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Acts 15

Thursday Evening Bible Study

January 16, 2014


Do people see Jesus? Is the gospel preached? Does it speak to the broken hearted? Does it build up the church? Milk – Meat – Manna Preach for a decision Is the church loved? Target 4400 words

On the day of Pentecost, the church was born. It began with the Holy Spirit filling the believers. As the apostles preached about Jesus, the church began to grow.

By chapter seven, the church was beginning to experience persecution. Stephen was the first one to die for his faith. One of the main men behind the persecution was a man named Saul. But when Saul headed for the city of Damascus to pursue the Christians there, he was knocked off his horse by a bright light and he met Jesus.  Saul will be more well known by his Roman name, Paul.

By chapter 10, the gospel began to reach even the Gentiles, starting with a Roman Centurion named Cornelius.

In chapter 13, we began a new section of Acts as we began to focus on the ministry of Paul.

Play First Missionary Journey map clip

Paul and Barnabas were a part of the church in Antioch of Syria.  They were sent out as missionaries, and their first trip took them through the island of Cyprus and into the area of Galatia.

After reaching out to the city of Derbe, rather than going forward to Tarsus and Antioch, they chose to back track through the places they had ministered to, and encourage and build up the churches.

They are now back in Antioch of Syria.

15:1-5 Circumcision Controversy

:1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

:1 came down from Judea

Don’t think of our modern map oriented minds where “up” is north and “down” is south.  They thought in terms of altitude.  These people are coming more specifically from Jerusalem, and they are coming down from the hill that Jerusalem sits on, and heading up to the church in Antioch.

:1 Unless you are circumcised

These teachers are called “Judaizers”.  Their basic belief was that a Gentile could only be saved by becoming a Jew first.

:2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

:2 dissensionstasis – a standing, station, state; an insurrection; strife, insurrection

They “took a stand” against these men.

:2 disputesuzetesis (“together” + “seeking”) – mutual questioning, disputation, discussion

The words made it sound like a spirited debate.

Play Krispy Kreme Fight clip

We will see another example of a “church fight” at the end of the chapter.
Though this particular “fight” is a huge theological moment in the church, the fight at the end has harsher language.

:2 to the apostles and elders

Even though we’ve begun to look at Antioch as the center of church activity, in reality the main leaders of Christianity were still centered in Jerusalem.

:3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.

:4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.

Play Antioch to Jerusalem map clip

Paul and Barnabas make their way south to Jerusalem, passing through Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) and Samaria.

: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.”

:5 the sect of the Pharisees who believed

We usually think of the Pharisees as the guys in the black robes and black hats because they seem to be the “bad guys” in the gospels, always causing trouble with Jesus.

Keep in mind, they are the strict, orthodox, Bible-believing religious people.

There were Pharisees who had come to believe in Jesus as their Messiah.

They were making their case that for a Gentile to be saved, they had to come into the fold of Judaism and follow all the law of Moses, including circumcision.

Jesus Himself said,

(Mt 5:17–20 NKJV) —17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

You can see why the early church was confused and why there was a dispute.

Not all Pharisees believed what this group did. Paul was also a Pharisee.  He wrote,

(Php 3:4–9 NKJV) —4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Paul saw things differently concerning “righteousness” and how it was attained.

7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
Paul considered his own “righteousness” as garbage compared to the righteousness that God gives us through believing in Jesus Christ.  The only way for your righteousness to exceed a Pharisee’s is to have Jesus’ righteousness.

15:6-21 Jerusalem Council

:6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.

:6 came together to consider this matter

We have a record of the first “council” of the church where the church will gather to discuss controversy in the area of doctrine and come to a conclusion about the matter. This takes place in the year AD 50.

There will be two issues at stake:
1. Salvation:  How can a Gentile be saved? Does a Gentile need to be circumcised?
2. Fellowship:  Can a Jewish believer hang out with a Gentile believer? What if he doesn’t get circumcised? This is a more subtle issue being dealt with.

:7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.

:7 disputesuzetesis (“together” + “seeking”) – mutual questioning, disputation, discussion

The same language as what was going on in Antioch.  The “discussion” continues.

:7 by my mouth

Peter was the first one to actually preach the gospel to the Gentiles, back in Acts 10, when he went to speak to Cornelius.

:8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us,

:9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

:9 purifying their hearts by faith

The people in Cornelius’ house weren’t required to be circumcised before they were baptized in the Holy Spirit.  They simply heard, believed, and were saved.

:10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

:10 putting a yoke on the neck

This is how Peter is describing the Law.

Something that was unable to be kept perfectly, something that was a burden.

:11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

:11 through the grace

Peter is clarifying the simple message that they too had realized that they were not saved by their own good works, but they were saved by the gift that Jesus had given them, and it happened when they believed.

The gift (grace) that they were given was the death of Jesus, a sacrifice that paid for our sins.

If the Jewish believers were saved by grace, why would it be any different for the Gentiles?

Paul would later write:

(Eph 2:8–9 NKJV) —8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

:12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.

:12 how many miracles

Paul and Barnabas now share about their amazing mission trip (Acts 13-14)

The point of sharing the miracles was to show that God was behind this preaching to the Gentiles.

God had born witness to saving the Gentiles through the miracles.

:13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me:

:13 James answered

This is James, the half-brother of Jesus.  James and Jesus had the same mother (Mary), but different fathers (Joseph/God).

He is the author of the book of James.

:14 Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.

:15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:

:16After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up;

:17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things.’

:15 just as it is written

They have listened to Peter’s reasoned arguments about how God had saved the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house without being circumcised.

They have listened to Paul and Barnabas’ testimonies of the miracles that God had done, without the Gentiles being circumcised.

Now comes the final and most important element of their decision – the Word.

James quotes from Amos 9:11-12.

(Am 9:11–12 NKJV) —11 “On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old; 12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” Says the Lord who does this thing.


Final authority

We have lots of things that help us make our decisions, and they’re not all bad.
For our nation, the Constitution is supposed to be one of our guiding documents that helps us make choices.
As Christians, the most important tool we have though is God’s Word.
David wrote,
(Ps 119:105 NKJV) Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
He also wrote,
(Ps 1:1–3 NKJV) —1 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
Paul wrote,
(2 Ti 3:16–17 NKJV) —16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
How important is it to you that you have a “Biblical world view”?
I think the truth of your response ought to be measure by the time you invest in learning and studying God’s Word.
I commend you who are here tonight for that very reason.

:18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.

:18 Known to God

In other words, there are no surprises with God. God has hints throughout the Scriptures about the Gentiles being saved.

:19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God,

:20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.

:21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

:19 Therefore I judge that …

It seems that James is the one making the final decision.

James is the leader of the church in Jerusalem.  I imagine that would make some Roman Catholics uncomfortable since it’s not Peter that’s deciding.

:20 idols … immorality … blood


Believer’s Restrictions

These are the only restrictions given to the Gentiles. 
It seems to me that in the context of this chapter, keeping these rules aren’t intended to bring salvation, but to keep people from stumbling. Salvation comes from God’s grace through faith. But it’s important that we be careful with the kinds of lives we live in order not to cause others from stumbling.

things polluted by idols

In ancient days, the cheapest meat you could purchase could be found at the meat market located behind your local pagan temple – like “Aphrodite’s Alpha Beta”.
The pagan priests would sacrifice the animals dedicated to the gods, and then resell the meat in the local market.
The problem with this for some people was that they considered this meat to belong to that “god”, as if you are honoring Aphrodite by eating her meat.
Even though Paul makes the case that there’s nothing inherently wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols, believers ought to avoid it so they don’t cause any of their newly converted Gentile friends to think they were still honoring the gods.
(Ro 14:14–15 NKJV) —14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

sexual immorality

As we have learned from the DirectTV commercials, one thing leads to another.
Play Don’t Wake Up In A Roadside Ditch commercial
There’s another way we can end up in a roadside ditch…
Play New Yorker Flirting commercial

What we often forget is that flirting leads to the ditch…

So much of our society today seems to be centered on sex.
Some of us even get to thinking that a little “flirting” never hurt anyone.
Some of us think that as long as I’m only “flirting” with images on my computer, there’s no harm, no foul.

Don’t be fooled.  You will end up in a ditch.

Watch that video one more time.  Note that EVERYONE who was flirting got into trouble.

Play New Yorker Flirting commercial

Sexual immorality is any kind of sexual activity outside the boundary of marriage.
Paul wrote,
(1 Co 6:18–20 NKJV) —18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

You have been purchased by a great price.  You belong to God.

strangled … blood

Though these might refer to two separate things, I think they are talking about the same issue.
The issue is about blood, not eating meat with the blood in it.
If an animal is killed by strangling it, then the animal’s blood is still in it.
Why is this an issue?
The reason comes from Leviticus:

(Le 17:10–11 NKJV) —10 ‘And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’

The life of an animal is represented by its blood.  The pouring out of blood during a sacrifice was a picture of pouring out the life of the animal.  The blood sprinkled on the altar was to be a picture of the animal giving its life as a substitution for you.
This blood picture was prophetic, getting us ready for what took place in the New Testament.
Peter writes,

(1 Pe 1:18–19 NKJV) —18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

At the last supper,

(Mt 26:27–28 NKJV) —27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

The Gentiles needed to be taught to honor the blood.

:21 For Moses has had …


Stumbling others       

These restrictions weren’t the requirements for salvation.
They were all about not causing the Jews living among the Gentiles to stumble.
While there’s a chance to reach the beloved Jewish people, James doesn’t want them turned away by the pagan practices of these Gentile Christians.
The church still considers themselves a “sect” of Judaism.
There are some areas in today’s society that seem to be a little on the gray side.
Movies, TV, alcohol, smoking
Some people are stumbled by various standards.  If you know a person is stumbled by it, why do it?  It’s not “walking in love” if you try to rub it in their face.
Paul wrote,
(Ro 14:15 NKJV) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
(1 Co 8:13 NKJV) Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

15:22-29 The Decree

:22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.

:22 to send chosen men …to Antioch

An official delegation is put together to help carry the decree of the council in Jerusalem.

If just Paul and Barnabas return with the decision, the Judaizers might accuse them of making up a story.

:22 Judas … Barsabas

He may have been also called “Joseph”, or was related to another Joseph …

(Ac 1:23 NKJV) And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

These were the two fellows who had been nominated to replace Judas Iscariot.

:22 Silas

Silas will one day be a traveling companion with Paul.

:23 They wrote this, letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.

:23 Syria

The area where Antioch was.

:23 Cilicia

The region where Tarsus is

:24 Since 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 such commandment—

:24 we gave no such commandment

They acknowledge that the Judaizers had been part of the church in Jerusalem, but the message they were carrying was their own message, not a message from the church.

:25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men 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 therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.

:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:

:29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

:28 it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us

The letter is short and sweet.

:29 no greater burden

There are groups today who teach that Christian must follow the Law of Moses.

It’s kind of strange since the early church has already settled the issue.

15:30-35  Antioch Ministry

:30 So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter.

:31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement.

:31 they rejoiced over its encouragement

They are filled with joy that they do not have to live under the burden of the Law of Moses.

I imagine that there were a few of the men who were glad they didn’t have to become circumcised.

:32 Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words.

A prophet is a person who speaks for God. God spoke through these men to encourage the church.

:33 And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles.

:34 However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there.

While Judas heads back to Jerusalem with the greetings from Antioch, Silas decides to stick around awhile.  That will be important in a minute.

:35 Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

15:36-41 Division over Mark

:36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.”

:36 Let us now go back

This second missionary trip was not originally planned to do anything more than just go back and visit the places they had already been to. God will have other plans.

:37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.

:37 John … Mark

John Mark is Barnabas’ cousin. (Col. 4:10)

(Col 4:10 NKJV) —10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him),

It was at John Mark’s mother’s house that Peter showed up when he was miraculously released from prison (Acts 12:12).

(Ac 12:12 NKJV) —12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

John Mark had initially travelled with Paul and Barnabas when they had first come back to Antioch after taking the offering to Jerusalem (Acts 12:25).

(Ac 12:25 NKJV) —25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.

He had been with Paul and Barnabas at the beginning of their first missionary journey, but had quit and gone back to Jerusalem after having gone through Cyprus with them. (Acts 13:13)

(Ac 13:13 NKJV) —13 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.

We were never told why he had left, only that he had left.

John Mark must have come back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas after the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

:38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.

:38 departedaphistemi – to make stand off; to excite to revolt; to desert; to fall away, become faithless; to shun, flee from

It’s not a very subtle word.  Paul has negative memories of John Mark “departing” on the last trip.  They were not pleasant memories.

:39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus;

:39 contention … sharpparoxusmos – (“paroxysm” (convulsion))  an inciting, incitement; irritation

from paroxuno – to make sharp; to irritate, provoke, arouse to anger; to exasperate

Play Krispy Kreme Fight clip again.

Remember the last “fight”?  The last “fight” (Acts 15:2) was over doctrine, the language hear sounds as if this particular “fight” was much more emotional.

:39 they parted from one another



Two mature Christian men, both considered “apostles”, both considered heroes of the faith, both called “beloved” by the leaders in Jerusalem.
They come to such a disagreement that they part ways.
We don’t know if they ever saw or worked with each other again.
Who was right?  Who was wrong?  Who was filled with the Spirit?  Who was being fleshly?
Both sides of the argument have merit.

Barnabas wanted to give John Mark a second chance.  That’s a good thing.

In the end Mark does become a very useful disciple, being a companion to Peter and writing the gospel of Mark.

Even Paul would say at the end of his life:

(2 Ti 4:11b NKJV) …Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.

Paul’s issue might have been that Mark was not mature and dependable enough for an important work like planting churches.

Spurgeon used to tell his pastoral students that if they could pursue any other profession, they ought to.

The ministry is extremely difficult, and people in the church don’t need leaders who flake out on them or abandon ship.

Over the years I’ve heard many opinions suggested about what happened here.
Some have said that “division is good” because now instead of one team travelling and sharing the gospel, there are two teams.
God does take our messes and work them for the good, but I don’t know that division is ever good.
We never hear from Barnabas again.

That doesn’t mean that he stopped serving the Lord.  We simply never hear of him again.

About the only accurate lesson I can think of from this passage is that division happens.
We’ve had church splits.  I remember feeling at the time that there was something wrong with us/me.  The truth is it’s a miracle if any two people get along for any period of time.


Unity is good

(Ps 133:1–3 NKJV) —1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing— Life forevermore.
Paul himself will write,
(Eph 4:1–3 NKJV) —1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

:40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.

:41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

:41 he went through Syria and Cilicia

While Barnabas heads to his homeland, the island of Cyprus, Paul heads towards his homeland, Tarsus (Cilicia), and on to the churches they planted in Galatia.