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Good news for all nations

Acts 15:12-22

Pastor David Ernst

Commemoration of James the Just
Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca  
Barinas, Venezuela

right-click to download MP3 of this sermon

Sun, Oct 23, 2016 

Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Today is the day of commemoration of James, the brother of our Lord. Our text is the first reading, Acts 15: 12-22. But, I will explain the background of this text.

"Santiago" is a form of "Jacob" or "James", the name of one of the patriarchs of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Jacob was the son of Isaac, son of Abraham. God changed Jacob's name to Israel (Genesis 32: 22-32), the same name as the chosen nation. Santiago was a common name at the time of Jesus Christ and find three or four men were named Santiago or James in the New Testament, depending on whether some passages refer to two different men or the same man. The most important was James, son of Zebedee, one of the 12 apostles and who was present with his brother, John, and St. Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The man in our text is not the son of Zebedee. James, the brother of the Lord, was not one of the twelve apostles, and before His resurrection was not a believer in Jesus as Lord and Savior (Mark 3:21). However, Paul says that the Lord appeared to James, His brother, after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8) and then became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Other books apart from Scripture call James the bishop of Jerusalem, so he also is known as James of Jerusalem.

Many scholars think James, the brother of the Lord, was the author of the letter of James. This letter begins, "James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greetings." To be identified only as "James" with no last name means someone well-known. James the son of Zebedee, died early in the history of the church. Deacon Stephen was the first martyr, but the son of Zebedee was the first martyr among the twelve apostles. Therefore, it is more likely that the brother of the Lord is the author of the letter of James.

Our gospel today (Matthew 13: 54-58) mentions the brothers and sisters of Jesus. When Jesus preached in the synagogue of Nazareth, people said, "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?"

Jesus' brothers were James, Joses, Simon and Judas. Lord also had sisters, but they are not named. Well, the Catholic Church teaches that Mary was always a virgin. As Lutherans we believe that Mary was a virgin when she was pregnant with Jesus, but there is no evidence that she was a virgin after the birth of the Lord. The Catholic Church wants to justify the notion that celibacy is a more spiritual state than marriage. So they say the word ἀδελφοὶ, usually translated brothers, may be translated as cousins. This is possible, but there is no reason for this interpretation, unless celibacy is better than marriage, but that is not a biblical teaching. In context, Jesus was known in Nazareth as the son of Joseph the carpenter, like the others mentioned. Therefore, the simplest understanding is Joseph and Mary had children as did other couples. It makes no sense to doubt that James was the brother of our Lord.

In 2002, archaeologists discovered an ossuary or bone box. At that time, when they needed more space in the family tomb, they gathered the bones of previous dead in a box to make room for a new body. The ossuary found in Jerusalem in 2002 has this inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." It is not conclusive evidence, but it is interesting.

Well then, James, the brother of the Lord, was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. What happened in our text? They called the first council of the Christian church in Jerusalem where most of the early Christians lived. In addition, most of the early Christians were born and raised as Jews, according to the traditions of the Jews.

However, in their missionary travels, Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the gospel to the Gentiles, people who were not born as Jews. And they believed. Some of Christians born as Jews said that Christians not born as Jews should still obey the Law of Moses. They should be circumsized and other things. Paul and Barnabas told them, no, we have freedom in Christ.

With the Law of Moses, God made a covenant with the people Israel to live as God's people, with many rules and ceremonies, to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah or Christ. But when Christ came, He fulfilled the Law of Moses perfectly and made a new covenant in His blood. Therefore, circumcision is not necessary, only the baptism that Christ has commanded of us. Animal sacrifices are not necessary, because Christ made a perfect sacrifice on the cross. The new covenant is for all nations, then there is no need to observe the rules to prepare Israel for the coming of Christ.

The council affirmed the spiritual freedom in Christ. But James, the brother of the Lord, made a proposal to keep the peace among Christians of different roots.

"Therefore I judge that the Gentiles who turn to God, are not to be disturbed; but to write to them to abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. "

With these words, Santiago condemned sexual immorality and idolatry. The Law of Moses is based on the universal moral law of God, that is, "You shall love God with all your mind, your soul and your heart" and "love your neighbor as yourself". The 10 Commandments teach us what it is not the love of God and neighbor. But the moral law is older than the Law of Moses and is for all nations. For example, God instituted marriage in the early chapters of Genesis, before the covenant of Sinai. God created the human race as male and female, and declared marriage is a man and a woman committed to each other for their entire lives. Therefore, there is no gay marriage, no matter that civil law in some countries says. Also the man must leave the home of his parents and wife his parents' house to start a joint life. That is, the most important woman in the life of a married man should be his wife, not his mother. And for a married woman, the most important man should be her husband.

However, the counsel of Santiago was also for the Gentiles to avoid meat that contained blood or animals that had been strangled. The Law of Moses forbade that and it was a practice that the Jews thought disgusting. Today, some sects, such as Seventh-day Adventists say we must observe the rules of the food in the Old Testament, but is not the truth. We have freedom in Christ to eat any food nourishes the body.

But to keep peace and love among Christians, the judgment of the council was to avoid some things, not by divine command, but out of love for each other. When the church has made some rules for this purpose, we must respect them. Not because these rules are not absolute, but for love of the brothers.

Spiritual freedom is not license to do anything we want, but to do what maintains peace and good order among us. We have the freedom of the new covenant Christ made in His blood and in this we have the peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.

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