There will be moments when God’s people are tempted to identify the family of God with a particular national or ethnic family. And the moment that happens we need to be very careful that we’re not mistaking our kingdom for God’s, or “my tribe” for God’s tribe, and to be open to when the Holy Spirit wants to blow the doors on that. And often that will happen by God doing surprising things among people that I wouldn’t have thought that he would show up and do a work in.
In part one (0:00–15:30), Tim and Jon begin their discussion on the book of Acts, as the Holy Spirit expands the family of Abraham by bringing in members of other nations.
In the opening of Acts, Jesus commissions his disciples to take the message of his Kingdom first to the tribes of Israel and then to the nations, promising that they will be empowered by his Spirit (Acts 1:1-8).
The fulfillment of Jesus’ promise takes place 49 days later at Pentecost, a gathering of Jewish pilgrims from surrounding nations. As the disciples pray together, the Holy Spirit comes to them in wind and fire—an echo of temple imagery (Acts 2:1-4).
After they receive the Holy Spirit, whenever the disciples share about the “mighty deeds of God,” the people of the nations unite.
Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”
There are fifteen geographical locations mentioned in this passage, spanning the entire circle of the compass. The rest of the book of Acts documents the disciples taking the story of Jesus to the Samaritans and to non-Israelites.
In part two (15:30–28:30), Tim and Jon discuss how the Spirit includes non-Jewish people into the family of Abraham, starting with the Roman centurion Cornelius.
In Acts 10, Peter has a dream in which the Lord commands him to eat animals previously deemed ritually impure. In response to Peter’s objections, the Lord says, “What God has made pure, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). God reverses his pronouncement of certain animals as unclean, declaring that Jewish customs are no longer the means to determine who is part of the family of God.
Peter shares the story of Jesus with Cornelius and his household, who then believe in Jesus and are baptized into the family of God, marking the beginning of the inclusion of the nations into God’s family. This “inclusion of the nations” and the culture conflicts that follow lead to a climax in the Jerusalem Council.
In part three (28:30–35:50), Tim and Jon talk through the significance of the Jerusalem Council recounted in Acts 15.
Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be rescued.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brothers determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the nations, and were bringing great joy to all the brothers. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the nations would hear the word of the good news and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he also did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are rescued through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for his name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, “After these things I will return, And I will rebuild the tent of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, So the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, [Greek anthrophos / Heb. אדם “Edom” or “Adam”] And all the nations who are called by my name,’ Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago” [Amos 9:11-12]. Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the nations, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Acts shows us that the process of including non-Israelites into God’s family was far from straightforward. It unfolded as the apostles prayed and sought discernment from the Spirit.
In part three (35:50–end), Tim and Jon revisit the sign of circumcision, which God originally gave to Abraham for including the nations into his family.
By the time of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, circumcision is promoted as an ethnic signifier that shows allegiance to a specific family identity (Israel). Based on the work of the Spirit, the apostles conclude that the nations do not have to be circumcised to become a part of the family of Abraham through the Messiah.
Acts carries a powerful message for the church today. What appeared “clear” to Jews in the Scriptures had a different meaning in God’s plan for all people. When we remain open to the Spirit, we will have our preconceptions challenged.
Interested in more? Check out Tim’s full library here.
Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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