Sunday, July 2, 2017

the decision (50 AD)

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Acts 15:13-35
I am sure that all of us have seen our share of bad TV, programming so mind-numbingly terrible that we want a refund on our time.   Alas, no such refund exists, which is why it may be wise to kill your television before its to late. Here are my top three TV debacles:
1. On April 21, 1986, thirty million Americans (including me) watched Geraldo Riviera painfully destroy two hours of our lives trying to open Al Capone's lost vault, only to find a whole lot of nothing.
2. In the early 2000's, Fox cooked up an equally awful special entitled "Man vs. Beast" that pitted an world class sprinter versus a Zebra in the 100 meter dash. Noted singer and Olympian Carl Lewis acted as commentator for the event, and offered this profound insight "The key to victory for the Zebra is for the Zebra to recognize that this is a race." (The zebra won by 5 lengths!)
3. But the worst waste of time involving a television in recent memory, was entitled "The Decision".  Here, basketball superstar Lebron James took one hour to uncomfortably tell the world that he was taking his "talents to South Beach." What could have been told in one minute was instead dragged out into sixty, further insulting the beleaguered city of Cleveland as they helplessly watched their hometown hero bolt for Miami.
Today, we are looking at another "decision.," but one much more difficult and much more important. In fact for any of you fellow Gentiles (non Jews) out there, the only reason you are reading this blog relates directly to this decision, some 1950 years later. This decision takes place in Jerusalem, where the differing sides bring reasons for their positions, and after consideration the church makes the decision on what to do.
The issue was much more than circumcision, it really was this: "Must a person become a Jew first before becoming a Christian? Was the Gospel only open to those who were connected to Judaism in some way?" Some of the folks in the early church would say "yes" to both the above questions. After all, Jesus was a Jew, as were His Apostles, and near every believer to this point. Even Gentiles like Cornelius were already connected to Judaism. Remember he was "well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation ."(1) This side certainly wanted to honor the Word of God (which, up to this point, was the Old Testament).
On the opposite side, we have an amazing team of Paul, Barnabas and Peter, who likewise greatly honor the Old Testament, and use it to show that salvation is indeed for the Gentiles.
First Peter shares his encounter with Cornelius and other Gentiles, how they heard the Gospel, believed in Jesus Christ, were filled with the Holy Spirit, and baptized (2), exactly the same way that believers of a Jewish background had. His point: Why bother trying to make a distinction if God Himself had not? God did not require these Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be saved.
Next Barnabas and Paul share their work among the Gentiles, and how God worked in great ways to reach them, again, without any cultural distinction.
Finally James, the half-brother of Jesus (3), quoting from the prophet Amos, shows that Gentiles are indeed welcomed by God. The decision is made: we are all, Jews and Gentiles alike, saved not by keeping any certain rules, but through "the grace of the Lord Jesus (4)."
[The only caveat is that these new Gentile Christians must be sensitive to the culture of the Jewish Christians around them. They are told that they must abstain, for the sake of their witness, and the sake of the culture they live in, from particularly offensive behaviors that would cause others to stumble. Good advice. This is the same kind of thing as when missionaries are sensitive to the cultures they are serving in. You wouldn't offer a Hindu a cheeseburger, or take a Muslim to a pork roast, or touch someone with your left hand out in the African bush. Converts to Christ would need to know that in the family that they have joined, certain types of food, idolatry and sexual immorality would be reprehensible.]
This decision is ground-breaking, not only for its time, but also in history. Because of it, Christianity was, and is, able to grow beyond every single national, political, and cultural barrier. Because of this decision, we are not locked into a particular culture or geography (as Islam, Hinduism, and pretty much every other major religion is). Because of this decision, I myself was, however indirectly, able to hear and receive the Good News that Jesus Christ died for everyone, even old me. Thank you Peter, Barnabas, Paul & James. Thank you even more, Holy Spirit, for enabling your people to make the right decision.
(1) Acts 10:22
(2) Acts 10:44-48
(3) Matthew 13:55
(4) Acts 15:11

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