How Jewish Should a Christian Be? #2

Hi all,

Last week I mentioned that even 10 years after Pentecost, if you were born a Gentile and wanted to know the God of Israel, you had to become Jewish. They are called proselytes in scripture, including Acts 2: 10, 6:5, & 13:43.


But when Peter was sent by the Lord to the Roman Centurion’s household (Cornelius) the Jews with him were ‘astonished’ that they received the Holy Spirit in the exact same way THEY did* – God included Gentiles in the plan of salvation without them having to become Jewish to do so - Peter and those with him had no idea until that moment. Look at their surprise: “Then God has also granted the Gentiles repentance unto eternal life!” Acts 11:18 *Acts 10:44-45


Enter Paul

At that point of revelation, that God had included Gentiles in the plan of salvation without them having to become Jewish to do so, their thinking was still rather inwardly focused. IF a Gentile wanted to know the God of Israel it was the exception to the rule, after all, it was God who initiated the contact with Cornelius and the Romans, not them – their efforts were still to the Jews – if a Gentile came to the Lord it was okay, part of the overflow, but not their focus.


When the Lord appeared to Paul outside Damascus it changed everything. Jesus told him He was called to the Gentiles^. This Paul was a Pharisee*, trained under the noted teacher Gamaliel**, and was called to go out from the Jewish nation to bring non-Jews to Jesus. And Jesus didn’t say they had to become Jewish to gain salvation. ^Acts 26:16-18, *Philippians 3:5, **Acts 5:34, 22:3


When Paul set out on what we call his first journey, it was to the Gentiles. As recorded in Acts 13:1-4 a group of 5 men were praying, including Paul and Barnabus, and the Holy Spirit spoke through one or more of them to send those two out – thus began the traveling ministry of Paul, as recorded in Acts 13.


Paul’s first trip only lasted through chapter 14, and they returned to where they started, Antioch.


The confrontation 

Acts 14 ends with Paul and Barnabas returning to Antioch, and it says they ‘stayed a long time with the disciples’ . There they shared with the (Gentile) believers the amazing things the Lord had done among the Gentiles elsewhere in the Roman Empire. It was a friendly audience obviously, as he was talking to Gentiles about Gentiles and what God was doing in their midst.


Let me interject this observation that is valid for us in house church. Notice the focus of Paul and Barnabas on sharing what God was doing in their midst. When we get together it is to celebrate and share what God is doing in our hearts, in our midst, as Paul and Barnabas did above.


House church meetings are NOT the time to focus on the differences, but rather to concentrate on what we have in common. Differences of opinions like pre-trib rapture or no rapture or other differences of opinion on ‘pet’ doctrines have no place being argued about in a house church meeting. NO one should be trying to win over those in house church to their particular belief – we are there to further our walk with Him by celebrating what He is doing in our midst, what we have in common. The word ‘fellowship’ is koinonia, which means ‘common’ or ‘what we have in common’. Stay with that. As Acts 2:42 says: The apostles’ (not our own) teaching, fellowship, food, prayer. Simple.


We celebrate as Paul did, what God is doing, what we have in common. The other things are peripheral and have little to do with walking with the Father and Lord on a day to day basis, so they are left at the door in favor of what we have in common and the process of discipleship in the character of Christ.


Back to our regularly scheduled program, lol

Things were about to change for Paul and Barnabus  Acts 15 opens: “And certain men came down (to Antioch) from Judea teaching the brethren, unless you are circumcised according to the law of Moses, you can’t be saved. When Paul and Barnabas had no small disputing and arguing with them…they decided to go to Jerusalem to discuss this with the apostles and elders…”


Acts 15:5 states it right out, so don’t let anyone tell you as some do that the discussion wasn’t about obeying the law of Moses: “But there rose up certain sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, that it was needful to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”


Acts 15, the decision was made for us all

As the discussion went back and forth the issue centered on the fact they could not deny God was saving Gentiles, it was just a matter of how Jewish should they become, if at all? Peter (finally) stood up and said this:


“Men and brethren, you know how some time ago God chose me to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Cornelius’ house, Acts 10). And He, knowing their hearts, gave them the Holy Spirit just as He did with us, putting no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” v7-8


THAT is the difference that caused Peter’s testimony to rise above the rest. The whole argument was about what man had done or what man should do – obey the law of Moses or not? Follow the customs of the Jewish fathers or not? But Peter’s argument rose above the rest because He got their eyes off themselves and said “God made the choice…God knew their hearts and gave them the Holy Spirit exactly like He did with us. God put no difference between them and us.”


We should always default to look first to what God is doing in someone’s heart and work with that, rather than us coming in from the outside with preconceived ideas on what that person should do – look first to what God is doing, and follow His lead. That is what Peter is asking them to do here.


And flowing from that revelation…

Flowing from the fact God Himself had done it, he asked “Why are you then temping God, to put a yoke upon the disciples which neither our fathers nor us were able to bear?” The yoke being the Old Testament law with their 613 commands – He said it would be tempting God to put that requirement on people since they already had the Holy Spirit.


Peter called the term for the law being a yoke from the lips of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 who was speaking of the religious burdens placed on the people by the leaders:


“Come to me all you work hard and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. (Salvation is being at rest, at peace with God, no effort on our part to receive). Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Notice Jesus said to take His yoke and learn of Him. This identifies the yoke as a teacher – the Holy Spirit, the teacher, the comforter. A yoke is something in which 2 animals are linked side by side to do a work – a picture of us and the Holy Spirit together to do a work in the Lord. NOT yoked with rules and regulations of the OT Law.


It is with the Holy Spirit we find rest for our souls – this is not salvation, but the soul that Jesus is talking about – our emotions, thoughts, minds, feelings. We will find rest for our emotions with the Holy Spirit teaching us of the meekness and lowliness of Jesus. THAT burden and yoke is light.


That is where Peter got that phrase – and many if not most of those around him that day heard that from Jesus directly as did Peter, so immediately they knew to what he was referring. The contrast was stark: The yoke of Jesus and the Holy Spirit which leads to rest for our emotions and minds, or the yoke of the Old Testament law which neither the Jewish fathers nor the apostles were able to bear. This distinction would later be made by Paul in his letter to the Galatians when he asked in chapter 3 if God did miracles in their lives by the Spirit or by the Law. That is the question before us.


And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week - who do you want to be yoked together with, the Law or the Holy Spirit? It’s one or the other…blessings,

John Fenn

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