It was a key moment for the Church. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the future of the Church hung in the balance. Decisions made at this meeting would define the Church for generations to come.
That meeting is recorded for us in Acts 15. All the leaders of the early Church were gathered to answer one question: What should be required of Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus? Or, said another way: Do Gentile believers have to practice Jewish customs?
This was due to two realities. One: the very first followers of Jesus came from a Jewish background. So, their faith in Jesus was an outgrowth of their Jewish faith, and continued to include: Jewish circumcision, Sabbath guidelines, and food restrictions. In other words, the debate over how inclusive their faith practice would be was very much an open question, for Jewish practices kept a very clear separation between Jewish and Gentile life.
In Acts 15, the early Jewish Christian leaders gathered to wrestle with this reality. In that meeting, Peter gets up, and say: GOD chose to use me to speak the word of the Gospel to the Gentiles. HE was the one to give them the Spirit, just as He gave us. And then Peter says: How could we put a yoke on them that we ourselves have not been able to carry? For the bottom line is this: They will be saved the same way we are: By Grace.
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say: those words changed the course of the Church. Those words pointed us to the reality that it is not tradition, or religious practice, or law that saves us. That saves ANY of us. That saves ALL of us. It’s grace.
James goes on to affirm what Peter has stated, when he says in verse 14: Simon has described how God has first visited to receive from the Gentiles a people for His own name.
God has visited the Gentiles. A promise that Luke, the writer of Acts, first brings up all the way back in his gospel, in the Prophesy of Zechariah. In Luke 1.68, Zechariah describes how God has visited His people. At the end of his song, in verse 78, Z says, “Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us” (HCSB). This promise, Acts 15 now tells us, has come true for the Gentiles. God has visited them to receive them. And by describing them as a “people,” James uses the word people that elsewhere is used to describe the Jewish people of God.
Could it be ANY clearer, in this pivotal meeting of the early Church, just what God’s plan is? What is God’s desire? It is crystal clear: God has visited the people who once were not a people, and has invited them to become His people. That is what makes Christmas, Christmas. God, in Jesus, visiting us with His saving mercy – a salvation now clearly offered to everyone.