Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 • Sixth Sunday of Easter
Old habits die hard. We remember well enough that the Pharisees stirred up trouble for Jesus in the Gospels, but today we find some Judaean Pharisees, now believers, unsettling minds and hearts within the early Church. The nub of the problem was that they were concerned (it’s interesting how those of a legalistic bent are always ‘concerned’ by what they perceive as lax practice) with the baptizing of uncircumcised pagans or Gentiles. For them this wasn’t just about bad practice: it was even more important than that – it was a matter of eternal salvation. Luke, who was not one to gloss over rows or disagreements, tells it as it was: in the view of these men who had travelled from Judea to Antioch: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ (v. 1).
Mercifully, this view did not prevail, because Jesus came not only to fulfil the law, but to usher in a new humanity, a new and radical way of relating to God, not as slaves but as sons and daughters of the Father. This crisis – and, indeed, it was a crisis – led to the Council of Jerusalem, the fruit of which was the Apostolic Decree determining that, in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the apostles, Gentile believers should not be burdened with the requirements of the law but should be instructed to refrain from pagan practices (sacrificial rituals and sexual immorality). This decree was relayed to the Gentile believers by means of a letter sent down to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas (see vv. 23-29).
In Christ a new work of God took place. Christ’s death is a remedy for sin both as a barrier between us and God and as a corrupting power within us. By the gift of the Holy Spirit justification, being reconciled with the Father and made holy and righteous, is made a reality in us through the grace of baptism. We are not saved by obeying the law or by circumcision or by leading a noble life. In other words, we cannot save ourselves: we are saved only by Christ, and his is the only name under heaven and earth by which we can be saved.
Lord God, it is so easy to slip back into trying to save ourselves: please help me to trust solely in your grace and mercy and to understand that I am saved only by Christ.
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 • Psalm 66(67):2-3, 5-6, 8
Apocalypse 21:10-14, 22-23 • John 14:23-29