by Kim Starr
Prior to the passage we read today, some Jewish Christians had gone to Antioch and challenged the legitimacy of the Gentiles’ salvation. The Jewish Christians believed that God had promised a Messiah to the Jews only, so before the Gentiles could worship the Messiah, they had to convert to Judaism. Paul and Barnabas passionately argued with the Jewish Christians, so the Antioch church decided to send Paul, Barnabas, and some others to Jerusalem to see the apostles and the elders about the issue.
In Jerusalem, the apostles, elders, and James, the half-brother of Jesus, engage the Jewish Christians in the debate when Peter addresses the crowd reminding them that God told him specifically to preach the good news to the Gentiles and that, when the Gentiles heard and believed, God gave them the Holy Spirit, just as He had given the Holy Spirit to the Jews. Peter also reminds the crowd that the Jews had failed repeatedly at keeping the Mosaic law so, to burden the Gentiles with something at which the Jews had failed, was tantamount to testing God. Finally, he reminds them why the Messiah came: to die for the sins of ALL people.
James reinforces what Peter said and makes the point that God let it be known in the Old Testament prophets that Gentiles would join Jews in worshiping Him, being His people, and being called by His name. Consequently, no one should be surprised that Gentiles would want to follow the Jewish Messiah, and no one has the right to place burdens on the Gentiles for them to do so.
Unlike the debate that occurs in this passage, we do not need to think about who is allowed to believe in Jesus Christ or what hoops a person needs to jump through in order to believe. Praise be to God that all any of us have to do is believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that our sins are forgiven. It is grace that allows us to be children of God and that grace is available to everyone without restriction.
Dear Heavenly Father, from the beginning, you have had a plan for your people. Thank you for making that plan include not only Jews, but people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. Thank you for dying for the sins of all of us and for welcoming us into Your kingdom. Amen.