Sunday, June 23, 2013
You and I walk into a Wendy’s together. I want a frosty. You’re having a fries and a Sprite. A mom with a 6-year-old and a 1-year-old is ahead of us in line. She looks haggard. Carrying the young one, the 6-year-old mercilessly, relentlessly pulls on her free hand and demands a kid’s meal with toys.
The two women taking orders behind the counter are named “Cranky” and “indifferent.” They seem annoyed that this six-year-old is acting like a six-year-old. Really, they seem annoyed by all customers.
Behind us we hear someone cursing a blue streak. It is a girl yelling at her boyfriend who is not actually there. She’s giving the cell phone attached to her ear what-for. It might be funny, her sitting there alone, yelling at someone not present while those who are present stare. It might be funny if it were not so sad, foul-mouthed, inappropriate, and loud.
A man in business attire is seated alone, going over charts, as he sips his drink.
The mom struggles through her order as the six-year-old goes to the table in tears. She did not cave. She did not get that kids meal. She told him 10 times that he already had three copies of the toy at home and he never eats his chicken fingers. And he’s upset.
We step up to order. Cranky looks at us with dead eyes and says nothing. “Hi.” I say. “How are you?” She says nothing. You smile at her. She gives no expression. She won’t crack. She is on the clock for three more hours. She can play this game. She won’t reveal a hint of personality. She won’t affirm our humanity, not for a second. She knows we want our food and we have to get through to get it. She’s not going anywhere. She can wait.
In shameful surrender, we order, pay, and slog to our seats, trying to find the joy we lost.
How could the trip to the fast food place go differently?
Were any sins committed? Any laws of God or laws of men broken? Did faith fail?
In Galatians 3 we see law and faith juxtaposed, set in opposition to one another. Both are from God. We read that before faith came, we were imprisoned under the law.
What does that mean, exactly, “before faith came?”
Jesus changed everything for Paul. After his death and resurrection the ways humans related to one another and to God were forever altered. This includes the law and our understanding of the people of God. “Law” refers to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – the foundational scriptures for Israel. Paul calls the law a disciplinarian. The word he used referred to someone in his culture that saw to the education of wealthy children.
The disciplinarian was not actually the teacher. Rather the disciplinarian was the one who made sure the kids went to class. The disciplinarian was a family’s personal truancy officer. In most cases this role was filled by a highly trusted slave.
We humans, even the most grown up and brilliant among us are as children before God. We’re not just any children. We’re children prone to misbehave in the worst ways imaginable. Prior to Jesus, we needed our disciplinarian, the law, to show us how wrong we were.
Faith does something different that the law. Law shows sin. Faith calls us to holiness. In Jesus, Paul believed a fundamental shift happened; life moved from law obedience to faith calling.
I remember a conversation with a friend in which I asked him about church. He’s a neighbor and he knows I am pastor of HillSong. We had had 100’s of conversations about parenting, about baseball, about his time as a swimmer at Clemson. When I asked about church, I just wanted to continue our conversation but on another topic. I wanted to hear more of his story. But I am a pastor asking about church. He had this look on his face, as if I had watched him shoplift a candy bar from a convenience store. “I know should be back in church” he sighed under a blanket of guilt. He was afraid of getting caught by the truancy officer. He was raised in a generally Christian worldview, but he still yields to the disciplinarian, the law.
So many Christians talk about salvation by grace through faith but then live in a good-bad, legalistic mindset. Our actual living, which is law bound, doesn’t match the ideology we speak, salvation by faith as a gift of grace.
Paul says no, no. Jesus has come. Faith has come. Verse 24: “the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came.” God always intended Jesus, and now he has come, so we don’t live as naughty children held in check by the strictness of the law. In Christ we are sons and daughters of God called to the holiness of God.
We are called by God to live out this holiness in our daily lives here and now. This is not the end-times Kingdom of God. We are physically in the fallen world that has been corrupted by sin. But with Christ in us, we are, even while here, full of the stuff of the kingdom and all its goodness. We are to live into and to share the grace we’ve been given. It is essential that we bid farewell to the disciplinarian and live into the new life, the life of faith.
The law shows sin. Faith, which is a gift of God’s grace, calls us to holiness. Law is our disciplinarian. Faith is a joy producer.
The law shows what makes for death. Because of sin, death is our destiny. But again, faith has come because God has come in Jesus. Verse 27, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” When we are baptized, we go under the water, buried, dead in sin. But then we come out of the water, clean, fresh, clothed with Christ so that our life belongs to Him, and his resurrection becomes ours. The disciplinarian law which reveals sin points to death. Christ our savior calls us beyond sin avoidance to something new, something God always intended for us: holiness. Christ our Lord does not stand over us with a thundering hand but walks beside us, grinning, laughing, making music and giving joy. Christ our God calls us to eternal, abundant life.
One more contrast shows we have moved from law to life, from a disciplinarian to a relationship in which God sees us as His daughters and sons. This was quite important in Galatia and is equally important in church and in a Wendy’s restaurant.
In Galatian churches, Jewish Christ followers worshipped alongside Gentile Christ followers. In Christ, slaves were equal members – even equal to their masters. Men and women were adopted by God on equal terms. It is hard to say which divide was greatest. Jews saw non-Jews as being unclean and unfit for relationship with God. Men saw women as reduced humanity. Many of the ancients thanked God above all else that they were created male and not female. And slaves were non-human. Even when slaves were treated well and given great responsibility, they were still slaves.
These cruel categories were not banned in the law. But they had no place in Christ. Galatians 3:28 is one of the defining moments of all Paul’s writings. N.T Wright imagines this great scripture when he says, it is “like one of those symphonic finales where the composer seems to be trying to bring a many instruments into the action as possible, all playing different motifs but somehow combining into a glorious paean of praise” (Justification, p.127). If you only ever memorize one verse, maybe Galatians 3:28 ought to be it. We are baptized into Christ. We are clothed with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek. There is no longer male or female. There is no longer slave or free. In Christ we come together.
Of course we hold onto what makes us unique. Christ calls for us to die to self but not to forfeit the things that make us who we are. When John, in Revelation, viewed the throngs of persons saved for eternity by Jesus, he noticed some things. There were more people than he could count. They came from every tribe on earth. They did not lose their individuality. He could see that this was a coming together of all people – joined in Jesus. Note the final sentence in Galatians 3:28. “All of you are one in Christ.” In our glorious diversity, we are united in Him. Women are still women, Jews are still Jews. But we are all free from sin and joined to one another as brothers and sisters.
Obviously there is no place in the Kingdom of God for any kind of racial or ethnic prejudice. God has no sympathy for those who think races should not intermarry. The notion that people should stick to their own kind is foreign in God’s kingdom for we are all His. Our differences are reasons to celebrate one another and our likeness is that we are buried in sin and raised to new life in Him.
Knowing this, does it make a difference when you and I go into a Wendy’s restaurant?
Maybe, Cranky and Indifferent don’t know that they are invited to come to Christ and that we are all invited to come together as children of the new age. In their own minds you and I are named annoyance numbers 1 & 2. But, we love them because Jesus has come and with him faith. Whether or not we have the chance to say they are invited by God, we love them. By faith we are saved, you, me, and Cranky and Indifferent. The Kingdom joy we put forth in that Wendy’s may or may not win them over. They may never crack that smile, but we keep on pouring out Jesus because we know He wants these Wendy’s workers in His kingdom. They each mean as much to him as any lawyer, pastor, doctor, or CEO. In him there is no separation between them and us. The moment the come to him in faith, we come together.
So, maybe we help out the mom with the crazy toddler. We carry her tray. We say a silent prayer for the young woman cussing her boyfriend over the cell phone. We smile and hold the door for the lonely, rushed business man who spilled a bit of ketchup on his white shirt. He needs a smile and a touch of Heaven’s love. The Kingdom of God is made up of people who used to cuss but then met Jesus. The Kingdom is made up of tired moms who find energy to continue in Jesus. The kingdom of God is populated by frustrated fast food cashiers who think their lives are dead-ended until meet Jesus; and business men who discover the bottom line is not all there is; and girlfriends and boyfriends who treat each other with respect, love, and patience. All these people belong to each other and to us in Christ.
Carrying a tray, sharing smile, and maintaining joy are not world-changing actions. They are though deeds done in a spirit – the Spirit of the one who changed the world by coming and dying and rising and then calling all people together into His body, the church.
That’s the end game of grace and the deepest meaning of Galatians 3:28 and the entire gospel of Jesus Christ. God calls the world together in His love. Heaven is not a place where we each get our own mansions and get to be with the people we like. Heaven is where we sit around one table and like and love the people we are with because Jesus is there it could be no other way.
We begin living Heaven the moment He takes up residence in us. We thank God for what the law accomplished and we acknowledged that it is finished because Jesus has come and the age of grace and faith has dawned.