GETTING THE MESSAGE/Salvation is in Christ alone
In this passage the church in Antioch receives a letter sent by the council of Jerusalem. The delegation delivering the letter includes Paul and Barnabas as well as two highly regarded leaders from the Jerusalem church, Judas and Silas.
The council had met to discuss the issue of salvation. They had, of one accord, affirmed that the only way of salvation was through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. They conveyed to the church in Antioch their full approbation of the ministry of Paul and Barnabas.
The church in Antioch responds to this news with great joy. Paul and Barnabas had been instrumental in the establishment and growth of the Antioch church. The church in Antioch had sent Paul and Barnabas on a mission trip. After the two leaders returned, they reported to the church all of the work God had done among the Gentiles during that trip.
But after that, men had come from Judea to Antioch with a different teaching than the gospel of Christ taught by Paul and Barnabas, so the matter had been sent to the council of apostles and elders in Jerusalem. The council made clear they had neither sent nor authorized the men who disagreed with Paul and Barnabas. The council of Jerusalem sent two leaders from the meeting, Judas and Silas, with Paul and Barnabas to affirm these things. They stayed in Antioch for a time and strengthened the brothers with their words (Acts 15:32).
The Jerusalem council’s meeting and conclusions teach us how valuable salvation is. When the assembly discussed the conversion of Gentiles they spoke of God visiting Gentiles in order to call them by his name. Those who believed the gospel turned to God. They received eternal salvation in Christ. It’s an amazing grace to have God give you forgiveness and eternal life.
Conversely, it is a tragic thing to have been visited by God with the gospel offer and to reject it. When Paul was in Antioch of Pisidia, he told those who rejected the gospel that by thrusting aside the word of God, they were considering themselves unworthy of eternal life (Acts 14:46).
There is only one God and one gospel. You only have one soul. God has set such a high value on the soul; he says it is worth more than the entire world. Jesus said, “What good does it do a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul?” Certainly God who knows all things compares rightly.
God has shown how highly he has prized the salvation of a soul by sending his own son into the world to die for the salvation of the souls of men. He called Paul and sent him so that souls might be saved. All the prophets point to Christ being the Savior of men. The church preaches Christ so that souls might be saved and know God. This is what God offers sinners: the redemption of their souls.
Its little wonder that we see rejoicing among the souls in all the cities that Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel to on their first missionary journey. In coming to Christ, they entered into eternal life. They had been without hope and without God. Now they were among the people of the living God.
We see in verse 36 that Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch (Caesarea) teaching the word of the Lord. This is a constant theme in the book of Acts. The more we hear and think deeply on the word of the Lord, the more we value salvation and exalt God for the grace he has given us in the Lord Jesus.
Paul taught Christians to expect tribulations in this world. Yet, the godly man can be happy in whatever circumstances he is placed in because of the spiritual privileges, advantages, and joys he has in the Lord. It is a great happiness for a man to know that all his sins are pardoned and he can stand guilty of nothing in the presence of God; and to have the almighty God, who rules over all, reconciled to him and perfectly at peace with him.
The apostles taught Christians to continue or persevere in the faith. Waiting on the Lord, being watchful over our souls, and honoring Christ with our lives requires diligence and careful attention to the word of God. But if we have grace, we have all. “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.