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Monday, June 17, 2013

Crucified with Christ

Sunday, June 16, 2013

            I don’t know how you self-describe.  Our family attended a YMCA event where counselors were asked to introduce themselves.  What would you do if you were not working with the YMCA summer camps program as a counselor? Each counselor said his or her name, which group he led, and then this question was answered.
            So how about you?  What would be your ideal summer?  More generally, who are you?
            Recently, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s divorce was made public and Time magazine’s website did a spoof of what he might put for a personal column on  He is described a “Russian Teddy Bear” who wants a companion to travel the world with him and engage in some of his favorite activities like arm-wrestling. 
            Imagine writing a personal column, but not to attract romance but to show who you are.  Are you a “Chapel Hill Teddy Bear” who like arm-wrestling?  You have 1000 words.  What do you write so that the world knows you? 
            “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me.”  Whoa!  Would that be a part of your self-description?  Why did the first century Christian evangelist and church starter Paul write that sentence about himself?
            I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me.
            We back up to the end of Galatians chapter 1.  It helps to read Acts chapters 9-15 and also 1st Corinthians 15 along with Galatians 1 & 2.  Reading these passages together will not yield an accurate chronology.  My sense is neither Luke, the author of Acts, nor Paul, the author of Galatians and 1st Corinthians were offering a detailed timeline of events.  Both shared the story of how Paul went from persecutor of Christians to advocate of Jesus, but their purposes in telling the story were to build up the church.   Both wrote with an eye toward having their readers live the Christian faith the way Paul did. 
So I don’t think we will know exactly the order.  Did Paul go to the disciples first or to Arabia or to Jerusalem?  Which disciples did he see first?  How did he know what he knew?  What did he do in Arabia?  Scholars spin their wheels trying to piece it all together,  but the important point, which is brought out both in Acts and in Galatians 1 is that Paul was sinning against God by persecuting the followers of Jesus.  He was having them arrested and he assisted in their executions.  Then, the resurrected Jesus overwhelmed Paul in a dazzling display of speech and light.  After that event, Paul was the loudest mouthpiece for salvation offered by God through Jesus. 
This all happened in a Jewish context.  Jesus was said to be the fulfillment of the Law of Moses.  All that the Law was meant to accomplish was now finished in Jesus.  This meant Jews were to find their identity as the people of God in Jesus.  And it meant non-Jews, Gentiles, were invited to become a part of the people of God without becoming Jewish. 
Of course, being Jewish meant being God’s chosen.  This new paradigm of salvation in and from Jesus was an upsetting change that was not accepted immediately.  Paul, an early adopter, over and over collided with more tradition-minded people who wanted to follow Jesus but could not let go of their former practices.  And Paul really did not care so long as they did not force their tradition on new believers.
But they did.  In Antioch and then in Galatia, teachers claiming the name of Jesus and the authority of the leader of the Jerusalem church, the half-brother of Jesus, James, came and declared that to be of God, one must keep all Jewish traditions.  Paul retorted that such claims negated what actually does save – the faithfulness of Jesus to die on the cross for us. 
Last week we talked about the way Paul personalized his position of salvation by faith through the sharing of his own story.  This begins in the latter half of Galatians 1.  He continues in chapter 2. 
He had a faithful ministry partner, Barnabas.  These Jews understood salvation to be opened up to the world in Jesus.  He had come, God in human skin, and he had made a way for all people who would receive Him to become people of God.  Paul and Barnabas saw this with much greater clarity than even the original 12 disciples who led the Jerusalem church. 
But, as he says, the traditionalists were open.  They had seen Jesus repeatedly make clean what was previously unclean.  They were there when he forgave the adultress instead of sanctioning her execution.  They watched as he healed lepers by touch.  He commanded demons and his followers knew it was true.  They met him in person in the days immediately after his resurrection.  Peter, James, John – they knew everything was different.
So when Paul came declaring a gospel in which Gentiles could follow Jesus without becoming Jews, the Jerusalem Church accepted it and affirmed it.  When Paul brought his gentile colleague, Titus, no one in Jerusalem demanded that Titus be circumcised.  They extended to him the right hand of fellowship and accepted him as a brother in Christ.  
I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me.
For Paul this meant everything was different.  Whatever previously existed to categorize and divide people, Jesus tore it down.  He no longer saw the world in terms of clean or unclean.  He did not meet people and immediately think, oh, a Gentile.  I’d better keep my distance.  For some reason, maybe the extreme empowering of the Holy Spirit, he could just let go of a way of thinking that had previously defined every element of his worldview.  Now in Christ, he would meet a person and think, Jesus died for this one.  I need to figure how I can make that clear so this other will surrender his heart to Jesus and be baptized into new life in Christ.
This put Paul in such conflict with his Jewish countrymen he became almost paranoid.  He says that false believers were brought in to Antioch and now Galatia with the express purpose of spying on how he exercised his freedom in Christ.  Their plan was to re-enslave all would-be Christians.  They would again set up the law as a boundary marker.  And Peter fell for it. 
He sat right with Paul and uncircumcised Christ-followers, Gentiles.  They were all there together – Paul, Peter, Barnabas and a host of new believers who discovered true forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus.  But someone from Jerusalem showed up and went on the attack.  Under cultural pressure, Peter and Barnabas buckled.  They caved.  They got up from the table.  They looked at their new friends, Gentile Christ-followers.  Hemming and hawing with an astonished Paul watching from the table and furrow-browed emissaries from Jerusalem glaring from the side, Peter and Barnabas rejoined the herd.
Who are you?  How do you self-describe?  I am someone who, when the crowd goes in one direction, joins the crowd.  Even if I know the majority is wrong, I so crave peer acceptance, that I go with the crowd.  I’d rather be accepted than be right.
Who puts that on their personal ad? 
No one would want this to be true of themselves, but it is true of you or me?  Do we run with the herd because deep down that is easier than putting all our trust in God that his grace is the best thing for us?  Do we the seek the comfort of the familiar even if the way we know is not all that great because at least it is known and faith in God requires too much, well, too much faith? 
Peter and Paul and Barnabas and others among the first believers had torn down the wall of separation between peoples.  Actually Jesus tore it down on the cross.  Literally, the curtain hanging in the temple that kept the world away from the holiest parts of God ripped in two by supernatural force at the moment Jesus died for the sins of the world. 
Now here is Paul in Antioch watching Barnabas and Peter go back to the Jews-only table.  The separation Jesus crushed is re-established.  And it will happen in Philippi and Rome and everywhere that there are Jews ready to announce Jesus as Messiah but not ready for what that means.  No!  Says Paul, himself the most accomplished of first century men of Israel.
“If I build up again the very things that I once tore down,” the wall of separation, “then I demonstrate I am a [sinner.]  Through the law, I have died to the law, so that I might live to God” (2:18-19).  Paul could see that faith is truly life in God, life defined by God.  Faith is a story about who we are. 
Who am I?  Who are you?  We come together and call ourselves HillSong Church – a family of people who are Jesus’ disciples.  We are a group of Christ followers.  What does that about say us?  Paul knew with great clarity that faith defines a person. 
Paul was fighting an insidious idea, one probably held by very few believers.  I am convinced that most of the original Jewish Christ-followers were overjoyed to welcome Gentiles and Peter and John and Barnabas are evidence.  They stepped into the new world created by Jesus without knowing what they were doing.  Their lack of clarity became insecurity when their participation with Christ was challenged and they did not have ready answers.  How can you eat with uncircumcised gentiles?   They knew the answer was ‘we can because of Christ.’  But the answer would not come.  They knew they were made in Him, but the old ways prevailed.
Not so with Paul.  In confronting his friends and standing by uncircumcised Titus, Paul gave a gift.  He showed the new way that is in Christ, and he showed in a painful, dramatic fashion.  It is not fun to confront others, especially those we love.  But when his brothers in Christ reduced the Gospel to a set of rules, he did confront them.  No, said Paul, we’ve died to that way of thinking.  We are a people who have been born anew, free of sin’s curse, free to live as God’s people in the world by His Kingdom standards even here and now as we await the final inauguration of that Kingdom. 
Do we understand how extensive a claim it is on us to say that we belong to Jesus?  It is too big for a personal ad or a Facebook descriptor or an identification on an army dog tag. 
I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me.
Salvation is a gift of grace, one that means we are forgiven, saved from death, but also saved to life.  In receiving the grace of God, we give up our lives.  We open ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that Christ lives in us.  Our lives are absolutely no longer about ourselves.  We are about Him. 
With Christ living in us, a new story unfold, one that includes hard times.  We will be tempted to retreat to models of living that feel less risky because to trust God and give ourselves to Him and receive Christ is to be unique and at times to speak out against the world around us.  It could not be any other way.  Those apart from Christ are fallen.  Those who claim Christ but rely on themselves, like the opponents in Galatia relying on their own understanding, are deceived. 
The best we can do is love the unlovable, speak the truth no matter the consequences, and trust God’s provision when giving such trust just makes no sense at all.  The God-purposed life Paul discovered in Jesus powered him through trying circumstances.  The will and presence of God empowers us to bear witness to Him and to endure whatever opposes us.  It also enables to see God in the world and to live in freedom; a freedom only God give.  We begin to truly live when we are crucified with Christ and he comes alive in us.  It is then that we live into the grace God has given us.


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