By Mike Dawson
Interim Pastor, Santa Fe Baptist Church, Santa Fe
We might add two words to the title of this week’s lesson: “Available to All: Amazing Grace.” This lesson shows how the gospel was spreading more and more beyond the Jews to the ends of the earth. Paul and Barnabas had been sent out as missionaries from the church in Antioch (Acts 13). Being Jews themselves, in whatever towns they went, they preached first in the Jewish synagogues. But because they proclaimed an amazing grace available to all — Jew and Gentile alike — many of the Jews opposed them, stirred up the townspeople against them, and became violent toward them (Acts 14). Now we find the missionaries being summoned by the church leaders in Jerusalem to give an account of the controversy being created by their international message (Acts 15). Our focal passage — Acts 15:6-11, 24-31 — reveals three reactions to the message of “whosoever will may come.” This takes place in what could be called a “church business meeting” in Jerusalem.
Frustration (verses 6-7). There was “much dispute” over the question of whether or not every person desiring to be saved would be required to keep the law of Moses, including all males being circumcised. A determined group of Jewish teachers claimed no one could be saved without submitting to these rituals. This is comparable to groups today who add their own versions of requirements above and beyond repentance of sins and life-changing faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus Christ. Some reject amazing grace by requiring something more to be saved!
Salvation (verses 8-11). Simon Peter had been given a clear vision that God’s amazing grace was available to all — Jews and Gentiles alike. At this church “business meeting” in Jerusalem, he spoke up in defense of the uncircumcised Gentiles being included as Christian believers. Peter reported that he had preached to Gentiles (a Roman soldier named Cornelius and his family and friends, see Acts 10), and had seen them come to faith in Christ and be filled with the Spirit. Like Peter had discovered, the gospel is available to all. Some respect amazing grace by receiving it through faith, in order to be saved!
Demonstration (verses 24-29). After Peter’s testimony of the Gentiles coming to Christ, plus Paul and Barnabas’ description of their missionary journeys resulting in many Gentile conversions, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem rejoiced. They sent a letter to the believing Gentiles, affirming that faith in Christ alone and repentance of sin followed by an obedient life would qualify them as Christians, with no Jewish rituals required. Years ago I remember hearing that “the railway to Heaven is the old “T and O” — “Trust and Obey,” for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” Like Peter, Paul and Barnabas, and the letter-writing leaders in that Jerusalem church business meeting, today true witnesses proclaim that there’s no other way; Christ is available to all. Some reflect amazing grace by responding to it, demonstrating that anyone can be saved!