The Jerusalem Conference

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: Acts 11:1-18


I.         The meeting in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, is used to justify many things

            A.        The gathering of denominational bodies to consider issues is justified by this passage.

            B.        Many go a step further to justify decisions of what rules the denomination will support

            C.        Messianic Jews believe that it was here that Christians decided to make a new rule that Gentiles didn’t have to follow the Old Law like the Jews; thus, justifying their belief in two different laws

                        1.         Old Testament for Jews or those who want to claim being a Jew

                        2.         New Testament for the rest

                        3.         Most though want a blending of the Old and New Testaments

            D.        I find it amazing that one of the earliest problems in the church was with people trying to get Christians to follow the Old Testament

                        1.         Though the issue was answered by God, people are still arguing 2,000 years later.

II.        Acts is a history of the church and to understand Acts 15, we need to review a bit of the events that led up to it.

            A.        The New Testament was revealed, roughly, over a 50 year period of time.

            B.        We see the sum result, but we have to remember that people in the first century were learning what God wanted.

            C.        The gospel message began to be preached among the Jews in Jerusalem. Events in Acts 2-7 all took place in Jerusalem.

            D.        Persecution, however, drove the early Christians to scatter, but being Jews they scattered to the Jewish regions - Acts 8:1

                        1.         Samaria tells us that those of mixed lineage were probably responding to the Gospel.

            E.        But it wasn’t until God directly intervened did the message get taught to Gentiles - Acts 10:34-35

            F.        On their return to Jerusalem, the news that Gentiles had been taught did not sit well with some

                        1.         Judaism, for centuries, was an us-against-them idea. Ties between nationality and belief were strong.

                        2.         Acts 11:1-3

                        3.         Peter, however, reported the vision he had, the angel who visited Cornelius commanding him to send for Peter, and the Holy Spirit giving gifts to the Gentiles as he spoke - Acts 11:17

                        4.         The result - Acts 11:18

            G.        But it didn’t mean the issue was settled in everyone’s minds, or that the dissenters gave up.

III.       They took their false beliefs to other countries - Acts 15:1

            A.        Perhaps they believed they could be more open in other countries. Most of the apostles still were in Jerusalem.

            B.        Communication wasn’t easy or quick, so they could claim that their views were what Jerusalem taught, which no one could disprove and gave weight to their words.

            C.        But they ran into Paul and Barnabas - Acts 15:2

                        1.         Paul and Barnabas strongly disagreed with their teaching. This is not what they had been teaching among the Gentile churches.

            D.        The church sent Paul, Barnabas and others to Jerusalem concerning the issue

                        1.         It wasn’t that they wanted a ruling from Jerusalem on whether Gentiles needed to become Jews to be saved. God already gave His ruling.

                        2.         Paul and Barnabas already knew it was false doctrine.

                        3.         So why go?

                        4.         Because these men came out of Judea. They were using the reputation of the church in Jerusalem to support their teaching.

                        5.         Because there was the question of whether the church in Jerusalem had strayed. The church in Antioch wanted to know if the church in Jerusalem supported these men and their teaching.

            E.        As the brethren headed south, they made reports to various churches - Acts 15:3

                        1.         The reception as they progressed showed that there was wide spread acceptance and joy that Gentiles were being saved as Gentiles.

                        2.         It tells us that the doctrine taught by the Judaizing teachers was not wide spread or widely accepted.

IV.      The meeting in Jerusalem

            A.        It didn’t take long after arriving in Jerusalem for these men to bring the problem into the light - Acts 15:4-5

            B.        It is clear that the matter raised had not been openly discussed in Jerusalem before. The apostles and elders met to look into the matter - Acts 15:6

                        1.         The apostles were there, including Paul, so if the teaching was false, why not just state what was to be and be done with it?

                        2.         They had prophets, why not just ask them to ask God?

                        3.         God generally expects His people to use the minds He gave them.

                                    a.         Moses and the water from the rock

                                    b.         Saul and the killing of the Amalekites

                                    c.         Job’s misery

                        4.         God didn’t just dictate laws, He gave the reasons behind them

                        5.         By not giving a direct answer, we have an example set for us.

                                    a.         When a disagreement arises, we see people examining the evidence to see what God expects.

                                    b.         We see a procedure that can be replicated today to handle disputes in a similar manner.

                        6.         The fact that it didn’t take a miracle to understand what God wanted shows us that we can understand God even without miraculous gifts.

            C.        There was much disputing - Acts 15:7a

                        1.         Both sides expressed their views. No one was shut out.

                        2.         It isn’t that people didn’t consider the reasons people gave for following the Old Testament.

            D.        What led everyone to conclude against these Judaizing teachers were the following key points:

                        1.         Peter recounted that the Gentiles had already been shown to be acceptable to God without following the Old Testament - Acts 15:7-8

                        2.         There is only one method of salvation - Acts 15:9, 11

                        3.         Peter also pointed out that even the Jews had found the Old Law a burden to follow - Acts 15:10

                        4.         Paul and Barnabas testified of the miracles which continued to be done among the Gentiles, even though they were not following the Old Testament, showing God’s approval - Acts 15:12

                        5.         Finally, James cites the Old Testament to show that God planned to save the Gentiles as Gentiles and not as Jews - Acts 15:13-18

            E.        The conclusion was that the Old Testament was not binding - Acts 15:19

V.        An open letter to the other churches - Acts 15:22-23

            A.        The problem remained that there were people roaming the world, claiming support by Jerusalem for their false teachings - Acts 15:24

                        1.         Take careful note of what the letter said.

                        2.         They aren’t saying they changed their minds. They said they never taught this and never asked anyone else to teach this doctrine

            B.        They announced their stand behind Paul and Silas - Acts 15:25-26

                        1.         They took sides and said who they agreed was in the right.

            C.        They sent members to verify what the church in Jerusalem really taught - Acts 15:27

            D.        They gave a short summary of what they felt were essential doctrine

                        1.         They aren’t issuing new rules created by them. This is current doctrine being reinforced and reiterated

                        2.         The Holy Spirit is mentioned because they found these things to be what the Holy Spirit wanted taught.

            E.        The reception of the letter - Acts 15:30-31

                        1.         The church in Antioch was relieved. There wasn’t discord between the churches. Jerusalem stood on the issue along with the rest of the churches.

VI.      Nowhere is there indication of any change in the teaching of the churches

            A.        There were some attempting to bring in changes, but these false teachers were strongly resisted by a careful analysis of what God said and had demonstrated.

            B.        As John had taught - John 4:1

                        1.         They put the teaching to a test and found that it failed.

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