Saturday, April 30, 2011

Touching Base! Part 123

Christ Crucified

(This article can also we found on our website
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This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.


Galatians 3: 1-14

In this passage, a lot of detailed theology is sandwiched between two references to Christ Crucified. The chapter begins with the emphatic statement, “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified” and verse 13 ends with, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree [crucified on a cross]”.

The filling between these two slices of bread is important, but the bread itself – the Cross – is vital.

Let’s first discuss the filling.

The Galatians were trying to add circumcision and adherence to dietary laws to “the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7). The Apostle Paul in our passage counters this with arguments from (1) the Galatians’ own experiences (verses 2-5) when he cites their receiving the Spirit, suffering, and seeing miracles; and (2) scripture (verses 6-9). In these latter verses he summons Abraham, who came before even Moses, whose law the Galatians were using to support their practices and beliefs.

Question: Read Galatians 3:2-5. How valid is argument from experience when discussing the gospel or topics in Christianity? Is it suited to the 21st century?

Read Galatians 3:6-9. Then read Genesis 12:1-4. Paul knew his Old Testament! In Genesis 12, God gives Abram instructions and a promise, and Abram obeys. In Genesis 15, God gives Abram another promise and the result is Genesis 15:6, which Paul quotes in Galatians 3:6. Circumcision wasn’t even introduced until later in Genesis 17. So God was promising things, and Abram was believing them, long before the law. Thus Paul advances his argument that it isn’t observance of the law, such as getting circumcised, that brings blessing.

Question: Some Christians think of the Old Testament as all about law and the New Testament as all about Faith and Grace. But here Paul says that Abraham was a man of faith (see also Hebrews 11:8-12) and that believing is the way he became righteous and was blessed. How does this work?

That’s the filling - complicated, theologically rich, and worth sorting out.

Now for the bread - essential, foundational, and beautiful.

Before presenting arguments from experience or from specific scriptures, Paul reminds the Galatians that he had portrayed Jesus Christ as crucified before their very eyes. This is the best technique in his toolkit – challenging, likely effective, and glorifying to God. What better way to remind them that what they were doing by insisting on circumcision or dietary laws was trying to add to Christ’s completed work? “Remember Christ crucified and all that entailed? Are you bewitched?”

Paul finishes the passage with an important explanation of the crucifixion as God punishing himself in Christ instead of us. If you don’t keep the whole law, Paul writes, you are cursed (and who could keep it all?). So Christ became a curse for us by being “hung on a tree” – an Old Testament expression that became equated with crucifixion.

Galatians 3:13 (Christ became “a curse for us”) and 2 Corinthians 5:21 (God made Jesus “to be sin for us”) are the two most shocking verses in scripture. Many theologians have expressed their shock at the seeming obscenity of Holy God becoming a curse or becoming sin.

Question: Read the following passage written 500 years ago on this topic. Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, possibly just oversteps to make his case, but it is often only by seemingly overstepping that the true case can be appreciated (or perhaps his prose doesn’t go beyond scripture in the slightest). Can what he writes be true?
“Our most merciful father, seeing us to be oppressed and overwhelmed with the curse of the law, and so to be holden under the same that we could never be delivered from it by our own power, sent his only Son into the world and laid upon him all the sins of all men, saying: Be thou Peter that denier; Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief which hanged upon the cross; and briefly, be thou the person which hath committed the sins of all men; see therefore that thou pay and satisfy for them.”
The legal consequences of our sin were transferred to Christ rather than our moral qualities. Luther sometimes seems to say that it was more than this. Either way, for God to be made sin and a curse and for the “iniquities of us all” (Isaiah 53:6) to be laid on him flirts with something so awesome that we may not be able to fully understand it.

Question: Like the Galatians, are you attempting to add anything to Christ’s crucifixion to justify yourself? Can you say to God, along with Luther, “You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours?” If this is true, that you are no longer wrapped in sin but rather in God’s perfection, does it make you behave any differently day-to-day?

Eric Prost
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