Day 303 “Unified in Christ” Acts 15:22- 17:34
October 30, 2021, 5:01 PM

Day 303 “Unified in Christ” Acts 15:22- 17:34

The Council of Jerusalem, reported in Acts 15, represents a central turning point in the teaching of the church, and in the direction of the church. It was held in approximately 50 AD, about 20 years or so after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, so most of those in attendance would have been eye witnesses of the events of Jesus’s life.

The Council represents a turning point because it begins to recognize the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as sufficient for keeping the covenant. To unpack that a bit, the main argument at this Council, or gathering of church elders, is about circumcision and whether new, Gentile converts had to receive circumcision as a sign of their allegiance to the promise made by God to Abraham waaaayyyyy back in Genesis 17: 9 -14 when God made it clear that every male amongst the Chosen People had to be circumcised as a way of physically showing their compliance with God’s terms.

Let’s dig a bit deeper—sacrifice in the time of Abraham, and all through the Old Testament, always involved blood. Bulls, turtledoves, lambs, goats—all these were given as sacrifice when pilgrims came to the Temple. And when we go even farther back to the Garden, we see that the very first animal sacrifice, the first spilling of blood as a sign of God’s connection with his people, was the sacrifice of animals to make skin clothing for Adam and Eve after the fall. Prior to that, we have no evidence of blood sacrifice. After that, sacrifice is a normal part of the people’s humility and worship before God for the Chosen People. Remember that even in the desert, as the Hebrew people wandered for 40 years, part of the moveable tabernacle/temple were altars of burnt sacrifice.

As we began the New Testament (the word ‘Testament’ means covenant, so this is the book of the New Covenant), we hear of sacrifices being offered at the Temple. Even Jesus’s parents, whom we assume were not well off, had to offer turtledoves as an offering/sacrifice when the infant Jesus was brought into the Temple for the presentation. (The presentation was a kind of dedication of the child to God. The idea of baptism had not yet come into practice.)

The New Testament helps us to understand that the sacrifice of Jesus, a blood sacrifice to end all sacrifices, was sufficient to cover the need for any sacrifice made by God’s people.  There are also scripture verses that talk about the ‘circumcision of the heart’, such as Romans 2: “ 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. Paul speaks to the Jews in this case, but Peter, who had converted the first Gentile with Cornelius’s family, tells the gathered Council “in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us…we believe we will be saved throught the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will,” (15: 10 -11). This is an extraordinary change that marks the splintering of the church from being dependent on the covenant with Abraham to recognizing the perfect sacrice for all time. From the letter to the Hebrews “10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” This is also the fulfillment of the prophecy from Jeremiah: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” (31:33).

So this may be pretty complicated, and if it is, my apologies. But this is the demarcation of the church from strict adherence to the Jewish laws and covenants to the perfect covenant offered through Jesus. The problem with the old covenant? The people simply could not keep it. They could receive circumcision as an outward sign, but it spoke nothing of the dedication of their hearts. We, as Christians, are to understand that we receive a heart transplant, so to speak, when we accept Jesus as our Savior and when we recognize his sacrifice for us, not our sacrifice for God.

And yet we do offer sacrifices out of that change of heart, don’t we? We give up Saturday mornings to make sure people receive food from the Food Pantry and we come together on Sunday mornings rather than sleeping in in order to worship God. We give of our time, our talent and our treasure. We tithe our income to give first fruits to God through our churches and other ministries and programs we support.

For me, there is also this moment in our Eucharistic prayer that gives me chills every time I say it from Eucharistic Prayer B “And we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you,  O Lord of all; presenting to you, from your creation, this bread and this wine.”

Yet do not forget that we offer sacrifice at each worship service we attend, not out of obligation, but out of love for God, out of our awareness that everything we have comes from God’s generosity, our of gratitude for the gift of Jesus. If you belong to a sacramental church, really really listen to the Eucharistic prayers uttered by your priest, words of thanksgiving (the meaning of the word Eucharist), words of praise, and words of awareness that we remember what Jesus has done on our behalf, and it is our privilege to worship him, to thank him and to praise him.

Our Eucharistic prayers are treasures that distill the story of God’s grace, each of them with different details of the full story:  (created by God in God’s image), our fall from grace (Adam and Eve), the calling of God’s people (the Israelites), the failure of God’s people to respond, and the arrival and sacrifice of Jesus once, and for ALL people, everywhere. Breathtaking!

So, from people of the Way, to the apostles at Antioch who received the new name we still carry today: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch,” (Acts 11:26) to The Coundil of Jerusalem in 50 AD and onward from there until today, where we recite words in our churches that remind us of Christ’s sacrifice for us all, each of us speaking from our circumcised hearts.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,


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