1 Some people came from Judea and started teaching the Lord's followers that they could not be saved, unless they were circumcised as Moses had taught. 2This caused trouble, and Paul and Barnabas argued with them about this teaching. So it was decided to send Paul and Barnabas and a few others to Jerusalem to discuss this problem with the apostles and the church leaders.
The Church Leaders Meet
3The men who were sent by the church went through Phoenicia and Samaria, telling how the Gentiles had turned to God. This news made the Lord's followers very happy. 4When the men arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, including the apostles and the leaders. They told them everything God had helped them do. 5But some Pharisees had become followers of the Lord. They stood up and said, “Gentiles who have faith in the Lord must be circumcised and told to obey the Law of Moses.”
6The apostles and church leaders met to discuss this problem about Gentiles. 7 They had talked it over for a long time, when Peter got up and said:
My friends, you know that God decided long ago to let me be the one from your group to preach the good news to the Gentiles. God did this so they would hear and obey him. 8 He knows what is in everyone's heart. And he showed he had chosen the Gentiles, when he gave them the Holy Spirit, just as he had given his Spirit to us. 9God treated them in the same way that he treated us. They put their faith in him, and he made their hearts pure.
10Now why are you trying to make God angry by placing a heavy burden on these followers? This burden was too heavy for us or our ancestors. 11But we believe that we will be saved by the gift of undeserved grace from our Lord Jesus Christ, just as the Gentiles are.
As Luke continues to describe the emergence of the Church in the world, he brings us to one of the most critical turning points in the whole Story of God’s plan to save the world.
Up to this point, Luke has been telling us about how the Holy Spirit was winning people to Jesus Christ. Very exciting stuff! People who were considered by the Jews of that day to be outside the scope of God’s saving work, i.e. Gentiles, were receiving the great gift of salvation, the very Spirit of the Living God!
Then the crisis arises. Some of the Jews who had come to faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord were insisting that the Gentile converts needed to be circumcised and taught to obey the law of Moses. On first century Jewish terms, it is a reasonable request. Circumcision was the sign of belonging in the great covenant. And given that the law of Moses is, in fact, the revelation of God’s will for human relationships, it seemed only reasonable that followers of Jesus should be directed to obey it.
Problem. No one had been able to obey it perfectly since it was given! As Peter says, “This burden was too heavy for us or our ancestors.” Not that God’s law is not good, it’s just that in our own strength we have not been able to live it. We need help. We need grace.
This is what was at stake as the church emerges – and always is: Grace.
Oh Father. You have made it clear over and over again that you save us simply by your grace. Please do not let us complicate your good news by adding any other requirements. Help us place our trust in grace and grace alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.