We’re going to be studying in the book of Acts. We’re beginning a sermon, today, on Acts, and we're going to begin with verse 1 of chapter 15, so if you care to read chapter 15 we’re going to go up to about verse 30. And this is about the Council of Jerusalem.
Let's suppose that I am an attending member and I am attending the Antioch Seventh-day Adventist church, which is what that church would have been called in those days, I think. The year is 52 A.D. The apostle Paul just finished preaching a sermon. I'm a Jewish convert. I was a Jew, and now I'm a Christian and I’m invited home to have Sabbath lunch with a new Gentile convert. Does that make sense? I'm a Jew, but I’m now a Christian. He was a Gentile and he's now a Christian. Ok. So I go to his house for Sabbath lunch, and I'm invited to help in the kitchen, which you would never do, with me, in your kitchen, but I'm invited to help in the kitchen before the meal and the Gentile convert takes some meat from the spring house and we work to get it ready for lunch. And I say, “Where did you get this mutton?” And he says, “I got it for a bargain at the Meat Offered to Idols shop.” And I say, “Mmmmm”. And he says, “I don't worship idols. So don’t worry about it. Here, take this jar of blood and cook the animal in it’s own blood,” and I say, “MMMMmmmm. I can't do that. I used to be a Jew,” and I cringe in shock and outrage.
Here we are, both members of the same church, the Antioch Seventh-day Adventist church. We have different world views on the situation. And the Church manual doesn't give me any help, so at the next church board meeting I stand up and I say, “Do we still believe that in order to be saved that we've got to abstain from idol meat and eating blood and do we still have to be circumcised?” And a Judaizer which is a member of the church board stands up and says, “You realize, brother Gettys. God never changes. You know that. Of course we still have to keep the entire ceremonial law. We have to keep all the feasts to be saved. A Gentile first must become a good Jew in order to become a Christian.” Now how would you like to attend that church? Not good, right?
Come to Acts 15 and verse one. It exposes the Antioch problem. It says, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you can not be saved.” And Paul and Barnabas heard this contention. They took sides. There was sharp dispute. In fact, there was a heated argument. You can read about this. It was bad. You know church quibbles are vehement and they can be some of the worst. Like mad cow disease. Mad church disease. Bad stuff. And finally, somebody said, “Well let’s just send a delegation down to Tacoma Par-- er Jerusalem, and let's get an answer to our question.” And so Paul and Barnabas were elected along with several other good staunch Antioch members and off they went to the mother church down there in Jerusalem. And the main issue was what? How are we saved? Are we saved by this legalistic law-keeping, or are we saved by grace? Can we get away from all these ceremonial laws and laws of Moses, or are the laws of Moses still in force, or were they nailed to the cross? Is legalism God's way? And so Paul locked horns with those visitors, and they did it in Jerusalem and God's Word translation says in verse two that Paul and Barnabas had a “fierce dispute with these men.” A fierce dispute. Mad church disease.
Have you ever been in a church argument? They can get pretty bad, and with Paul and Barnabas and those people, there was yelling, there was loud arguing and it was worse than an illegal cock fight behind the barn. The Judaizers called Paul a dangerous heretic. Paul called them obstinate legalists and Satan was trying to kill the early church. By legalism. By quibbling. By controversy. And he does the same today. Churches are languishing because of all of the arguments and the controversies that we get into and it's the same in our homes. And he will do the same in your life if you don't keep your connection with Jesus Christ and keep it strong.
During this time of church history, you can read all about the history of the church, and during this segment of church history, this little time, we don't have any record of any converts being won to Christ. Evangelism apparently had stopped. There were no missionary journeys. Nothing was going on. Discord and strife kill relationships, and they kill churches.
You remember reading about the dark ages? There was a time when the Moslem invasions basically closed off Europe as far as evangelism goes. You couldn't go in there, and Christian outreach ceased because they couldn't do it, and so what happened? Churches began vehement doctrinal fights that continued for hundreds of years. Numerous debates going on. They were surrounded by heathens, and yet they were quibbling and fighting among each other. While the world was perishing. Sister White says the best help which the Minister can give to the Church is not in sermonizing but in planning work for them. Give each one something to do for others and when you're working for somebody else you can stop focusing on your own problems.
Activity is good. A lot of people look forward to retirement, but you know, often when two people are both retired at the same time, they stop their intermingling and public activities, and they begin to focus on each other. They sit in their love seats and glare at each other. They’re going like this. [frowning] “You look kind of...” Mad house disease.
Paul and Barnabas, along with certain others, were chosen. They went down in this delegation to get an answer to their quandary and the whole future of the Christian Church was basically on the line. And the situation was even more critical than they might imagine, or they ever even knew, because look at the calendar. What year was it? It was approximately 52 A.D. In just six short years Paul would be in jail. So this window of opportunity to launch the Christian Church was very, very small. In just a dozen years Nero would set fire to Rome. Terrible persecution would begin. Christians would be tortured and burned at the stake and fed to the lions, and in just 14 years, the Jewish wars would begin. The window for launching Christianity was extremely small, and it was critical that God's church would not be bogged down in controversial, legalistic doctrinizing and that type of thing. They must launch with a good start.
So let's go to Jerusalem now. Acts 15, verse four. “When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders to whom they reported everything that God had done through them.” Then in verse five. “Some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the laws of Moses.’” So there it was. Argument right out on the table. Jerusalem was the mecca of legalistic belief. Especially the recently converted Pharisees, and if the pharisaical converts could have their way, Christianity would be no more than a branch of Judaism.
And Jesus’ brother, James, was in charge of the church. He was the head of the church. Unfortunately he was a legalist. Have you read the book of James? Finally Peter stood up. After a lot of arguing Peter stood up and you never want to be the first to stand up. When there's a big controversy, don’t be the first to speak. It's wise to wait.
Peter stood up and the hopes of the legalists soared, because remember Peter, according to Galatians two, verse seven and eight, was the apostle of circumcision. No person could speak with any more authority and so the place hushed. Peter began to speak, but you know, when Peter opened his mouth the Holy Spirit did a miracle. Legalism didn't come out. Grace came out. Peter said, “God has already accepted these uncircumcised Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us.” So in verse 10, he says, “Why do you test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” Verse 11. “No, we believe that it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we are saved, just as they are.” What a statement. Peter to the rescue. Praise the Lord for Peter.
We are not saved by works. We are saved by faith through grace in Jesus Christ, and no works. Peter said we’ve chafed under this heavy burden for years and years, this Jewish yoke. All these restrictions. We can’t keep them anyway. For instance, the Jewish sabbatical restrictions. There were hundreds of laws about Sabbath keeping. There was a Jewish Sabbath law, and you know, there were a blue zillion of them. Maybe that's why we call them blue laws. I don't know. But one of them was, you couldn't even spit on the ground on the Sabbath. And why couldn't you spit? Well, you probably shouldn't spit any day of the week, but you could not spit on the ground on Sabbath because if the spit landed on the ground, which it would, you would be making clay and it was illegal to make clay on the Sabbath. There were hundreds of rabbinical commandments of the law. And the early, just born church needed a miracle to deliver them from all of these Judaizers beliefs, and this legalism, and God provided a miracle for them.
Do you ever feel like you need a miracle in your life. I've felt that way. I have asked Cornelius Keet to come up. Cornelius, would you come up at this time. Cornelius had a miracle in his life and I have asked him to share this miracle with you this morning. Cornelius, tell us what happened.
Well, this happened in the year 1992 in South Africa. We lived in the city of Johannesburg and a family of ours asked us to come and visit them on the Sabbath afternoon. So off we went out. Was about 60 miles away from Johannesburg, and we got there, and we had a good time the afternoon. Came back that evening.
We wanted to come back at about 10 in the evening and I said to my wife, “I'm not taking the toll road. It's too expensive. I’ll take the other road.” And as I was going along, I noticed there was blue lights. It was the cops busy checking cars, checking people that's drunk and checking people for driver’s license. I touched[touch pocket], “Oh my!” I didn't have my driver’s license with me. Now I'm in trouble.
Just before that we took my uncle that was also there, we put him off at his house and my wife helped him get out of the car. Helped him, took him to his house to see that he was safe. Got into the car and there we go.
And so now we’re in trouble. I looked at this. I knew I’m going to have a big problem. It's going to cost me 5 hundred dollars if these cops see that I don't have my driver’s license. So I said to her, “Just another thing. I will have to go back to the toll road.” Toll road is very expensive, but anyway, we drove off onto the toll road, and when I was approximately a mile away from the toll gate I said to my wife, “Please give me some money. I need to pay for this tollgate down here,” and she started looking for her purse. And that was gone. That wasn't there. Oh my. Here we're in trouble now. Number two.
And we had to make a decision very quickly, and I turned around and turned back right in front of the tollgate. And I made it back to that town. Now I'm almost another three quarters of an hour away from the town. And she knew what happened. She said, “I lost my purse right there where we offloaded my uncle there,” and she says, “The chances are very, very dim that we would ever get that back.” There was 3 thousand dollars in that purse, and the chances to get that back were very dim, because it's a busy street where he lives and there's a lot of people walking there, but we took the chance.
I went back. I must say, I broke the law badly that night on that toll road. I was doing almost a hundred and 20 miles an hour going back. I was praying that there was no more cops on that road. She was praying that her purse would still be around.
And as we got into this town, turn right, turn left, go back into the street where he lived and put the car’s lights on the upper beam and we saw something in the street. And as we came nearer, my wife she almost jumped out of the car before I stopped. There it was, lying right next to the road where she got out of the car. And she picked it up. I just could hear her saying, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord.” And she got the money back and she got her purse back and we had to go back home.
That's a miracle. If you saw a purse lying by the road that had 3 thousand dollars in it, and Cornelius believes that a faithful tithe payer is reimbursed. And if you drive a hundred and 20 miles an hour, God... Don't do that.
But do you need a miracle in your life? The early church was the recipient of a beautiful miracle as well and what a story Cornelius. What a story. Miracles do happen.
This power is still at work, and it's at work in your life, I’m sure. You just pray that God will come into your heart. Don't evict him. Every day, including this morning, I pray this simple prayer. “Dear Lord, today I ask You to sit at the steering wheel of my life. You be in charge. Evict the devil from my life. And You direct where I should go, what I should say, who I should see, all day long. Keep the devil away from me.” And He does. Everyday I pray that same prayer and God gives me His leadership and His sovereignty in my life.
You know, we’re all saved by grace. By faith we get something that we don't deserve. Legalism puts the burden on man's back. Grace puts the burden on Jesus’ back. And where would you rather have it? We can't bear it anyway. Grace is the way that we are saved. By His stripes, His stripes, we are healed. Everybody is saved by only one of two ways. Either by grace, which is His works or by law keeping, our works. And Peter agreed with Paul and Barnabas. We are saved by the perfect law-keeping of Jesus. And that’s still how we’re saved.
You will have works in your life. Some of you may say, “Well, I'm worried about works.” Well you'll have works. Works are the fruit. It's the evidence of which type of a tree you are. Apples don’t grow on sassafras trees.
Finally, the head of the Christian Church stood up, here in Acts 15, and all eyes focused upon James, the brother of Jesus. He was the head. And please notice that the head of the church was not Peter. Peter was not the first pope. The word pope is not even mentioned in the Bible. It wasn't Peter. It was James, the brother of Jesus. He was the head, and everybody got quiet, and they were going to listen. They were going to hear what the head of church said.
And notice now in Acts 15, beginning in verse 19, ok? He says, “It is my judgment therefore.” See, he's concluding. He's in charge. “It is my judgment therefore that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Verse 20. “Instead we should write to them telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from meat of strangled animals and from blood.” None of those four things. That's all. So that was it. That was the conclusion. Announced by the president of the church. The Gentiles, any gentile converting to Christianity, would not be required to keep any of the ceremonial laws of Moses, including circumcision. They were all gone. None of the feasts would have to be kept. James did not address the 10 Commandments. They were not the laws of Moses. They were the laws of Who? The laws of God.
So only four things were to be required. Number one. Don't eat any food offered to idols. Why not? Well, that demonstrates your love for God and that sets the right example to everybody else. Number two. Sexual immorality, abstain from that. In other words, you be pure, sexually. Number three. Don't eat meat with blood in it. That's a health law, isn’t it? It's better if you don't. You'll live longer. And number four. Blood itself must not be eaten or drank or however you consume it. No blood.
So the Saints in Antioch would be happy. Paul and Barnabas were winners. The Holy Spirit was the winner and God's will dominated that council. Peter and James demonstrated their open-mindedness and their willingness to follow the Holy Spirit. It was a high day for the new, fledgling Christian Church. They had moved away from Judaism, and they launched out and formed their own religion. And I respect that.
You know, when you think differently than the main group, leave the main group. Go. Leave their traditions. Leave their false rules that you don't believe in and move on in what you believe. I could never understand why these offshoot movements… You know, the Seventh-day Adventist church has some offshoot movements. Are you aware of that? All kinds of them. I could never understand why these offshoot movements move so very little distance away from the mother Church. Can you understand that? They should go into the world and plow their own ground and make waves in the big ocean out there and not hang around where they shot off from. I don't understand that. So often they move a few feet away or a few inches away, and then they point their finger at the mother Church and say, “You're doing bad. You’re doing bad, and you didn't do this and that and that.” And they secure their mother Church’s mailing list. And they began to heckle them and they publish magazines that are full of criticism for the parent church and they mail copies to as many people as possible. How small they are. Just get away. Go do your own thing.
I respect the early church for doing that, don't you? I love the book of Acts. There are so many lessons that we can learn in this book. The early leaders broke away from the old and they moved out into the world of new and fresh light that was focused on Jesus Christ. That believed in His grace. That moved away from Judaism. Moved away from legalism.
You know, the Holy Spirit had settled the disputing, and when you submit to God's will, may I suggest that your life will be a lot better. A lot nicer. Satan is no match for the Holy Spirit and Christianity was only just a few years from its birthday and now they moved away from the deadening regulations of the Jewish Jerusalem, into the exciting, marvelous grace of Jesus Christ. You know, God's holy Church moved into the sunshine and the warmth of Jesus Christ.
There was a time in my personal life that I was a legalist. I went to Indiana Academy. I don't know if any of you went to Indiana Academy. Probably your academy taught the same things that Indiana Academy did, and I was taught legalism. I was taught that we progress so far. There’s imputed grace and imparted grace, and it takes both to save you, and so you live the best life you can possibly live and then Christ makes up the difference.
That's not the way it is. It's totally Jesus. We’re saved totally by Jesus. We’re not saved by partly my works and partly His works. My works have nothing to do with my salvation. They are the fruit of my salvation. They are the proof that I do have that saving relationship with Jesus Christ. That's what the Bible says.
And so, friend, do you still live in the shadows of hatred or guilt or legalism or anger? Ask God to rescue you from your dark environment of wrangling. Deliver you from the yesteryears of quarreling and ask Him for the sunshine of God's grace in your life. Have you accepted that grace? You know, how cool that the early church became a believer in the grace of Christ. Have you experienced the grace of Jesus? You youngsters. Are you baptized? Have you given your lives to Jesus? Do you pray to Jesus to ask Him to sit at the steering wheel of your life? Are you independent on this Independence Day from the devil and are you totally dependent on Jesus? Will you receive His grace right now? How many of you would like to just raise your hand, “I want to commit my life to Jesus and surrender it to His grace?” I am so thrilled that I am not a legalist anymore. And that change happened here at the McDonald Road Church, and I am so thrilled. I reflect more of Jesus in my life, I feel, than I did before. That's where really, truly, good works come from, is when you experience the marvelous love and the marvelous grace of Jesus Christ.
Let's sing our closing hymn, Marvelous Grace, and as you sing it, give your life to Jesus and accept His grace and His salvation.
Dear Father in heaven. On this Independence Day, July 4, 2009, we surrender our lives into Your beautiful love. We accept Your beautiful grace. We accept Your power, and we pray that a miracle would come into our lives, into our churches, that where Jesus Christ comes in, peace may come. So bless our marriages, our homes, our jobs, our challenges, and give us according to our needs, we pray, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #645, God of Our Fathers Scripture: Ephesians 2:8,9 Hymn of Response: #109, Marvelous Grace
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 7/27/09