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Sermon24-29 Acts15 Guide

Acts 15:1-21, theme verse Acts 13:1-3

The praise and honor and glory be to our heavenly Father who seeks true worshipers who worship Him with the Spirit and truth.

In this fourth Sunday after the Pentecost, I pray that His grace of the application of all the benefits which Jesus earned for our salvation and also the glorious ministry of the proclamation of His kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit may be full in our life. When the Gospel spread out to the Gentiles as God prepared His people and church, there happened a big debate on the keeping of the circumcision by Jewish Christians so that Jerusalem council was held to discuss and decide how they reacted to this issue. So through today’s text, we would like to learn few lessons together.

1)    The “Acts” as the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, was written around AD 80-90 after the Gospel of Luke, by Luke also on the gentile ministries of the first church, who proclaim the Good News to all over the world, I mean, geologically from Jerusalem to Samaria, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome and ethnically not only to Jews, but now embracing Gentiles of every nationality.

2)    But, before the gospel was about to spread out to the non-Jewish territories after it was preached to the Jewish territories like Judea and Samaria, God prepared a few things for His church. I mean,

a)     firstly, God converted Saul and installed him as an Apostle for the Gentiles.

b)    And secondly, God planted a church in Antioch, Syria as a base camp for the Gentile ministry and made Barnabas and the converted Saul minister there together to prepare the Gentile mission.

c)     And thirdly, God made His plan for the Gentile ministry known to the Jerusalem church by making Peter preach the Gospel to the Gentiles and witnessing the Holy Spirit came down upon them and also through the persecution, God made the Apostles work more in the Gentile ministries,

d)    while through the weird death of Herod, God showed that new era of pax Christi, true peace of Christ had arrived as old era of Roman false peace, pax Romana by violence would be gone.

3)    And then, when Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, Saul were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” that after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus and there proclaimed the world of God at Salamis and Paphos. And again they set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, they went on from Perga to Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, and Lystra, all Galatian region to preach the Gospel. And then they returned to Antioch Syria, again through Lystra, Perga from Attalia. After reporting to the church about all that God had done with them and how God opened a door of faith to the Gentiles, they remained long time with the disciples. This was the first mission trip of Barnabas and Paul in AD 45-48.

4)    By the way, at that time, some men came down from Judea and were teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” so there arose a big debate between Paul and Barnabas and some of others. Therefore, the Antioch church decided to send Paul and Barnabas and some of others to the Apostles and the elders at Jerusalem. So, after passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they arrived Jerusalem and reported all that God had done with them and the problems that they experienced regarding the circumcision issue, etc.. Some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees again rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

5)    So, in this regards, the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter and had debated, and then Peter stood up and said, ”Since we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, as they will, why do you place a yoke on the neck of the Gentile disciples that we have not been able to bear?” And James also said, “We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who return to God, but should write them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” Then the church thought this was good and decided to send letters via Judas and Silas to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.

6)    Through today’s Bible verses, we would like to learn few things. Firstly, even after this decision, Paul circumcised Timothy right after chapter 16 of the Acts so I think we need to think about his reason. First of all, as we can see in the Genesis 17, the circumcision was given as a sign for the covenant between God and His people. But, in the New Testament era, the circumcision was replaced by the Baptism as our Lord commanded. And while the circumcision was made in the flesh by hands to only men, yet the baptism was done through the water yet by the Holy Spirit and His words to all the believers of both men and women in faith as 1 Peter 3:21 says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” But, even though he insisted not to circumcise Titus who was a Gentile, Paul circumcised Timothy, treated as a Jewish since his mother was a Jewish and his father was the Greek, in order to take Timothy in his second mission trip. Since he said 1 Cor 7:18-20 that “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision, for neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God so each one should remain in the condition in which he was called,” for Paul, whether circumcised like Jewish Timothy or non-circumcised like Gentile Titus was not important, rather becoming a new person in Jesus was most important, so the circumcising of Timothy was his wisdom to avoid any stumbling block to some Jewish believers in weak faith even as Paul who was called as an apostle for the Gentile. Secondly, I think James’ exhortation to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood can be understood in the same way. I mean, the reason why James exhorted to abstain from them was because neither it was the required condition for the salvation, nor it was the summarized law which the Gentiles should keep them since God’s laws were too many. The reason why James exhorted them was because of the religious practice and culture of the Gentiles in the first century. In other words, as we can see in 1 Cor 8, at that time, it was common in the gentile regions to buy and eat meats which was sacrificed in idol temples and came to the market through the backroom deals. And also it was acceptable and not considered as a sin to have concubines or have sexual relations with priestesses in idol temples, while it was their culture to eat meats without removing the blood as the meat which was hung contained still the blood was in it, so these things made Jews Christians reluctant to associate with the Gentiles. Therefore, although they decided Gentiles do not need to keep the law, yet in the perspective of mutual respect of culture and customs, James exhorted the Gentiles to abstain from those things in order for them not to be stumbling block for the fellowship with them. Therefore I think this decision of Jerusalem Council can be applied to us who live in the pluralistic society. I mean, I believe that such things no more happen now, but still I have heard of cases that people who are passionate about evangelism went into temples of other religions and preached there while singing hymns, or that when some went to the overseas for the mission trip, they behaved rudely, not respecting other cultures or religions. So, I think we need to learn from today’s text that even though Jewish Christians did not ask to observe Moses’ laws such as circumcision on the one hand, yet James exhorted Gentile Christians to abstain from things which Jewish Christians avoid, to respect their culture and customs for the mutual fellowship. That’s why 1 Peter 3:15 says that Christians need to show our holy life first in Jesus and always be prepared to answer to those who ask us the reason for our hope in us, yet with gentleness and respect. Therefore I pray that all of us here should keep in mind that as our Lord, through His cross, made peace between not only with God, but also with each other in new humanity, I hope we all could be apostles of peace, spreading and proclaiming Shalom in Him to the world.

Key Questions as Small Group Activity

Q1 According to today’s sermon, we have to remind the maxim of Dominis, “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials and in all things, love.” Especially we who live in this pluralistic society, we have to respect non-Christians as God’s image bearers. So after reviewing our life whether we are living with them in gentleness and respect, I hope you could share your thought and experience with your team members together.

Q2 And then, in the mission of God, since we always are faced up with new situation and context, so always we need to have flexibility to interpret new challenges biblically and provide new theology for them. So after reviewing whether you are experiencing those new challenges, I hope you could share your thoughts and experience with your team members.

Love you. Thank you. God bless you.

Prayer Note

Dear ( God’s attribute which you found Today ) God!

Thanks for ( something you received through the sermon or  even during the week )

Praise, gratitude and glory be to You, Lord!

Today, I realized my sin (pains) that ( the sin God reminded through the sermon ),

please forgive (or heal) me and help me not to repeat ( the sins you recognized   ).

I learned that ( something you learned through the sermon                                    )

Please help me to live in that (  learned way of life                                                )

I pray in ( Jesus’ attribute you find ) Jesus’ name. Amen.

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