“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon[a] has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’[b]— 18 things known from long ago.[c] 19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” Acts 15.12-21
For ages, God’s chosen people have been the Jews. The Israelites were called to God by Abraham to whom a promise was given of generations of descendants. These people were God’s people, selected for saving, imperfect but persistent. But now, God is making his arms wide for Gentiles, the non-Jews, and now all who believe can be saved.
This is startling news to the Jews. Jesus’ entry into our existence changed everything. The whole of creation can now be awakened to the Presence of the One who saved us and made us in his image. The Imago Dei, the Lamb of God, the Savior of the World has come down to all people — not just the Jews, but to Gentiles as well.
In this scene we find the faithful leaders of the early church — Peter, James, Paul and Barnabas, facing a crowd of intrigued yet interested onlookers. These listeners were the leaders in Christian Judaism, those who taught the law, who followed the law, who obeyed the law of Moses. They were hearing for the first time with clarity that what had once been a closed club, a select society, was now open to all people. And the requirements for following this was faith. Instead of offing a list of hundreds of restricts James offers four — “abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”
Sometimes we make it difficult for people to believe and follow Christ. But in truth, the way is easy and the burden is light. We simply run from sin and turn to the One who can redeem us. We believe, we trust and we surrender to Christ. Period.
This weekend I am on the Revive Winter Retreat for youth. Over 265 people praising God and breaking bread together. Putting Jesus first and having fellowship with one another. Our agenda is Jesus. Our hope is in the Lord. Our longing is to know the Holy Spirit and to make him known. We are giving an opportunity to youth, and adults, to know Christ through faith. We aren’t setting up a bunch of rules, restrictions or requirements. We are saying, “believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
The early disciples were saying the same thing to the Gentiles and Jews two thousand years ago. What started then is continuing today. By his grace and for his glory.
“O Lord God, thank you for loving me. Thank you that even in the midst of my brokenness, you are faithful. Thank you that you have found me willing and able. But by your Spirit I am made alive. Come now, Lord and God, visit us once again. Bring a reformation to your people that your Word might be made true and your people might be saved. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen