles need to do.
You can’t just have anybody and everybody become part of the chosen people. This isn’t a free-for-all. There has to be some “entry point” or “requirement.
This is logical. There has to be something. When we think about who is a member of a local church, you can’t just have anyone who just simply declares “I’m a member” That’s chaos. At the very least you have to show up. There has to be something that says who’s in or out.
And so what is going to be the thing that determines if a person is in or out of God’s chosen people, grafted into the nation of israel.\
These men from Judea said “Circumscision” should be the marker.
Again, we have to put ourselves in our context.
Today, we read that and we say “that’s preposterous” of course that’s not what makes you part of God’s chosen people.
But in the first century, that equation looks a lot different.
What God is doing with the Gentiles here is something completely new.
There has never been a point in history before this where the Gentiles could become part of israel.
And Very much like you and I would today, when we have a problem to solve, and we don’t have anything to fall back on. No way of saying “how did we do it last time” The men from Judea asked a very logical question
What does the Bible say?
Isn’t that something we ask all the time? What does the Bible say?
Well if you’re only going off of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, the answer’s actually pretty clear. The Old testament says that you need to be circumcised, and you need to follow the Law of Moses that God gave on mount sinai.
Exodus 12:48 NET 2nd ed.
“When a resident foreigner lives with you and wants to observe the Passover to the Lord, all his males must be circumcised, and then he may approach and observe it, and he will be like one who is born in the land—but no uncircumcised person may eat of it.
Exodus 12:49 NET 2nd ed.
The same law will apply to the person who is native-born and to the resident foreigner who lives among you.”
That’s the claim that these men from judea are making
As we go on into verse 6 we read:
It goes on, Paul says

Acts 15:6-12

Acts 15:6–12 NET 2nd ed.
Both the apostles and the elders met together to deliberate about this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith. So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.” The whole group kept quiet and listened to Barnabas and Paul while they explained all the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.
And so You have this deliberation between the two parties, trying to find a solution to the matter.
And finally James stands up James says

Acts 15:13-18

Acts 15:13–18 NET 2nd ed.
After they stopped speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has explained how God first concerned himself to select from among the Gentiles a people for his name. The words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written, After this I will return, and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David; I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, namely, all the Gentiles I have called to be my own,’ says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.
So now you have James using Scripture to make the case that no, in fact, the gentiles don’t need to be circumcised.
Paul and Barnabas make it clear that the gentiles received the holy spirit
James says look we’re entering a new era, something that was in the prophets.
So you have
The Men from judea on one side, and they’re saying look, the Bible says right here, you need to be circumcized
And you have paul and barnabas and James saying, look, right here, the bible says this is different.
Both of them are using the word of God.
Both of them are certain in their convictions,
And if you’re purely looking at things from a “what does the bible say” point of view, there seems to be a gridlock position.
And so what does the church do?
They compromise.
I know that’s not a word we like to hear in church, we often get so caught up in our convictions, but the example here in the early church, when two sides have a disagreement
and they both have scripture on their side
and they can’t come to a decision, they compromised.
Acts 15:19 NET 2nd ed.
“Therefore I conclude that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to God,
Acts 15:20 NET 2nd ed.
but that we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood.
Acts 15:21 NET 2nd ed.
For Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, because he is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
They said, OK, let’s set some guidelines that at least everyone can get behind
Abstain from things defiled by idols
This is pretty clear cut, if you’re going to call yourself a christian, if you’re going to worship the God of Israel, and become part of the covenant community, you need to cut ties with your idols.
You can’t come to church on sunday, and worship the one true god, and then turn right around on monday and go offer sacrifices to Zeus
Abstain from sexual immorality
That’s something every one can get behind
Paul is no stranger to talking about sexual immorality in his letters, he would have had no problem with that
Abstain from things that have been strangled, and from blood
so this is talking about what kind of meat you can eat. So it’s not keeping the Kosher food laws completely. It’s like Kosher-light.
And this last one was a concession. Because of all the food laws in the old testament, the practice of consuming blood would have been the most egregious.
Jews in the synagogue would have been able to live with you if you ate bacon
But if you showed up with a rare steak or something, that would have caused issues.
I think we can understand two things from this
1) Was that the church, when they had disagreements, scripture was the first step
What does the Bible say?
Obviously when all of this was happening there was no such thing as a “New Testament”
But still scripture was the beginning guide
2) When they couldn’t come to an agreement that was plain and clear in scripture, what they DIDN’T do was just oust the person
I think we have a tendency now days to say “no, it’s settled, either you’re with me or you’re out
But they didn’t they called the church leaders together, and they all talked it over
3) Finally, after all of that was done they came to compromises that both sides could at least live with, that didn’t go against what scripture had to say.
The Jerusalem council, I know it sounds like a really boring thing to talk about, but it’s a super important part of the early church
Because it provides a model for how we resolve conflict
But here’s what’s even more important about it.
The decision they came to, that the gentiles didn’t need to keep the entire law of moses, but they had a few rules that were easy enough to follow
they didn’t have a heavy yoke that they weren’t able to bear
Now all of a sudden the door to preach the gospel throughout the world just flung wide open.
Remember, paul’s first missionary journey
he went and talked to the gentiles who were already in the synagogues
He was talking to the gentiles who, when push came to shove, they probably would have gotten circumcised
They probably would have followed the food laws
Because they were already commited to the Jewish faith
And because they already lived near jerusalem, in places where there was a heavy jewish influence
But you get outside that geographic region, the gentiles are not going to take too kindly to being told that they need to follow the strict set of jewish laws.
Now all of a sudden paul and barnabas have the opportunity to take the gospel all over the world.
Which takes us into Acts 16, where we read about paul’s second missionary journey, where he can finally expand beyond that little geographic region.
It says
Acts 15:36 NET 2nd ed.
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return and visit the brothers in every town where we proclaimed the word of the Lord to see how they are doing.”
wait, why are you going to the towns you already went to?
you already preachedthe gospel there. Why aren’t you expanding, why aren’t you going somewhere new?
But they don’t go anywhere new. They don’t recognize the opportunity to expand the gospel, and instead they go to the same old towns that they’ve already been to.
they go to Derbe and Lystra, two towns where they had already planted churches
and they meet timothy
So that’s a good thing. Timothy ends up being instrumental in Paul’s ability to grow the church
Timothy is the one that Paul send out when a church needs correction so that Paul can continue growing and planting churches elsewhere, and building up churches in other towns
But then we get to verse 6 and it says
Acts 16:6 NET 2nd ed.
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia.
See here’s the map of the world mediteranian world. here’s where Paul went on his first journey, that little circle right near israel
and that’s where they were trying to Go again, there in Asia
But it says “the sholy spirit prevented them”
I don’t know exactly what that looks like,
The text really doesn’t say
But It seems to me like they were trying to do the same thing they had been doing before and god said
No! go bigger.
Acts 16:7 NET 2nd ed.
When they came to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to do this,
So now not just once, but twice, God stops them from going into a region.
Bithinia is north, it’s farther out than they had gone before.
But here’s bithinia on the map
It’s north, and back east a little bit
It’s The beginning of making a loop BACK toward israel.
So now here, twice God is saying Go bigger.
Go farther.
So they go west, they go into troas.
Now they are on the western most portion of what’s considered “Asia”
They are as far west as they can possibly go and still be on t he same continent.
Surely that’s far enough, isn’t it?
No, Paul has a vision, of a man from macedonia
So now we’re talking europe
Come over to macedonia
help us
Macedonia is on the european continent
Macedonia is squarely in Roman territory
We’re talking about an area that has virtually no jewish influence whatsoever.
They sail across the aegean sea into Macedonia, they go into philippi
and verse 13 we read
Acts 16:13 NET 2nd ed.
On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate to the side of the river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer, and we sat down and began to speak to the women who had assembled there.
You want to know why they’re by a River? Why they’re not in a Jewish Synagogue?
Because there are no jewish synagogues
There are no Jews.
Jewish custom required a minimum of 10 Jewish males in order to have a proper synagogue.
Philippi had a population of around 20,000 people
that’s not anything to sneeze at, and yet they didn’t have enough Jews in the city to have a synagogue.
They go on, and they end up meeting a woman named Lydia, and they start the church at her house
they end up getting in some hot water over a woman who is following them around practicing sorcery
and eventually they get thrown in jail
And God orchestrated all of it
Because even when they’re in Jail, they end up converting the jailer and his entire family to the faith.
Talk about a start to a church.
A traveling cloth saleswoman and a local jailer and his family
that’s a big difference from the churches on his first journey, where they were dealing with people who were familiar with the customs, and familiar with the Jewish religion.
Let’s land the plane on all of this. I know this has been a bit of a historical journey, and a geography journey
but As I want us to think about the context that was behind the founding of the church at philippi as we dive into the letter of Philippians next time around
The church in Philippi was founded in a time in the church in which, everything was new
it was started at a time where there were lots of tensions between the Jewish Christians and the gentile christians
It was during a time in which the church was really trying to figure out how they were going to move forward in this new environment.
It was the first church that was founded outside the “comfort” zone of israel and the Asian continent.
Even Paul didn’t originally plan to go to philippi. god had to pretty much drag him there. He prevented them from going where they wanted to go, he prevented them from making the loop back to israel. They get to the edge of continent.
Presumably, based on the path they were taking they were likely to hop on a boat and head back south to Cyprus, and back to Antioch again.
And god sends a vision. No go west, keep going. keep expanding. keep doing new things
keep going farther out to the ends of the earth.
Go into that unknown territory.
And when you combine the geographic challenges, the challenges with the Jewish Christians who were insisting on Circumcision, the challenges with being in an area where nobody knows the torah, nobody knows judaism
You’re toeing into dangerous territory
You’re getting into territory where you’re likely to have divisions, and backlash from the locals
How are you going to keep a church together in that kind of environment.
How are you going to maintain unity in that environment?
God is going to call us to go into uncharted territory
God is going to call us to preach the gospel to people we’ve never preached to before, and to go and talk to people we might have nothing in common with.
We’re going to have times where we disagree on the proper way to do things in a new environment.
It’s not going to be as drastic as the Jerusalem council obviously
They were deciding major issues of doctrine and salvation
We’re obviously not ever going to be re-inventing the wheel in that aspect but we are going to be put in situations where we have to re-think the way we approach people
We might have to do things differently than what we’ve done before
We’re going to have to do things that are uncomfortable
And my prayer for this church is that we follow the example that we see here in Acts
When we have those disagreements, we should be using scripture as our guide
We should be willing to come together and find solutions
And as long as we’re staying in line with the word of God we need to be willing to bend to each other, to come up with compromises that everyone can get behind for a common goal
and when we’re tempted to turn back, when we’re tempted to just return back to the same old thing and the same old people and the same old places, my prayer is that we listen to what God is telling us
Don’t go back
Don’t turn back to what you’re comfortable, Keep going
Because we never know what it is that God is leading us toward
God is opening doors for you every day to speak Christ into people’s lives that maybe you never even considered.
As individuals and as a church we need to follow that guidance
Matthew 28:19–20 NET 2nd ed.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
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