Our reading today is Acts 15:12-21.
Some years ago, I think it was 1999, we few of us went to Spring Harvest in Pwllheli. It was unusual to have Spring Harvest in Pwllheli, Minehead was being renovated and it was particularly windy that year which meant some of the meetings were held indoors rather than in the big top. The morning teaching sessions were led by Jim Graham and he took us through the last chapters of Mark’s Gospel. One morning we studied Mark 15 and I shall never forget it. The chapter is concerned with Jesus’ trial before Pilate, his scourging and crucifixion. Jim Graham is not a loud or emotional preacher; he didn’t delve into the gory details, he spoke in quiet measured tones as he explained the implications of all that was described in the passage. There were about 10-12 from Eb listening and as he finished I looked across the row to see all of us were crying and no one said a word. There was a worship band ready to lead a last worship time of the morning but Dave Pope came to the mic and just said he didn’t think it would be right to do anything other than sit and reflect on what we had just heard; he was right. We sat there in a holy silence and wept.
I think a holy silence descended on the gathering in Jerusalem; they had heard Peter and then Barnabas and Paul speak of what God was doing among the gentiles. The implication was clear; God was in it and attitudes had to change.
There is a very real difference between the attitude of these early Christians and the attitudes of the Jewish religious leaders. The Jewish religious leaders were entrenched in their thinking, even when it made no sense. When Jesus arose from the dead; they bribed the guards and told them to lie and say the disciples had stolen the body. There was an ‘elephant in the room!’ the stone had been rolled away, the guards had passed out in fear and Christ was raised but still they stuck to their guns, they refused to change and admit they had been wrong. The believers listened and changed as soon as they realised God was saving gentiles. It wasn’t easy but they changed.
The James here is the brother of Jesus and the author of the epistle that bears his name. He was ready to embrace what God was doing and provided another piece of the jigsaw – a biblical foundation. The prophets saw that God would call the gentiles to himself. Note, there will be gentiles that will bear the Lord’s name; they will not be Jewish converts. The word of the prophets and the work of the Holy Spirit were saying the same thing; God was concerned for non-Jews as well. I love the words of James;
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (15:19)
It would make a good mission statement! Let’s make it easy for people; let’s be relevant and speak in a language that can be understood. I’m certainly against any watering down of the message but let’s ditch the jargon.
It was clear, salvation was by grace through faith but did that mean that the new believers could flaunt their freedom and eat food that would be offensive to Jewish Christians? If the gentiles were being brought in to the family of God then the Jewish Christians were their brothers and sisters. Love had to flow between the groups who were now one in Christ. The gentiles would not be required to become Jews but they would be sensitive the feelings of Jewish Christians. The four requirements were a practical solution to encourage unity.
Take me and mould me, use me, fill me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand
Call me, You guide me, lead me, walk beside me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand (The Potter’s Hand – Darlene Zschech)