The Jerusalem Council and ECT

by Floyd McElveen, 1134 Hwy 42 East, Petal, MS 39465

         Imagine we are back at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).
         Two leaders of their respective factions have been listening closely. Jabez, a member of the sect of the "Pharisees which believed," stubbornly insists "that it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." He concurred heartily with the men who came down from Jerusalem who taught this with thunderous authority.
         Jabez believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. He was also thoroughly convinced that trusting Christ plus being circumcised and keeping the law was necessary to be saved.
         Tertius was a Gentile convert who had grown rapidly in the Lord. He was one of Paul's converts, and his heart sang with joy to know that his sins were forgiven.
         Because of his effervescent personality, he attracted many who were in agreement with his trust in Christ alone for salvation.
         Jabez and his crowd, and Tertius and his group focused all their attention on Paul, Barnabas, some of the sect of the Pharisees, Peter and James as they spoke.

         A great multitude had gathered to hear this watershed debate and decision. Many smaller debates and hot discussions had raged throughout the excited crowd. Word had spread of the disputes and heated arguments engulfing Paul and Barnabas. Some of the men which came down from Judea, and certain of the Pharisees, had privately pressed their attack on grace, especially challenging Paul and Barnabas. Salvation by faith alone in Christ alone rent their tradition asunder. They believed in Jesus Christ but Paul's extreme view seemed to deny Moses and the Scripture.
         The disputing was intense until Peter arose. All listened intently to this man who had always been a chief spokesperson. "Men and brethren Peter began, "ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us: and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they."
         Then Bamabas and Paul declared what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles as they preached Christ and His free salvation to them. The thrill of this good news was overwhelming, yet the final verdict had not been given.

         The short wait seemed unbearable. Then James spoke up. "Men and brethren, hearken unto me. . ." Every eye was riveted on James, every ear attuned to his words. After an introductory statement, finally James gives the decision. "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble them not, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God. . ."
         No circumcision, no law, no works added to trust in Christ in order to be saved! The salvation of the Gentiles who trusted Christ alone was valid!
         Letters were to be sent to those Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia who had been particularly besieged by the Judaizers. They were out from under circumcision and the law. Christ, yes Christ alone saves!
         Some who were assembled at Jerusalem praised God with great joy. Some shed tears. Some, however, were strangely silent. The multitude slowly dispersed. The issue was forever settled.
         Well . . . not exactly. At least, not for many of the zealous Pharisees and Judaizers.
         Tertius and his group of happy, rejoicing believers were near Jabez and his somewhat somber "Pharisees which believed."
         Some in this crowd seemed stunned. Others looked puzzled. Many were angry or chagrined (aggravated, embarassed, shamed, annoyed, dismayed, disrtressed).
         "Well," said Tertius to Jabez courteously, but with an air of finality, that settles it! No circumcision and no law-keeping is necessary for salvation.
         An angry chorus of dissent swelled up behind Jabez. "Who does Paul think he is?" cried out one angry voice.
         "James is just taking the side of Paul and Barnabas against Moses and the Scriptures," clamored another.
         Jabez waved them to a reluctant, if muttering, semi-silence. He and Tertius recognized each other as they had both been present at some of the fierce arguments Paul and Barnabas had with the Judaizers. In fact, Jabez, one of their scholars, had participated in those encounters.
         "Dear brother Tertius," Jabez began with his most mellifluous (harmonous, rich, flowing, smooth) voice, his face adorned with a warm smile. "This has in truth been a climactic decislon given to us by God through James. We thank God for him and for our wonderful brothers Paul and Barnabas! Let us sit down with each other and discuss the ramifications of this decision as brothers in Christ should."
         Taken aback by his warm demeanor and friendly offer, Tertius hesitated. He was a little apprehensive. Jabez had quite a reputation as a scholar of the Hebrew scriptures. Even the learned Gamaliel had great respect for him. Paul had found him to be a formidable antagonist indeed. Yet, Tertius reasoned, the decision had gone against him and his followers.

         Jabez watched Tertius carefully. "You know I am a fellow believer in the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, don't you?" coaxed Jabez. "Well, yes. . . but" stammered Tertius.
         "Come on, Tertius. What this fellow really believes is a perversion of the Gospel of salvation," called Anthony. a stout-hearted Gentile believer. To the group surrounding Tertius he invited, "I'm going home. Who wants to go with me?" Several detached themselves from their position near Tertius, and followed Anthony into the gathering darkness.
         Tertius was ashamed of the rudeness of Anthony and sought to make amends.
         "I'm sorry, Jabez." he said softly, "but you know that today God spoke decisively through Barnabas, Paul, Peter and James."
         "I agree!" exclaimed Jabez, enthusiastically. "It was a wonderful day, and God surely led."
         Tertius was in shock from the statements and attitude of Jabez. "Do you mean that you now see that being circumcised and keeping the Mosaic law are not necessary in order to be saved?" he asked Jabez in astonishment. Tertius remembered all too well the ferocious attacks launched by this same Jabez on the gospel of grace when he and others had debated Paul and Barnabas.
         "That is not quite what James said," smiled Jabez.
         "It most certainly was!" asserted Tertius with fervor.
         "Does the law say we are to refrain from sexual sin, from adultery?" asked Jabez.
         "Definitely" declared Tertius.
         "Did not our brother James include in his decision God's command to the Gentiles, "abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornications?" Jabez questioned.
         "Yes," Tertius answered, beginning to feel trapped, suddenly aware of where this was heading.
         "Is not this part of the law as given in the ten commandments?" asked Jabez.
         "That's true," burst out Tertius, "but this was for a testimony to the Jews and others in the synagogue who study Moses and the scriptures weekly. It has nothing to do with earning our salvation. Believing in Christ is what saves us, not Christ plus circumcision and keeping the law of Moses."
         "Yes, of course; soothed Jabez. "We agree that it is only by the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ that anyone can be saved. We are much nearer than you believe in our doctrine, Tertius. Remember, above all, that we are brothers together in Christ. Our Saviour prayed that we might be one and love one another. You know that he declared that we identified ourselves as his disciples to all men by our love for one another. In the light of this fact, let us get together again in the morning for a time of discussion and prayer."
         With this, Jabez and his followers hurried away. There seemed to be some slightly subdued chortling wafting from the direction they had gone, but Tertius couldn't be sure.
         Tertius originally had no intention of a prolonged meeting with Jabez and the Judaizers. He sighed. His lack of a quick response was taken as his silent assent. He realized that he at least must meet with the Jabez crowd in the morning.
         Tertius asked his friends if they would like to continue in the discussion and special prayer meeting in the morning. He reminded them that Christ hated division, and that the Jabez men claimed to be fellow believers.
         Most of his friends, trusting the charismatic and popular Tertius, agreed, but a few were emphatic in their objection. These stuck to their decision, although Tertius pointed out that even if some of the Jabez men were not true believers, God might use this association, discussion and prayer meeting to reach them.
         Tertius spent a restless night. At times he prayed. Most of the time he tossed on his straw mattress, wrestling with his thoughts.
         He remembered hearing Paul say something like, "If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing," to some adamant Judaizers. These men had been trying to persuade the people that they not only to believe in Christ, but that they also had to be circumcised in order to be saved.
         Tertius wondered if he should even go to the meeting in the morning. Would he be compromising?
         Yet these people, especially Jabez, believed in the death, burial, & resurrection of Christ. They firmly believed in the Scriptures as the Word of God! Perhaps what they needed was love and acceptance until they got straightened out. He was, after all, committed to go to the meeting in the morning. It would be interesting to continue the discussion with the brilliant Jabez and his people. Maybe their belief was much closer than he thought. Jabez had certainly raised some interesting thoughts.

         In the morning, Jabez and his friends shared their travel rations with Tertius and his followers. The meal and the talk were jovial, friendly and lots of fun.
         Eventually, the subject got around to salvation, and the decision made the day before. The Judaizers reminded the others that God might not yet be through speaking on the subject. He might yet give more light on the decision made yesterday. This might further reconcile the two positions concerning salvation.
         The Gentiles declared that the positions were irreconcilable. The Jabez people said God would never have man abandon Moses and the law in order to accept Christ. Some said that it was just a matter of semantics. Others kept reminding everyone involved that both groups basically believed the same doctrines about Christ and the Bible, and heaven and hell, and that was what was important. Anything else bordered on majoring on minors and might cause schism and division in the body of Christ. That truly was sin, as Christ had taught.
         "Loving one another in unity as fellow-believers is what really counts," was generally agreed upon by both sides. "Agree on those things that we hold in common and reach out together to a heathen world," suggested some. Dialogue, time, prayer and God's leading would soften or eliminate the remaining theological differences, claimed others.
         Tertius had been very nervous at the start of the meeting. Slowly, he began to relax. These were people just like him, believing the Scriptures and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ. His brow furrowed as his mind stabbed him. "Yes, but they also believe that they have to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to be saved. "
         Tertius wondered guiltily how he could so nearly forget that so soon! However, he reasoned, we both confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. He became aware of Jabez smiling broadly at him. Startled, he slowly smiled back.
         Jabez arose and called the whole crowd to attention. "Men and brethren, fellow believers, we are gathered here for friendly and honest discussion, and we have had a lot of that. We agree with yesterday's decision by our beloved brother James. We do have slightly different emphases perhaps, but as fellow believers we have so much in common! We can lay our theological differences aside, and resolve them slowly in time as God leads. Meanwhile we can work together to reach the heathen world around us for Christ, even as He commanded.
         "We realize that we are under a New Covenant with God since the crucifixion of Christ. Millions of sacrificial lambs shed their blood to point to Jesus, the Lamb of God. When Jesus shed His blood, other sacrifices stopped forever. Isn't that wonderful?"
         Jabez continued, "We know that the cross ended all the sacrifices and some ceremonial laws, but it did not change the nature of God and His holiness as expressed in the ten commandments. Truly it is only by the grace of God that we are given the power to trust and obey Jesus and thus be saved. All glory to the grace of God!"
         Tertius shook his head. He felt dazed and confused. Just yesterday, at the Jerusalem Council, it had all seemed so clear.
         Jabez called, "Brethren, let us pray."
         The prayer meeting slowly warmed up. People began to pour their hearts out. Tears were shed. Every so often, Jabez would call a halt, ask for more prayer requests, and then go back to prayer. Soon he asked Tertius to take over and lead, which he did. There was much earnest prayer for love, unity and understanding.
         By noon, the prayer meeting had taken on the overtones of a revival. Men, Jew and Gentile, Judaizers and true believers, mingled freely hugging and weeping with one another. The prayer meeting continued for ten glorious days.
         By the third day, Jabez and Tertius were becoming close personal friends. They hugged each other with tears running down their cheeks. Tertius had looked around at the scenes of joy and love, as men embraced each other. Many wept as they prayed together and praised the Lord. Scores of curious observers had joined them, and many made decisions for Christ, adding their praises to the excitement of the swelling multitude.
         Tertius was more deeply stirred than he had ever been before in life. His heart melted. How could this NOT be of the Lord? This was true, Spirit-filIed essence of Christianitv in action!
         Tertius abandoned his last remaining doubts, and surrendered himself to this wonderful experience of joy and acceptance.
         He and Jabez spent hours working on a document of unity which they could present to the assembly. They called it, "Moses and Jesus Together."
         This document pledged a joint outreach to a lost world for Jesus Christ in evangelism and missions. It soon became known affectionately as MJT. Those in attendance envisioned multitudes in time praising their loving efforts and joining them in the vision God had revealed to them.
         "Perhaps," said Tertius, far more prophetically than he knew "someday a catholic (universal) church will carry this MJT message to the ends of the earth."
         "That would be wonderful!" exclaimed Jabez. His friendly, mobile face seemed to have a somewhat enigmatic expression behind his smile.
         "Now we can really reach out together in evangelism and missions for Christ. Thank God!" exulted Tertius.

         Some years later, in a dark dungeon, a parchment message concerning Tertius came to the Apostle Paul. He had often wondered what had happened to his beloved Tertius.
         Perhaps he had perished as a martyr in one of the bloody persecutions. Paul's hands trembled as he unrolled the message. As he read of the growing MJT movement, and the involvement of Tertius, slowly the parchment slipped from his hands.
         He bowed his head and put his hands over his face, and began to pray. Again and again his emaciated body shook, as he cried out in unbearable agony, "Tertius, oh my beloved son, Tertius."
         Long, painful pauses ensued, then finally, "Goodbye, my dearly beloved Tertius, goodby. "
         Paul wept.

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