What Will You Add to Jesus?
Text: Acts 15: 1-20
Proposition: Salvation rests completely upon the perfect person and work of Christ and His Cross, anything added to that dilutes, corrupts and destroys grace.
Introduction: Last week we ended the service with a simple request, a homework assignment if you will. I asked you to read Romans 11 as it speaks about what God was going to do in bringing a wild, head strong, do it my way, everyone is right Gentile people and uniting them into one body with all He had called the nation of Israel to be before Him. To do so God would lead both Jew and Gentile to one door, one way, one person, Jesus Christ. Gone would be the efforts of sacrifice as an act of atonement, gone would be the attempts at righteousness that came from observing the Law of Moses. Replacing these was the actual sacrifice for sin that animal rituals were but a shadow of. Sinless blood replaced the water in the bronze laver where the priests washed in order to be ceremonially clean before God. Now all were to be made priests, men and women, washed clean in the blood of the sinless Son of God. No longer would a Temple be needed as the Holy Spirit would now be given to indwell people and turn their bodies into the very meeting place for God and man. Gone would be the importance of circumcision as a sign of being in covenant with God, now baptism is the new covenant sign for men and women. Gone would be anything that sought to raise itself up as an act to be added to the work of the redemption which Jesus Christ had accomplished. So Paul says that to the Jews this would look like they had been cast away, stumbled in all their ways, is there no hope for the Jews as the Gentiles are now brought forward? In Romans 11:11 Paul writes, “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.” Using the analogy of the Gentiles being like a branch from a wild olive tree that is taken and grafted into the cultured olive tree Paul makes the point that God chooses how and whom He will to make this new olive tree called the church. The branch of the Gentiles is grafted into Israel, supported by it but making it a new plant. One day Israel will yet be brought to the place of discovering Jesus just as the Gentile world is doing today. But for now, in the book of Acts, the branch called the Gentiles is being grafted into Israel. Together both Jew and Gentile are being drawn to the faith in Jesus Christ alone because there is no other way for anyone to be saved. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life! That truth is what the book of Acts demonstrates. Have a look at Acts 15.
I. It’s Not That God Has a New Plan, It’s That Now All Can Know It.
Christians come from Jerusalem to Antioch, born again men but still confused as to the way of Jesus. They say that they are glad these people have become believers in Jesus but just one thing is missing, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Circumcision had been the mark of being in covenant with God. The point being made here is that you must first become Jews in order to become Christians. In essence it’s a ‘Jesus Plus’ kind of theology. Righteousness is through Christ but you also need to do this and this to complete that righteousness. In Romans 11:6 Paul said, “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” Salvation is by grace, you can’t add any works to it to round it out, not if you value the way God’s grace engages us. Is grace, the undeserved favor of God, important to you? Do you see it as essential to not only how you live today in resisting a nature and culture of sin but also how you stand before God through all eternity? If so, then don’t try to mess with grace by adding to it. Either salvation is by grace through faith or it is by works which you need to be perfect and consistent in for your whole life, not stumbling once.
Paul and Barnabas got that truth so they contended with these well meaning but definitely messed up Christians from Jerusalem. There’s not a new plan, it’s the old plan that addresses the fall of mankind in sin, it seeks to accomplish progressive revelation, seeing Jesus more than you did before. It still establishes the holiness of God above the ways of man and it still speaks to an end where this fallen humanity is reconciled and transformed and glorified. Those details were always part of the plan. Way back in Genesis chapter three God had said that the Seed of the woman would one day crush the head of the serpent that had brought the deception of sin to mankind. The Seed of the woman refers to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the conception in Mary by the Holy Spirit, otherwise He would have said the seed of the man. Jesus was the center of the plan from the very beginning and now that plan is being revealed to all. Always in God’s mind the plan of eternity involved the Son of God transforming humanity into godliness in Christ Jesus. Do you remember how Romans 11 ends, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” That’s the plan, it hasn’t changed, it’s just that now it is being revealed to all who by faith are called to see it and receive it.
II. Three Reasons Why Grace Stands Alone As the Agent of Salvation.
Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem to clear the issue of whether the Apostles have demanded circumcision or not. There is a considerable debate as to who is right and then three responses are made that settle the issue.
1. When you add works to grace in order to be right with God you test God.
Peter recalls how he had been sent to the Gentiles, how he had witnessed first hand the Holy Spirit being given to them. Then Peter makes this statement, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” They tested God or tried His patience when they knew clearly what He wanted but thought their way was more effective in producing holiness. The Law came to reveal sin, not to take it away. To add works like circumcision to the disciples faith was like putting a yoke on their necks. Whenever we add works to grace we are doing the same thing, it’s like saying, ‘Jesus isn’t enough, yes He brought me forgiveness but if I do this and this then I will be even more righteous.’ Don’t test God by saying Christ isn’t enough!
2. Saving Grace Unlike Works Doesn’t Originate In Us, It Works Through Us.
Paul and Barnabas now stand up and recount their experiences in Cyprus, Antioch, Lystra and Derbe. They declared, “how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.” This was a truth Paul proclaimed often: 1 Cor.15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Other Scriptures talk about grace being bestowed upon us, Peter says, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Pt 1:2). God’s grace flows through the church as though the church were vascular tissue, the means by which blood brings life to the body. That’s God’s design, He will cause His grace to flow through you as the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ multiplies in you.
3. God In His Grace Sees What We Can’t and Does What We Wouldn’t.
James, the brother of Jude and half brother of Jesus, now stands and says this about grace, “Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.” Nobody saw that coming nor would they have wanted it even if they had. Out of the Gentiles God by His grace has called a people for His Name. James goes on to point out that this wasn’t something out of the blue, God had spoken of it in Scripture through the prophets, “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down…”. The tabernacle of David is a reference to his tent, his house. The scepter did depart from Judah after the reign of Solomon but now God is returning to Israel to rebuild that tent of David, the lineage of David. The coming of Christ was a rebuilding of the kingdom God had promised to David, bringing Israel a King whose throne would last forever (Amos 9:11;Hos. 3:5; Jer.30:9). The reason that God would do that James quotes, “So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD who does all these things.” Then James makes this amazing statement, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” God in His Grace sees what we can’t and does what we wouldn’t. Grace personified is Jesus Christ. Incarnated He became human, Immutably staying as God and yet in full humanity. As the Son He saw what we couldn’t, the ruin of sin, the spiritual realm of evil governed by Satan, the legality of what sin before a holy God demanded, a price to paid, propitiation. And then He did what we wouldn’t and couldn’t do, He took our place that we could rest in His.
God’s Grace stands alone, hung alone on the cross, alone bore our sin and alone bestows righteousness to those whom He has called. It’s why Grace is Amazing!