23 March 2019Galatians 3:1-5
It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! (v.1)
Psalm: Psalm 103
The reader has been wondering since Galatians 1:6-9 about the identity of the visitors who had been causing trouble in Paul’s Galatian churches. Now it is clear. The troublemakers were emissaries from James, the very sort of people who had earlier forced Peter into a climbdown at Antioch. They insisted that Christians must comply with the Jewish law. Furthermore, Jewish Christians (who must keep the law fully) and Gentile Christians (who must keep a reduced version of the law) have to be kept apart, socially.
What shocks Paul is how easily the Galatian churches had been seduced ('bewitched') by this ‘alternative’ (and false) gospel.
Paul’s challenge to the churches is stark. How can they possibly put aside everything that had come to birth when Paul had first evangelised their communities? Did it count for nothing? He challenged them to remember what they had experienced, to recall the difference the gospel had made. The focus had not been teaching about the law, but a crucified Jesus Christ. Paul reminds them that the crucified one had been “publicly exhibited”, meaning that, in graphic description and perhaps in drama, this shocking event had been given central place. The proclamation had been made: this is God’s way of liberating people from the frustrations and failures of their earlier religious life. The ‘new’ way they had entered – and enjoyed, once they believed the gospel message – was dramatically different. It was Spirit-filled. It was an experience of personal and corporate transformation. The Spirit had worked miracles among them – probably miracles of healing, and certainly miraculous experiences of affirmation, insight, freedom and discernment of responsibility. “How can you possibly throw all that away, and go back to where you were?” asks Paul.
- How does the “crucified Jesus Christ” have central place in the imagination of your congregation at worship, beside the image of the empty wooden cross?
- It is often asserted that Christians in the West have made too easy an accommodation with the values and entertainments of the world around them. Do you agree? If the Church has to be more ‘counter-cultural’, what should it do? How will our contemporaries hear the gospel if we do not start from where they are?