Can you imagine how the churches felt receiving the letter from Jerusalem (vv.22-29)? Would they be told they need to become Jewish before believing in Jesus? Would they need to do this and that, become this and that, before they could be considered ‘real’ believers? Thankfully, grace triumphed:
“So when they were dismissed, they went down to Antioch, and after gathering the entire group together, they delivered the letter. When they read it aloud, the people rejoiced at its encouragement. Both Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with a long speech. After they had spent some time there, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming (along with many others) the word of the Lord.”
(Acts 15.30-35, NET)
Receiving the Word of the Lord through His servants created joy: the people rejoiced at its encouragement. Being told that there was nothing to do to inherit eternal life but believe and take their new life seriously (15.6-11, 28-29).
So receiving the Word of the Lord on salvation by grace alone created great joy, as did spending time with other believers. Judas and Silas encouraged the gathered church, and Paul and Barnabas (and some say Silas too) stayed on in Antioch. No doubt the encouragement, joy, and rejoicing continued long after the letter was initially read.
If we are looking at Acts as prescriptive or descriptive, where does this passage fit? Probably within both camps. It’s prescriptive in that we see that Jesus + nothing = everything. There is no need to do this or that to inherit eternal life. It’s descriptive in that we see that receiving this news, this Good News, brought joy, encouragement, and rejoicing to the church. Often we look far and wide for sources of joy, don’t we, when the surest and deepest source has always been there: the forgiveness and salvation on offer to us by faith in Jesus.