A Jews for Jesus staff member recently made some amazing discoveries about her family. She knew she’d been adopted as an infant, and that she had a family she’d never met. She prayerfully awaited the right time, then diligently pursued their identity and the opportunity to meet them.
Before long, she met two brothers she never knew she had and learned of her biological mother’s tragic death. Soon after, she met her biological father. She’s been both blessed and challenged by the implications of this sometimes gut-wrenching process. Many children of adoptive parents find a journey such as hers to be transformative.
Families can be our greatest blessing—and also the source of our greatest pain. Family is amazingly influential in forming our identity, the foundation of who we are and who we can become in this world. This is just as true—sometimes even more so—of our spiritual family, the body of Messiah.
Without pushing an analogy too far, consider that all followers of Jesus have a family in addition to those who have cared for and raised us—and discovering our “other” family should be a transformative experience. But how much do we value that family, and how much do we pursue discovery?
Often the body of Messiah (also known as the church) is undervalued. Perhaps that’s because of our overly developed sense of individualism, especially in Western culture. As believers in Jesus are discipled into the faith, personal redemption tends to be the central focus. Yet the Scripture—and Jesus’ entire life and ministry—clearly reveal that God’s plan was not just to save individual souls, but also to establish this new and mysterious family.
Something wonderful happens when we gather with others to worship God—something that can’t happen in our private devotional times, as crucial as those are. Our family, the body of Christ, is central to our identity in Him. That identity continues to unfold as we learn to function as His family members. A poignant report from Paris tells of a young man who, without even knowing what the body of Messiah is, intuitively felt that he’d found “a brother” by finding someone who could teach him about Jesus. (Read the story on page 8 of this pdf.)
The details of God’s family remained a complete mystery to His chosen people, the Jewish people, for generations. But the apostle Paul tells us “by revelation He [God] made known to me the mystery… that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:3,6).
Previously, God’s laws had dictated strict separation between Jews and people of the other nations. The old “before Christ” estrangement between Jews and Gentiles was well established, even inscribed for all to see in the Temple in Jerusalem. In fact, if you visit the Istanbul Archeology Museum, you can see a remnant of that inscription on a slab of limestone from the Jerusalem Temple, discovered in 1871. Known as the “Soreg Inscription,” it says:
“No stranger [Gentile] is to enter within the balustrade round the Temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death, which will ensue.”
I don’t imagine that encouraged an attitude of worship for non-Jews visiting the Temple! Paul refers to the structure on which this warning appeared as the middle wall of separation, a spiritual metaphor to the much more significant barrier now gloriously broken down in Christ. The two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, have become one new family in Him, a family named by Him and for Him (Ephesians 2:14; 3:15).
We have mysteriously and supernaturally gained siblings among people who were previously estranged. For a Jewish person suddenly to discover Gentiles in the family can be quite a surprise. The converse is also true. Many Christians have confided to me that they may have some Jewish ancestry from generations back that was kept a big family secret. But from the Bible’s perspective, Gentile believers have Jewish family members in their lineage going back to the book of Acts!
Sometimes God’s children erect barriers that Jesus died to tear down.
Sadly, it becomes all too easy to allow estrangement to creep back into the family, and sometimes God’s children erect barriers that Jesus died to tear down. Estrangement may ensue between spiritual siblings who make a big deal over their differences. They may be cultural differences or perhaps theological differences that are not central to the gospel*—a whole host of barriers can get in the way of celebrating our family heritage.
Such barriers are understandable among those who don’t yet know Yeshua (Jesus). For example, many Jewish-Gentile couples in which one or both partners don’t know the Lord experience culture clash. This actually becomes an opportunity for ministry, especially for those who are reaching out in hopes of finding spiritual harmony. (Learn more about that opportunity on p. 6 of this pdf.) An important principle in cross-cultural communication is listening, and then asking questions to learn what is actually meant by words that might mean something different to each partner.
It’s very sad when those who do know the Lord allow cultural differences (and you might be surprised how many seemingly theological differences have cultural inferences or underpinnings) to cause division in God’s family. We should be longing for spiritual harmony with our brothers and sisters. We should be listening to one another and asking questions to be sure we do not misunderstand one another. And we need to fend off the temptation to erect walls that divide us.
Can you think of any barriers that we might have allowed to creep into the structure of our spiritual family? Let no more inscriptions be metaphorically inscribed on the walls of our churches and or in the recesses of our hearts and minds. Amen?
My dear Jews for Jesus family, we are indeed brothers and sisters and I am grateful for your presence in God’s family. Thank you for being loving toward your Jewish brothers and sisters. We really do need each other and we should find ways to reinforce and celebrate the diversity of our family heritage.
As much as I appreciate the love that so many of my brothers and sisters have for me and all my Jewish people, I have to tell you, I get uncomfortable when someone looks at me wistfully and says, “I wish I were Jewish.” I want anyone who might feel that way to know that you are just as loved and special to God as the Jewish kids in the family. There is no favoritism with Him, no hierarchy, no preferential standing, because, guess what? All of us are actually adopted! Think about that. None of us can even be a part of this mysterious family unless we are adopted (Ephesians 1:5).
We have a great big beautiful new identity in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) that is deeper and far more enduring than anything established through flesh and blood. God chose us all. He adopted us all: Jews and Gentiles together as one in Messiah. That should make us all feel very special indeed.
*Theological integrity must be maintained, but hopefully we are very circumspect concerning which theological differences hinder fellowship.