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Gospel Clarity

Published: 3 years ago- 10 October 2021
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Reading in a news article during the week that there was great controversy surrounding a 3D printed replica of Michelangelo’s “David.” The original statue was craved from marble in1504 and depicts David apparently ‘tense and ready for battle as he prepares to face Goliath.’ Personally, I don’t reckon he would be going off to battle looking like that, maybe that’s why I am not an artist. The full sized 3D printed replica is currently on show at the Dubai Expo. But controversy has erupted after organisers blocked views of David’s nudity to respect Muslim culture. This was all too much for an outspoken Italian art critic, who said decision was “grotesque and ridiculous”. This is a biblical theme, not a pagan theme, so cancelling a part of Michelangelo’s David … is just bowing to their religion and culture.” I can just image the passion as he is saying this. In our passage today passions are also boiling over and it’s about similar issues … You could say anatomy, religion and culture. Causing confusion and igniting debate. But this is more than an expression of artistic interpretation of a biblical theme; it is a gospel issue. Unlike the squabble in Dubai which makes an interesting news story, this strikes at the heart of our confidence and understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and the hope we might have in him. At the heart of this issue is GOSPEL TRUTH. How do we preserve gospel truth? Let’s take a look … When we arrive at our passage we step into …


A dispute concerning gospel truth.
15:1 But some men came down from Judea [the implication is that they come with some authority] and they are teaching the brothers [fellow believers], Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Men from the Jewish church in Jerusalem go to the Gentile church in Antioch and demand that to be truly saved these Gentile believers must adopt the custom of Moses, they must add law to faith in Jesus. But at the heart of this dispute … They are questioning salvation through Christ Alone. They are teaching that you must add something to faith in order to be saved. It is not simply enough to believe in Jesus. They are teaching a Jesus+ salvation. Like downloading an app on your mobile phone only to find that it’s not full featured unless you make an in app purchase. Jesus is the download – but there is more to pay. Is that how you understand the gospel? We read in 13:1-3, Antioch is a vibrant, healthy, growing, well taught, mission-minded, church-planting church; where the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work. The Apostle Paul is on the Board of Elders. It sounds like a very robust, model church, how we would like to be. But this false teaching still manages to seep in. Luke doesn’t tell us about it here. But we read about it in Galatians. You foolish Galatians who has bewitched you – Paul is talk to the church. This false teaching causes even this healthy church to lose confidence in the good news of salvation, to question the truth of Faith Alone in Christ Alone. In Galatians 2:5 where Paul is referring to this incident he says,
we did not yield to them in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them.
… not polite conversation. It’s a part of our broken nature that we are so susceptible to the lie that we must earn or contribute to our salvation. We need to be on guard. Paul and Barnabas are very vocal in their condemnation of such garbage, of any suggestion of “faith plus”. And the church does takes steps to bring clarity. Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. This is a reminder to us to be on guard. That we must preserve the truth of the gospel. I’m the eldest of 6 siblings; 5 boys, one girl. One of my brothers went to house sit the house of another of my brothers. Someone had tried to break in the night before they were going on holidays so they were nervous about leaving the place empty. In the middle of the first night of his stay, my house-sitting brother was awoken to the rattling of the front door. Cricket bat in hand he crept down the stairs and taking aim at the trespassing hand, which was busily attempting to remove the safety chain, he convinced the would-be-thief not to continue in this course of action. That story has a treasured place in family folklore. My brother did his job well. He was a good guard. Will we be good guards of the truth of the gospel? Will we stand against public opinion to faithfully declare Christ to a lost world? No matter how much we grow or how healthy we might seem, or how vibrant we might feel – we must preserve the truth of the gospel; and to be most vigilant about guarding against any wolves in sheep’s clothing, any voice among us, whether pulpit or the pew, who would cause you to put any salvation-hope in anything or anyone else apart from faith in the Risen Lord Jesus. I was telling a guy about Jesus, trying to explain grace. He said, yours is the laziest religion in the world. All the work is done by God, because of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. The truth is that as a follower of Jesus you have received true circumcision; not done by human hands but through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. We have received a circumcision of the heart. Hostile heart removed; new heart obedient to God installed. I’m sure you guys are all over this, but sometimes I need to be reminded that, Jesus + Anything = NOTHING. That’s what the apostles and elders proclaim …


The apostles and elders gather v6 … to consider the matter. v7 much debate But then Peter stands up and bears witness to Jesus.
v7b “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. [re. Cornelius, Acts 10]
Now notice the us and them language, as Peter reflects on what he witnessed in Acts 10.
v8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, [They got the Holy Spirit, we got the Holy Spirit. God bore witness to his work in them just as He did in us] v9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith [both Jew and Gentile are saved by faith in Jesus]. v10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? [Israel could not be saved through the law, no matter how many do-overs they were given] v11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Peter’s apostolic witness to Jesus. Salvation is found in no other name. God sees no distinction. Our hearts are cleansed by faith in Jesus. No one is made right by the law. I am just so thankful for that truth. The law is like a set of bathroom scales. It exposes the problem but gives no remedy, no solution, no sympathy – just reveals the awful truth. Jesus Christ deals with the problem (sin) completely. Nothing new – but how good is that truth? Therefore, v11 if anyone is to be saved it is by GRACE ALONE. “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Not treating us as our sins deserve but on the basis of Christ’s work for us. And this has ALWAYS been God’s salvation plan. Let’s keep reading…
v12 we have more apostolic witness: Paul and Barnabas recount what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
But take a look at what James says. James stands up, acknowledges the apostolic witness, then he appeals to Scripture in making his decision. v15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, [the report from the Apostles is consistent with Scripture; a quote from Amos 9]
v16 “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, v17-18 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’
Here is the gospel in the Old Testament. God says, he will restore David’s fallen tent and rebuild its ruins: This is a prophecy of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ Jesus, who was born in the line of David; shown to be God’s forever King. And though him God will bring in Jews and Gentiles. In other words, the Scriptures declare that through the Christ, believing Jews will be restored and believing Gentiles will be included in God’s new community. The law highlighted the need for a Saviour. The authority for resolving this issue is Scripture. God’s word to God’s world. And what it reveals is that Jesus has always been his plan. If we are going to be clear about the gospel it is only though rightly understanding God’s word, Old and New Testaments as fulfilled in Christ Jesus. He is not plan B, but God’s eternal plan of salvation. Not an addition to the law but the fulfilment of it. During the week it was the anniversary of the death of William Tyndale (d. Oct 6, 1536). Tyndale was an Englishman (late 1400’s, early 1500’s). During his lifetime it was illegal to have a Bible in the common language. You could be put to death for producing, reading, or even memorizing Scripture in English. Only priests, and in Latin. In 1519, a woman and 6 men were publicly burned at the stake for teaching children the Lord’s Prayer and the 10 Commandments in English! Sunday school teachers have always been brave. William Tyndale gave his life for the cause of making God’s Word known to the people – from the king of England all the way down to the humble plowboy. “It was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scripture were laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.” The story of how Tyndale first escaped England, translated and produced the English Bible and got those bibles smuggled into England in bales of cotton and how the church sent out spies to grab him is a great read. In fact reading his story gave me a greater desire to spend more time in God’s Word. Eventually, he was ambushed, impisoned and burned at the stake. God’s Outlaw. His dying prayer, his last words “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Make it possible for people to have access to the word. God answered the prayer within three years. He believed, with all his life, that it is impossible to establish us in any truth unless Scripture is laid before our eyes in our mother tongue, or our heart language. It’s this conviction that gets me up early enough to be in the Word. Apostolic witness is our Scripture. But it is not something different, it is not something other. It doesn’t all of a sudden change direction. It is the witness to Jesus being the fulfilment of all that God made known beforehand. Being well versed in the Bible as read in light of Jesus will enable you to preserve gospel truth. The dispute is ruled on and the decision made Here are …

THE DETAILS (V15:19-16:5)

James makes a ruling in v19-21.
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,
God has made it clear through the witness of the Apostles and His Word that Gentiles are saved through faith in Jesus + nothing else. We will require nothing else. So how does the next bit work?
v20-21 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.
I read an article that said this passage meant Christians could not eat blood sausage/black pudding. Missed the point completely. James is saying that there is a way of using your gospel freedom for the good of others. The church at Antioch rejoice at the news (v31) They realise that through Jesus they are members of God’s people and it is their pleasure to help their Jewish brothers and sisters acclimatise to this new work. Those of us under grace, on our good days, gladly restrict our freedom for the sake of others. The root of our right standing with God is FAITH. The fruit of our right standing with God are WORKS. James wrote a whole letter on that. Just as we round off this point there are two more examples of Grace at work in the church. If these accounts were reported in the “Antioch Mail” the headlines might read: Sharp dispute. Sharp knife. Sharp dispute. Paul: Let’s go and visit the churches. Barnabas: great idea, I’ll get Mark. Paul: I don’t think so Read v39-41.
And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Lots of words written about who was right and who was wrong. One commentator – our judgement goes with Paul but our hearts go with Barnabas. I think the answer is both share some blame. However, God’s grace will prevail even when we fail. God in his grace can use even our brokenness for his purposes. One mission team became two. Mark is the author of Mark’s gospel – God didn’t write him off. Mark and Paul are later reconciled. I broke my leg a number of years ago. Some days if I attempt to quicken my pace as I cross the road I get a twinge of pain causing me to wince and remember that I’m broken. Spiritually, we all walk with a limp. Remember that as we love one another, we all rely on God’s continuing grace. But what we see here and what I’ve experienced in life is that God can use even our sharpest conflicts for his kingdom growth. Be mindful of these things as you engage in and reflect on difficult relational situations with fellow believers. To live above with saints we love will be all bliss and glory. To live below with saints we know is quite a different story. Sharp knife Oddly, Luke ends this section with an account of Paul having Timothy circumcised. The very thing that he so aggressively denounces Paul does! v3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Timothy had a Jewish mum and a Greek dad. Left uncircumcised he would continually offend the Jews, and and be closing gospel opportunities. I have no idea how people know whether or not others were circumcised but the point is … The stumbling block is removed. If it’s not a gospel issue, it’s not an issue. Inflexible on the gospel. Flexible for the gospel That’s a part of preserving gospel truth. Inflexible on the truth, intentionally flexible for getting people in earshot of that truth. Acts 16:5
So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Through faith in Jesus your sin and rebellion is paid, God’s wrath is appeased, and you are declared an heir in God’s kingdom; eternal life is yours. Not through anything you have done, but based solely on what has been credited to your account through the work of Jesus. An old guy I know puts it this way… When the Father looks at you the Son (S.O.N) gets in his eyes. That is the glorious truth of the gospel That is the truth we inflexibly preserve and flexibly present.