Monday, July 31, 2017

Paul Novel 4.7: Faith, not Works of Law

continued from last week
The reaction to the blow-up largely fell along Jew-Gentile lines. There were two love feasts that Sunday evening, one in the home of Menaen with the Jewish believers and another in the home of Menander with the Gentiles. Very few Jews went to Menander's, but Paul was one of them.

Menander was particularly discouraged that Barnabas did not come, but Paul was furious. He at least had enough calm to assure them that it was not because Barnabas actually agreed with James and Peter. "He is just keeping the peace," Paul told them. "He is submitting to authority."

Paul continued. "Barnabas wanted me to tell you all that he does not think you are sexually immoral. He urged me to tell you to be patient because it takes some people longer than others to discern the will of the Holy Spirit. He wants to assure you that Peter is only trying to do what is right and that he loves you in the Lord."

He gave a long word of exhortation that night. "I used to think like Peter and James," he said. "In fact, I believed you Gentiles were so sinful that I would have been defiled the moment I crossed the threshold of this house. I kept the Jewish Law more carefully than any Jew you have met, certainly more than Peter or James. I used to think of Jesus as one of the vilest sinners.

"In fact, at that time Jesus was almost worse to me than a Gentile because, to me, he was encouraging Israel to sin. How would God send the Messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel if we had Jews going around encouraging sin? Jesus spent a lot of time with the sinners of Israel, people like tax collectors and prostitutes.

"But God stopped me in my path, for which I am eternally grateful. I was on my way to Damascus to arrest the disciple Simon. You all know Simon. He spends a lot of time in the more activist currents within Israel. But God appeared to me and showed me that I was actually working against his will.

"You have heard the phrase 'through the faithfulness of Jesus.' It is something they talk about a lot in the Jerusalem church. When they use the phrase, they are talking about how God has chosen to restore the kingdom of Israel through the faithful death of Jesus. The sin of Israel was too great for the temple to atone for it. It was too great for people like me or Barnabas to make up for it.

"But Jesus absorbed the wrath of God toward Israel, like the Maccabean martyrs did not so long ago. His faithfulness brought an end to the wrath of God toward his people. The righteousness of Jesus, I see now, was beyond any righteousness that any of us could provide because he was God's Son. He had no sin.

"All day I've been thinking about that phrase, 'through the faith of Jesus." There is another way to take the phrase in Greek. I've heard some of you say it by mistake. But maybe it is no mistake after all. You all have faith in Jesus, don't you? That's what has made you right with him. It's not these sorts of 'works of Jewish Law' that Peter and James seem so concerned with. We are all put in right standing with God because we have faith in what God has done through Jesus the Christ.

"And when you think of it, I kept the Jewish Law really well. But that was nothing before God. It was like a pile of poop when you put it next to the faithfulness of Jesus. You might say that those sorts of works of Law--food laws, purity laws, whether you are circumcised--are all nothing compared to Christ. You all here tonight have faith that God raised Jesus from the dead. You all have confessed Jesus as your Lord. That is more than enough."

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