Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"
Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father."
They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing what your father did." They said to him, "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father - even God." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." (ESV)
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Friday of Epiphany 4
7 February 2014
How shocking the fall of the Galatians was! They heard the free and freeing gospel from the Apostle Paul and received it, led into the kingdom of grace by the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit led them from the carnal and earth-bound spiritualities into the true spiritual freedom. As often happens after people have become free, someone decides that they are too free and need to shackled and restrained. The Galatians suffered the onslaughts of persecution at the hands of their former friends and neighbors. Convinced they were helping these deluded Christians, such neighbors and friends gladly betrayed them to the magistrates who clapped them in irons, put them to judicial torture, confiscated their property, and perhaps did them to death. Some of them might well have been maimed through torture, bearing in their bodies the marks of Christ (Gal 6:17). This frightful coercion did not reduce their confidence in the God who gave himself for their sins to deliver them from the present evil age (Gal 1:4). They suffered this persecution as signs of God's mercy and rejoiced to have been counted worthy of enduring wounds for the Crucified. Those who wanted to restrict their freedom in Christ could not reduce it one iota by shackles, torture, nor even death.
How ironic that those who experienced such expansive and confident freedom in the face of persecution, would in turn subject themselves to a more humiliating mutilation in the imposition of circumcision. Their friends, who became enemies, had tried to snuff out their faith by mutilating their bodies through judicial torture. This caused their faith to waver not a bit, for they had no fear of those who could maim and kill only the body. This could not change what Christ had done for poor sinners not a bit. They had been placed into higher things by Paul's preaching. They were crucified with Christ that they would not live unto themselves, but live in Him. What could man do to those who are kept so securely in Christ? And yet, they submitted themselves to another fleshly torture when those friends who wanted to restrict their freedom in Christ commended to them circumcision. Both mutilations were forms of legal coercion; one attempting to stamp out the faith of Christ, the other attempting to supplement faith in Christ. Both were dangerous to the faith of Christ.
Paul could not imagine that those who had been coerced by the law to give up Christ would willingly submit to the mutilating slavery of the law to supplement Christ. There can be no physical guarantees of faith, not even those required by the law. By submitting to this minor bloodletting they had returned to the sacrificial system of the old law, which foreshadowed the once and for all sacrifice of Christ and became instantly antique and obsolete at the cross. They were chasing shadows and ignoring the substance. They were calling into question the sufficiency of Christ by submitting to this mutilation. They were victors over the humiliations of persecution and would they now bow down to a new law? Would they now desert Christ and receive the branding of that new law to serve as the mark of righteousness? Would they now desert the mark of the Triune God named upon them in baptism in favor of a brand that would mark them as traitors to the gospel? If such a brand avails before God, then the Christ does not. No wonder Paul is so urgently calling them back to Christ. Paul is also calling us to live not in the maiming brand of the law, but in the brand of the gospel. In which one will you live?
"'Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?' (Gal 3:3). Those who start from small beginnings make progress to higher things. You, who began with the high, have relapsed to the low. Even if you had begun in carnal things, your advance should have been to the spiritual. But now, after starting from things spiritual, you have ended your journey in the carnal. For to work miracles is spiritual, but to be circumcised is carnal. After miracles you have passed to circumcision. After having apprehended the truth you have fallen back to types. After gazing on the sun you search for a candle. After having strong meat you run out for milk. He says, 'Are you now being perfected by the flesh?,' which means not 'initiated' merely, but 'sacrificed,' signifying that their teachers took and slew them like animals, while they resigned themselves to suffer what those teachers pleased. This is as if some captain, or distinguished man, after a thousand victories and trophies, were to subject himself to shame as a deserter, and offer his body to be branded according to the will of others.
"'Did you suffer so many things in vain - if indeed it was in vain?' (Gal 3:4). This remark is far more piercing than the former (3:1-2), for the remembrance of their miracles would not be so powerful as the exhibition of their contests and endurance of sufferings for Christ's sake. All that you have endured, says he, these men would strip you of, and would rob you of your crown. Then, lest he should dismay and unnerve, he proceeds not to a formal judgment, but adds, 'if indeed it was in vain;' if you have but a mind to shake off drowsiness and recover yourselves, he says, it is not in vain. Where then be those who would cut off repentance? Here were men who had received the Spirit, worked miracles, become confessors, encountered a thousand perils and persecutions for Christ's sake, and after so many achievements had fallen from grace. Nevertheless he says, if you have the purpose, you may recover yourselves."
Commentary on Galatians, 3.1
Free us from the coercion of the law, that we might not become slaves again to what you, dear Lord Jesus, have fulfilled by Your suffering and death for us. Help us to see that when we suffer persecution, whether it be physical or psychological, that we are suffering for you, and so are losing nothing but the world's approbation. In You we have everything. Keep us in that freedom that we might never be coerced by the new legalists. Amen.
For Jim Keller who will undergo a heart catheterization, that he might experience a full recovery
For all church musicians who continue to lead God's people in the song that sings back to God what He has granted us in Christ, that they might abound in the work of the Lord
For President Obama, that he might be upheld in every good deed
Art: MEMLING, Hans Adoration of the Magi (c. 1470)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014