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Acts 15:1-21

What qualifies or disqualifies us before God?  How does knowing Jesus give us confidence before God?

The date is Thursday Sept 28th.  The year 2000.  And Jane Saville is about to enter the main Arena.  90,000 people are waiting to cheer her on to an almost certain Olympic Gold Medal.  After leading the field in a grueling 20 km marathon walk, she is just 150m from the finish line.  But officials approach her, they’ve spotted something wrong in her style, one of them is holding up a RED CARD.  Instant dismissal!

The front page of the Australian newspaper at the time carried the photo of a weeping Seville, with the headline:  ‘I said to him:  No! No!, not me.’

The simple words; "You are, disqualified” are words that send a shiver down any sportsman or woman’s back.

What qualifies and disqualifies counts not only in the sporting world but also in many other fields.

While we may feel keenly the disapproval of others if they disqualify us from a sporting event, a job, even a career, a contest, a travel arrangement. None of those things can compare to the significance of being disqualified from Heaven. 

Of all fields to find accepted or otherwise in, the field of knowing God and being accepted by Him is surly them most important. To know acceptance or rejection by God is the most important criteria for all of life.

And it’s important because God is Eternal.  God is not a phase that people pass through at some indeterminate point in their lives, like the soccer phase, or the hockey phase, or the going to dances phase.

God is the one who declares to Moses that His name means ‘I am’, I always was and I always will be.

There never was a time before God, and there will never be a time after God.  Being accepted by Him is the most important thing that any of us will do in our entire lives.

If I went to each of you now and asked you;

‘What grounds do you have to suggest that on that very last day when God calls all the atoms of His Universe back to himself, when the physical world that we are a part of ends in a Nuclear Implosion, when He ends everything that there is, what grounds that you have that suggest that you will be protected by His hand.  What would you say?

What grounds do you have that suggest to you that if some tragedy were to befall you, or if as your sitting down in your favorite chair after lunch you stop breathing, what grounds are there that you would be welcomed into the beauty and warmth of His throne room for all eternity?

If I were to ask you the very question that raises the issues of Life and Eternity, I hope you would say; that you have confidence that God would accept you because of Jesus death on the Cross.

Any other response than to say that it is Jesus and all of Jesus, will most certainly leave us undone before God.

In this book of Acts that The Early Church had to wrestle with this very issue.  Because you see there were some from Jewish backgrounds that were saying; yes following Jesus is most necessary, yes trusting in Jesus and his work on the cross is a priority, BUT…and it’s a big but, But if you want SALVATION, you need also to DO certain things that we will tell you.

“Things that will make you more like us”  “more like the children of Israel from-of-old.”  You must do them if you don’t want to be disqualified.”

Sure follow Jesus, sure be enthusiastic for Him but in ADDITION to that, there are these other things that will make you culturally acceptable to us and to God.

Verse 1 Certain men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Its not that they were saying we think it would be ‘a good idea’ if you were circumcised, a ‘good idea’ if you followed all the religions ceremonies of Moses – No, IF you want to be saved, you must do what we tell you to do.  They were saying that Jesus was not enough.

Of course many of the believers can see the error of this, but some are persuaded.  After all these are persuasive men, they’ve come from Judea, they should know, if anyone should. The Book of Galatians tells us the events that led to the confrontation here.

Apparently these men from Judea were very persuasive, even the Apostle Peter, and Barnabas to begin with, were swayed by them.  Peter used to have his meals with anyone who wanted to follow Jesus, but after these men arrived, he withdrew himself, he would only eat with bone-fide Jews.  He stopped having his meals with Gentile believers, their hands might be polluted. 

But Paul can see how destructive this is.  Barnabas too, it seems, woke up to how destructive this Pharisaical outlook was to faith in Jesus.

Peter comes to his senses but not before Paul hast to speak to him about how his poor treatment of the gentile believes was being fed by this false way of looking at what is and is not acceptable to God.

Paul and now Barnabas dispute the point with these men.

What qualifies or disqualifies a person from God’s heaven, should be faith in Jesus alone.

They know that what saves a person, is not obedience to the religions laws of Moses, but obedience in Faith to Jesus.

Of course Paul and Barnabas had to stand up to them.  What was at stake was the Gospel proclamation to gentiles, people like you and I.

These Judaisere were saying that unless you have the cultural appearance of a Jew you cannot be saved.  You by definition must be disqualified before God.

But no, what qualifies a person before God is Jesus and Jesus alone.  Not Jesus plus some religions deeds.  Not Jesus plus some other helpful pearls of wisdom that you’ve gathered in life.  Not Jesus plus all our merit badges and attendance records.  JUST JESUS.

But the Church must settle this question of what makes a person saved.  So Paul and Barnabas are sent to Jerusalem to settle the matter there. 

When they get there they tell the council in Jerusalem all the things that God has don’t through them; in other words, how the Gentiles have come to trust in the same Redeemer Jesus Christ as the Jewish believers have.  How the Holy Spirit of God has come upon the Gentile believers in the same way as He had come upon the Jewish believers at Pentecost.

Listen to verse 8 and following; God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

How does a person qualify before God?  It is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.  It is through Faith IN JESUS.

What we are looking at here in Ch 15 of the book of Acts some people have called the ‘centerpiece’ or the pivot point around which the whole of the book turns, since how the believers react to this challenge confirms all the gospel endeavors with the Gentiles that have already gone on in the first 14 chapters, and it sets the stage for what will follow with the Gospel going from Asia to Europe, from Jerusalem through Antioch, & eventually to Rome itself.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not going to be tied down to just one nationality, it not going to be restricted to the boarders of one cultural or ethnic group, it is for all people everywhere.

A Gospel for life, a gospel for forgiveness, and acceptance, and qualification, that we could never earn ourselves.

But does this mean that it doesn’t matter what we do?  Since qualification is all on account of Jesus, does it really matter how I live and act?

Well yes it does.  Salvation by grace.  Works by gratitude.

Salvation is an undeserved gift from God.  But having received that gift, if our hearts are true, we will in gratitude want to live for Him everyday.

Everyday we will live with the word ‘thank you’ upon our lips, the word ‘yes’ ready for obedience.  He who has been forgiven much loves much, our Lord tells us.

Look at the passage in Acts and see what the Jerusalem Council says Gentile believers ought to do.

So where does that leave the ethical requirements in the O.T parts of our Bibles, yes they are still God’s law given through His servants Moses and the Prophets, as far as salvation goes, as far as getting God’s approval they have been superseded by Christ, but their ethical plan is still in place until the last day.

The sacrificial, laws are fulfilled in Christ, the Ceremonial laws are fulfilled in Christ, all those passages that deal with being right with God, coming to God, dealing with sin, dealing with guilt; Fulfilled in Christ as He hung on the Cross.  Civil laws, what do with a criminal, how to stop the spread of disease, what sorts of food to eat, how to provide for the poor, are to be examined on a case by case basis, some are fulfilled in Christ, others remain, yet to be fulfilled in Christ.

Ethical requirements, most of those are still binding upon us, Love to your Neighbor is an enduring commandment.   Do not murder, do not commit adultery, these new Gentile Christians may well have understood those things. (v21)

But there were other things, like should the fact that they were Gentiles and living in a gentile world, mean that they could have sexual affairs whenever they wanted to – after all, the people around them were doing that, it’s what they grew up with.

Did their liberty extend to eating meat from the markets that they knew was sacrificed to pagan deities, should they eat blood and other things as some of their fellow gentiles did?

The Jerusalem council addresses these points in the negative.  The Church at Antioch was not to make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. But there were some limits; Verse 20&21  “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. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

There are many so called N.T evangelicals who just skate over this passage, its easy for them  to just say:‘The O.T is irrelevant’, but that’s not how Jesus saw it, and that’s not how the early Church saw it.

It seems that the Council are suggesting that when a new person comes to faith in Jesus there are certain basic things that they need to be carful of:

1. Is not causing other believers to fall by eating things devoted to pagan idols.

2. Not living in a promiscuous sexual way since their whole body and soul belongs to Jesus, not just their minds.

3. Not eating things strangled that have the blood still in them, nor eating blood since life is associated with blood. – of course we are only now beginning to see the wisdom of this in the health department warning people not to eat food contaminate with raw meat.  The blood too may have had connections with pagan rituals.

APPLICATION: How do we apply this?

1. Don’t make it too difficult for unbelievers who are turning to God.

It doesn’t say all unbelievers, but unbelievers who are turning to God.  When that new person doesn’t do it like you always like it done before, when they make that blunder, or tell that questionable joke, or wear those cloths that really grate with you.  When they turn up to our meetings with died hair, nose rings or tattoos, its not up to us to say; don’t you know God says your not to pierce yourself through like all the non- believers. 

Don’t make it difficult for those who are turning to God, love them into the kingdom, be patient with them, be gentle among them.  Honey attracts more bees than vinegar does.

It doesn’t fit if your telling them that Jesus can save anyone, if your super critical and getting on their case over every little thing that they do wrong,  I think that is why our Lord is so damming of those who cause a ‘little one to stumble – that they should have a mill stone tied around their neck.’  Don’t be more pernickety than the Pharisees

2. Don’t use your ethnicity as an excuse for immorality.  Don’t say; ‘Well everyone else is doing it.’ ‘Its my right’.  That wont cut it with God – be ye separate from the world, and come out of it, be in the world but not of the world.

3. & CONCLUSION: God knows the heart.  God purifies the heart by faith.  It doesn’t matter what sort of background you’ve had, it doesn’t matter what sort of hand life has dealt you, when it comes to walking into that stadium Where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, where literally Billions of Believers and myriads of angelic beings await to cheer you on, all that will matter is faith in Jesus.

No official at the gate will wave a red card in your face, because you have something that cannot be spoken against you have your name written in the lambs book of life, in Jesus’ record of who is meant to be there, and you, if your faith in Jesus is genuine in your heart ARE MEANT to be there.

What a glorious welcome awaits all who trust in Jesus!

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