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February 25: The Second Sunday in Lent

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—

just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:1-9 

“Who cast a spell on you?” Paul is asking the Galatians. “Are you really considering getting circumcised so you can fit in?” He is incensed! It’s not that the rite of circumcision is itself so terrible, but agreeing to do it contradicts the heart of the gospel. His argument is from their conversion to the present. They started out by Spirit and faith, but now he wonders if they will rely instead on flesh and works of the law. That’s a pretty stark contrast!

Here’s the question boiled down: are you part of the Messiah-family who belong to the new age that began with Jesus’s death and resurrection, or are you trying to become part of the physical family of Israel who belong to God in the old age by ethnic origin? The answer is, of course, found in Jesus himself. Who is God’s true Israel? God’s true Israel consists of one person: Jesus Messiah. He is the faithful one, the only true Israelite, and that is the identity of God’s people in New Creation.

Near the beginning of the passage Paul is arguing exactly this when he says, “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” The word “portrayed” means that Paul had described Jesus’ crucifixion very vividly to them. It is quite likely that he had actually drawn a large picture of a cross to show them what had happened to Jesus. Most people in the Roman world knew all too well what crosses did and looked like. Paul showed them Jesus that way.

This passage is also Paul’s first mention of Abraham specifically; but from here, the very architecture of the book depends on understanding the promise to Abraham. God said that Abraham would be “the father of many nations.” The term for nations is goyim, which is the word for gentiles. To be the “father of many goyim” is to be “the father of many Gentiles.” (Many of us never read it that way before, but this is what it means.)

So Paul’s insight is that if the one and only way into Abraham is through circumcision, there would be, by definition, no more goyim in the picture if the Gentiles were all circumcised. To be circumcised is to be no longer Gentile. And therefore, if the promise is to be fulfilled as YHWH gave it, the way for Gentiles to be “in Abraham” ultimately must not be the way of circumcision.

And you don’t have to look hard to see that there is a way. That way is the way of Spirit and faith. It’s even what Abraham was all about: “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Faith is not a temporary badge of membership until you can get your act together. Paul wants them and us to know that faith is the sign of membership from Old Creation or the Old Age all the way into New Creation or the New Age.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

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