Monday, April 28, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ God’s A-Pauling Choice of Ambassador

God’s A-Pauling Choice of Ambassador
          Question: Why did Jesus call the most Jewish, religious, indoctrinated student of good works, the Champion of the religion of Judaism, to be his distinctive ambassador of hope to the Gentile world?[1] The Jewish people had been given the most glorious covenant the world had ever known, with Ten Commandments etched into stone by the finger of God himself.[2] The Gentiles were all the poor suckers who didn’t know that the Jews had already got the prize and the game was over. So, why would God use someone who appeared to be the best of the best to reach those that man had thought were the worst of the worst?
          After all, weren’t there other disciples who were more Gentilish in their ancestry? Weren’t there maybe some Jewish disciples who had kind of a tarnished record of living up to the law of God that the Gentiles could relate to more easily? Wouldn’t the infidel Gentiles relate better to the failures of Peter, or the hot-headedness of James and John? Isn’t the best testimony of the gospel to show some extreme transformation from sin-to-sanctification so that sinners had some hope that they could be saved?
          Paul certainly doesn’t fit the description of someone who was living a bad life and was suddenly overcome with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was living as good a life as a good man could live. He had the highest and best covenant God had ever made with man (prior to Jesus’ coming and giving us something magnificently better, that is), and he excelled at putting it into practice, or so he thought.
          What Paul did fit was the profile of someone who could prove to the world that being a good man, by a standard of goodness written in stone by the finger of God, was hopeless at ever attaining the in-the-image-of-God righteousness the human soul longs for. Instead of the stereotypical message of, “God saved a bad man like me, so you can be sure he can save you as well”, God used a very good man, the best of the best, to announce to all sinners that there isn’t even such a thing as a good man whatsoever. Fact is, anyone who sins in even one point of the law is guilty of sinning against the whole law.[3] Paul was as guilty as me.  
          And so, Paul could go to the Gentile world with his gospel of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, and tell them that though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent… I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”[4] This good man, who had tried to win God’s approval through keeping the Ten Commandments, was really a blasphemer of God because he had denounced God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was really a persecutor, rather than a protector, because he had persecuted the church that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, was building in the world. And, he was an insolent opponent because he was rude and mean and obnoxious in opposing the work God was doing to establish his kingdom in the hearts of people who were receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
          From that vantage point as a blaspheming, persecuting, insolent opponent of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul could speak of the amazing mercy and grace he had received from God, and how this mercy and grace overflowed into his life along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus, the very person Paul was opposing and persecuting.
          Paul now had every right and experience to declare to the Gentile world, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”[5] While Paul had left his life of sin when Jesus called him into the kingdom of God, he still saw himself as the foremost example of a sinner. Whereas he had once thought of himself as the foremost of the righteous, he had really been the foremost of the unrighteous. He once thought the Messiah would come and pat him on the back for his good behavior, but now praised God that he had both sent his Son into the world to save sinners, and sent his Son to open his eyes so he could see his sin and receive this great salvation.
          From there, Paul explains why he is such a great witness to Gentiles. He writes, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”[6] His explanation is simple: he was the foremost of sinners, and God’s mercy to him displayed the perfect patience of Jesus Christ towards sinners, so that all the rest of time had this amazing example of God delivering a man from sin by believing in Jesus Christ and inheriting eternal life.
          What is Paul’s message to us Gentiles? How would Paul’s testimony of almost two millennia speak to a German/Hungarian/Canadian Gentile of the twenty-first century (or any other variation of Gentile)? Paul’s testimony says that, the same grace, mercy, love, and perfect patience demonstrated to an arrogant, blind, ignorant, mouthy, rebellious, religious hypocrite is there for every sinner who is drawn to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
          Of course, we have plenty of examples of prostitutes, drunks, tax collectors, and sinners of all kinds coming to Jesus so that every other kind of sin is covered as well. In fact, it is to the glory of God’s grace and mercy that Paul himself could list the kinds of sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God, while still seeing himself as the foremost kind of sinner. He wrote,
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.[7]
          Paul could declare that this was true of all those kinds of sinners, knowing that he would never have inherited the kingdom of God because of his extreme sins against the Lord Jesus Christ. But, while he could speak of God’s wonderful grace, mercy, love and patience towards him, he could then write the church with this wonderful reminder: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”[8]
          This past-tense expression is the wonderful hope of every sinner who is drawn to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We could list every sin, from worst to least (if there is such a thing), and put Paul at the top of the list as the foremost kind of sinner, and then tell anyone who matches any description of sin or sinner that this could be their “such WERE some of you”.
          It is as though Paul, who once thought he stood at the top of the list among the righteous, and then realized he was really at the top of the list among sinners, had the greatest opportunity to tell us Gentiles that there is a way to be washed clean as he was washed clean. There was a way to be set apart unto God as holy (sanctified) that no commandments written in stone could ever accomplish. There was a way to be justified from sin that the Ten Commandments could never do, and it was all “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” just as much for Paul as it was for any Gentile who ever received the gospel.
          The message is clear: the foremost of sinners was found by the one and only Savior, and commissioned to tell every other sinner that salvation is for them, whether they be Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, creationist or evolutionist, deist or atheist.[9] Anyone who hears the gospel of Jesus Christ can repent of their own sin, receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and live a life of freedom that will constantly give glory to the grace, mercy, love, and perfect patience of our Lord Jesus Christ.

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] The term Gentile refers to anyone who is not Jewish
[2] Deuteronomy 4:13; 9:10
[3] James 2:10
[4] I Timothy 1:13-14
[5] I Timothy 1:15
[6] I Timothy 1:16
[7] I Corinthians 6:9-10
[8] I Corinthians 6:11
[9] Galatians 3:23-29

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