Devotions on Acts 15:1-18–Council of Jerusalem
May 8-14, 2017
Monday, May 8, 2017–Council of Jerusalem
“Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
Jason was smitten by Katie Sue. They had met at a Habitat for Humanity build, pounding nails into shingles together for the better part of a day. Jason wanted to nurture a relationship with Katie Sue. He took her to concerts and theater productions. They dined at some of the nicest restaurants in town. Jason even sent a couple of bouquets to Katie Sue. He was pleased when Katie responded to his actions. Eventually the two were married. Some years later, Jason and Katie Sue were reminiscing about their courtship. “You know, Katie Sue reflected, “You really wouldn’t have needed to take me to all of those fancy restaurants and plays. I loved you from day we were on the roof pounding nails together.”
At times we misinterpret cause/effect. Jason thought his actions caused Katie Sue to fall in love with him. The Jews thought that their obedience to the law; circumcision, dietary rules and separation from non-Jews were what caused God to love them and call them Children of God. Both were wrong. Katie Sue and God loved before they were “impressed.” Their love were free gifts and not earned.
As followers of Jesus, it is not helpful for our walks of faith to look proudly upon our accomplishments. What does inspire and encourage us, though, is our celebration of God’s steadfast love.
Lord, forgive us when we attempt to manipulate your love. Enable us to freely receive your love and to respond to your love with love. Amen.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017–Council of Jerusalem
“They [Paul and Barnabas] reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers” (Acts 15:3).
The ministry of our congregations and denominations is more or less conducted on democratic principles. Leaders are elected for specific terms of office. Decisions are made by majority vote. Given the humanness of the church, this may be the best model for governing. It is a surprise to many people that this was not the original form of the church. The church has always been a theocracy–led by God and not a democracy–led by the people.
This is clearly seen in this passage. There was a controversy brewing. Should Gentiles be allowed to followers of Jesus without first converting to Judaism? At the first council in Jerusalem this would eventually come up for a vote. Before then, though, the Holy Spirit was leading. Gentiles were being converted to the Christian faith and entering into a relationship with a risen savior. The Holy Spirit was revealing the universal nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit was not waiting for a vote, but rather for the leaders to see where the Spirit was leading.
We identify ourselves as followers of Jesus, because we understand that at the core of our lives is the understanding that we are called to obediently follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. There may be times when we do not agree with the leading, are not comfortable with the leading or, like Jonah, run from the Spirit’s leading. Still the Spirit leads and bids us to follow.
Take our hands, Lord. Lead us and walk with us into service and ministry. Amen.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017–Council of Jerusalem
“They were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders” (Acts 15:4).
The sides were drawn and there were few people who stood in the middle. On one side, you had Jewish Christians who believed that it was necessary to become a Jew and follow the Jewish laws and customs in order to be saved. On the other side, were Gentile Christians who had encountered a living Jesus and had been filled with the Holy Spirit without first becoming Jews. There are few situations where the sides could be more diametrically opposed to each other. Still, Paul and Barnabas were welcomed by the church, the apostles and the elders (many of who did not share their beliefs).
The situation in the early church was not very different than our situation today. There are severe divisions in the church and in our nations. We are pro-Trump or anti-Trump, pro-life or pro-choice, globalists or nationalists, hawks or doves. There is not any ground in between–and there is no welcome mat in front of our doors. Why were the early Christians able to welcome each other, while we are not?
Even though there were differences, they were aware that they had a common faith that Jesus was Lord. Based on this truth, they were able to treat each other with a modicum of respect and to listen to each other. Arguments were made long and loud. Eventually a decision was made, though not everyone accepted the decision. The fellowship was able to move on and focus on their calling to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the utter most parts of the earth. Are there ways that we can be united in our faith and join together in our calling to share God’s love and grace?
Holy Spirit, our wounds are deep, our hearts are hard and our necks are stiff. Heal us so that we can share your love and grace with others. Amen.
Thursday, May 11, 2017–Council of Jerusalem
“And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us” (Acts 15:8).
In 1959 John Griffin went through a process to change his identity from a white man to a black man. He then travelled through the segregated Southern United States and recorded his experiences in a 188 page journal. That journal became the genesis of the book Black Like Me. People treated him significantly different as a black man than they did as a white. Their reactions to him were based on outward appearances and social conditioning.
It would be nice to be able to say that this was an isolated experience, or that the United States has changed so much that we no longer judge people based on their outward appearance. That, however, is not the case. No matter what our situation in life–our class, color, sex, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity–we frequently judge people by their outward appearances. One of the wonderful truths that we find in this story in Acts is that God doesn’t do this. God looks beyond our appearances and sees our hearts.
God doesn’t see perfect people. Quite the contrary. God sees broken and flawed people–people with strengths and weaknesses. More importantly God sees people who are worthy of God’s love and are capable of being filled with God’s Spirit. As followers of Jesus we are not required to view people as sinless, but we are invited to see people as God does–people who are lovable.
Lord, you touched the eyes of the blind and enabled them to see. Touch our eyes that we may see people as you see them. Amen.
Friday, May 12, 2017–Council of Jerusalem
“On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11).
When Peter testified before the council in Jerusalem, he spoke from experience. He was a leader among Jesus’ rag-tag band of disciples. Peter had been the one to whom it had been revealed that Jesus was the Messiah. Later Peter had pledged to Jesus that he would never dessert Jesus. A few hours later Peter had denied Jesus three times. It was only when Jesus graciously asked Peter three times if Peter loved him and charged Peter to care for Jesus’ flock that Peter experienced God’s grace and forgiveness. As good as Peter was, he wasn’t good enough. It was only by grace through faith that he was about to experience God’s salvation.
Like Peter, we try hard to be the people we think God wants us to be. Certainly God does call us to be a righteous people. This is not the basis of our salvation, though. No matter how hard we try we will fail. God’s grace, though, never fails. Our salvation and our relationship with God is secure because of God’s love and grace and not because of our heroic–or less than heroic–efforts.
Truly, Lord, your grace is amazing. Help us to live in the sunshine of your grace and to reflect your light to all whom we encounter. Amen.
Saturday, May 13, 2017–Council of Jerusalem
“This agrees with the words of the prophets” (Acts 15:15).
For centuries the Jews had been reading the prophets, but they didn’t see it. When they read about the Messiah, they thought the Messiah would establish God’s kingdom on earth. The Messiah would be a powerful ruler who would defeat all of God’s enemies and bring in a new age. It was Jesus that read the prophets in a different manner and reinterpreted their message. When Jesus did this, it was easy to see that the Messiah was to be a suffering servant who established a kingdom that was radically different than any earthly kingdom. It was a kingdom of love and not power. It was a kingdom that focused on service and not on being served.
The church–denominations, congregations and individuals–are constantly being reformed by the Holy Spirit. Almost always the reformational changes are caused by God speaking through God’s Word. At one point, the church justified slavery, but people began to read the scripture in a different light. They realized that God created us all as children of God and not someone’s property. One hundred years late, the church realized that its justification for segregation was not Biblically sound. Change was mandated. After millennia of interpreting the scripture, we are now understanding that our management of the earth’s resources and our treatment of our brothers and sisters in the LDBTQ community need to be reconsidered.
God’s conversation with us in the pages of scripture is never boring. The Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts. The Spirit comforts us with the old and challenges us with the new.
Open our minds and hearts to your Word, Lord. Reform us and reform your church. Amen.
Sunday, May 14, 2017–Council of Jerusalem
“So that all other people may seek the Lord” (Acts 15:16).
“Wait a minute,” challenged Carly! “You’re telling me that because my friend Nadeem is Muslim she can’t be saved and can’t have a relationship with God.” “That’s right,” replied Carly’s youth director. “A person has to believe in Jesus and be baptized.” “And I suppose that you’d say the same thing about Adam, who is a Jew, Kim who is an agnostic, and Jill who doesn’t know what she believes,” Carly stated with fire in her eyes. “Yes,” the youth director nodded. “Well, that’s just stupid!” Carly got up and walked out of the room.
Throughout our history Christians have been trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out–who’s saved and who isn’t. The first Jewish Christians didn’t think the Gentile Christians could be saved. At the time of the Reformation (and for a long time afterward) the Roman Catholics didn’t think the Protestants could be saved and, not to be out done, the Protestants didn’t think that the Roman Catholics could be saved. Baptists questioned the salvation potential of Lutherans and the Lutherans weren’t sure about the Presbyterians. On and on it went throughout the centuries.
It has been difficult for Christians to catch the inclusiveness of Jesus’ gospel. God loved the WHOLE world and sent God’s son (John 3:16). Or, as Peter says in this story in Acts, “so that ALL other people may seek the Lord.” What a difference it would make if, as followers of Jesus we would quit trying to determine who is in or out, and treat everyone like they were our brothers and sisters in Christ–no matter what adjectives we place before names.
Lord, you died for all. Empower us to live for all. Amen.