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Called By My Name

Date: 23July 2023

Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan

Sermon Text: Acts 15:1-35



23Jul23 Herald
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TRANSCRIPT

Introduction

Blessed Sunday to everyone here in Henderson and those who are tuning in online.

It was a very meaningful anniversary service last week where we were able to celebrate God’s goodness and grace towards Hermon with past and present Hermonites.


I pray that the reflections of our journey thus far would be a great encouragement for us as we look to the future. God has a purpose for Hermon as we embark on our 4th lap.


On 4 July 2023, I read an article in the Straits Times with the title - What’s holding back migrant integration in Singapore and ways to break the barriers.


“According to the author, our President highlighted in a recent speech, that it is paramount for new migrants to integrate into Singaporean society.


Left unaddressed, sentiments among Singaporeans that foreign talents play by different rules, and stick only to their own, may fester.


It was her observation that newer waves of migrants may not feel compelled to mix with the local population and instead maintain exclusive social networks among themselves has been a growing concern.


Failure to do so risks undermining our social cohesion and stability.


Earlier waves of migrants who arrived had little choice but to integrate with the local population due to their smaller numbers.


In the new millennium however, with a larger influx of migrants accompanying Singapore’s rapid economic development, migrants have found it easier to build their lives around close-knit migrant communities.”


Might this give us a feel to what the believers were experiencing in today’s text?


The church started out very Jewish. The church was made up of Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah.


Initially there were Gentiles who were God-fearers and they were a minority. But now the Gospel has spread to Antioch and even further afield.


The number of Gentile believers might even be outnumbering the Jewish Christians.


So as we desire new migrants to integrate into the Singaporean culture, so too, should Gentile Christians assimilate into the Jewish culture?


I bring up this illustration to help us possibly get a sense of what the Jewish Christians might be feeling.


I’m not saying that the men who came down from Judea and taught about circumcision were correct, but at least we can appreciate how difficult it was for the Jewish Christians.


In Acts 11:26, we note a significant statement – the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. Though it was initially coined by people not friendly to them, the believers I’m sure adopted this identification.


The question now is, what does it mean to be a Christian. How to be a Christ-follower.


The church in Jerusalem had sent Barnabas to affirm what was happening in Antioch. Now the church in Antioch was mature enough to even send Paul and Barnabas out on their first mission trip.


Singapore is only 50+ years old and we are feeling the tension of integration. The Jews have a history 100s of times longer than Singapore.


The church in Jerusalem and the church in Antioch were thus grappling with thousands of years of Jewish history. What does it now mean to be a Christian who believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah the son of God?


Acts has 28 chapters. So chapter 15 is right in the middle. It is I submit a pivotal chapter. It’s the formal stamp of endorsement that God is truly reaching out to the Gentiles.


It’s like I supposed how Hermon was established as an outreach in Telok Blangah, still under the umbrella of Mt Carmel.


Then Acts 15 is like Hermon getting the registration to be independent. We are formally now a registered local church in full and equal fellowship with Carmel and other BP churches.


Today’s sermon title is taken from v17. The Amos quote that James gave – all the Gentiles who are called by my name.


Christians are thus Jews and Gentiles who are called by Christ Jesus.


I’ve also used text from Acts 15 to title the 3 points of the sermon.


Let’s begin with the first point. For all who are called by my name, it means we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.


“We will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (v11)

What is the Gospel, what is the good news of salvation. Well Peter says in v11, whether you are a Jew or a Gentile it is the same.


Acts 15:11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”


So what was the issue that made Peter emphasize this?


Acts 15:1 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.”….. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

V1 tells us that men were coming from the mother church in Jerusalem. And they were saying, to be saved, not just believe that Jesus is the Messiah, you must also be circumcised.


And in v5 it is expanded. Not just circumcision but also to keep the full law of Moses.


Basically, they had to obey everything that has been written in the Torah. The first 5 books of our bible. Let me give you an example of circumcision from Leviticus:


Lev 12:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.


To add circumcision to salvation, today we would consider it Gospel-Plus. It means Jesus Christ is not sufficient. You need to add to Jesus for salvation.


Now we all know that you can be sincere but sincerely wrong.


At stake was not just assimilating into culture, at stake was the key to salvation. And so Paul and Barnabas took great effort to refute this wrong understanding.


They did it, so strongly that the church realized it was such a fundamental issue. So they decided that Paul and Barnabas needed to take this up with the Apostles and the Elders in Jerusalem.


Do such things still happen today? I’m afraid it still does.


There are some who teach that unless you have a baptism of the Holy Spirit your salvation is not fully complete. And to them it means that you have to speak in tongues.


I’ve also had someone tell me that unless they are married in their church under their priest, it will affect their salvation.


I’ve also attended a funeral whereby the person conducting it tells the family members, there is a need for donations so that the loved one soul will spend less time outside of heaven.


But the clear teaching of the bible is that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. And as the redeemed, when we are absent from the body, we will be immediately present with the Lord.


And so we thank God that the matter was robustly discussed by the whole church, led by the apostles and the elders (v6).


And then Luke records for us conclusions by 4 key persons. Besides the fact that they were heavy weights in the church, I submit that the authority of these 4 persons, was more importantly derived because they were in step with God the Holy Spirit.


And I submit this is what v28 implies:


Acts 15:28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements.

Firstly, Peter’s experience from v7-11 is a recall of Acts 10 and everything that happened at the home of Cornelius at Caesarea.


In Acts 11, Peter reported his experience to the Jerusalem church and Luke records the following:


Acts 11:17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Peter was privileged to experience the visible outworking of the Holy Spirit.


Secondly, Luke summarises in v12, how Barnabas and Paul exhibited signs and wonders which God did through them.


I hope everything in Acts 13 and 14 are fresh in our memories. And we have been told repeated that both Barnabas and Paul were filled with the Holy Spirit.


It was the Holy Spirit that said - set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them.


As we have realized, these signs and wonders were the evidence of God’s endorsement of them as His spokespersons.


And we have in Acts 13 also, Paul’s Spirit-inspired sermon about Jesus who is God’s promised Saviour, from the line of King David.


Finally, we have James, the half-brother of Jesus who is the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He wraps up the debate and pronounces the judgement on the issue.


He quotes from Amos 9:11-12 and alludes also to passages in Isaiah. That even the Prophets who spoke for God, has already predicted that God will be calling Gentiles to himself. And that Gentiles will be part of the tent of David.


Meaning that the new Israel will be made up of both Jews and Gentiles. And that Christians, followers of Christ will be the new Israel. This new Israel will be thus the church.


I submit, the Holy Spirit worked through these 4 men, helping them to affirm what Scripture is saying. Thus, James can say in the letter, it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.


After much discernment, through the Spirit and Scripture, we all agree that this is where God is leading us to conclude. Gentiles need not be circumcised and follow the full law of Moses to obtain salvation.


Church, what we have seen is the outworking of 2 Tim 3.


2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

15 centuries later, the principle is seen in action by Martin Luther during the Reformation.


Luther famously stood for the truth of Rom 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.


“Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen."


Church, distortions about the Gospel have continued through the ages and will continue to be present. Scripture teaches, salvation is through the grace of God for both the Jew and the Gentile.


May we thus guard against those from the outside who teach a Gospel-plus salvation and may we be vigilant against ourselves also adding to the gift of grace in the Gospel.


“Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (v7)

At the Jerusalem council, the first to speak at the end of the big church-wide discussion was Peter. I think it is very significant.


Not just because Peter was an Apostle and also considered the first amongst equals, but because of the background leading up to the council.


If we read the book of Acts, up to this point, Peter is quite prominent. After Acts 15, he departs from the picture and Paul becomes prominent.


To many it seems that Acts 2, Peter’s sermon at Pentecost is his finest hour. But may I submit for our consideration that here in Acts 15, this might also be his defining moment.


To understand why, we need to have the background from Galatians 2. Let me read it for all of us:


Gal 2:7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Many bible scholars have linked Gal 2 with the timing of Acts 11. And so, this very public rebuke by Paul towards Peter happened before the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.


Peter in the presence of Jewish believers from Jerusalem, withdrew his table fellowship from his Gentile brothers because of circumcision and other mosaic traditions.


After having been so publicly rebuked and called a hypocrite, is it not a defining moment for Peter to stand in the Jerusalem Council.


To then affirm that God has made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, for God has cleansed both their hearts by faith.


Would the church in Jerusalem know of this rebuke, surely so. Like Hermon today, such news will travel fast.


To me, Peter exemplifies a servant leader who is shaped by the Gospel. He leads not for himself, he leads to serve the flock. He leads not by his own understanding, he leads moulded by Scripture.


With Galatians 2 as the background, Peter finds himself considering the matter of circumcision and adherence to the law of Moses brought by Paul at the Jerusalem Council.


And he stands up and says ‘Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe’.


What humility we see in Apostle Peter. This is the heart of a disciple, a learner, a Christian.


Might I also say that Paul was also courageous to point out the inconsistencies in Peter’s behaviour that is linked to doctrinal error.

Church, in our family here in Hermon, I submit that sometimes we can be in the place of Peter and sometimes that of Paul. May we have the Spirit’s discernment to know our correct place.


“Encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words” (v32)

The judgement given by the Jerusalem Council was a momentous one. It was arrived at after much deliberation through the leading of the Spirit and Scripture.


As I mentioned last Sunday, repetition in Scripture is a sign of emphasis and one key thing we note is that this whole situation was based on their shared identity in the faith. The word ‘brothers’ is mentioned 8 times.

  • v1 - were teaching the brothers

  • v3 – brought great joy to all the brothers

  • v7 – Brothers, you know that in the early days

  • v13 - Brothers listen to me

  • v23 – The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles,

  • v32 – strengthen the brothers

  • v33 – sent off in peace by the brothers

This issue was contentious, yet, we see it was resolved in the spirit of kinship. Though I’m sure both sides of the debate had strong views, yet they still view themselves as siblings-in-Christ.


Every dialogue was peppered with the term of endearment – brother.


Might this be something we can model after when we discuss theological differences amongst ourselves?


Be it about the bible versions we use – KJV or ESV. Our thoughts on creation – literal 7 days or not. Our thoughts on the Charismatic gifts – have they totally ceases or can the Spirit still empower. Our thoughts on death rites – cremation or burial.


Because they deliberated as a spiritual family, we see that the church in Jerusalem sent along with Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch, 2 other leaders - Judas and Silas.


And Luke records that Judas and Silas spent time encouraging and strengthening the brothers with many words.


Again, I submit, the outworking of a healthy family environment is the desire for credible communication and also wanting the very best for others.


In the Jerusalem Council’s communique, in rejecting circumcision and the full adherence to the mosaic law, the council did ask them to abstain from 4 things.


Things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from what has been strangled and from blood.


Details of these things to abstain from can be found in Leviticus.


The question is why suddenly still have some restrictions.


Does it mean today, we can’t eat claypot liver which is tender and juicy because it is not fully cooked?


Or that beef can only be eaten when it is well-done? And if you go to the UK would you will be sinning against God if you ate blood sausages?


In the immediate context, some commentators have suggested it is to cater for the Jewish sensitivities since there is a desire for meal fellowship. And so v21 is to imply that these constrains are nothing new since the Torah is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.


I’m okay to accept this but I feel it is a secondary reason. I am persuaded that the primary reason is the reason for holiness. For all believers to be set apart from society.


In Leviticus, the reason why God had all these detailed instructions was because He was preparing them for entry into the land of Canaan.


Lev 18:1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. 3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4 You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God.

They are not to bring the practices of Egypt where they came from and they are not the adopt the practices of the Canaanites that they will go to.


Because God is holy, they are to be holy as well. They are to live differently from the society.


So, one commentator has offered that the 4 things which are mentioned by the Jerusalem Council can be tied to activities that are found in the pagan temple.


Therefore, salvation is by faith in Christ alone and at the same time, don’t participate in things that are associated with the pagan temple.


Basically, flee from idolatry.


Church, as Christians we believe we are to be in the world but not of the world. We live not by the world’s standards.


Instead, our hearts affections are to be guided by our love for God and obedience to His commands.


Since the world is in constant change, we need to also constantly help one another ascertain what holiness means in our context.


And since we are a sending church, we need to also work out what holiness means when we support our mission partners as well. Their context can be different from ours.


May Scripture encourage us to always endeavor to strengthen and encourage our fellow siblings-in-Christ towards holiness.


Conclusion

Acts 15:31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them.

Luke records for us that the church in Antioch received the judgement with rejoicing because of its encouragement. They rejoiced because they were fully accepted as equal members of Christ family.


They did not have to become Jewish.


Salvation for the Jews and the Gentiles are through the same means – faith in Jesus Christ.


And so we see that in their thankfulness, they sent Judas and Silas off in peace.


Chapter 15 started off with much tension but ended in peaceful harmony.


It was not unity at all costs. It was unity according to the Gospel.

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