Sunday, May 12, 2013

Did the new Christians observe the law?

I am persisting with my subject (Law), due to the blessing it has brought me in recent weeks.

 Acts 1 restates the authority of the  Father in all matters of the kingdom. I see this in contrast to the scribes and Pharisees, and other militant Jews who used the Old Testament to further their hopes of Jewish nationhood.
Chapter 3.20,21 . The restitution of all things, rests in the acceptance of the Lord  they had rejected, who is now risen and exalted in glory.

Chapter 10 is most significant as God goes beyond the narrow mindedness of the Jews, to embrace the Gentiles. It is wonderful the way God 'compelled' a prominent Jewish believer(Peter) to be the instrument of bringing Jew and Gentile together. This caused much discussion, and eventually a pharaseeical party  began teaching that the gentiles must be circumcised to be saved. And so the Acts 15 conference was convened.

Chapter 13 Paul in his address to the synagogue at  Antioch makes an interesting statement at the end - " through this man (instead of animal sacrifices) is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. and by Him all who believe are justified (hardly an OT word) from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" What was he referring to?? Did the all things include sins of commission ( the sacrifices covered sins of ignorance) Well it is obviously something surpassing the law!

Acts 15 is a crisis conference of great importance. Some converts from Judaism wanted to enforce Moses's law for all converts to Christianity. In effect they wanted gentile believers to be redirected Jews. Act10 created a problem (Peter preaching to Gentiles) and the preaching of Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles created a bigger problem. Even today when conflict arises, many contract into a rigid group that enforces more rules, enabling them to treat others as inferiors! Thankfully the Apostles by the Holy Spirit saw God doing a different thing - gathering a people together for His name among all nations. Please note the statements by Peter:
1. God chose Peter to  reach out to the gentiles in a way much like Pentecost. Peter describes it as God at work.
2  Cleansing of the heart was by faith.
3  v10  Peter describes the law as "a burden which neither we nor our fathers could bear"! Why expect the gentile to try?
4 v11 is put so beautifully  - salvation for the Jew will be on the same basis of the same grace shown to the gentiles. If I was speaking I would have reversed it i.e. the gentiles would be saved like us Jews, but Peter puts it so distinctly - saved by grace for all!

Verse 14 James confirms the remarks of Peter and then quotes scripture to show God's intention to embrace the Gentile believers. It may have remained in some Jewish minds that Israel as a nation would de restored.
Verse 18 is an eloquent expression of God's operations independent of human design i.e. ' the gentiles who are called by my Name' God calls where and when and who He may choose!
Verse 20 The conclusion of James and the letter written was not so much a victory for Paul and Barnabas  but rather a relief that the Gospel of grace might abound to the many other sheep for whom Christ had died.
         A few restrictions imposed were appropriate for 'good conscience' living - separation from idols, appropriate human social behaviour, and one health rule that would honour God. James concludes with an interesting comment - that the reading of the law and prophets was available in all cities for any that would learn more. (as we maintain that although we are not under law, we can still be blessed by reading and understanding it!)

Acts 17 is a masterpiece of preaching to a Gentile audience - I note their is no reference to the law as a means of life nor the measure of judgement.

Acts 20.21 This summary of Paul' teaching distinctly leaves out any reference to law keeping

Acts  21:17-26 What shall we make of these verses?  It appears the converted Jews were continuing under law and the Gentiles without law. So what was Paul to do. Well it seems that he tried to fit in with the 'two peoples' system, but God had other plans and instead gave him (Paul) a free ticket to Rome. There he  would preach the Gospel of free grace before governors, rulers and kings (howbeit as a prisoner).

I trust you are impressed with Acts as "God at work"

J.Mckee      Comments welcome

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