God’s Word for You
Acts 15:12-18 Amos, about Gentiles
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, September 11, 2020
12 Then the whole group was silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul relate what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Two silences are mentioned by Luke. One before Barnabas spoke, and another afterward. At this point, much of what Luke has recorded in Acts 13-14 was recounted. Barnabas was probably the main speaker, since he is mentioned first, he was older, and he was much better known to the Christians at the council. This would have included their journey and ministry across Cyprus and the encounter with Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:4-12), the success in Asia Minor at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-49), and the resistance of the Jewish women (Acts 13:50-52). Moving into the interior of Asia Minor, they had limited success and more persecution at Iconium (Acts 14:1-7). There was a miraculous healing of the crippled man in Lystra which led to more converts, but also Paul’s being stoned almost to death (Acts 14:8-20). Meeting less resistance and having more success for the gospel in Derbe, they retraced their path and sailed back to Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:21-28), from where they had come for this council. The chief miracles were the conversions of Gentiles, although some other miracles (such as the healing of the cripple and the blinding of the sorcerer) were also signs of God’s approval of their message.
13 And after another silence, James responded. He said: “Brothers, listen to me.
When Barnabas and Paul finished their account, there was no sound at all. No one disputed their success, just as no one had disputed anything that Peter had said earlier. Following these testimonies of Peter, Barnabas, and Paul, it was time for one last man to speak.
This man was James. He was the same James who wrote the Epistle that bears his name (and which we have just finished reading together). A brother of Jesus, James had not been an apostle, but had become a believer in the days immediately following Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had appeared to James in particular at that time (1 Corinthians 15:7). Far from claiming anything based on their family connection, James described himself as Jesus’ “servant,” a word (doulos) which could also be translated “slave” (James 1:1).
Now James had become the leading pastor of the church in Jerusalem. This was appropriate since it freed the apostles to go here and there to preach the gospel and strengthen the churches. It seems as if, at this council, only Peter happened to be in the area at this time. None of the other apostles were nearby. We think of James as the chairman of this council, although no such title is given by the text. Nevertheless, when James gives his verdict, no one objects or raises any further point. What James was about to say would stand.
14 Simon has described how God first cared for the Gentiles, by taking from them a people for his name. 15 The words of the prophets agree with this, for as it is written,
16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild David’s fallen tent.
I will rebuild its ruins,
and restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’”
James quotes from the Prophet Amos (Amos 9:11-12), a prophecy about the coming of the New Testament Church. The first part is about the fallen tent of David, which is about both the downfall of the priesthood and worship life of the Old Testament and also about the line of David himself, the line of the Savior. This had been the line of the kings of Judah but it was falling into nothing but a dead stump (Isaiah 11:1). With the arrival of Jesus Christ, that stump had produced a Branch, a Branch that was bearing fruit. Then in the second part, Amos foresaw that it was no longer just the fruit of the house of Israel that would emerge. Out of the ruins of Israel would come another remnant, “the remnant of mankind.” From out of the masses and the millions of Gentiles, the Lord also called out a remnant that would also seek the Lord and be called by his name.
The Gentiles had not come begging to God to rescue them. For the most part they were ignorant of God in every way. Dimly aware that there was a creator, they made up endless myths about the world, the source of good and evil, the founding of their various cities and cultures, and they tried to tie themselves to the divine by imagining that they were descended from this or that hero who had fallen in love with goddesses in more wild stories than there were poets to tell them. But then, in this chaos of myths, misunderstandings, and outright lies, God reached in with the gospel of Jesus Christ and began to invite the Gentiles into the chosen people of God, the Holy Christian Church.
James’ conclusion: Listen to what Peter has said. The Gentiles had their own ‘Pentecost’ at Caesarea. The Gentiles have had the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts. The Gentiles have been blessed with miracles, healing, restoration, and the frustration of God’s enemies. More than that, the Gentiles have seen us Jews at our worst (was Paul still recovering from his stoning, bandaged and bruised and hideously wounded just months later?) and still the Gentiles have put their faith in Christ. This, James says, has fulfilled the words of God’s holy prophets.
The Gentiles who had come to faith would never throw away Christ to re-embrace legends about Apollo or Aphrodite, legends of fury and fear and folly without any true hope. Why would the Jews throw away Christ to re-embrace the law of Moses, a law that Jesus showed was fulfilled, at an end, and had only served to point ahead to the Savior? Now the Savior has come and more blessings have come with him than anyone ever hoped for, like a husband thought to be lost at sea, suddenly bursting through the door with arms full of gifts, and a fresh warm breeze following him into the room with flowers and lovely petals and butterflies carried in with the breeze changing everything in the house from mourning to laughter, from grief to joy, from darkness to light, from loss to fulfillment and permanent reunion.
So what must we do? Nothing at all. Put your trust in him. David said to Jews and Gentiles alike (Psalm 62:8):
Trust in him at all times, O people;
Pour out your hearts to him,
For God is our refuge.
Pastor Timothy Smith