Months ago, buried deep in the books of Daniel, Matthew, and Revelation, I began to feel the desire to go back to the richness of Paul’s letters. In all honesty, I love God’s word, but when I think about the concepts Paul was sharing with the new believers, and how radically different they were from anything the recipients had been taught, and knowing that this was the case with Paul as well; let’s just say, I am drawn to them.
In the book of Acts, we find Saul/Paul reciting his resume if you will. This description of himself includes: Being born of Pharisees; raised a Pharisee; confidently boasting that he was surpassing many of his peers in knowledge of the Torah, Talmud, and supplementary teachings; so zealous was I for what I understood to be God’s word, that I defended it violently, incarcerating those of the way, and, if necessary, having them killed. At the martyr of Stephen, we find a young Saul holding the cloaks of those who wished to throw stones.
Certainly, Saul was well-educated; we could probably say, he knew the law and prophets inside and out. And yet, Saul knew little of grace and mercy – conspicuous characteristics of God and His son Jesus. At some point in time – we know where this probably began, Saul began to be taught by Jesus himself.
(Consider for a moment, how that could happen outside of a personal revelation? As an example, we have Abram who described God’s movements as He walked between the halves of the bloody carcass. As God walked He described all that He would do for the man that followed Him. It was all a revelation; a dream. In Saul’s case, much of it may have happened instantaneously, as the men who traveled with him heard the noise that Saul heard, but could not distinguish it from thunder.)
What was Saul taught in his revelation of Jesus? The very things that Jesus demonstrated as He walked this earth.
Something else to keep in mind as you study: Jesus set aside His majesty and became a man, that means he was voluntarily on His own, as learned the Torah and Talmud, just as Saul did. And yet, something was distinctly different; Jesus found the grace and mercy in those words, not the legalism. Yes, I have heard the same traditional discussion that is spread around the church; talk that implies Jesus had God’s power inherent in him simply because of who He was (The argument can go much deeper and complicated, but that is essentially the ruse.) Given, He was born of Godly seed but that still makes him half man, and this entire process was for a specific reason – to redeem man through the blood sacrifice of a man, the God-man. Here is another of those intricate details that few latch on to. Yeshua, born of God’s seed, bypasses the one thing, apparently passed through genetics, that motivates us to do things our own way, therefore He was sin free. If he were to sin, it would have been through some serious temptation, much like Adam went through. We, in our simple little minds, love to call this motivation to do our own thing, sin.
Through Paul’s writings, we come to understand that we have goals to meet, such as: walking in love; these are referred to as the perfect law of liberty. And yet, we, almost daily, come short of fulfilling those goals, as we try to hit the mark. According to some, our missing of this mark means we have failed, and therefore subjected ourselves to the threat of hell’s flames. Our religiosity then categorizes our sins, forgetting that the price, large or small, was permanently paid on the cross and all sin was set aside. The circumvention this process is in direct contradiction to the laws of the universe. You see man/Adam, had given up the title deed to the earth, which God had put under his control. You wish to argue this point, then consider that Jesus was taken to the pinnacle of the temple and shown, by Satan, all the kingdoms of this world. Jesus did not argue that he was a fool for even saying that because Adam had given it away. But, a man, a sinless man, was going to take it all back in time. (All this is spelled out in veiled language, some of which we see almost immediately after man selfishly partakes of the forbidden fruit when God/Yeshua tells Eve, your seed will crush the serpents head.)
And yet, religion still compels all to come for forgiveness. Yes, this too I get, as the apostle, John informs us that we all sin daily.
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:6-10 NASB)
So, what then does this act of continuously asking for forgiveness look like? Perhaps forgiveness is enveloped in this idea of fellowship that John speaks of. In fellowship, there is something close what Adam had in the garden, where he walked and talked with God. It is also something our hearts long for, relationship restored.
The NASB entitles this next section – Paul, called by God,
and thus begins our look at Galatians 1:11
Galatians 1:11 MKJV And, brothers, I make known to you the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not according to man.
At this point he is not indicating what that gospel is; a gospel which he “preached” as he passed through the region on his missionary trips. However, he is making a distinction in that the message is not man’s message.
He received this message directly from the Father himself. For the skeptic, and there are always skeptics, I will ask the question for you, when did that happen? Quite possibly on the road to Damascus, as Saul was traveling with others; traveling, with the express purpose of bringing harm to any followers of “the way.” These were what the new “Christians” were called. Since Jesus informed all, who would listen, that he was “the way.” It stands to reason that new believers might take on the identification, “followers of the way.”
Since we know that Saul/Paul conveyed a message of “good news,” then it also makes sense to understand what the message was.
In a nutshell, the message is this:
Galatians 1:3-4 NASB Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
Some, as I have experienced, do not believe that the message, upon which we base our hope, is necessary or effective. This is especially true if one’s goal is to beat people into submission verbally. If you think about it, that was never God’s technique; He merely presented the options to Abram and said, “as for me.” This delivery method seems simple enough, doesn’t it? God telling man, regardless of what you do, I will carry out my plan.
Now, because we have invested time in God’s word, and understand His plan of redemption, we also understand that life here on earth functions more effectively when we follow God’s formula for success (The word formula is easily perceived as law. But as believers, under grace, are we under the law? No, it is now referred to as, “the perfect law of liberty,” and it works well when followed.)
James 1:25 NET. But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out — he will be blessed in what he does.
Our freedom of choice was never removed; in many, like some wild stallion, there is a refusal to submit to the reigns. Jesus said, take up the cross and follow me. How do you exempt yourself from a submission to the one who gave his all for you? So yes, there is a “law of liberty;” and, I have chosen to submit myself to it. In doing so, I have found that it works for me, not against me.
I keep emphasizing that the Apostle Paul spoke to Jews first and foremost.
You might think that the modern “Christian” community would understand this by now. I know this is not the case, as I recently sat in an adult Sunday morning class that chose to use approved literature from a “Christian” vendor. The books used were misleading and inaccurate in their presentation and questions. Sadly, no one challenged the text, and when I did, many angrily disputed with me. In time the Apostle Paul modified his approach and took the message to the Gentiles; he did this because he was repeatedly and violently attacked by the religious, and traditional Jews.
The startling revelation here – is that the Gentiles would not have heard the words of the Torah and therefore would not have known of God’s promise to Abram and how there was to be a restoration of all things. Paul is working with blank slates and needed to bring the Gentiles up to speed.
Information about Paul’s audience plays a critical role in our understanding of the things Paul is writing; for the reasons, I explained. So, when he says, “I made known to you the gospel which was preached by me,” he is not telling the Jews something new, they already understood the far-reaching aspects of Paul’s message.
I have bounced around the edges of this message for two posts and now a third, so, what was the message that Paul shared with the Jews as he entered the Synagogues?
Common sense tells us that it had to be one that was pertinent. An aspect of those pertinent messages came from the law, but as Gentiles, we see little redemption in those restrictions. If that is true, and they are merely restrictions and not a pattern of the good things to come, then how or why would the Jews see the redemption and restoration of all things in them? Other writings, that pointed to salvation from this present evil world, could be found in the works of David and the prophets: Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel jump to mind.
King David said, “.. You were a forgiving God to them, And yet an avenger of their evil deeds. Psalm 99:8
Was he only talking about a momentary, present forgiveness, or is this a reference to some future time when all things will be set aside?
Isaiah prophesied, “Thus I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.” Isaiah 13:11 NASB
The context of Isaiah 13:11 puts this at the end of time, as He is punishing the world for evil. This theme is also spelled out in the writings of the prophet Joel and in the Revelation, but we cannot count the Revelation yet because we are focused on a message that would have been relevant to the Jewish community.
As a matter of fact, the message was so relevant that many believed, while others, conspired to have Paul beaten and stoned. In the Revelation, this punishment upon the earth is the judgment and wrath of God being poured out.
The Christian community should be rejoicing as we are not subject to wrath because we are in Christ (There are always exceptions and the parable of the ten virgins spells that out for us. If I take this parable literally, the ratio is 50 percent who will be left behind when the catching away of the church comes.) Israel, on the other hand, has reason to be concerned, as they kept chasing idols and turning their backs on God.
One of the proofs of God’s anger against Israel is found in the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
“Yet you said, ‘I am innocent; Surely His anger is turned away from me.’ Behold, I will enter into judgment with you Because you say, ‘I have not sinned.‘“ Jeremiah 2:35 NASB
So, God will enter into judgment with Israel, but when? The prophet Joel tells us that God will enter into judgment with the nations. He does this for the way they treated His people, Israel.
“I will gather all the nations And bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. Then I will enter into judgment with them there On behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel, Whom they have scattered among the nations; And they have divided up My land.” Joel 3:2 NASB
Some would say, but Israel is no longer scattered? Is that true? No, and though the reasons may have changed, the vile hatred coming from the nations is still there.
Isaiah tells us of new heavens and earth, along with so much more; when does that happen?
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. 18) “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness. 19) “I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying.” Isaiah 65:17-19 NASB
The obvious answer to the question, “when does that happen?”, is some obvious future date; a hope anchored on something. The Jews understood that something, to be the coming of the expected Messiah. When you read the story of the Magi, you find Herod questioning the Magi as to why they had come. In a panic, Herod calls upon the chief priests and scribes, demanding when and where this Messiah was born, that the Magi were looking for. The information they give him is taken in part from Micah the prophet.
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” Micah 5:2 NASB)
Yet Israel was looking for the Messiah; one who would come conquering and rule with an iron fist over Israel’s oppressors. They did not want this:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7 NASB)
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him? This was the exact opposite of what they saw in “king” Saul.
“For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Isaiah 53:2-3 NASB)
And yet that is how God opted to bring Him into the world. Now comes the hard part. How do you show the Jews that the God-man, who had the flesh stripped off his back, was God himself, and now reigns with the Father until the day He returns as the sword-wielding conqueror Israel expected?
I do not know if this applied during the time of Paul but it certainly is true today, Isaiah 53 is a forbidden section of scripture in the Synagogues. A Messianic rabbi, a street evangelist if you will, shows Jews Isaiah’s words from Isaiah 53 in the Talmud, and has them read it aloud. Many recognize and admit that this could have only been Jesus the Christ, and accept Yeshua as the Messiah they have longed for.
“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging, we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5 NASB)
There it is, the good news. Perhaps, in a way, more for the Jew than the Gentile, but the common ground is that there will, someday, be a relief from this evil world; a relief from this sin infested body I cannot shake, and a peace that I have never known or comprehended outside of relationship with Christ. The Jews knew this was coming but judgment hung over their heads. The Gentiles knew nothing of this hope and that is one of the reasons we and Israel, have been so infested with idolatry. We have all been seeking peace and a hope. All of that and more is found in Jesus/Yeshua when you come to Him.