November 15, 2020
THE RESULTS OF PENTECOST XX HOW CAN SOMETHING SO GOOD BE FREE
Acts 15: 1-11
I am going to attempt to tackle a controversial problem that we hear a lot about these days. I cannot say that by my adding more attention to this topic will make it any better. It is a topic that it seems no matter what you may say about it, the words are never right. Someone will take offence. I hear all the time that because I am a white man, I must be racist. What it seems to me is that those who scream the most that I am a racist are the most racist of all. I have lived 65 years and I do not know everything and about the time I think that I have heard everything something else is said. Now I am being told that not only am I a racist, but I am also a systemic racist. What does that mean? For 64 years I was only a racist, but over the last year or so they have labeled me a “systemic racist”. I do not feel that I am racist, but I am sure someone that does not know me thinks that I am.
There are 28 chapters in the book of Acts and chapter 15, right in the middle of the Book, is a pivotal point in the Acts of the early Apostles. From the Ascension of Jesus back into Heaven, to the coming of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, to the evangelism of Phillip to the Samaritans, to the first missionary journey of Paul a lot of wonderful things have happened; chief among these happenings is the salvation of multitudes and the establishment of Churches throughout a huge area of the Roman Empire. Most of these churches and new converts were Gentiles. What we find in the 15th chapter of Acts is a pivotal point in the thinking of the disciples. Although this was 2000 years ago, the decision made here at what is known as the Jerusalem Council is the reason that we are here today worshipping like we do. If the disciples had not decided to do what they did the church as we know it would not exist. Now one could argue that prophecy of Jesus to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles would have been accomplished one way or another because, what Jesus says will happen, will happen, with or without our cooperation.
Jesus had told the disciples that they would take the Gospel to Judea and Jerusalem which was being done by James, Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples. He also said that the Gospel would be taken to the Samaria which was being accomplished by Phillip as he preached the Resurrection of Jesus thorough out the area of Samaria, now the third part of Jesus’ prophecy was being accomplished by Paul and Barnabas as they delivered the Resurrection message to the “ends of the earth” or the Gentiles. The idea that the “ends of the earth” Jesus was talking about is the Gentiles is found in Acts 13:47. Paul says, ‘For the Lord has commanded us: I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth’” The Gentiles lived in what the disciples considered the ends of the earth. Jesus when He said this of course He meant that the Gospel would be preached to every corner of the world and it has. I think the disciples related this “end of the earth to the Gentiles”. Who are all these people that Jesus is talking about? First the Jews were the people that were of Jesus’ decent they lived mostly in Jerusalem and Judea. The Gospel was being brought to them. Second were the Samaritans. The Samaritans were considered by the Jews to be half Jew and half other nationalities, mostly Assyrian. Just as Jesus said the Gospel was being preached to them. Then third there were the Gentiles. Who are these Gentiles? Well to the Disciples they seemed to be considered the “ends of the earth”. A Gentile simply means someone who is not a Jew. This is you and me. We are the “ends of the earth”. When it is used like this it has a prejudice sounding connotation. When the Disciples used the term, Gentile, it sounds like they thought they were better than everybody else. Well, the truth is this is the way they thought. The Jews considered themselves the “chosen people of God”, everyone else were heathens. You think prejudice is bad now it was much worse in days of the Apostles.
Prejudice has been around a long, long time and it is not going to go away until we get to Heaven. Prejudice is not a sin of just one society. It exist among all nationalities and even within the same nationalities. I now live in Missouri and though I have lived most of my life in Arkansas I now have a problem with you Ar-Kansas people. For one thing, none of you can drive. Of course, I am just joking, but maybe you get my meaning. I have a friend named Able and he is from Mexico. I hired him to help us with the large Hispanic trade that we had, because no one could speak the Spanish language. I come to find out through Able that different areas of Mexico have different language accents and dialogue. There were times when Able would have difficulty understanding exactly what someone from a different area of Mexico than he was from was saying. He also told me that different areas of Mexico may not necessarily like the people from another area in Mexico. Prejudice exist everywhere and among all people and in all nations. We are all Americans, but we may have a little prejudice against our brothers up north and they probably have a little prejudice against us. I am not saying that prejudice cannot be overcome, in fact I am saying quite the opposite. And the way we overcome prejudice is when we find that we have common ground.
Here we see in this Bible story that some of the new Jewish converts had prejudice against the Gentiles. A group within the church came to Jerusalem and brought their complaint as to how the Gentiles were being brought into the Kingdom. They thought that they should be like them and keep the Old Testament Laws and especially that of circumcision. This is that group that I told you about last week that are willing to accept the Gospel so long as it conforms to what they already believe. Their argument was that if the Gentiles are going to be a part of this new movement then they will have to become just like them. They must conform to the Jewish laws and customs. Paul and Barnabas said, “wait a minute; this is not right”. There was a big argument (15:2), so they took this argument to the big guys in Jerusalem, James and Peter and John and rest of the Disciples. What Peter declares opens the door to the explosion of the Church around the world. The decision that is made by the Jerusalem Council releases the power of the Holy Spirit to go throughout the entire world and bring anyone who will believe to a saving relationship with God.
Here is what Peter said, “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. So, God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” Here is common ground. Peter had overcome his prejudice toward the Gentiles because he understood that God loved everyone the same and wants the whole world to be saved. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son…” We used to sing a little song and it went, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black or white they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Peter makes it clear that if the Holy Spirit has made no distinction between us and them then we cannot make a distinction either. Salvation is for anyone who will accept it. Salvation through Jesus Christ is common ground that will tear down the walls of prejudice. It may be the only thing. The first thing that the disciples decided at this first Jerusalem Council was that the Gospel was for anyone who would accept it.
Along with this decision that Jesus brought the Good News of Salvation to the whole world and not just one group, they also decided that this was a gift and it could not be bought or obtained by keeping laws and rituals from the past. They declared the only way that Salvation could be obtained is by freely accepting it.
How could something this good be free? You mean that Jesus is going to forgive me of my sins, restore a right relationship with me to the Heavenly Father, is going to give me eternal life in a Heaven that He is building for me, probably give me a mansion, give me a robe and a crown, give me a new glorified body, and until I die he is going to give me an abundant life full of joy while I am on this earth and all this free? All I have to do is accept it? How could something this good be free?
Not too long ago we were invited up to Joplin to a steak restaurant called Texas Road House, boy was that steak good. I was hungry which maybe made it taste even better. After I was finished, I remember sitting back and taking a big sigh, I thought how good that was. Then to top it off the person that invited me paid for the meal. I thought, how good was that and it was free.
How could something so good as the Good News of Salvation be free? Well, Jesus paid the tab.
There are a lot of free gifts that come along with Salvation. There is a new body, a heaven, a mansion, eternal life. All these things are gifts down the road that come after this life is over, but there is an immediate gift that you get in this life. I like to call it “the abundant life” gift. When you find Jesus as your Savior you not only get eternal life you get an abundant life here and now. He changes this life of no hope and no joy; of gloom and despair, to a life filled with glory and fulfillment and abundance. You do not have to wait until you die for your life to be filled with joy, Jesus even makes this life a life of glory.
One day Jesus stopped at a well, Jacobs Well. He was weary and thirsty. There was a Samaritan woman there. You must keep in mind that the Jews and the Samaritans did not associate with each other. Jesus asked her if she would give Him a drink. She was surprised that He had asked her for a drink or that He would even talk to her. Jesus told her about the Gospel in a way that she would understand. He told her that if she would accept it that He would give her a water that was good that once you drink it you will never thirst again. He said this water is “like a well of water springing up into eternal life”. After she met Jesus she went and told everyone that she knew what had happened.
There are many glorious things that happen when you accept Jesus. One of those things that happens is you want to tell other people what has happened to you. This is the reason I preach, this is reason there are millions of churches, this is the reason there are missionaries all around the world, this is the reason the Gospel cannot be stopped. It does not matter if you never liked a person before, you will find a reason to love them when you find the love of Jesus in your heart. All of a sudden there is common ground between you and all the people that you never would associate with before