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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART TWENTY-TWO

SERMON DELIVERED ON 12-08-18

 

       Last week we left Paul and Barnabas speaking to both Jews and Gentiles in the synagogue at Iconium.  We discussed a little of the history of synagogue worship and noted that the Gentiles attending synagogue were proselytes which means they were in the process of embracing the Jewish faith.

       We saw there were two kinds of proselytes in evidence at the time.  There was the “proselyte of righteousness” who was a proselyte who became circumcised and required to keep the entire Law of Moses.  Secondly, there was the “proselyte of the gate.”  This type of proselyte was not required to be circumcised and keep the whole Mosaic Law but only certain aspects of the Law.

       I showed how Paul, though largely thought of as the Apostle to the Gentiles, preached to both Jews and Gentiles throughout his ministry.  I also showed that many of the Gentiles Paul initially preached too were proselytes of Judaism. We concluded last time with an extensive discussion of the Greek word ekklesia which is commonly translated “church” in the NT narrative.

       Returning now to Acts 14 we will pick up were we left off with Paul and Barnabas preaching to both Jews and Gentiles in the Jewish synagogue located in Iconium. It is recorded that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.  However, there were Jews who refused to believe and who did their best to turn Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas persisted however and it’s recorded they spent considerable time in Iconium preaching the Good News.  It’s recorded that their message was confirmed by miraculous signs and wonders.  Apparently this wasn’t enough to prevent their having to flee the city.

       Acts 14:4-7: The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.

       Here we find the often repeated occurrence of a rebel group making enough noise to discredit someone even though that someone has done a lot of good and has gained a number of followers. As mentioned, it is recorded that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed the message brought by Paul and Barnabas. Miraculous signs and wonders were performed.  Yet all it took was a group of dissidents to muddy the water and create enough doubt to necessitate Paul and Barnabas having to escape for their lives.

       We have seen throughout human history that the mob effect can have devastating results.  Logic, objectivity, and common sense are often tossed to the wind as people get caught up in the rhetoric of leaders pushing an agenda. We certainly witnessed a lot of that during the recent mid-term elections.  Living as we do in a world with such diversity of thought on just about everything, it is important we as much as possible do all we can to separate sense from nonsense. I always try to keep that principle in mind as I go about my daily routine. 

       While Paul and Barnabas were preaching in Lystra, they came across a man who was crippled in his feet.  He was lame from birth and had never walked.  As this man was listening to Paul speak, Paul looked directly at him and saw that he had faith to be healed and proceeded to facilitate his healing.

       Acts 14:9: He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

       It is said this man had faith to be healed.  He must have learned from listening to Paul and Barnabas that physical healing was available through Christ.  Maybe he was aware of the miraculous signs and wonders that were performed in Iconium. Somehow Paul perceived this man believed he could be healed and Paul facilitated the healing. What followed is very interesting.

       Acts 14:11-When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!"   Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

       Here we have an example of Paul and Barnabas being confronted not by Gentile proselytes to Judaism but by pagan Gentiles who worshiped Greek and Roman gods.  This necessitated a swift reaction from Paul and Barnabas and they seizing on the opportunity, preached to these pagans that they are to turn from worshiping false gods and begin worshipping the one and only true God. What happened next is instructive.

       It is recorded that some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over against Paul and Barnabas and they stoned Paul. Now the crowd spoken of here are pagan Gentles.  They were worshiping pagan gods.  These weren’t Jews.  Yet Jews came from Antioch and Iconium to discredit Paul and Barnabas before pagan Gentiles and were so successful in doing so it led to the stoning of Paul.  It’s apparent from this account that the dissident Jews were so vehemently opposed to the message Paul and Barnabas were preaching that they were going out of their way to prevent even pagans from believing the message.  The dissident Jews were out to do all they could to prevent the Christian church from getting a foothold among both Jews and Gentiles.

       Well Paul survived the stoning and the next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe where they preached the good news and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch where it is recorded they strengthened the disciples and encouraged them to remain true to the faith. We can trace their journey on the map.

 

       As they visited churches in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, they appointed elders in each church and after going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch.  On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.  Chapter 14 ends with it being recorded that they stayed in Antioch a long time with the disciples there.  We now move to chapter 15.

       Acts 15:1-2: Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

       It is apparent that the men who came from Judea to Antioch were believers. They appear to be Jewish converts to Christianity who believed in order to receive salvation through Christ, the Mosaic regulation of circumcism had to be kept and by implication the entire Law of Moses. As covered earlier in this series, Jewish converts to Christianity didn’t suddenly stop keeping the Mosaic regulations, they simple added salvation through the Christ event to their existing Jewish belief system. 

       It is apparent that Paul and Barnabas had by now overseen the conversion of many Gentiles to Christianity and they were not teaching that these Gentiles had to keep the Mosaic regulations to be saved. This is born out by the fact that Paul and Barnabas had sharp dispute and strong debate with the men from Judea who were making the claim that one must keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved.  To clear the matter up, it was decided Paul and Barnabas and some other believers travel to Jerusalem to see the Church leadership about this matter.  Once in Jerusalem they are confronted by believers who were of the religious party of the Pharisees.  What makes this event more interesting is that Paul had been a Pharisee and may still have had an association with this group.

       Acts 15:5: Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses."

       Before we discuss anything further about the issue Paul and Barnabas were confronted with, we need to make sure we understand what exactly it is that is called the Law of Moses.

The Law of Moses

       The term “the Law of Moses” is found 13 times in the Hebrews Scriptures and 8 times in the Greek Scriptures. To properly understand the dynamics involved here, it is important we examine exactly what it is that was called the Law of Moses. Was The Law of Moses just another name for The Law of God?  If so, why was it called the “The Law of Moses?”  Why not simply call it the Law of God?  After all isn’t God the one who gave this Law to Moses? 

      We know from OT history that God gave a great deal of Law to Moses.  God spoke the the Ten Commandments to Israel as recorded in Exodus 20 and wrote them on two tablets of stone at Mount Sinai which he gave to Moses as recorded in Deuteronomy 5. The first of these Commandants prohibited Israel from having any God in place of YHWH God. This was followed by commands against making and worshiping idol gods and misusing YHWH's name. The fourth Commandment orders Israel to keep a Sabbath rest.  This command appears at least in part to be a response to what Israel had to endure while in Egyptian slavery where they probably had to work seven days a week.

       Deuteronomy 5:15: Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

       The remaining six commands have to do with interpersonal relationships with prohibitions against dishonoring parents, murder, adultery, thief, false testimony and covetousness. 

       In Exodus chapters 21 through 23, we see a great deal of additional law given to Moses in the form of rules and regulations pertaining to every aspect of Israelite life. Beginning in Exodus 25 through chapter 40, we see much additional instruction given to Moses regarding sacrifices, the building of a tabernacle and the selecting of a Priesthood including what they would wear and how they would function. We see instruction about the Sabbath and annual Feast Days.  In Deuteronomy and Leviticus we see more law given by God to Moses including dietary regulations, sexual conduct directives and more instruction about keeping annual occasions called Feasts of the Lord.

      This is all law that was given by God to Moses.  Because this massive amount of Law is seen as being given to Moses who then becomes the administrator of this Law among the people, it simply came to be known as the Law of Moses even thought it came from God and was in reality is the Law of God.

       This great body of Law is first mentioned as The Law of Moses in Joshua 8:31. It is recorded that Joshua built an alter to the Lord according to the specifications found “in the book of the Law of Moses.”  Then, in the presence of the Israelites, he copied on stone the Law of Moses which he (Moses) had written.  Following this, Joshua read to the people all the words found in the Book of the Law.

       Joshua 8:34-35.  Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law--the blessings and the curses--just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them.

       It is recorded that Joshua read every single word of what Moses had commanded.  We find in Deuteronomy 31:24 that shortly before his death, Moses wrote in a book the words of the law from beginning to end. It would appear from what we have seen thus far, The Law of Moses includes every rule and regulation God had ever given to Moses.  This would include the Ten Commandments, dietary regulations, Feast Days and every other rule God gave to Israel through Moses.

       1 Kings 2:1-3: When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. "I am about to go the way of all the earth," he said. "So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.

       Here we see included in the Law of Moses the decrees, commands, laws and requirements God mandated for Israel, This is a rather all inclusive statement regarding the Law. While it is stated that these laws are requirements of God, they still are seen as the Law of Moses. During the time of Nehemiah, we see the Book of the Law of Moses brought to the people and apparently read in its entirety.

       Nehemiah 8:1-3: All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate….and all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

       The Water Gate led down to the Gihon Spring which was located adjacent to the Kidron Valley

       Nehemiah 8:13-14:  On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law.  They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month.

       So here we find that the feast of the seventh month, what was called the Feast of Tabernacles, was part of the Law of Moses. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that all the other feast days recorded in Leviticus 23 were also part of the Law of Moses. In Luke 24, we see Jesus, after His resurrection, telling His disciples the following:

       Luke 24:44:  He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."

        The phrase, “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" has always been understood as identifying the tree-fold division of the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Law of Moses refers to the Pentateuch which is the first five books of the OT.  While not everything in these five books has to do with the Law, it certainly does include the entire Law given to Moses by God, including the Ten Commandments.      

       Exodus 34:27-28: Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant--the Ten Commandments.

       Deuteronomy 4:13-14: He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

       It should be apparent that the Law of Moses included all sacrificial law, ceremonial law, dietary law and worship law.  It included the keeping of the Sabbath and annual Feast Days.  It included moral law as seen in the Ten Commandants and the many civil laws. This was a complete package of law that made up the covenant God made with Israel.  When God entered into a covenant relationship with Israel we see it is the Law given to Moses that spelled out the terms of the Covenant. 

       The Greek Scriptures clearly show that the covenant made with Israel was being replaced with a new covenant.  A covenant is an agreement defined by rules and regulations which become the terms of the covenant.  When such covenant is dissolved, the terms that defined such covenant are also dissolved.  If a new covenant is established, such new covenant will have its own rules and regulations defining the terms of such covenant.

       The terms of the Old Covenant were defined by the Law of Moses. When the Old Covenant was terminated so where the terms that made up that covenant.  It must be understood, however, that rules and regulations that make up the terms of one covenant can be used to make up the terms of a different covenant. When looking at the Old and New Covenants made with Israel, we must determine what rules and regulations of the Old Covenant were transferred from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant and which rules and regulations were not transferred.

       Both covenants under consideration were designed to engender a positive relationship with God.  Under the Old Covenant the pathway to accomplish this relationship with God was to carefully observe moral and ceremonial law which included many worship regulations. Under the New Covenant the pathway to a relationship with God is defined by faith in the sacrifice of Christ and living the  Law of Love which is seen as fulfilling the moral law. 

       Romans 13:8-10: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

       Paul shows that loving your neighbor as yourself and doing no harm to your neighbor is to fulfill the law. It is obvious Paul is talking about moral law that has been in operation from the time of creation.  Such things as murder, theft, lying, adultery and other such behaviors are seen as sin from the beginning. 

       Paul defines this law in more detail as seen in the "sin lists" found in Paul's letters where behaviors such as greed, envy, strife, deceit, malice. slander, insolence, arrogance hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness and orgies are condemned and identified as sin. (See Romans 1 and Galatians 6)

       On the other hand, nowhere in the New Testament is a failure to keep the Sabbath, Feast days, dietary regulations, tithing and other such directives seen as sin.  While we see Old Testament Israel often chastised for breaking the Sabbath, we see nothing of the kind under the New Covenant. It is apparent that the moral law made up the terms of both the Old and New Covenants while the great body of ceremonial and worship law that made up the terms of the Old Covenant did not become part of the terms of the New Covenant.  This takes us back to the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 which we will return to in the next sermon in this series.

PART TWENTY-THREE