Theme: Peter’s Revealing Speech and the Arrival of Grace in Christ
This week’s lessons show how the grace that came through Jesus Christ fits with the
perfect law of God and its condemnation against us for our sins.
Scripture: John 1:17
In the fifteenth chapter of Acts there is a revealing statement of how this change must have struck the early Christians. The council of Jerusalem was in session, and it had been debating whether the ceremonial requirements of the Old Testament should be imposed on Gentile Christians. Paul and his fellow missionaries had been preaching the gospel to Gentiles, Gentiles had been turning to Christ, and churches that were largely Gentile were being established. Paul had not been requiring these Gentile Christians to come under legal Jewish obligations, requirements such as circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, observing Jewish feast days, and kosher cooking. His opponents, known as the legalistic party, were insisting that these were essential. They argued that no one could be saved without them.
At last the council decided in favor of Gentile liberty, but not until after Peter had told how God led him to preach to Gentiles in the home of Cornelius and how God had saved Cornelius and his family apart from circumcision or ceremonial purifications (Acts 10). Peter said, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:10, 11). The revealing statement is Peter’s confession that “neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear” the law’s yoke.
We need to remember that Peter and the other Jews who had gathered for this council were pious people. They were not like the heathen or even the uninstructed and indifferent people of Palestine, who were ignorant of the law and did not care that they were. Peter and his fellow believers knew the law and had been trying to keep it. But here Peter led these pious Jews in a confession that they could not keep it. It may be, as Paul told the Romans, that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12), but where Peter was coming from, the law did not seem to have been good. It had been a burden instead, and a heavy one at that. Pious Jews had tried to live by law, but they had failed to do it. That is why the coming of grace by Jesus Christ was so significant to them. It was a lifting of their burden and a doing away with their profound sense of failure.
But let’s start with Jesus himself, for that is what John seems to do in his wonderful prologue to the gospel. The opening verses tell of Jesus’ deity and preexistence, followed by the appearance of John the Baptist as his forerunner. Then, in verse 14, John announces the incarnation, and at once grace is prominent: “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” It would seem from that statement that, according to John, the glory of Jesus was seen first in his own personal graciousness. We live in a very boorish world, of course. So it is easy to think of people who are not gracious, You have probably had contact with some this past week: sales people who have ignored you in the store even when you wanted to buy something or had a question about it; drivers who blew their horns at you or even cursed you when you slowed down to make a right turn or to locate an obscure street address; or business associates who have lied about you to get ahead themselves. There are many people like that. In fact, all of us are like that at least some of the time.
But if you think carefully, you can probably also think of people who have been gracious to you. Perhaps your parents were gracious people, or a friend, or a marriage partner. Instead of treating you as you deserved these people have treated you as you want to be treated. They have overlooked your failures and have instead been kind and helpful.
Well, Jesus was like that. In fact, he was like all these gracious people rolled into one, and then he surpassed even that. He was never cross, never selfish, never impatient with people who had problems, never superior or judgmental. He never told people, “It serves you right” or “I hope you get what’s coming to you” or “That’s your problem” or “Don’t bother me about it.” He never disassociated himself from anyone, as if some types or classes of people were below him. Indeed, he moved easily among both the high and the low, and he was so much at home with the lower classes that his enemies used it to attack him, saying that he was a “drunkard” and a “friend of sinners.” People liked Jesus. They found him gracious.
Do you want a good description of Jesus? Here it is: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8). Another way of saying this is to say that all the fruit of the Spirit was in Jesus, and the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul tells us, is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23). Jesus was the perfection of these virtues.
In what way was Christ’s coming especially significant to devout Jews?
Review 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It was ways did Jesus practice this passage in his earthly ministry?
Application: As Christians, we are commanded to live like Christ. Reflect on Galatians 5:22-23, and pray for opportunities to live out these virtues this week.
For Further Study: To learn more about how Jesus lived out I Corinthians 13, see Philip Ryken’s Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).