It was now a few months after the Pentecost event (i.e. the birthday of the church; see Acts 2). And already, a “council meeting” had to be called at church headquarters in Jerusalem. Why? Because there was, to use the language of our scripture for today … “no small dissension and debate” (Acts 15:2) … that was stirring in one of the newly created congregations in Antioch. Can you believe it?! Only a few months into this new creation called “church,” and there was already trouble in paradise. Go figure. (Not really. Whenever human critters are involved – even in church.) And it was brewing to become a real doozy…
O, Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) … and then the creation of the Church as his Spirited ongoing body in the world (Acts 1:6-9) started off rather beautifully … one might even say, intoxicatingly so (Acts 2:13). Again, as our text bears witnesses: “[People] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). But then, when the proverbial sandal began to hit the road …
So, the apostles and elders have now gathered in Jerusalem to settle what had become a rather serious division … What was the issue? Once more, our text sets the stage: “Then certain individuals (most likely Pharisees) came down from Judea and were teaching the [new Christian] brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1). Do you agree? What does Scripture say? What do you suppose the apostles and elders are going to say? As with Shylock, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the Pharisees certainly wanted to exact their “pound of flesh.”
Peter was presiding as the chairman. (He was after all, the Pope now, right?). “Microphone One, please state your case.” The response: “Ah, yes … Mr. Chairman, we’re here from Antioch. And we have good Bible study groups every Wednesday night. We’ve been studying Ezra. And we believe the Bible and Ezra says, ‘Get rid of the foreigners. Even if you’re married to one. Get rid of the foreigners.’ That’s all I have to say. Thank you.”
“OK,” said Peter. “Microphone Two, we’ll now hear from you.” … “Well, we also have a nice Bible study group back home in our little fishing town of Capernaum, and we’re studying Ruth. Such a wonderful lady. She was the ancestress of King David, and of our Lord, Jesus you know. And she was a Moabite. And if our Lord had Moabite blood in his veins, isn’t this OK for us to do this? Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
“I see one of our distinguished Pharisee brothers coming to Microphone Three,” said Peter. “Go ahead …” “Yes, we’re here from First Temple Christian here in Jerusalem. And it’s clear to us from the reading of Torah and the Prophets, that ‘It is necessary for [any new converts to Christianity] to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).
After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and addressed all who were attending that first council meeting … See you on Sunday (if possible, please read Acts 1-15 beforehand for a better understanding), as we hear how the whole case comes to rest upon God’s grace, in Christ.