Saturday, 30 April 2011

‘Among whom you shine as lights in the darkness’

Paul was gratified by the ultimate outcome of his preaching at Thessalonica. The reports of gentile conversion had travelled far and wide. They had abandoned idolatry in spectacular fashion: ‘The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’ (1 Thess. 1:8 – 9)

He had spent the best part of a month explaining that, far from detracting from Jesus’s claims to be the Son of God, His rejection and crucifixion were predicted by reliable prophets many years before, as was His resurrection that the apostles and many others had witnessed (Acts. 17:1 – 4). Paul insisted that, as a prophetic fulfilment, the resurrection was unique to the Messiah. We maintain this distinction from all other religions. Resurrection distinguishes Jesus from all others to be uniquely both God and man, the Son of the only true God (Romans 1:4). The only man who perfectly radiates Almighty God’s perfection and He is uniquely supreme over the death and decomposition that typifies the end of our human condition.

Before the spread of the gospel, non-Jewish ‘god-fearers’ had joined the Jewish faith and way of life in varying degrees. They were not converts since they did not fully adopt the Law of Moses.

Cornelius was such a man (Acts 10). He prayed to the Jewish God and gave generously to those afflicted by hardship. However, for all his efforts, many Jews saw his foreign status as an insurmountable obstacle to full acceptance by God. He might have behaved like a model Jewish citizen, but, as far as Judaism was concerned, he was a spiritual asylum seeker; his passport to God’s complete mercy was clearly stamped ‘non-national’.

He and his household had heard reports of an extraordinarily gifted miracle-worker and spiritual reformer. Peter was sent by a miraculous chain of events to confirm that the reports of the Messiah were true and that non-Jews could also find eternal reconciliation with God, if they relied upon the  Messiah from Nazareth as the eternal Ruler of all things.

The good news was that Gentiles no longer needed the old passport of Judaism to find full acceptance by God. Divine mercy in Jesus bypasses Old Testament exclusions in the same way that the EU citizenship supersedes the old UK nationality exclusions. The gross injustice and humiliation of a nude public state execution by acute penetrating trauma exacted upon the Transcendent One of Israel, was offered to God on behalf of all men, a prisoner exchange, the just for the unjust. Deliberate exsanguination (death from blood emptying) is an abattoir method reserved for animals, yet this is what Jesus, as God’s Passover lamb, endured. If this what it took to expunge, it shows how hideous sin really is. As God said through Jeremiah: ‘Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me," declares the Sovereign LORD.’ (Jer. 2:22)

As declared by the apostles, the Eternal King’s injustice and humiliation was overturned by His resurrection on the third day. His appeal to the Supreme Court of God in Heaven was upheld. We who follow Him are forgiven, by the very same mortal wounds that He bears on our behalf before God. All who remain on the side of His enemies are now living on borrowed time and patience.

Paul’s conversion of these ‘God-fearers’ to the new invincible relationship with God in Christ superseded all of the old rites handed down by Moses, including circumcision.

It’s clear, from the New Testament, that many who were born Jews (including Paul initially) considered the gospel to be an insult to their hereditary (yet oft abused) privileges under God. They were hardly exemplary, yet they envied Paul’s success in convincing those who attended the synagogue that Jews and Gentiles could, in Christ, enjoy a new identity as cherished and forgiven equals: joint owners of God’s greatest gift to mankind, eternity, that is, life as God owns it. Paul assured believers of His gospel that they were, in that sense of direct resemblance, the sons of God, guaranteed a future physical existence radiating with the genetic immortality of their Father who is Jesus’ Father, the Almighty Creator Himself.

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