Hello and welcome to Lechem Panim! I hope you are doing well and that this week you have experienced the nearness of Jesus Christ.
“Go Premium”-- As we begin, I want ask you today, how many of you have subscriptions to any service that have following that service the word “premium“ or “plus”? For a while now, I have made use of a program that is available to pastors free of charge. But you have to pay for their “pro“ version. It is one of those yearly subscription things. And as you are using that program there is this constant marketing interwoven throughout that shows you snippets of the content that could be available to you if you were to spring for the “pro” version. Well interestingly, our denomination recently decided to go ahead and purchase the “pro” versions for any pastor in our conference who would like it. And so I excitedly said yes and went through the process of having my account upgraded to their “pro” package. And I delightedly began to peruse the content that had previously been unavailable to me. But it was not long after this, as I was going through the content, that I came across a bit of material that I was interested in, but when I clicked on it it immediately said that this content was available not in the “pro” package but in the even more exalted “platinum” package. But that’s always how it is, isn’t it. Companies are very good at making you feel inferior with what you already have so that you will attach yourselves to them and have something that is supposedly better than what you had before. And this has always been the case, both in the world of physical goods, but also in the world of spiritual goods. There are sellers of physical things and their are sellers of spiritual things. And no matter what it is, there is always somebody trying to upsell you from the free version to the premium package. Well, this is what we see in a huge way here in Acts chapter 15. A massive number of Gentiles have been coming to faith in Jesus Christ and experiencing the free gift of salvation. But a number of the Jews (who I would like to point out were completely unauthorized by the Church) entered in among these Gentile converts and immediately began trying to sell them the “plus“ version of Christianity. If they truly wanted to be part of the program and have salvation, then they needed to subscribe to the full weight of the Jewish law; all the rules and regulations that were a part of the Jewish religious system. Now I cannot stress to you enough the importance of this issue in this chapter. Because here is hammered out the most significant doctrine in Christianity; the doctrine of salvation. This is without a doubt the most important doctrine, because you can be a little off in your understanding about the end times, what the gifts of God are and how they are to be used in the Church, and so on and so forth. But the doctrine of salvation (how we get to heaven); there is no room for error on that point. Because a wrong understanding of the doctrine of salvation can cost you eternity. And so in the coming weeks we will be carefully moving through this chapter, expounding what the church clearly recognized regarding the way all people (including Gentiles like most of us) are saved. Go ahead and look with me at first one of Acts 15. It reads…
Acts 15:1 (ESV) The Jerusalem Council-- 1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
The Primary Issue-- Now throughout the history of the church, often times church leaders have gathered in order to settle doctrinal issues. And in fact historians recognize seven major councils that met during the first several centuries of the Church. And you are perhaps familiar with some of the most significant ones, such as the Councils of Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451), which met in order to confront and condemn false teachings about the person and nature of Jesus Christ and to clearly define what the Bible actually teaches about Him. But as important as these councils were, none were as significant or important as this first one that we find in our chapter today because it answered the most important question that could ever be asked: What must a person do to be saved?
Jesus Plus Something-- Now these Judaizers said that in order to be saved, you needed Jesus plus circumcision. Jesus + Circumcision = Salvation. Now many of our men nowadays have been circumcised whether or not we wanted to be when we were very young; and so for most of us, this may seem like a discussion that doesn’t really matter to us. But it does in fact matter a great deal because what we are talking about is more than just circumcision. No, we are talking about what it is that saves us. Is it faith in Jesus alone or is it Jesus plus something else? I guarantee that most of you have heard at least one person say in and through the course of your life “You need to be baptized to be saved.” That’s a little rough on the thief on the cross, who never got that opportunity. Or you might have heard somebody say “You need to go to Church every week” or “You must complete catechism” or “You must do….” any number of things. Now all those things might be beneficial (as many traditions of the Jews are); but the question is whether or not those things save you.
Become Jews?-- I myself am fascinated by Jewish traditions and culture. I believe that there is a wealth of treasures that remain untapped by many of us Westerners that could breath so much depth into our Christian walk if we only new better the Jewish roots of our faith; and that’s a large part of what this show (Lechem Panim) is about. To participate in many of the traditions of the Jews (like Passover; like the feast of Purim) is actually to visually live out the history of our faith. However, I am very wary of anyone who (having filled their minds with that depth of understanding, then fails to distinguish between what can complement your salvation from what gives you salvation). And some even go so far as to at least imply (if not outright say) that we must become Jews in how we live our lives if we are going to share in salvation. THAT is the heresy that was at this time starting to creep into the Church and needed to be confronted. The central question is: Do I need Jesus or do I need Jesus plus…?
The Fulfillment of Judaism-- Now one thing we need to grasp if we are to understand the mindset of these Judaizers (men who sought to make Jews of others) is the fact that they (like all the early Christians) saw Christianity not as a separate religion from Judaism, but as a fulfillment of Judaism. Christianity was the climax of a process that had begun thousands of years prior. And so for a Gentile to kind of squeeze in for the end result (not having to go through the process they as Jews had gone through) was a real difficulty for them. Now they were willing to receive a comparatively small group of Samaritans into the Church. And they even allowed Cornelius (a Roman) to somehow squeeze in, though it is doubtful they really understood what that was all about. But it is one thing to allow a few Gentiles to squeeze in and quite another to go galavanting all over the Mediterranean world seeking out and bringing multitudes of Gentiles into the Church. That was something that was (in the minds of many Jewish Christians) completely unacceptable.
Unfair?-- Now it may surprise you, but I actually sympathize a lot with the Judaizers on this; and I think you will too as we proceed through the text. I don’t agree with them, but I know where they are coming from. These were men and women who (all their lives) had strived in the best way they knew how to do everything right. Most had grown up under very very strict rules and had said “no” to a great many things. And to see these Gentiles now be openly received as equal sharers in the salvation of God was profoundly disturbing to them. Why should Gentiles share in our inheritance?
The Prodigal-- They were like the other son in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, who watched as his brother rebelled against their father, took much of their wealth and then went to the city and squandered it all on wild living. And then that son comes back and instead of facing judgment, the father receives him with open arms and receives him right back into the home. And he clothes him with a robe, puts a ring on his finger, and then shoes for his feet; and not only that, THEN HE THROWS A PARTY FOR HIM!!!! A party in which the father serves the fattened calf (the best calf)! And you will remember the other son (the son who had not run off) comes in from the field and hears the dancing and the music and (after inquiring about it and hearing the explanation) can’t believe it and refuses to join the party. And so the father goes out to him where he is sulking and entreats him to come in. But it says…
Luke 15:29-32— 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
The Son Who Stayed-- Now you and I have heard many sermons preached about the sinful son who left. But what about the self-righteous son who stayed? We rarely focus (maybe mention but rarely focus) on this second part of the story. But it is this part of the story that I think may in fact be the most important for the Jews listening to Jesus to hear. Because Jesus knew (and of course it was always his intention) that the unclean, lawless Gentiles might be allowed into the family of God. Because ultimately (and here’s the thrust of it) God is their Father too just as much as He is of the Jew. And as their Father, God loves and desires that they also might know His salvation.
A Happy Ending-- Now (spoiler alert) this story has a wonderful ending. The Church does come to unite around the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone and does not become yet another works-based religion. And we will see how all this unfolded in the coming weeks. But I want to leave you today with all that Jesus requires of you to be saved. It is found in…
Romans 10:8-13 (ESV)-- 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Call Upon Jesus-- If you haven’t done so yet, call upon Jesus in faith and ask Him to be the Lord of your life. And you will be saved. And He will be all you ever need; no plus required. Call upon Him today. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.