Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 10/29/06
"You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:4).
As I began to do the research on Galatia (See link to map at end), the reason for the title became clear ("conundrum," means "a confusing and difficult problem"). Paul and Barnabas had been anointed by the Holy Spirit for the work to which God had called them, and the church at Antioch of Syria had fasted and prayed, and after laying hands on them, sent them on their way. This was Paul's first missionary journey, taking him by sea through Cyprus, to Perga, and from there to Antioch in Pisidia, a city in Galatia, now Turkey (Acts 13:1-14). As was his custom, he spoke in the synagogue. Here, he told them his calling from God: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth'" (13:47). The Gentiles were delighted to hear this, but the Jews were not. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region. Shaking the dust from their feet in protest (a tried and true Old Testament gesture), the two went to Iconium, which was southeast of Antioch.
As at Antioch, they were received gladly at first, until the "Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers" (Acts 14:2). Nevertheless, they spent "considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders" (14:3). In spite of the miracles, the leaders of the Jews plotted to stone them. When Paul and Barnabas got wind of it, they fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe where they began to preach the Good News (14:4-7). In Lystra, God through Paul, healed a crippled man, lame from birth. The town went berserk, proclaiming that the men were gods in human form, bringing wreaths and bulls to the city gates because the people wanted to sacrifice to the two apostles (14:8-13).
When Paul and Barnabas got wind of this, they tore their clothing (another Old Covenant custom indicating great emotional distress), and rushed into the crowd shouting, "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them" (Acts 14:15). Dissident Jews who had come down from Antioch and Iconium, had whipped the crowd into a frenzy; they stoned Paul and dragged his body outside the city, leaving him for dead (Vs. 19). Usually, stoning was carried on outside the city walls, but this time, apparently, they were so infuriated, they couldn't wait and stoned Paul inside the city.
The scripture states this matter of factly and moves on, but think about it. Consider the rage, the lack of self control, and the pain to the victim caused by such burning hate. We in America are amazed and horrified at the primal emotions which cause someone to believe that taking another person's life in a jihad ("holy war") is what God requires, but this was par for the course in Paul's day, and in ours as well if the constant killings in Iraq by the insurgency are any indication.
By God's grace, Paul survived the rage of the mob and lived. In fact, "he got up and went back into the city" (Acts 14:20). Infused with divine power, Paul gets my vote for "the man of the hour, the action hero of the day." He and Barnabas left the next day for Derbe, the neighboring city. There, they preached the gospel, winning a large number of converts. After that, they decided to return to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, "strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith." To me, this was heroic in light of the persecution and torture they received in each of these cities, but they said about it, "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Vs. 22). That would be an understatement. In spite of the physical pain and emotional anguish that Paul suffered, he did not stop preaching the word God had sent him to deliver, and "all who were appointed for eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).
God has a surprising way of relating scripture to our lives at times. I had to call 911 and get Lenny to the ER in the middle of the night this week because he was extremely dizzy and throwing up. That's worrisome at his age because of the possibility of stroke. The EMTs gave him a dose of Phenegan in the ambulance, for the nausea and vomiting. The medication put him out like a light and the ER physician said we would have to wait until it wore off to confirm his diagnosis of vertigo. Lenny slept, but since I can't sleep except under optimum conditions, the ER NOT being one of them, I was reading the New Testament I carry with me. I began with Acts, Chapter 13, which details Paul's first missionary journey, specifically the persecution he encountered in Galatia, modern day Turkey.
It was amazing to read about Paul's hardships while sitting in a modern day ER, because he had nothing except God Himself when he was hurt or ill, not that this is a bad thing, but he was often cold, hungry, stoned by angry mobs of Jews, chased from town to town, lashed with whips, beaten with rods, chained to a guard and carried by ship to Rome, and not the same ship at that, because the one he started out on was shipwrecked. He was also snake bitten on that journey, and yet, he prevailed.
I have a new appreciation for what God did in him and is doing in us, whatever that turns out to be. I laid hands on Lenny and prayed in the Spirit, and the Lord said to me that He would heal Lenny. The good news is that it was not a stroke, but a severe case of vertigo. It took a second trip to the ER a few days later, to find out that the real problem is an ear infection, which they are treating with antibiotics and something for the dizziness. God's word always proves true, but not always in our time frame.
Sometimes, we forget that the Lord's part in our lives, is to make the call, be it for salvation or for healing: "For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:38). Paul's assignment to take the gospel to the Gentiles fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy, "I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I'" (Isa. 65:1).
The point of Paul's missionary journeys was to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to people who had not heard it. Some of the Jews received it gladly and were converted, but for others, the temptation to add to the finished work of Christ was too strong. These were called, "the party of the Pharisees," whose response to the Gentile believers was that they had to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:1; 5). When Paul brought this question before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, Peter made an impassioned plea for the church to follow the Spirit and not tradition, pointing out that God indicated His acceptance of the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, making no distinction between Jew and Greek. He concluded, "Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are" (Acts 15:10-11). With refreshing honesty Peter acknowledged that the Jews couldn't keep the law, so how could they expect the Gentiles to do so?
The controversy between law and grace raged throughout the cities of Galatia where Paul and Barnabas had brought the gospel, and it still rages today, though many still don't understand they are living by Law, not by grace. The letter to the Galatians is therefore vitally important in our consideration of the subject. No one knows exactly when Paul wrote it, but obviously, it was after his first missionary journey, where he experienced up close and painfully, the ravages of legalism.
Here in Neosho, there's a sect (or cult) who have chilling signs in their yards: "For judgment He is come." "At such an hour as ye know not the son of man cometh." "Fear God and walk in all His ways." I imagine these folks are so entrenched in law that they probably couldn't pick Christ out of a lineup. Paul understood this attitude completely, having been such a rabid legalist himself before God turned his life around, that he persecuted the church with all his life's force and passion. He knew how addictive and intoxicating this belief and behavior was, and it's quite obvious that misguided religious fervor is what fuels the rabid behavior of the lunatic fringe of Islam today. To us, blowing yourself up to do the will of Allah seems crazy, but murder in the name of religion was the way of the first century world and in ours as well in some areas.
Paul understood it better than we ever can, because he'd "been there, done that." He knew that his life was on the line every day. The Holy Spirit had warned him repeatedly about what lay ahead for him, but still, the hope that was within him and the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ to protect him, carried him forward. The Spirit was the wind beneath his wings. Paul knew that he was called to be an apostle, "not through men, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead" (Gal. 1:1). He rejoiced that God had called him before he was born, had chosen him through His grace, and had revealed the Son to him in order that he might preach to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16). It is from that foundational truth that Paul spoke to them and to us, telling us also that likewise, "He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" (Eph. 1:4-6).
Paul was a devout, educated, zealous Jew who had followed the law all his life. Of his impressive resume, he said, "..If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ" (Phil. 3:4-7). The word "loss" there has been cleaned up for polite society. It really means "dung": Paul's evaluation of religious fanaticism, zealous diligence in abiding by tradition, and living by the letter of the law.
Paul knew exactly where the Judaizers who pursued him from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, were coming from, but when he got to Jerusalem, he encountered the party of the Pharisees, who insisted, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses" (Acts 15:5). In them, he knew he had found something even more dangerous than the Jews who knew only the law of Moses. Here were men who would add to the finished work of Christ on the cross, and I observe men and women who are still doing that today.
About this heresy, Paul wrote, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel, not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:6-8). What gospel was it then, to which Paul referred?
Galatians was sometimes called "Luther's book," because when the Spirit pulled the scales from his eyes, he saw clearly that "a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (Gal. 2:16. See also Rom. 3:28). In fact, Paul asserted that we are dead to the law, crucified with Christ, who lives in us, and the life we live in the body, "we live by faith of the son of God.....for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal. 2:20-21). Notice that it is Christ's faith by which we live, not ours, because as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, if faith were something we could do on our own, we would most certainly have something to boast about (Eph. 2:8-9).
Reckoning ourselves dead to the law through Christ's death is the only way we can enter into rest, for "he who has died is freed from sin" (Rom. 6:7). Dead men don't lie, steal, cheat on their wives, murder or blaspheme, and neither do they bring casseroles to the sick, give alms to the poor, or do other good works. Harry Fox says that Paul came to make explicit what Jesus had made implicit, or perhaps another way to say it is that Paul showed us HOW we would be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. It was never to be by our works, but always by His works through us. That's grace, my friends: His works, not ours.
In Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, the younger son of a rich man, squandered his inheritance on sex, drugs, and rock and roll. When he came to himself, he returned home to be gloriously reconciled to His Father (Luke 15). I believe the prodigal son is a metaphor for the Gentiles, while the self righteous elder brother represents the Jews, God's chosen people. Though the prodigal achieved reconciliation, the elder brother did not in Jesus' story. It took Paul to tell us what happened to him, in Romans chapters 9,10, and 11. Never fear, it is a happy ending, for "ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED" (Rom. 11:26).
Paul outpaced, out thought, and out distanced the Judaizers by the grace of God. The Holy Spirit sustained him and us as well in our dealings with legalists, by revealing 1) Nothing depends on our efforts alone, but upon God's (Rom. 9:16); and 2) God is the one who keeps people from seeing the truth until He is ready for them to do so (Rom. 11:8). God alone writes this story from bitter beginning to glorious end: for He "has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all" (Rom. 11:32).
Thank You, Father, that You thought of everything, planned for everything, and will triumph over everything that stands in our way to getting back home. For from You and through You and to You are all things. All glory be to You forever! Amen and amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Map of Galatia
Dragon Slayer (Ephesus)
The Incorruptible Corinthians (Corinth)
The Macedonian Call
The Heavens Declare (Athens)
The Glory Road
We're always happy to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 10/26/06
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/09/08.