22 Then the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, decided to select men who were among them and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas, called Barsabbas, and Silas, both leading men among the brothers. 23 They wrote this letter to be delivered by them: From the apostles and the elders, your brothers, To the brothers among the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. 24 Because we have heard that some without our authorization went out from us and troubled you with their words and unsettled your hearts, 25 we have unanimously decided to select men and send them to you along with our dearly loved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who will personally report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell.
30 Then, being sent off, they went down to Antioch, and after gathering the assembly, they delivered the letter. 31 When they read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 Both Judas and Silas, who were also prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers and strengthened them with a long message. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent back in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas, along with many others, remained in Antioch teaching and proclaiming the message of the Lord.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Then, being sent off, they went down to Antioch, and after gathering the assembly, they delivered the letter. When they read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.
— Acts 15:30-31
I am not a big fan of commercials. Most of the advertisements that are out there have nothing to do with the product they are pushing. They are intentionally designed to evoke an emotional response from the audience, not present a rational case for why the product is worth a customer’s money. It is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. The worst offenders are car commercials. You know the kind! There will be nice music, beautiful scenes and imagery, and perhaps even a nice sentiment that pulls on the heart strings, and then the camera pans to a car, and the narrator gives some quick details about it. What? All of that had nothing to do with a car whatsoever! It drives me nuts.
But what may be worse than that are pharmaceutical advertisements. Because of regulations they actually have to talk about the product so generally there is less of an appeal to emotion. But quite regularly the cure is worse than the disease. One I have heard several times is a medication for “shift work disorder.” Unless you have heard the commercial you probably didn’t even know there was such a thing. It is a short commercial with the first quarter devoted to explaining the problem, and the second quarter explains the benefits. The last half, however, is a long list of all the possible dangers and side effects. Thanks, but no thanks.
That is probably how the Gentiles in Antioch felt in this passage from Acts. They had heard the good news from Paul and Barnabas that the promise of God's salvation had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and forgiveness was available for those who believed in the name of Jesus. Many did believe and received the good news with joy. A cure had been found for the sterile ritualism of following the gods of the Greek pantheon or the rigid regulations of Jewish law. But then Judaizers had arrived and taught that to convert to Christianity one must first convert to Judaism.
Can you imagine? The text says that these Judaizers had "troubled" these believers in Antioch, but that is probably somewhat of an understatement. Just as soon as they had thought there was a way out of earning salvation, a way of grace through faith, now they were told that it was "Jesus and..." the cure was that Jesus had come as God's promised salvation, but the side effect was adhering to Jewish customs and regulations. The good news was great but circumcision...not so much. And let’s not even start talking about the dietary restrictions.
Paul and Barnabas had related all of this to the Elders in Jerusalem that these believers had the Holy Spirit, and God's hand was evident. The council resolved to send them a letter denouncing the teachings of the Judaizers and affirming the authenticity of the Gentiles' faith. When Paul and Barnabas returned with the letter from the council in Jerusalem the Gentiles were encouraged and rejoiced. Who wouldn't? It is truly marvelous to know that if Christ has set you free, you are free indeed. (John 8:36)
In the deeply broken world that we live in the good news of Jesus Christ is just that. It is Good News! There are no strings attached and the cure doesn't leave you worse than the disease. Yet there are still voices, perhaps in our own hearts and minds, that teach "Jesus and..." just as the Judaizers did. Most likely we are not enticed into following orthodox Jewish practices, but there are all kinds of lists, things to do and not to do as well as molds to fit into that are sometimes added to Jesus. It is just as troubling today as it was then, and we can wear ourselves out trying to fulfill these obligations.
What we are reminded of in these verses is we are no longer bound to the law or legalistic rituals and practices. We are free in Christ who has already fulfilled the obligations of the law. We never could keep it in the first place, and so this is really and truly un-polluted good news that we can celebrate. Thanks be to Jesus Christ, who paid a debt we could not pay, and that salvation is a gift of grace through faith in Him.
- Take some time to be honest with yourself, and think about your inability to follow the law. The intention is not to feel guilty, but to celebrate that Jesus has fulfilled law’s requirement on you.
- Think about the statement "Jesus and..." Are there any additions you have made or been told to make to Jesus?
- Are there requirements or obligations that you feel compelled to fulfill to earn Gods favor?
- What does it look like to let those go and trust in God's grace that is our gift through Jesus Christ.