15:7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 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? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.
Us and them. Always some form of us and them. Back then in that tense council it was Jews (us) and Gentiles (them). In the Dominican Republic right now it is Dominicans (us) and Haitians (them). In Rwanda in the blood soaked war of 1994 it was the Hutus (us) and the Tutsis (them). In America right now it is the Democrats vs the Republicans. Now don't miss this very real human dynamic. When lines are drawn and sides are either chosen or forced upon people an invisible wall goes up. Anyone who speaks "from the other side" is a liar and everything they say is either not listened to or discredited in some way.
In the council in Jerusalem words were thrown around but no one was listening. When "us" speaks, "them" does not listen and when "them" speaks, "us" does not listen. Into this fruitless war of words steps Paul. He is part of "us" so the "us" side is listening. Then the unexpected happens. He speaks not against "them" but for "them". His words are truth. His words create space in the storm where suddenly the room shifts from a place where everyone was talking and no one was listening to a place where all are willing to listen. "Us" are willing because one of their own, the most respected among "us" has spoken on behalf of "them", presenting a truth they cannot easily dismiss:
Peter speaking - 11 "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened...
In his book called "Feed My Sheep", HMS Richards, one of the greatest preachers of modern history, spends an entire chapter on the reality that "the man is the message". His point is that who we are has more impact on people listening or not listening than on what we actually say. We have all either said or heard someone say "I will not listen to anything he/she has to say." When that sentiment arises a potential avenue of truth has been cut off.
For example a Seventh-day Adventist may reject what a Baptist says not because it is error but simply because he is Baptist. A "black lives matters" advocate may be tuned out simply by her affiliation regardless of what she has to say. All of us, no matter how educated or open minded or cultured we may be or think we are have these invisible walls. Walls that potentially shut out the very words we need to hear simply because we rejected the source before the words were ever spoken.
Our human tendency to erect these invisible and often impenetrable walls caused the Jews to tune out the Voice of their own Messiah. The very One their own physical circumcision pointed to became a Voice they were unwilling to hear.
Based on what the Bible exposes about our nature and our prejudices all I can say is we need to listen regardless of the source of the voice and compare whatever is said to the character of Jesus because the opposite danger is just as real. Sometimes we'll listen to lies simply because we trust the source.
The best part of the story is that despite our prejudices and walls, God found a way in that council in Jerusalem to get everyone listening. It was a miracle and He is still a miracle working God.