Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
Do you like history? I like history. It is interesting and challenging.
It helps us to understand who we are and why we are the way we are. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about your family history or the history of the city in which you live, the state in which you live or the country in which you live. There is always something to be learned.
You may not be shocked to know I also like church history. 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation. It is kind of a big deal for Lutheran Christians because a fellow by the name of Martin Luther stirred up a hornets nest on October 31, 1517 when he called into question some of the faith practices of the church in his time.
Luther had no idea that this actions would reshape the landscape of the whole western world. I think it is so interesting that I am leading a group of people from Augustana to visit the Luther sites in Germany for about a week in early June. We may even sample the German beer while we are there.
Acts 15, our text for today, is church history. I would not be exaggerating if I said that Acts 15 might be one of the most important chapters in the New Testament. Today’s reading is a big deal. It is called the Jerusalem Council.
The issue at stake was this; did the Gentiles, the non-Jews, who were responding to the message of Jesus and being saved, need to first follow the laws of Moses in order to be followers of Jesus? Here’s what happens;
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.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.
The question was about the salvation of souls. This is no small thing.
What does it mean to be saved and how do you know if you are saved?
That is one of the questions in the bulletin today.
How would you answer the question?
Can you answer the question?
Are there conditions we have to follow in order to be saved? That is the question in Acts 15. Circumcision was a sign of obedience to the Laws of Moses. This was the condition that needed to be followed in order to be saved.
Paul and Barnabas take issue with this and the text says they had no small dissension and debate with them. That is a polite way of saying this was a knock down, full-fledged fight over something of vital importance.
To the Jews, the Gentiles were outsiders and yet they were receiving the Holy Spirit and following Jesus. How was the early church going to figure this matter out? Some were saying they had to be circumcised and follow the Laws of Moses. Paul and Barnabas disagreed.
So they go to Jerusalem. Here’s what it says;
They were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the Law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter.
This is the Jerusalem Council. This is church history right before our eyes.
Peter, the one who denied Jesus three times, is the leader of this small group of Jesus followers. His speech answers the question about salvation. It answers the question of how we are saved.
Keep in mind that Peter is a Jew. What he says in his speech is radical stuff and it is the heart of the matter in regards to how we answer the question of salvation.
If you are not sure of the answer or if you are not even sure if you are saved, pay attention to Peter’s words. This is what he says; “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9 and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
It is that last verse, verse 11 that is the key that unlocks the Kingdom for you and for me.
We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. This is the light bulb that went off in Martin Luther’s heart that started the protestant reformation.
And if you are someone who has ever struggled with wondering if you are good enough for God’s love and salvation, this word is for you. We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.
If you are someone who thinks you are going to get to heaven because of how great a person you are and how many good deeds you have done in the work of God’s church, then this word is for you.
And if you are someone who has done some things in your life that you are still ashamed of and hurt people in ways they should never be hurt then this word is for you.
We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.
It is called conversion, a word we seldom use in Lutheran circles anymore. This is what happens when we are saved. The Holy Spirit invades our hearts and fills us with the power of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
Salvation is provided by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus and we are saved by His grace.
It means that God has set you free from sin, death and the power of the devil.
Even the first Jesus followers had to come to this understanding. As good and as wonderful as the Laws of Moses were and are, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.
This is incredibly good news for you and me. It sets us free and makes it possible for God to use us in this world.
If you have faith that Jesus died for your sins, then you are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is that simple. Salvation is provided.
If you don’t believe it or you are not sure if you believe it, the Holy Spirit is present right here and now, to share this good news with you and to help you and all of us know that salvation has been provided through the grace of the Lord Jesus.
Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift. Amen