Acts 13-15 First Missionary Journey

Psalm 125:1-5 Doing Good to the Good
Ps 125:1 Song of The Steps* “Those who trust in Yahweh are as Mount Zion, which can’t be moved, but remains forever. 2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so Yahweh surrounds his people from this time forth and forevermore. 3 For the scepter of wickedness won’t remain over the allotment/inheritance of the righteous; so that the righteous won’t use their hands to do unrighteousness.
4 Do good, Yahweh, to those who are good, to those who are upright in their hearts. 5 But as for those who turn aside to their crooked ways, Yahweh will lead them away with the workers of iniquity. Peace be on Israel."

Observations: (*See note on Ps 120) 125:1-5 In Psalm 123 there was distress, in 124 trust, and this third psalm of the triad has the characteristic resolution of peace and Zion as a result of that trust. God surrounds His people and does good to those who are good, defined as those who are upright in heart. God doesn't do good to those who aren't good (otherwise the statement would be meaningless). Note the different classes of people:

  • the wicked authorities – those hypocrites who give lip service to God (Ps 50) and who won't remain in power;
  • the righteous – those rightly related to God and others, who while under the rule of the wicked are tempted to depart from God's ways (unrighteousness in 125:3 is the opposite of walking in God's ways per Ps 119:3) rather than trust in Him;
  • the good - those who mirror God's goodness in their character and actions;
  • the upright – those who have successfully endured and past the tests of trials and temptations (Upright has the connotation of tried and true - cf. Ps 11);
  • the crooked – those who depart from God's way to do their own thing (and won't be surrounded with God's goodness, but will be led away with the next group);
  • the workers of iniquity – are parallel to fools and God hates and judges them (Ps 5:5; 92:7; Mt 7:23). excluding them from the peace and prosperity of His people.

Application: Trust in God's goodness and protection when surrounded by evil people, and righteously keep on the path of the upright.
Prayer: God, thanks that You surround me with Your goodness; help me stay on the path of the upright; please show me where I'm headed off it. Amen.
Proverbs 31:1-5 Listen To Your Mother

Pr 31:1 “The words of king Lemuel; the oracle which his mother taught him. 2 "Oh, my son! Oh, son of my womb! Oh, son of my vows! 3 Don't give your strength to women, nor your ways to that which destroys kings. 4 It is not for kings, Lemuel; it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes to say, 'Where is strong drink?' 5 lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the justice due to anyone who is afflicted.

Observations: 31:1 Lemuel,  not mentioned in the lists of any OT,  means “to/for God”, ie, a King that belongs to or is for God. Rabbinical interpretation tends to identify the name with Solomon. If so, it doesn't look like he paid attention.
31:3-5 Sex and alcohol are forms of escapism, because life is either painful or unsatisfying, which results in failing to fulfill one's responsibilities, leading to feeling even worse, and destroying our lives in a quest to feel better.
Application: Like Mom said: “Don't go there.”
Prayer: God to whom I've dedicated myself, help me find satisfaction and fulfillment in staying within the boundaries You have set, and joy in doing Your will. Amen.

Acts 13-15 The Holy Spirit sends Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey, see map, to bring the good news to the Jews and Gentiles. They encounter opposition from Satan, and his agents, both pagan and Jewish, but God gives them protection and success (if you can call surviving a stoning those things). Paul is treated like a god and then a dog by the dyslectic Lycaonians. The Gentiles gladly accept the good news of the Kingdom, as do many of the Jews. But the Jews who oppose the truth cause lots of problems. Even the Jews who believe in Jesus attempt to distort the truth by compelling Gentiles to be circumcised. The Jerusalem Council determines God's will in the matter, and provides a good model for decision-making.

Acts 13 Resistance and Receptivity
13:1 Now in the assembly that was at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they waited on the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia. From there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they were at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. They had also John as their attendant.
6 When they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of understanding. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul, and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn aside the proconsul from the faith. 9 But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on him, 10 and said, "Full of all deceit and all cunning, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is on you, and you will be blind, not seeing the sun for a season!" Immediately a mist and darkness fell on him. He went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord. 13 Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem.
14 But they, passing on from Perga, came to Antioch of Pisidia. They went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and sat down. 15 After the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, speak." 16 Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, "Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they stayed as aliens in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm, he led them out of it. 18 For a period of about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 When he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land for an inheritance, for about four hundred fifty years. 20 After these things he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Afterward they asked for a king, and God gave to them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 When he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, to whom he also testified, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ 23 From this man’s seed, God has brought salvation to Israel according to his promise, 24 before his coming, when John had first preached the baptism of repentance to Israel. 25 As John was fulfilling his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. But behold, one comes after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ 26 Brothers, children of the stock of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, the word of this salvation is sent out to you. 27 For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they didn’t know him, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 Though they found no cause for death, they still asked Pilate to have him killed. 29 When they had fulfilled all things that were written about him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and he was seen for many days by those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses to the people. 32 We bring you good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled the same to us, their children, in that he raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son. Today I have become your father.’ 34 "Concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ 35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, ‘You will not allow your Holy one to see decay.’ 36 For David, after he had in his own generation served the counsel of God, fell asleep, and was laid with his fathers, and saw decay. 37 But he whom God raised up saw no decay. 38 Be it known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man is proclaimed to you remission of sins, 39 and by him everyone who believes is justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40 Beware therefore, lest that come on you which is spoken in the prophets: 41 ‘Behold, you scoffers, and wonder, and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which you will in no way believe, if one declares it to you.’"
42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the synagogue broke up, many of the Jews and of the devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas; who, speaking to them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted the things which were spoken by Paul, and blasphemed. 46 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, and said, "It was necessary that God’s word should be spoken to you first. Since indeed you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so has the Lord commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’" 48 As the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God. As many as were set towards to eternal life believed. 49 The Lord’s word was spread abroad throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their borders. 51 But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

Observations: 13:1-5 The Holy Spirit sent out Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, by making His will known to the church. Earlier the apostles had sent Barnabas out from Jerusalem to Antioch of Syria. Jesus is the Head of the church, who makes His will known through the Spirit. The Spirit of Truth reveals His will objectively in the Scriptures, and subjective (where need be) to those who know and do His objective will. Why would He communicate His subjective will (what isn't recorded in the Scriptures, either directly or via principles) to those who are rejecting what He already told them, which is foundational to experiencing what is good, acceptable and perfect on an individual level. Note that it is the Spirit who chose them and had a purpose for them, the church just recognized it. This principle will become more apparent when we discuss the selection of elders. John Mark went as their attendant (P, B, & J) in verse 5, and left them in verse 13. They proclaimed the word of God first in the Jewish synagogues (who rejected it, see verse 46). See map for an overview of the first journey.
13:6-13 They go to Cyprus, teaching in synagogues until they arrive in Paphos, the Roman headquarters of the island, and the alleged birthplace of Aphrodite/Venus. Not surprisingly they encounter opposition from a demonic Jew, the false prophet Bar-Jesus (Son of Savior). Interestingly, Paul (maybe Saul's nickname meaning “small,” now doing his first miracle, and mentioned instead of Barnabas) doesn't cast out the demonic influence, but judges it with blindness (similar to Paul's own conversion). Peter encountered the sorcerer Simon Magnus in Acts 8:9 when the church at Jerusalem started its outreach into Samaria, but there Simon believed and repented. Paul gives us some insight into those who oppose the truth:
  • They ingratiate themselves into power structures as alleged “seers” of truth (Elymas means “wise man,” hence the appropriate blinding);
  • They seek (actively) to turn leaders and others away from the truth and faith in it;
  • They are empty vessels full of deceit (what you see is not the reality);
  • They are full of all kinds of tricks (used of unscrupulousness in Roman and Greek literature);
  • They serve the dark side, doing the devil's work (son of the devil, the father of lies);
  • They are enemies of righteousness, opposing its proclamation and practice;
  • They tirelessly pervert the right ways of the Lord, sending others down rabbit trails and detours from which they never return;
  • They are recognized by the righteous and will be judged by the righteous Judge when they stand before Him (Matthew 7:23).
The proconsul saw and believed, being astonished at the teaching (not just the authenticating miracle). No repentance nor baptism is mentioned. Note that the Jew rejected the light and went deeper into darkness, while the Gentile (a high ranking Roman official) believed. John Mark splits for Jerusalem; no reason is given, although Paul wasn't pleased (15:38).
13:14-43 They went to Antioch of Pisidia, the chief Roman city in Galatia, about 100 miles inland through bandit infested mountains. Archeologists found there an inscription bearing the name of Sergius Paulus, and historians say that his family had estates in the area, which explain, from a human perspective, why Paul went there (“You've got to go tell my family in Antioch about this!”).
Paul's first recorded speech parallels those of Peter and Stephen, starting with an historical overview leading up to the promised Messiah, who was rejected and killed by the Jews, and is resurrected by God to give life to those who accept Him. Paul addresses both Jews and Greeks (god-fearers). The replacement of Saul with David is highlighted, indicating that David, (who was set on accomplishing God's purpose/heart and will) was raised up by God. The verb raised in verse 22 is used of Jesus in 23, 30, and 37 to emphasize that God has raised up Jesus, the Davidic descendant, to bring salvation to Israel, and (in verse 26), to the Greeks as well. Paul quotes Psalm 16 as Peter did (along with Isa 55:3, and Ps 2:7), and proclaims that through Jesus there is remission of sins, justifying those who believe from all things that they couldn't be justified by under the Mosaic law. This is the only reference to justification by belief in Acts. He ends with a warning from Habakkuk 1:5 written before the judgment and exile under Babylon. The Jews left the synagogue and the Gentiles begged Paul for more. But many of the Jews and Gentiles followed Paul and Barnabas, who urge them to continue in the grace of God.
13:44-52 The next Sabbath, a huge crowd gathers to hear the word of God, and the Jews are jealous and oppose Paul and Barnabas. Paul says that since they judge themselves as unworthy of eternal life and reject it, Paul was turning to the Gentiles, to whom God had appointed him as a light, to bring salvation to them (even in the uttermost part of the earth 1:8). The Gentiles on the other hand, were glad and glorified the word of God, rather than judging themselves unworthy and rejecting the Messianic promises of life, were determined to get them, and as many as were so disposed, believed. The word for set or determined or appointed shows up in these other contexts: Mt 28:16; Lk 7:8; Acts 15:2; 22:10; 28:23; Rom 13:1; 1Cor 16:15 (which you can study). The range of meaning of a word is narrowed by its context, which here, is contrasted with the self-judgment and rejection of the Jews. Hmmmm.
The word of the Lord spread throughout the entire region (to whom Paul wrote Galatians). The devil's agents stirred up a persecution and tossed God's agents out (their choice). Paul and Barney shook the dust off their feet as a testimony of the judgment that would come upon them (Hab 1:5), and move on to Iconium. The disciples that remained were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
Application: Satan's agents will always oppose the truth, but God can ensure that the message is heard so it can be believed.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thanks that You are greater than anything in this world, including Satan; I ask that You guide me to those who want to know You and Your truth, and protect me from the evil one. Amen.

Acts 14 From Gods to Gonners
14:1 It happened in Iconium that they entered together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of Jews and of Greeks believed. 2 But the disbelieving Jews stirred up and embittered the souls of the Gentiles against the brothers. 3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the multitude of the city was divided. Part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5 When some of both the Gentiles and the Jews, with their rulers, made a violent attempt to mistreat and stone them, 6 they became aware of it, and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra, Derbe, and the surrounding region. 7 There they preached the Good News.
8 At Lystra a certain man sat, impotent in his feet, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked. 9 He was listening to Paul speaking, who, fastening eyes on him, and seeing that he had faith to be healed/saved, 10 said with a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet!" He leaped up and walked. 11 When the multitude saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voice, saying in the language of Lycaonia, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" 12 They called Barnabas "Jupiter," and Paul "Mercury," because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Jupiter, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and would have made a sacrifice along with the multitudes. 14 But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their clothes, and sprang into the multitude, crying out, 15 "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them; 16 who in the generations gone by allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he didn’t leave himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you rains from the sky and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." 18 Even saying these things, they hardly stopped the multitudes from making a sacrifice to them.
19 But some Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there, and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul, and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But as the disciples stood around him, he rose up, and entered into the city. On the next day he went out with Barnabas to Derbe.
21 When they had preached the Good News to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many afflictions we must enter into the Kingdom of God.
23 When they had appointed elders for them in every assembly, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed. 24 They passed through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia. 25 When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, from where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. 27 When they had arrived, and had gathered the assembly together, they reported all the things that God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith to the nations. 28 They stayed there with the disciples for a long time.

Observations: 14:1-7 In Iconium Paul and Barney spoke in the synagogue and a multitude of Jews and Greeks believed. The Lord testified to the “word of His grace” which is used in Acts 20:24-25 of the preaching of the Kingdom, and in 20:32 as the means by which they get built up and an inheritance in the kingdom; it is obviously more than the message of forgiveness by faith (1Pt 1:3 (grace multiplied), 10 (grace is a future bestowal), 13 (grace is an object of hope/reward cf 1:7 = praise glory and honor). Grace has justifying, enabling/sanctifying, and rewarding/glorifying aspects, and one must determine which meaning is meant in which context. See Biblical Survey of Grace on called Praising Grace: The coin of the Realm of Heaven.
Acts 20:32 "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
The disbelieving cause trouble, but God gives authenticating miracles. Nevertheless, just like with Jesus and the apostles in Jerusalem, the persecution became so great that it was time to leave.
14:8-20 At Lystra they heal a cripple who had faith, and the multitude calls them gods, and want to sacrifice to them. When Satan's agents from Iconium and Antioch show up, the fickle public (just like the Palm Sunday crowd) stone Paul and leave him for dead. As the disciples stand around him (probably praying), he rose up and entered the city, but goes to Derbe the next day. In between the sacrifice and the stoning, Paul says the good news (gospel) he's bringing them is that they should turn from vain things to the living God, the Creator (and walk in His ways which Paul is revealing, rather than their own ways).
14:21-23 After they had made many disciples in Derbe (about 60 miles away on the eastern border of Galatia), they returned to where they weren't welcome, strengthening the disciples (only used three other times 15:32, 41; 18:23) they had made. The strengthening involved teaching them the need to persevere in their belief in God's promises, because their entrance or possession in God's coming Kingdom would be the result of enduring afflictions. Note that this is not about getting or losing forgiveness, but having possession or reward in the Kingdom (see comments on Mt 7:21 and 19:16-30). Note too, that those who believed were not in the Kingdom, because the Kingdom wouldn't come until the King returned to set it up.
14:23-27 Paul and Barney appointed elders (note the plural) in every assembly. See 20:29, 1Timothy 3, and Titus 1 for more elders and their selection. The distinguishing characteristics of a NT church are the commitment to be a Body of believers under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ (obeying His commission) and a submission to each other and Biblically qualified leadership. We'll see this again. Paul and Barney returned to Antioch of Syria, from which they had been sent out, and reported all that God had done, particularly in opening a door of faith to the nations/Gentiles.
Application: Since people are fickle, we should base our interaction with them on what we perceive to be God's will, rather than their receptivity or rejection.
Prayer: God, thanks that You protect and guide Your servants in doing Your will. Thanks too for the word of Your grace which has multiple benefits in my life. Amen.

Acts 15 Consensus and Conflict
15:1 Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can’t be saved." 2 Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small discord and discussion with them, they appointed Paul and Barnabas, and some others of them, to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. 3 They, being sent on their way by the assembly, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. They caused great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the assembly and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all things that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to see about this matter. 7 When there had been much discussion, Peter rose up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that a good while ago God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the nations should hear the word of the Good News, and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, testified about them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just like he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you tempt God, that you should put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are." 12 All the multitude kept silence, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting what signs and wonders God had done among the nations through them. 13 After they were silent, James answered, "Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has reported how God first visited the nations, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets. As it is written, 16 ‘After these things I will return. I will again build the tabernacle of David, which has fallen. I will again build its ruins. I will set it up, 17 That the rest of men may seek after the Lord; All the Gentiles who are called by my name, Says the Lord, who does all these things. 18 All his works are known to God from eternity.’ 19 "Therefore my judgment is that we don’t trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brothers. 23 They wrote these things by their hand: "The apostles, the elders, and the brothers, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: greetings. 24 Because we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law,’ to whom we gave no commandment; 25 it seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose out men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves will also tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, from which if you keep yourselves, it will be well with you. Farewell." 30 So, when they were sent off, they came to Antioch. Having gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over the encouragement. 32 Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers with many words, and strengthened them. 33 After they had spent some time there, they were sent back with greetings from the brothers to the apostles. 34 35 But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
36 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let’s return now and visit our brothers in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, to see how they are doing." 37 Barnabas planned to take John, who was called Mark, with them also. 38 But Paul didn’t think that it was a good idea to take with them someone who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and didn’t go with them to do the work. 39 Then the contention grew so sharp that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him, and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas, and went out, being commended by the brothers to the grace of God. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the assemblies.

Observations: 15:1-5 Being a believer does not render one immune to Satan's deceptions and lies, nor false teaching, or even teaching falsely. If Satan can't prevent the truth from being proclaimed by persecution, he will seek to pervert it with false teaching. Pharisees who believed wanted to add something to belief; not just circumcision, but keeping the whole law of Moses. In what is known as the Jerusalem Council, the apostles and elders met to consider the issue: do Gentiles have to become Jews to be saved?
15:6-35 The consensus decision making uses Revelation, Reason, and Reality, to arrive at the truth, which seemed good to the Holy Spirit and those who heard. First they gathered the facts (reality) from Peter regarding Cornelius, and Paul and Barney regarding their first missionary journey: The Gentiles were given the Holy Spirit as a result of belief alone (no circumcision, nor repentance, nor baptism was mentioned, although some would claim the last two were implied). Then Peter applied reason to the reality (facts): God made no distinction between the Jews and Gentiles, cleansing (10:15; 11:9) the hearts of both by faith. (Luke used “cleanse” mainly of lepers being purified in his gospel.) The Jews who were circumcised and kept (sorta) the law of Moses didn't get the Holy Spirit like the Gentiles did. Then James (not the brother of John who was killed by Herod in 12:2, but the half-brother of Jesus -Gal 1:19; 2:9,12) tested their understanding of reality, and their reasoning against the Scriptures (Revelation). James loosely quotes the LXX version of Amos 9:11-12 in which God indicates He will rebuild the throne of David so that Gentiles would seek the Lord (as a distinct group from the Jews). Both groups exist. Therefore the Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be called by God's name (or call upon Him). In Amos, the quotation by James indicating conversion of the Gentiles is followed by the days when the Messiah would bring in the blessings of the Kingdom. So the order in Amos is (after judgment of Israel): Davidic descendant raised up, Gentile conversion, Israel regathered, and then blessings of the Messianic kingdom.
James then gives the judgment (15:19) that they shouldn't trouble the Gentiles with circumcision and law keeping, but makes three/four stipulations which would have been a stumbling blocks to the Jews:
  • Gentiles should abstain from the food offered to idols (1Cor 10:14-22);
  • Gentiles should abstain from “porneias” which would not be a general prohibition against immorality, since that was not a Jewish specific thing, and would have already been prohibited by Jesus' teaching, but is more likely referring sex during the betrothal period which, according to some was a Gentile custom;
  • Gentiles should abstain from eating strangled animals who weren't slaughtered so the blood would drain out; and then abstain from eating blood itself.
Notice that the decision wasn't put to a vote, and that only the most mature made the determination of the Spirit's will. When godly people disagree, at least one of them is wrong.
15:22-35 The group decided to send two men of great reputation, Judas and Silas, with Paul and Barney to Antioch to deliver and validate the decision (because P&B would have been considered biased).
15:36-41 The great unity of the Jerusalem council serves as a stark contrast with the contention and division that arose between Paul and Barnabas. They wanted to go check up on the people to whom they had ministered on their first journey. So far, so good. But Barnabas wanted to take John with them. Paul didn't. The reason John Mark bailed on the first trip isn't given, but Barnabas wanted to give him another chance. Barnabas was the one who sought out Paul, brought him to the apostles, and then sought him again in Tarsus to help at Antioch. Apparently the Son of Encouragement, was a little more relational than Paul. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed away. He doesn't show up in the NT again (see introduction to Hebrews). Paul, on the other hand, was commended to the grace of God by the brothers of the assembly Barnabas had established. Paul eventually requests that Timothy bring John Mark with him because he is useful for ministry (2Tim 4:11). Some say Paul was focused on the mission and Barnabas on the man, but it's a shame they couldn't reach the unity that the Jerusalem Council had.
Application: When godly people disagree, at least one of them is wrong, sometimes they all are. Unity is found by laying aside one's own agenda to seek God's agenda (1Cor 1:10).
Prayer: God, thanks that unity is possible when everyone seeks Your will; help me avoid the conflict that arise from carnality and demonic discord. Amen.

Digging Deeper

God in a nutshell: God has a plan to bless the entire world through the descendants of Abraham. He has raised up the Davidic descendant, the Messiah, and brought the Gentiles into a relationship with Himself. He will regather the Jews, establish His Kingdom in Judah, and bring in the blessings of the Messianic age. He justifies all who have faith in Him, apart from any ritual.

Build-a-Jesus: Jesus is the Davidic descendant who was raised up by God to bless the world. Everyone who believes in Him receives the remission/forgiveness of sins, and is justified by faith from all that the law couldn't justify.

Us in a nutshell: Those who seek to do God's will, shall encounter opposition from both inside and outside the community of faith. People self-select (consider themselves unworthy or worthy) regarding the kingdom and its blessings, by their belief and behavior. Unity with other believers is only possible if all are intent on God's will, not their own.

Where to Go for More:

Acts complete text
Bill Blurb: The application that delivers the daily emails has some size restrictions that's been causing problems. So I've eliminated the text, since I'm not editing any of it out above. If we encounter any more genealogies, I'll edit it above and put the entire text here below.

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