Galatians 2:11-20 – Second of a Lenten Series

March 25, 2011 at 9:55 pm Leave a comment

11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ;20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

“When you’re here, you’re family.”
That’s the tag line for The Olive Garden,
whose unlimited salad and breadsticks and never-ending pasta bowls
are served at franchises around the nation.
And yet, it’s much more romantic if you believe
that you are really at a sidewalk café in Little Italy,
or at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Roma or Napoli,
where the barmaid, the waitress, and the owner
all know you by name and welcome you not simply as a customer,
but as a friend, a member of an extended family.
“When you’re here, you’re family.”
Oh really?
I can have the same cynical reaction to Applebee’s,
whose exclusive locations in the strip malls of America
does not prevent them from claiming to be a Neighborhood Grill and Bar.
We’re family, are we?
Well if we were really family,
we wouldn’t be paying so much for the unlimited salad, breadsticks, and pasta,
now would we,
and one glass of beer wouldn’t be so blamed expensive.
Then again, if we were really family,
we’d probably be doing some of the cooking,
washing dishes, and sweeping up too.
I guess I can’t be too critical.

“When you’re here, you’re family.”
It capitalizes on the special nature of Mediterranean culture,
whether in Italy or Greece or in Arabia,
any Mediterranean or Middle Eastern culture.
To eat at the same table with someone in these parts of the world
is truly to be accepted as a member of the family.
That is why when Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners,
it scandalized the Pharisees.
That is why when Peter, or Cephas,
the leader of the apostles,
ate with non-Jewish believers in Christ at the same table in Antioch,
it scandalized the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem,
who had come to see if the thing was true.

And when Peter saw that his fellow Jewish Christians were scandalized,
he tried to make the best of a bad situation.
At least as long as these people were there,
he would eat only with his Jewish brothers-in-Christ
and not with his Gentile brothers-in-Christ.
There’s Gentile believers, and then there’s family.
Surely everyone could understand that.
In trying not to offend anybody, he offended everybody.
And Paul believed that Peter, first of the apostles,
was offending first and foremost Christ and the Gospel.

What makes you family?
Is it blood, or shared interest, or skin color, or nationality, or anything else?
For believing Jewish people from the time of Abraham,
the identifying marks of the family
had been male circumcision
and the keeping of the law, the Torah.
For Paul, these had ceased to function as the center of his life.
For Paul, Christ himself was now at the center of his life,
and his salvation was no longer a matter of him keeping the law,
but it was a matter of what Christ had done for him.
The truth of the Gospel was that Christ had done on the cross
what the keeping of the Law could never have done –
made right the relationship between him and God,
made right the relationship between human beings and God.
What makes you family?
Circumcision, the keeping of the dietary laws,
the way you keep the moral law?
When you’re in Christ, you’re family, says Paul,
and so he confronts Peter in public –
there are not two families, there is one family.
There are not two Lord’s tables, there is one Lord’s table for Jews and Gentiles –
because God-in-Christ has acted,
because Christ has made things right between us and God.

Paul goes on to explain his attitude towards the Law.
“It’s dead to me,” he says –
in much the same way that someone being ostracized from a family
might be being told “You’re dead to me.”
The rules and regulations of the Law
will no longer be the determining factor
in what Paul does.
Instead it is the victory of Jesus that determines Paul,
in such a way that Paul can say
“It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.”
If there is sin in my life, Christ is there to judge and forgive,
if there is holiness in my life, it is Christ who is the source and the goal.
Paul is no longer able to say,
like the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem,
“We believers keep the Law and you believers do not,”
instead he must say,
“None of us has kept the Law, but it is Christ who frees us
and saves us and unites us
by his faithfulness and grace alone.”

“The Law is dead to me?”
No wonder there were people who were profoundly unsettled by Paul.
No wonder his words still profoundly unsettle us today.
Christians and Jews alike argue over
whether the Gospel of Christ that Paul preaches
actually destroys the holy life or whether it makes it possible;
whether when he says “the Law is dead to me”
he really means that anything goes after Christ.
Paul himself would disagree with that statement, of course,
but it’s no wonder that long after Paul left Antioch
and preached his Gospel in Galatia,
Jewish Christians who still believed in the need for the Law
came to the Gentiles there and said,
Paul made a good start with you, BUT –
you need more than Christ – you need circumcision and the Law of Moses
if you truly want to be part of the people of God.

What makes you a Christian?
What makes you family?
The truth of the Gospel is that Christ’s death and resurrection,
nothing more, and nothing less –
sets you free from the need to justify yourself,
sets you free from the curse of the Law which has no power to save,
sets you free to live Christ’s life which is given to you purely by God’s grace.
When you’re in Christ, you’re family.

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Sermon – Galatians 1:1-12 – First of a Lenten series Sermon Lent 3A

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