Acts 14:8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked.
The man’s situation was bleak, but as he heard Paul preach, he began to think he might be healed. Paul looked at him and said, Stand up on your feet! (Acts 14:10). At once the man got up and began to walk. But instead of believing Paul’s message, the people concluded that Paul and Barnabas were gods. Bulls were brought for sacrifice, and the people were barely restrained. Here we see how difficult it can be to explain the gospel to those who have never heard.
I was raised with biblical ideas about God and the devil, heaven and hell, sin and salvation. So when the gospel was clearly explained to me, I was able to understand it. But those who are raised outside the faith may lack the mental categories to grasp the gospel quickly, and may require extra patience.
Acts 14:19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over.
Paul’s opponents traveled several days in order to cause him trouble. Paul understood their motivation since he too had traveled to persecute the church (Acts 9:1-2). How happy he must have been to be on the right side of Christ, even if it meant opposition.
At first, the people of Lystra wanted to worship Paul, but then they turned against him. We might accuse them of being fickle, but many believers have done the same thing. They give their leaders semi-divine status, then turn against them when they turn out to be merely human. Christianity exalts Christ alone, and is not surprised by the humanness of its leaders.
Acts 14:19b They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.
A few believers gathered around to grieve, when Paul suddenly opened his eyes and got up. We are not told if this was a miracle, or if Paul was only unconscious. Either way, he was willing to take some lumps and keep on going for Christ. We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22), he would say.
Paul may have been surprised that healing a man who was lame from birth did not lead to more conversions. But what starts out big doesn’t always end big, and what starts out small doesn’t always stay small. What mattered to Paul was that some believed.
Acts 15:1 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.
One of the most serious threats to the early church was the idea that people had to keep the Old Testament laws to be accepted by God. The early church had many Jews, so it is not surprising that this idea emerged. The discussion was important because it concerned the way of salvation. One view would base salvation on faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). The other view would base salvation on faith in Christ, plus obedience to the Law of Moses. A conference was held in Jerusalem around AD 48 to answer this question.
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 keep the law of Moses.
These people considered the Jewish religion to be the foundation of the church. Therefore, to become Christian, people had to become Jewish. Paul would later insist that Christ alone is the foundation of the church. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11), he wrote.
Acts 15:7-8 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.
God used Peter to preach to the Jews (Acts 2), as well as to the Gentiles (Acts 8). In both cases, God showed his acceptance by giving them the Spirit. The indwelling Spirit was also the sign of acceptance for Paul. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ (Romans 8:9), he wrote. Whoever has the Spirit has Christ; whoever does not have the Spirit does not have Christ.
Acts 15:12-13 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up.
James was the half brother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:55), and an influential member of the church in Jerusalem. He argued from the Old Testament that Gentiles were an important part of God’s plan. It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood (Acts 15:19-20), he said.
The purpose of these stipulations was not for salvation, but to make it easier for Jewish and Gentile believers to have fellowship together. Paul would later insist that Christian living requires sexual purity (1 Corinthians 6:18-20), but the concern of the council was to keep the gospel clear (John 3:16), and to make it easier for Jewish and Gentile Christians to worship and eat together.
The Council of Jerusalem helped preserve the gospel and unify the church. The leaders did not make up their minds independently, but gathered for discussion and debate, as they reasoned from the Scriptures. This does not guarantee a proper outcome, but is a pattern the church has followed, often with good results.
Reflection and Review
Why do people misunderstand the gospel?
Do all Christians have the Holy Spirit?
How should the church determine what is true?