1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a–Ahab told Jezebel all Elijah had done. Elijah hides in a cave. He experiences a wind storm, earthquake and fire, but God is not in them. God is in the quiet whisper.
Isaiah 65:1-9–Yahweh will judge, but not destroy everyone.Psalm 42–As the deer longs for streams of water, so my heart longs for you Lord.
and43–Vindicate me, O Lord, against an evil nation. Why so downcast O my soul?
Psalm 22:19-28 –Save me from the claws of the wild dog. Rescue me from the mouth of the lion.Galatians 3:23-29–The law was our custodian until Christ came. Now that faith is here, we are no longer under a guardian. There is no longer Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female, for we are all one in Christ our Lord.
Luke 8:26-39 – Jesus heals the Geresene demoniac.
We are several weeks into a series on Galatians:
- June 2, Galatians 1:1-12
- June 9, Galatians 1:11-24
- June 16, Galatians 2:15-21 (June 16 is also Father’s Day)
- June 23, Galatians 3:23-29 (June 19 is Juneteenth)
- June 30, Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (July 4 is Independence Day)
- July 7, Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16
I would like to point out to you a great resource that I think every pastor should have: The Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Jewish scholars Amy-Jill Levine (whom many of you know from Vanderbilt) and Marc Zvi Brettler. So many misunderstandings of the New Testament are based on an erroneous understanding of the cultural milieu and even more so, a misunderstanding of Jesus’ Jewish heritage. Amy-Jill Levine has given us a tremendous gift. I’ll be hard pressed to write a sermon without consulting it after using it recently. Today’s post will have a number of references to this work.
We have heard two readings from Galatians 1 and then last week, from Galatians 2, where Paul said, “through the law I died to the law in order that I might live to God.”
Greek speaking Jews used nomos (law) to translate” Torah.” So when Paul says, “through the law I died to the law in order that I might live to God,” what he means is, “through the Torah I died to the Torah in order that I might live to God.” Paul had to die to Torah in order to become right with God, or justified.
“Justified” is “reckoned as righteous.” The Septuagint renders tzedeqah as dikaiosyne (justified), especially in Genesis 15:6. So when Paul refers to no one being justified by the “works of the law” what he means is, “no one is justified by the works of Torah,” a phrase that appears at Qumran.
Dogged adherence to Leviticus was actually keeping him from God. And it will keep us from God too. This is a very relevant book of the Bible given the way people are tossing around parts of the Torah these days, as if it is still binding on Christians.
Paul closes this portion of his argument by saying no one will be justified, that is made righteous, by keeping Torah. For Paul, faith in Christ frees us from Torah observance.
I like Pastor Don’s suggestion of reading whole chapters. We really miss out when we skip portions of Paul’s argument. Nevertheless, we now pick up the argument in chapter 3.
23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
A disciplinarian (pedagogue) was a “house slave that was charged with keeping the master’s son out of trouble and escorting him outside the house,” according to the Jewish Annotated New Testaement. This emphasizes the temporary and remedial role of the law.
25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Faith replaces the law (our disciplinarian). The law was the only way to draw close to God. Now, through faith (trust) in Christ, we all become part of God’s family, children of God.
Paul mentions the law a couple of times in this short passage. The word “law” appears about 25 times in this brief, six-chapter letter called Galatians.
A brief, one-paragraph summary of Paul’s feeling about the law, based on his letter to the church in Galatia, would go something like this:
No one can be justified by the works of the law. Paul has died to the law in order that he might live for God. The Spirit does not come through the law, but through faith. Those who rely on the law are under a curse: Having to fulfill the whole law. Christ redeemed us from the law’s curse. Abraham’s covenant was based on faith, that is, Abraham believed God’s promises and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. The law came through Moses 430 years later, so it cannot nullify the covenant ratified earlier by God. We become part of the family of God by faith, not by law. The law is not opposed to the promises of God; it was just our babysitter until Christ came. Now we know longer need a babysitter. Even Gentiles can become part of this family, but only through faith, not by law. Through faith Gentiles are adopted into the household of God, becoming heirs. If you allow yourself to be circumcised, you are “cut off” from Christ, and now must keep the entire law, which is impossible. Even the circumcised don’t keep the entire law. The entire law can be summed up in a single thought: love your neighbor as yourself. If you’re led by the Spirit, you don’t really need the law anymore. The law of Christ is to bear one another’s burdens.
One cannot read Romans or Galatians and not come away with a clear sense that Paul views the law in a negative light. Luther makes it clear in his treatise “On Christian Liberty,” which we will discuss next week, that the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures are not binding upon Christians, however we are bound to love our neighbor. The law simply shows us that we cannot possibly do it perfectly, and therefore are in desperate need of grace.
It is astounding to me that people still point to the Old Testament law and say, “See! You are breaking the law!” They use the Levitical Codes as a club over others’ heads. Paul says that Christ frees us from the curse of the law. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus mean nothing less that total freedom from the curse of the law.
27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Rabbis said three blessings each day: Blessed are you O Lord our God, who has not created me a Gentile, a slave or a woman. These blessings still appear in the Orthodox Jewish Prayerbook. Reformed Jews have done away with them. Paul is most certainly alluding to these prayers in this passage.
In verse 29, we become Abraham’s offspring by being baptized, united into Christ. Since Christ is a child of Abraham, from the house of David, those who are united with him become children of Abraham by adoption (a theme he will pick up later). Paul’s logic is not as complicated here as people make it. Paul is not saying Christians are no longer Jews. Quite the opposite, he is saying all Christians are Jews (children of Abraham) by faith and because of their baptism into Christ.
Gentiles, slaves and women had a problem becoming children of Abraham. Since women could not be circumcised (in the Manner of Torah) the only way a Gentile woman (for example) could become a child of Abraham was through marriage or adoption. Now that we are justified by faith, Paul says, the distinction between Gentile and Jew becomes irrelevant. The distinction between men and women disappears, as far as becoming righteous is concerned. The distinction between slaves and free citizens disappears. These distinctions may still exist in society, but as far as getting right with God is concerned, they are irrelevant.
This is where I part company a bit with Amy-Jill Levine. She points to Paul’s other statements about the role of women (to remain silent) and slaves (to obey masters) to show Paul isn’t really imagining any real liberation existentially. I disagree.
Levine fails to distinguish between authentic Paul and deuteron-Pauline literature. Philemon is a perfect example of what Paul means. He certainly takes slavery for granted in the Roman Empire, but he suggests Christians have a different orientation. Philemon is to receive Onesimus as a brother. Baptism has redefined their very real, earthly relationship.
Once Paul has done away with the law, the wall creating a class distinction between men and women is now gone. Men no longer have preferred status. As Paul considered this, it also occurred to him that abolishing the law meant that there was not even a distinction between slaves and citizens of the empire. Jesus had revealed a profound truth: equality. Love is the ultimate leveler. Jesus was forging a new humanity. One race: the human race.
It’s hard for us to imagine how radical those words must have been in the middle of the first century, to Gallic people who had been incorporated into the Roman Empire. What would it mean if the distinction between citizen and slave was made completely irrelevant? This of course made the Empire… less. Less important than the kingdom of God. Thing is, empires don’t tend to appreciate being in second place.
What about our empire? We belong to the most powerful empire in the world today. It demands complete allegiance. Is our allegiance to the kingdom of God greater than our allegiance to the empire? What evidence can you point to that substantiates this? Do we view Americans from the U.S. as better than everyone else, or do we see the humanity in those of different cultures? Do we view others as less than ourselves, or do we believe that all people are of equal value to God?
Last week was Juneteenth, June 19, 1865. For those not from Texas, Juneteenth is the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation (which was issued two and a half years earlier on September 22, 1862). Standing on the balcony of the Ashton Villa in Galveston, General Gordon Granger read this pronouncement:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
The freedom Paul is talking about in Galatians 5 is most certainly freedom from the Jewish ritual laws, Levitical codes and so forth, but it has implications for relationships in the here and now. In Galatians 3 Paul mentions slavery specifically:
28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)
Clearly, Paul sees freedom in Christ, as more than a theoretical concept. 1,800 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, Paul had a vision for equality. A world where slaves were not dominated by slave owners. Women were not dominated by men. A world of racial equality. Does he really mean it? One only needs to read Paul’s letter to Philemon to see that Paul means business. The cross of Jesus means nothing less than this: the slave is now your brother.
Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease
(From the Christmas carol O Holy Night)
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Michael Rinehart