google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Glimpses 28

Glimpses 28

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Church Matures

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G'day and welcome to Partake! We are now on day 28 of our series "Glimpses", looking at the story of the Bible in 30 days - from the time of creation through to the time of the fullness of redemption! We saw last time that the church has experienced some crises but overcame them with guidance from the Holy Spirit, prayer and wisdom. They would need that again, in another 2 events we look at tonight!

King Jesus Makes An Appearance to Saul!

Reading from Acts 9 ‘But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. He fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He said, "Who are you, Lord?"  The Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise up, and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must do."'

Paul's conversion is perhaps the most famous throughout the history of the Church. Known as Saul, he had led systematic persecution of Christians, including the death of Stephen we looked at last time.. The only possible cause for his conversion is the beautiful sovereign grace of God. Why did Paul hate the believers so much? Because, To his mind at the time, to him a dead Messiah was no Messiah at all and how could the Saviour of the Jews, the Messiah, die on a cross and be cursed by God. No, no. Paul considered it his duty as a man zealous for the law, to eradicate all those who were followers of this man.

Carrying letters from the High Priest in Jerusalem, he set out for Damascus in a bid to stop these Christians. He would arrive in Damascus, a proud and pompous man, bent on ridding the city of its followers of Jesus. But Jesus appears suddenly to Paul and speaks to him! God arrested Paul, shone his light upon him, the mercy of God overflowed upon him and the grace of God through Jesus overwhelmed him!

Leading to his conversion, Paul had his sub-conscious doubts about Jesus amidst the stories of Jesus being raised from the dead! The witness of Stephen as Paul watched him die and pray to Jesus asking the Lord to forgive his enemies - for as the church father, Augustine comments "If Stephen had not prayed, the Church would not have had Paul!" The inadequacy of the Old Covenant and Law to save! He knew that his thoughts & attitudes were not clean for example his sin of covetousness. Therefore he had no inner power or peace!

But what were the consequences of this conversion? His name was changed from Saul to Paul (Acts 13)! His attitudes, character & relationships with God, fellow believers and the unbelieving world were utterly transformed with the Holy Spirit now living inside him. Instead of arriving in Damascus full of pride & bravery, as a self confident enemy of Jesus, Paul entered Damascus as a prisoner of Jesus, humbled and blinded.

But his conversion was initially met with doubt! The first person to minister to him was Ananias who was hesitant to do so but was persuaded by the Lord to do so! Other believers in Damascus also doubted Paul's conversion, but they were won over by the Holy Spirit and Paul's transformation.

Paul Sent

Jesus appointed Paul to be 3 things: a servant of God; a witness for God to the world, and also an apostle engaged in pioneer work to the Gentiles.  Jesus confirmed this to Ananias that Paul was a 'chosen instrument', and Ananias passed this onto Paul (v15).

Four things Paul would do:

  • His witness was centred on Jesus Christ..
  • His witness was powered by the Holy Spirit
  • His witness was courageous in Damascus, the synagogues and in Jerusalem where the Sanhedrin met. He also debated with the Hellenists
  • His witness was costly. His life was often threatened and throughout his life he was persecuted against.

Paul's experience of rejection in Damascus repeated itself in Jerusalem. When he tried to join the Apostles and Christian believers, they were afraid and doubted he really was a believer. But this time Barnabas to the others about him and his changed life. Paul was eventually accepted by them into the community of believers.

We see the maturing church has now five characteristics -

  • peace - free from outside interference
  • strength - confirming its position
  • encouragement - comforted by the Holy Spirit
  • growth - multiplying numerically
  • godliness - living in the fear of the Lord.

.

However soon after this, another problem - a matter concern doctrine!

Doctrinal Issues Arise

In Acts 15v1 we read  "Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can't be saved."

At its beginning, the apostolic church was one church under the unitary leadership of the apostles.  However a new problem arose! This problem arose because some men from Judea came to Antioch and promoted the view that circumcision was necessary for salvation and that certain regulations of the Old Testament law be required of non-Jewish converts as prerequisites for their recognition as members of the church of Jesus Christ. They were opposed by Paul and Barnabas, and as there was no final resolution, help was sought from the church in Jerusalem, still at this point the heartland of the Christian church.

On arriving at Jerusalem, the delegates from Antioch were welcomed by 'the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them', This gathering evidently consisted of the leadership (apostles and elders) and many of the membership, including those convened were putting forward the requirement that Gentiles 'must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses' (Acts 15v5-6). This was the context for discussion of the issue.

There was free debate and no papering over differences. The apostles let the elders speak before they joined in and it is clear that their goal was to know the mind of the Holy Spirit in the matter (Acts 15v28). The Apostle Peter rose after much discussion, and proceeded to demolish the Judaist viewpoint with arguments drawn from his own experience of ministry to Gentiles. He first described the conversion of the Gentiles as the work of God (Acts 15v 7-9) as they were filled with the Holy Spirit just as Jewish believers in Jesus were! This was proved by the Gentile Christians' faith, which was no different from their own (Acts 15v9)!

Rising to a glorious crescendo, the Apostle Peter declared emphatically the very heart of the gospel: that salvation is by grace alone, both for Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15v11). Now doubt he reflected on the words of Jesus who said 'my yoke is easy and my burden is light' (Matthew 11v30).

James, the brother of Jesus delivered the coup-de-grace to the Judaism argument with a direct appeal to the Word of God. God had already spoken on the matter! Quoting Amos 9v11-12, James reminded them that the prophet had declared that 'David's fallen tent' was be restored and that this would involve the in gathering of all the Gentiles who bear the Lord's name' (Acts 15v16-18). This is fulfilled, James says, in all that Peter had described (Acts 15:14). The church of Jesus Christ was all along intended to encompass both Jew and Gentile and, one by one without discrimination, they are brought to the same faith by the same Lord. This, James showed, was 'the mind of God", in the Scripture'.

A proposal

There was a definitive doctrinal proposal:  'We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God' (Acts 15v19). It told the Judaizing party in the gentlest possible way that what they were asking for was not the Lord's will for the church, and contrary to the gospel of God's free grace in Christ by faith alone.

Then in Acts 15v20 there was a practical 4 point proposal to foster church unity by asking the Gentile Christians to take particular care to distance themselves from their former manner of life.

Leave Alone: Gentiles were to examine critically their old habits and give no cause to anyone to accuse them of their old sins. They were also encouraged to be graciously accommodating to Jewish dietary sensitivities. For their part, Jewish believers needed to understand that Gentiles were not to be required to observe the Mosaic ceremonial law.

Grace Alone: The apostles clearly taught that salvation was by the free and sovereign grace of God through faith in Christ alone. Council of Jerusalem held that line and closed the door on further discussion.

Spirit Alone: They emphasised that the decision 'seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to the church' (Acts 15v28). Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth (John 14v26; 16v13).

Standing Alone: The council's four 'requirements', highlight the necessity and the blessing of the separated life for Christians and to "stand alone" from the world, whilst living in the world. 'You will do well to avoid these things' (Acts 15v29).

The conversion of Paul and the Council of Jerusalem, led to the church maturing, going forward in unity and returning to the expansion of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. But that is our topic for next time! Thank you!

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