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Acts #53 (chapter 15:25-35)
The Book of Acts
Is Salvation by Law or Grace? Part 5
Acts 15:25-35
We've been moving rather methodically through the fifteenth chapter of Acts and what happened at the meeting of church leaders in Jerusalem when they met to discuss the nature of salvation, particularly with the Gentiles. 
The issue had caused a significant problem with some insisting that Gentiles had to first become Jews and be circumcised before they could be saved while others believed that salvation for anyone, whether Jew or Gentile is by faith alone.
So they met and discussed the problem and came to a decision and decided to send out a letter to the churches advising them of their decision.  And the intent of that letter was to go on record that Gentiles are saved by faith. 
Along with that doctrinal statement, they also write to encourage these Gentiles not to take advantage of their liberty in Christ and run the risk of offending their Jewish brothers and sisters, thus causing a breach inteh fellowship of the church. 
So they write this letter and send it by way of Paul and Barnabas, and two men from the Jerusalem church named Judas Barsabas and Silas.  And basically what we have in verses 25-30 is a copy of the letter, and in verses 31-35 a short summary of what happened as they delivered the letter and ministered in the area of Syria.
verses 25-30
Just a couple of things I want to point out.  First, notice how they came to the decision.  They were "in one accord" and they were lead by the Spirit.
In other words, we are confident we have the mind of God regarding this issue because we all agreed in the Spirit.  Because the Holy Spirit superintended each of them individually, they collectively had the mind of the Spirit.
So could they have missed God?  Obviously that is possible, but it's a whole lot less likely when there is the opportunity for more than one to make the decision.  No doubt, there were some strong feelings on both sides of the issue, but these were men who sought the Spirit's guidance. 
Therefore any selfishness or personal agendas were laid aside and when they finished the process, they came to a decision that left them all in agreement with a decision that everyone believed was right. 
And not only did it seem good to them, first and foremost it seemed good to the Holy Spirit.  
Second, notice how the letter refers to Paul and Barnabas.  They are "beloved Barnabas and Saul.  The "beloved" is a very important word because it gives an indication of how they felt about Barnabas and Paul who were ministers to the Gentiles.  Remember, they've been discussing how these wretched Gentiles could be saved. 
And yet, those who have ministered most directly to the Gentiles are referred to as "beloved" by the church leadership in Jerusalem.
And notice, they were recognized as men who "have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
That is perhaps the greatest commendation any servant of God could ever be given.  The word "risked" or "hazarded" in the KJV, means to hand over, to literally give up your life for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That's what Paul and Barnabas did.  we've seen already in these first few experiences how Paul was stoned and left for dead and run out of town and opposed at every turn.  Paul especially was always laying his life on the line. His entire life was one dangerous adventure.
So why would a man do that? 
Verse 26 says they did it "for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." We kind of read by that like it's no big deal.  After all, that's just what they did back then.  It's just a little phrase to indicate they were committed to the Lord.
No. Anytime you see these phrase like "for the name, or the sake of the name", it means they did it in response to what He deserves.  After all, the name means all that He is and what it means is they were willing to suffer to protect the honor of Jesus Christ.
Because of the name, because of all that He was, they were not going to stand around and let anything defame His name. You know why Paul went into a town and got so uptight and preached, even when he knew he might die? I'll tell you why, because somebody was defaming the character of His God. Somebody was trying to belittle the name of His Lord and Savior, and that was not going to happen on his watch. 
So do you say anything? Do you love His name?  I know lots of people who get hot and bothered because a nothing football wannabe won't stand for the national anthem, and yet the name of God is dragged through the mud and that draws hardly any emotion or response at all.
Read the New Testament and you will find those who loved and served the Lord standing for His name.  In Romans 1:5, they sent out Apostles for the sake of the name. Third John 7, they sent out messengers for the sake of the name. Acts 5:41, they came back and said, oh we were so happy we were counted worthy to suffer for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Anywhere the name of Jesus was being defamed His followers moved in and stood up for His honor, and if they had to suffer for it, that's all right because the name of God will not be defamed while I'm around.
I love what the psalmist said in Psalm 115:1 when he writes, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory."
What a testimony it was to Paul and Barnabas for their peers to take note of the fact that they had risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Well, they closed the letter and sent it out to the churches through Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas.  So what happened?  How was it received? 
verse 27
We've seen the dissension, the discussion and the decision.
Let's close with
4.  The Development
verse 30
Can't you imagine all these Gentiles up there waiting to hear whether or not their salvation experience was valid?  I would guess all the men were especially anxious since it could men a little surgical procedure was awaiting them!
Can you imagine hanging around waiting to hear if your salvation’s any good? Well, they didn't have to wait any longer.  These men arrived and everyone showed up to hear what they had to say.  They read the letter and
verses 31-35
Four responses are given to the reading of this letter.
First of all,
- comfort
verse 31
Notice the word "encouragment".  In the KJV, I think it consolation.  Want to know better translation than either of those?  The original word in the Greek is "comfort".  In fact, it is "paraklet" whichis used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. 
That reminds us that grace is comforting.  In what way?  Think about it like this:  how would you like to have to work in order to keep yourself saved?  If you took that seriously, how would you ever rest at night, never knowing if you'd done enough to satisfy God that day? 
Would you be comforted in that? I don't think so. You couldn't be comforted. There's no comfort in legalism, only guilt and fear. 
But grace of God is comforting! You can rest in grace knowing you are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.  And when these guys showed up and confirmed that salvation was by grace through faith alone, it brought comfort.
The second thing was
- celebration
verse 31
They were excited about salvation by grace, so much so they were rejoicing and celebrating. Again, just as there is no comfort in legalism, neither is there any joy.
Think about old Moses up there on Sinai receiving the Law of God.  It is described as being full of thunder and smoke and fire and the ground trembling. 
But one day an angel showed up and said to a bunch of Galilean shepherd, " Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy."
Before the there was thunder and earthquakes and lightning and smoke.  Before the birth of the Savior, there was an announcement of good news of great joy!
So which do you choose?  I choose joy!  They were comforted, they celebrated and thirdly, there was 
- confirmation
verses 32-33a
So these guys stayed around for a while and spent some time teaching and discipling these Gentiles. Isn't that a beautiful picture of the unity of the church?  They recognized these believers as their brothers and sisters in the Lord, and on both sides of the situation, their arms were open to one another. 
Here are these two Jewish teachers from the Jerusalem Church dwelling among these Gentiles, taking the time to teach and grow them in the Lord. 
In particular, they exhorted and strengthened them.  They built them up in the faith.  The words used carry the idea of putting a prop under them, giving them something to lean on.  By the way, there's only one thing that's able to build you up and that is, according to Acts 20:32, "the word of his grace, which is able to build you up." What does Peter say? "But grow in grace."
Only grace builds you up. So grace is the cause for comfort, celebration and confirmation, and lastly, there was
- continuation
verses 33b-35
So they stayed for a while to make sure everyone was established in the faith, then they returned back to Antioch and started the process all over again.   They just picked up right where they were when they took this break. 
Don't you know Satan must get very tired of having all of his plans reversed? Satan says, I'll move into the church with false doctrine.  I'll convince them to fith about how people get saved.  Maybe I can convince some they have to work for it or earn it or maintain it. 
Instead, as a result of his effort the church allowed the Spirit of God to be in charge and settled and crystallized its doctrine.
Then Satan said, I know what I'll do! I'll split the Jews and Gentiles!  But as a result of his effort the Jew and the Gentile were blended together into one family called the church and he was foiled again.
Isn't that something?  Satan is so helpful in that he sets up the most perfect circumstances for God to accomplish what He wants.  Now understand, I'm not going to thank him.  Instead, I'll just thank God for having the power and wisdom to turn everything negative he attempts to use into something beautiful and positive.
Let's pray.
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