Bridging the Gap
NL Year 3 • Sermon • Submitted
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Unlike most of Paul’s other letters to churches, the letter we read from today is written to a region not to a town so it is likely that it was written as a general letter for several churches. The reason why that’s important to know is because when we heard about the circumcision debate last week and it was talking about the church in Antioch, Antioch is a church in the region of Galatia. We see that in Galatians 2:11 of our text today when it says that Cephas came to Antioch. So even though we don’t exactly hear the circumcision debate directly today, this discussion is directly related to what we heard and read from the book of Acts last week. Even though it isn’t a circumcision debate it is still yet another way that these new Jesus followers are trying to reconcile these two groups coming together: Jews and Gentiles.
As we heard during the reading a moment ago, we read from parts of chapters 1 and 2. The part that we read from Galatians 1:13-14 basically reads as Paul’s credentials. We see this in some of his other letters as well about just how Jewish Paul was.
The one that comes to mind comes from his letter to Philippi. In Philippians 3:4b-6. We see how in these two letters Paul continues to emphasize just how Jewish he really was and probably to a degree is. He was a Pharisee and he calls himself a zealot. That he did everything that was ever expected of him as a Jew and did it better than everyone else his age. He also upheld the law of God that he would have considered himself blameless.
One of the reasons why these texts about Paul’s Jewishness is so important, is that he, more than anyone else would be the one whom you would think would be the one who would demand things like circumcision and obedience to the law and ritual purity. He was so zealous for his faith that he spent his time doing everything he could to persecute these followers of Jesus until he had his encounter on the road to Damascus. So Paul lays out his Jewishness as a way to set up the conversation about Cephas (Peter) coming to Antioch and being a hypocrite when he eats with the Gentiles until that time when others from Jerusalem come to check up on the church and what was happening there.
One of the other aspects of Jewish life was maintaining food purity which is also known as kosher. It also meant as we talked about last week, that they couldn’t eat food sacrificed to idols. All of these laws from the Torah were at work in this new church, and as I said it caused a lot of debate, because the message of the Good News originated from the Jews and was now spreading to Gentiles. The reason why Paul calls Peter a hypocrite is that he was eating outside of the kosher laws until he was being observed by the group from Jerusalem. Peter should have known better because we see in Acts 10 how he received a vision from heaven about how all food is considered clean and he and Cornelius bring the gospel message to Gentiles and bless them with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So we have last week’s decision made by the whole Jerusalem council, we have Peter’s vision of food being clean, and the general acceptance that the message of Jesus is in fact meant for both Jews and Gentiles, and yet they are having a hard time letting go of the past and embracing the future. Does that sound familiar at all with what you have experienced in the church at one point or another? I believe that all of us, in our faith have a tendency to want to hold on to the past especially when it means that we might have to look at a present or a future than is different from what we have grown accustomed to and comfortable with. It can be painful to let go of the past even if it means opening up a better future. Even if it means that more people have access to a relationship with God through Christ Jesus. Which is why I love Paul’s statement to Peter. I see this statement playing into what I just said about how we ourselves still have a hard time letting things that should be let go. If we live like people of the world. We talk the same talk, we eat the same food, we dress in the same clothes, and play the same games and sports, yet when it comes to walking into the church suddenly there are expectations that are placed on people that go against what we do every other day of the week. If the message of Jesus if for all then we need to act like it is. If we can’t, then how can we expect people to come to faith?
Paul ends this part of his conversation by showing that anyone who ever followed the law should know that the law never truly saved them because no one has ever been good enough to be justified under the law. The only thing that can truly justify us, that is make us right with God, is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ who went on the cross. Jesus was good enough and Jesus died for our sake. That was enough, but nothing else is. If we say that Christ’s faithfulness is enough and then say, BUT you also have to follow all these laws then we are basically negating the work of Christ. Paul then goes on to say that we have to let the idea of ME, the ego, to also die with Christ so that the risen Christ can live in us. So that everything that Christ stood for lives in us, if not, then everything Christ did and especially his death and resurrection were for nothing.
I don’t think we can truly imagine what it must have been like trying to merge two very different groups together and bring them all to a common understanding of what life in Christ was like. Paul tried his best to show his personal history and his new present and future life in Christ as a way to bridge that gap. Perhaps the goal of the church is to bridge those gaps like Paul did. Maybe some of it is only perception by people who don’t have faith, but I think we all know that a person’s view or perception is their reality. But some of it is how Christians actually act. So how do we, like Paul change the views and minds of others to help them see that they are justified by faith and not by works of the law? And that justification, that faith, that relationship, those gifts and blessings are for them? To truly believe and live that way. We have been given the greatest gift ever through the one and only person who ever truly was good enough. Christ did it all for us. Why? Because he loves you. Jew and Gentile, the old, the young, people of any race, gender, or culture. Under the law there may be a distinction, but we live according to the faithfulness of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. In that new life there is no distinction. I pray for a day when the world can truly see that lived out and I thank God that I am justified and that you are justified, and that the whole world is made right because of Jesus Christ and that there is no law that can say anything other than we are all children of God. Amen.