The church is intended to be one unified family, believers called out to act as the body of Jesus Christ. The church was a revelation to students of Jewish law even though it was prophesied about in the Old Testament. For many, it remained a hidden mystery. God worked through both Paul and Peter and other apostles to unify Jews and Gentiles through the message of the gospel, as recorded in the book of Acts. Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” Despite this, religious men attacked the purity and universal draw of the gospel and worked to place new believers under the system of the law. In Christ, we find freedom, grace, and redemption. In religion, we find bondage, condemnation, and disappointment.
And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
The purpose of physical circumcision was to show in the body absolute submission and commitment to the law of God. It separated those of the Jewish race from other men. They were conspicuous for many reasons, the law limited their diets, their activities on the Sabbath, even the make-up of their clothing. The law was given to provide an example, to protect the promise of the Messiah, and to make aware of the sinfulness of mankind and their absolute dependence on God for redemption. Christ fulfilled the law wholly. It is what He meant when He cried out, “It is Finished!” on the cross. The payment for sin was delivered, and the requirements of the law were satisfied. Jewish legalists in the first century struggled with the idea of grace that would allow Gentiles to be saved. How could they forget about the requirements of the law which their nation had carried down through the ages? These teachers of the law began to limit access to God by saying that without some parts of the law of Moses, one cannot be saved.
It sounds reasonable to men to try and find a way to keep the old system and to accept the sacrifice of Christ. Actually, to put the church of God under the law of the Jews was an insult to Calvary. It would be like saying that we know Jesus is the Son of God, but we think He needs our assistance. It is saying that the blood of Christ is not enough. However, God had spoken on the matter, and there was no longer confusion as to what is required by God. They witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Those of the Roman centurion Cornelius’ household have received the gospel and have been baptized. An Ethiopian Eunuch also took the message of Christ back home with him after an encounter with Phillip. Paul has been baptizing Gentiles and has witnessed the filling of the Holy Spirit among them. What did God require to enter into the church? That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:9-13) It is not our job to keep people out. It is to show them the way in.
When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
This is not a little debate. This is a big deal. Either Jesus is a fulfillment of the law, or He is not. There is no middle ground here. Paul, Barnabas, and others decide they will go back to what is left of the original 12 disciples and settle things once and for all, despite what they are hearing. Their instincts are honorable, that to stand together in Jerusalem would be far more powerful than having quarrels with local legalizers. Despite the anger that they must feel in the tearing down of their work, they regroup to discuss their course of action.
And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.
As they head to Jerusalem, they are overwhelmed by the movement and conversion of Gentiles, even in Samaria! As we have discussed before, the Jews of the day would walk around rather than go through Samaria, so intense was their dislike. The woman at the well was a Samaritan. The gospel changes everything. The men of God don’t walk around sticky situations but carry the gospel straight through and declare the victory Jesus has won in uniting those in the Northern Kingdom under the Messiah. The leaders in Jerusalem desired to hear the good news.
But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Peter does not claim authority over this matter but declares God’s opinion on it to be indisputable. Peter retells his encounter and his lesson at Cornelius’ house. It took three visions and evidence of the Holy Spirit for Peter to get the point that God is no respecter of persons. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God (Acts 10:44-46). If God says it is clean, don’t call it unclean. The evidence was in the eyewitness account of salvation at Cornelius’ house.
As with most matters wrangled about in the church today, man’s reasoning and opinionating have little value and no authority. The gospel is pure, it’s simple, and it’s perfect. All who seek Him, find Him. To those who knock, He opens the door. If they ask, He will answer. The grace of God offered through His Son Jesus is enough to save the whole world if they will submit themselves to Him. He has taken care of it all, and He alone can speak eternal life into our sin-dead souls. The debate has been settled; Christ alone is our Champion, and it is our great joy to trust in HIM.
Thank you for studying with us! God bless!