Some of you today read the headline and knew exactly what was meant by it; others of you looked at it and had no clue whatsoever!
We have a lot of fun in our church staff meetings on Tuesday mornings. Trent and Chris will often comment about how a topic we’re talking about reminds them of a scene in a movie. Dave, Tim, or Mary might understand the reference, whereas I will be about 98% in the dark – being a guy who practically never watches movies.
But once in a while the older guys in the meeting will make a reference to something of the past, and the two younger guys have that “glazed eyes” look of being totally lost. And this happened not long ago when I called something “an E.F. Hutton moment.” Dave, Tim and Mary laughed, but Trent and Chris looked quizzically at each other, wondering what just happened.
In the 70s and 80s there were frequently-repeated commercials on TV (sort of like those we see today for Geico, for example) about a brokerage company called E.F. Hutton. A typical sort of setting would be a group of people in a loud, public setting, like a restaurant full of patrons and waiters. At one table would be two people talking over dinner and one of them would say, “Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says …….” Suddenly, the entire restaurant goes totally quiet; the waiters all stop; everyone is looking and leaning toward the table to see what stock recommendations E.F. Hutton promotes. And then the announcer would always say, “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.”
We have several E.F. Hutton sorts of moments in our passage today in Acts 15 as the crowd of people gathered for the Jerusalem Council met to discuss the issue of Jewish/Gentile obligations relative to the keeping of the Law of Moses. In verse 7 where ii says, “After much discussion…” that word for discussion is one that includes intense argument and debate. This likely went on for quite some time before Peter finally stood up with an E.F. Hutton moment … followed by Barnabas and Paul … followed by James – the half-brother of Jesus.
Acts 15:6 – The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Acts 15:12 – The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon [Peter] has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things—18 things known from long ago.” [Amos 9:11-12]
Peter’s story was referencing the conversion about 10 years earlier of Cornelius and his household (see Acts 10). This was a huge breakthrough moment in Peter’s life, as you will recall that there was a massive movement of the Holy Spirit. So Peter’s reasoning is that since the same Holy Spirit was given to these very genuine new Gentiles as to Jewish believers, there was no reason to believe that some connection of Law-keeping was necessary for them to be truly saved.
Barnabas and Paul next described their incredible missionary journey stories with the group, surely highlighting the massive movement of God among Gentile peoples.
And finally, James – the ostensible leader of the church in Jerusalem – put the concluding emphases upon it by validating these testimonies, yet also bringing to mind a Scripture passage that looked forward to a day of Gentile salvation and inclusion.
There is a two-pronged formula here that is valid to this day for affirming truth and the work of God: there is the observable testimony of what God is doing, foundationally validated by the testimony of Scripture. Experience alone doesn’t do it. But when the experience squares with God’s Word, there is the authoritative stamp of approval.