Our reading today is Acts 15:22-35.
I know Jesus will return but what if he doesn’t return for a few hundred years, will Christians in the future be able to read the things that we write today? I’m not sure things will be preserved online but one thing is certain, we write to each other much more. I know real letters have declined but emails and text messages and the like have taken over our lives. People in business receive hundreds emails a day and we haven’t mentioned the social media platforms; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin etc. and its all instant. One of our visiting speakers tweeted that he was coming to speak at Eb the other day and in seconds he received a reply from New Zealand from someone who had visited us in the past, with a request to send us his greetings. If you are young, you probably take all this for granted, but for me it’s mind blowing.
Imagine a time when things weren’t so instant; when if you wanted to write to someone 200 miles away you had to get someone to carry the letter as they walked there. The Christians in Antioch must have waited weeks for a response from the leaders in Jerusalem. It could not have been easy.
When we look at the letter sent by the leaders, it seems a bit formal but to be fair, it would be strange if it sounded like a modern letter or email. I’m told the letter is in line with letters of the time. What is unusual, is that the apostles and elders from Jerusalem describe themselves right at the start as ‘your brothers’. To hear those two words must have been music to the ears of the gentile Christians; they were being accepted. It shows the humility of the leadership, they regarded gentiles as brothers. The Holy Spirit was changing attitudes
The leaders took sides in the debate. God had spoken so they saw those who opposed what he was doing as in error; they distanced themselves from them and reassured the believers. (15:24). Not only did they distance themselves from false teachers; they identified themselves with those on the side of what God was doing (15:25-26). They are described as dear friends and men who have suffered for the name. It’s often wise to avoid taking sides in an argument but here, we have falsehood on one side trying to destroy the faith of new Christians and truth on the other. The apostles and elders had the leading of the Spirit (15:28) and chose the side of truth.
As we saw yesterday, the instructions are about being sensitive to Jewish Christians and certainly not about adding something to salvation. The letter was brought by two men who were held in high regard in Jerusalem; Judas and Silas. It showed how important the Church in Antioch was to the Jerusalem Church. Judas and Silas continued in fellowship for some time before returning to Jerusalem. A channel of communication had been established.
This was a big problem that could have forced divisions in the new Churches. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the leaders were able to change their own attitudes and deal with the gentile Christians with love and integrity.
By Your Spirit You’re making me like You
Jesus, You’re transforming me
That Your loveliness may be seen in all I do
You are the potter and I am the clay
Help me to be willing to let You have Your way
Jesus, You are changing me
As I let You reign supreme within my heart (Marilyn Baker)