Jesus and Paul

In my devotions, I am going through the book of Isaiah. When I came across this passage, It made me stop and think for a moment, the significance of its meaning. “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste’” (Isaiah 28:16). The word “cornerstone only appears in thirteen places within the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) Scriptures. As I have come to understand the purpose of a cornerstone – a stone in which every stone within the foundation is laid against, measured by, and level – my thoughts concerning the mission of Jesus seem a littler clearer. Jesus is our cornerstone; He is a stone in which every stone within the foundation is laid against and measured by. Upon this foundation, we are laid. To put it another way, Paul states, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20). With this in mind, it is the purpose of this paper to understand the mission of Jesus in His historical context and the relationship of Jesus’ mission to the mission of Paul and the early church. I am convinced that Paul took his cues from the OT and the early Gospel writings (that of Matthew and Mark).

Understanding Paul:

The first question we need to ask ourselves is: “Who was Paul?” Though, to answer this question would take pages and pages of information, we will make a few assessments of who Paul was in light of His calling and his mission. Almost everything we know about Paul we know through his letters to real people about real issues and circumstances. Outside of that, we have a small glimpse into Paul’s life through the writings of Luke. Paul was an apostle (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Titus 1:1) called to bring the good news to the Gentile people (Acts 9:15; 13:16; 13:46-48; 22:21; 26:17, 20; Galatians 1:16; 2:2, Ephesians 3:1, 8; 1 Timothy 2:7). We also know through the book of Acts that his given name was Saul who was strictly trained in the law as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Philippians 3:5) and was also a Roman citizen by birth (Acts 16:37-38, 22:25-27, 29; 23:27). To earn money, Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 13:8).

After the stoning of Stephen, Paul entered the town of Damascus. A great light from heaven was set ablaze and the voice of God said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” For a period of time, Paul was blinded and neither ate or drank anything. After three days, a God fearing man named Ananias came to Paul and healed Paul. After this period, Paul immediately began to make significant changes in his life. Those who saw Saul/Paul after his conversion were curious and scared of Paul because he had made such a dramatic change in his life. Within the contents of the book of Acts, we are able to follow along the journeys of Paul’s ministry and mission.

Paul takes at least three missionary journeys that ultimately shape his life and many of those in whom he had come in contact with, namely the Gentiles in whom God had called him to serve. In some final observations, we are told that Paul was eventually arrested on charges of bringing Greeks into the Temple area in Jerusalem and then we imprisoned for two years in Caesarea (Acts 21: 27-36). It is here we learn that God had planned this out from the beginning of Paul’s ministry and conversion. Paul appealed his case to the emperor in Rome and was sent on a ship to plead his case. After being shipwrecked on the island of Malta, Paul eventually reached Rome and was placed under house arrest for two years. Tradition states that Paul was martyred for his faith in Christ but it was not recorded in the Bible.

Paul and the Law:

In order to understand Paul’s mission and the mission of the church in which Paul labored for, we must come to grips with what Paul believed in respects to the OT and how his understanding of Jesus made the things of the OT clearer for Paul to understand. As was the custom of most young men, Paul (then Saul) grew up learning about God and the law. We know very little about Paul’s early education but are told through Paul that he studied under the Rabbi of Gamaliel who was one of the greatest Rabbis of his time. Gamaliel was the son of a Rabbi named Simeon, and the grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel. We also know that Gamaliel was also a Pharisee, and therefore the opponent of the party of the Sadducees. Gamaliel is the same Rabbi that offered counsel when an uprising took place in Acts 5. Since Paul’s father was a Pharisee and have the tribe of Benjamin (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5), perhaps that is why Paul followed in the same footsteps.  Though we know nothing of Paul’s mother, we must insist that she was a woman of character who aided in the education and support as any mother would have for her child during that time. With his father and mother as God-fearing Jews, we can only infer Paul’s desire to be zealous for God and become an educated man. As was the custom of every young child, there was a need to learn a trade in order to support him when he was in need. Thus, Paul learned to become a tent maker. This was a normal occupation and most common trade in Tarsus. With the ability to support himself and the teaching and training from one of the greatest Rabbis ever, Paul soon became a Pharisee.

Being a righteous zealot and Pharisee, Paul would have repeated the Shema everyday while covering his head with a prayer shawl. It was a simple statement: “Hear O Israel, the LORD or God, the LORD is one.” Any Jewish person would have known its importance. N.T. Wright states, “Within his monotheistic argument, to make a monotheistic point, Paul quotes this, the best-known of all Jewish monotheistic formulae, and once again he puts Jesus into the middle of it” (95). Wright continues saying, “Looking outside the immediate impact of this, we observe that he has thereby done with Jesus what was sometimes done with the figure (personified or personal) of Wisdom, the one through whom the creator made the world, the trust content of God’s self-revelation in Torah” (94). In this, we learn that Jesus became subservient to the Father, even in death and dying on a cross so that we might be willing to follow His example in love towards one another.

Paul and the Gospel of Jesus:

Before we move on in this section of thought, I would just like to state a personal response to what I have heard concerning Paul and his desire to begin or start a new religion called Christianity. There are those who believe this was Paul’s intent from the beginning of his missionary life. From personal study and a large amount of reading concerning Paul, I have to say that those statements are not supported within the Scriptures of the Bible. As with any person who has had an encounter with God, Paul simply wanted others to experience Christ the way in which he experienced Christ. Within the book of Acts, Paul shares his testimony at least three times to three different groups of people. From his testimony, Paul shares the message of Jesus and his calling to share this message with others. The Church had already been growing for sometime back in Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit came in the form of “tongues of fire” resulting in three-thousand people being baptized and believing in Jesus. By the time Paul came on the scene, there were several thousand people who were considered followers of The Way. These are the people in which Paul persecuted before his own interaction with Jesus in Damascus. Though we cannot give Paul credit for beginning the church, as we know it today, we can thank him for his diligence in writing those who believed in Christ. His words of encouragement, rebuke, guidance, support, and experiences have helped shape the church today. Without Paul’s letters, we would be crippled as a body of believers. This is something that must be understood from the beginning.

Paul seems to have a clear sense of what the Gospel of Jesus is. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he states, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I saw again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (1:8,9). The question then remains, “What was Paul’s Gospel message to the Gentiles?” Paul states, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “the righteous shall live by faith”” (Romans 1:16-17). The first thing we must conclude about Paul’s message of the Gospel is that it is for everyone (even the Gentiles). This is a radical statement Paul is making. During Paul’s life, the Gentiles were not seen as equal citizens through the eyes of the Jewish populous. Since it was and is still today a Jewish custom to keep kosher, a Jewish person would not have had any dealings with a Gentile on the basis that they were considered “unclean” or “not kosher.” Paul calls this act of salvation for both the Jews and the Gentiles a mystery that has been revealed through Christ.

Paul’s understanding of the Gospel, I believe would have also come through his knowledge of the OT and God’s desire to dwell among His people. From the book of Genesis and following, we can see God’s desire to dwell with humanity even after the fall. One simple example of this desire is found in the book of Exodus, where God calls the people to make a tabernacle in which He will reside in. In order to do so, the people of God would have to live and act a certain way. Thus The Ten Commandments and other laws were made in order that the people of God would be distinct and “different” from the rest of humanity. It wasn’t until the birth of Jesus however, that God actually dwells with His humanity in the flesh. We are told that Mary and Joseph are to give their child the name “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.” John’s Gospel tells us, in provocative words that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1: 1,2, 14). As Paul begins to lie out his message of salvation, both for the Jews and the Gentiles, I am convinced that Paul would have understood the implications of what this meant. The mission of God from the beginning of time was and still is, to dwell with His creation. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, this was no longer a dream or a hope but was actually possible.

The last aspect I would like to suggest aided Paul’s understanding of the Gospel concerns Paul’s education and knowledge of the OT. Paul knew the Law of Moses. He was most likely fluent in all 613 laws but most likely had to come to grips that perfecting the entire law was impossible.  To understand Paul’s dealings with the Law and the Gospel of Jesus, we will briefly look through the book of Galatians. In this book, Paul deals with the law and the Gospel of grace and salvation through faith. For Paul to speak in the manner in which he speaks being who he was, and knowing what he knew, Paul’s message takes on a whole new meaning for both Jew and Gentile.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

What we quickly learn about Paul’s understanding of the Gospel is that it was not given to him from a man (in this respects, that would include the other apostles and God-fearing men). It was however given to Paul “though a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). This revelation was unlike anything Paul had ever experienced and challenged Paul to reevaluate what he knew concerning the law. He writes, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (2:15,16). Paul’s message to the Gentile believers must have been a sigh of relief. For the Jewish leaders though, it was a hard pill to swallow and no doubt caused a strong division and bitterness towards him. Paul’s message though was one in which he had to come to grips with in order to share such a message with others. Before we read these words of Paul, we are told that he spent several years n Arabia for about three years after which time, he returned to meet with Peter and James. I speculate that during these three years, God revealed the Gospel of grace to Paul and taught him about it is by grace we are saved and not by works. Having dealt with this issue, Paul is ready to share it with both the Jewish believers in Jerusalem and the Gentile believers around the world. So it is that faith comes not by the workings of the law but by God’s grace. For, if it had come by works rather than by God’s grace, Paul states, “then Christ died for no purpose” (2:21b). This is the radical message Paul delivers to a very young Christian group of believers.

The reason Paul’s message is so important, especially to the Gentile people, concerns the manner in which the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were treating these new believers. The Jerusalem council called for these new believers to be circumcised and to become “Jewish.” And, since most of these Jewish believer and leaders had already received the Holy Spirit years earlier than these Gentile believers, many of them were being swayed to listen to them and be circumcised. When Paul caught wind of what was happening in the church in this regards, he wrote this letter to encourage both the leaders of the Jerusalem council and the Gentile believers to remain as they were. They did not need to be circumcised in order to be a believer in Jesus. As already stated, these Gentile believers received the Holy Spirit not because of circumcision and following the Law of Moses but through the justifying work of Jesus Christ through grace.

Paul wants us to understand is that the Law of Moses was given because of sin. He states, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (3:19). Paul then clarifies what he means by saying, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith that would be revealed… But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:23,25). In Christ, we are now free from the law and are able to live by the Spirit of Christ. In this, there is also freedom from status and distinctions that once held higher positions and importance. Stated simply, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:28,29). So here we learn that the Gospel has freed us from division and has brought everyone to the table of fellowship. Those who are in Christ are equal. Before Christ’s death and resurrection, we were subordinate to the law because we had no way of make a proper sacrifice for our trespasses. Christ, being our perfect sacrifice, provided a way for you and I to be freed from the law and alive in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

The final aspect of Paul’s message to the church is this idea of adoption as God’s child. He states, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (4:4-7). In this, we are now sealed with the Father, through Christ. In any adoption process, the orphaned child takes on the name of the parents in which he or she is adopted. Given my own personal and unique understanding of this process, being adopted myself; I find this to be one of the greatest aspects of our salvation in Christ. We have a Father who provides for us and loves us unconditionally like any earthly father would for his son (at least in most cases).

After reading Paul’s message to the church in Galatia, with respects of being adopted, I seem to always find my way back to John 14 where Jesus is speaking to His disciples. It is here where Jesus states, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (14:1-3). We are the prodigal sons and daughters of Christ that are welcomed back into His family with a place provided for you and I to dwell and live with Christ forever in the Father’s house. As heirs and adopted children of the Father, we have this privilege.

Conclusion:

Jesus states in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” This is the heart of the mission of Jesus. His desire was to show common people, even Gentiles, that they could be like Him in word and in deed. When Christ confronted Paul on the road of Damascus, there was no doubt that Paul had stumbled over the Cornerstone of our faith, namely Christ Himself. Though we only know as much as the Scriptures tell us about Paul, his life and ministry, we know that he had an encounter with God and it transformed this highly educated man to consider everything “crap”– literally dung, compared to knowing Christ as His Lord. Paul’s ministry grew out of a response to this encounter, reaching and challenging not only the Jewish believers but also the Gentiles to grab hold of the faith of Christ, which was given not through a law or through works but rather through the Holy Sprit and by grace. I believe Paul took hold of the mission of Jesus and, through the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, aided in the overall growth of the Church – the body of Christ, as we know it today. Thanks to Paul’s efforts and relentless determination to spread the Gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles, we are able to enjoy the fruit that has been produced by his labors. We are now able, as Gentiles, to experience Christ without holding to the law. It is a beautiful picture of grace that is still unfolding as we speak

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