Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boasting in the Cross

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Boasting in the Cross
For the week of December 24-30, 2011
In Galatians 6:11-18 Paul summarizes His letter to the churches in Galatia.  He urges the reader to stay true to the gospel.  Those who required circumcision denied both the cross and the new creation.  Whatever Paul wrote earlier about these opponents of the gospel (see especially Galatians 1:7–9; 2:4, 5, 12; 3:1, 10; 4:17; 5:2–5, 7, 11, 12) is here brought to a head.  By a few crisp phrases he makes clear that the Judaizers are not at all interested in the spiritual welfare of the Galatians.  They were concerned only about themselves: their own honor, their own ease (freedom from persecution because of the cross).
In his letter Paul contrasted circumcision with the cross.  His main arguments against circumcision are found in chapters five and six.  If you become circumcised to be saved, Christ and His salvation will profit you nothing (Galatians 5:2-4).  Paul saw the consequences that come to those who practice circumcision as a means of salvation: estrangement from Christ, a fall from grace.  The book of Galatians begins and ends with God’s grace.  It is bracketed, or bookended, by grace (Galatians 1:3; 6:18).  Between those bookends of grace is revealed that the fall from grace results in opposition to justification by faith, the gospel and the cross of Christ (6:12‑14).
Paul was vehement in his denial of the false brethren's teaching concerning circumcision.  This subject stirs up his use of the strongest expressions of speech.  He wrote, perhaps ironically, that he wished they would emasculate or mutilate themselves (Galatians 5:12, margin).
The Judaizers did not understand the true significance of circumcision.  They had come to believe that the act of circumcision itself brought them righteousness.  But originally, God had given the rite of circumcision and made it a sign of the righteousness Abraham already had by faith (Romans 4:11).  Circumcision was to be a symbol of the removal, or the cutting off, of all works of the flesh for salvation.  It symbolized the new birth—a new heart, a new creation (Deuteronomy 30:6).  Paul knew this experience could only come by beholding and believing in the Christ who was lifted up on the cross.  In John 3:14 Jesus used the imagery of the serpent upon the pole to explain His kingdom.  He said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”  To look – to believe – these are responses of humble, contrite appreciation for the gift bestowed.  There is in these responses nothing of which to boast.
Circumcision was the means by which the “Pharisees who believed” boasted.  Consider some of their strong Scriptural arguments for circumcision.  There are plenty of texts for their practice of circumcision.  Two especially were vital to their cause—one from the experience of Abraham, the other from an experience of Moses.  The Pharisees knew of the command that God gave to Abraham which stated that any male not circumcised must be “cut off”—sentenced to death for that neglect (Genesis 17:14).  This was a very strong “proof text.”  Moses knew that text also.  
Evidently Moses circumcised the eldest of his two sons, but not the second son.  Perhaps Zipporah objected.  Later, on the journey to Egypt, they stopped to sleep.  The Lord allowed them to see that there was a judgment of death on Moses.  The threat was so fearful that his wife Zipporah overcame her antipathy to circumcision and performed the rite on their younger son.  She knew exactly what to do.  When the life of her husband was on the line because of this neglect (Exodus 4:24-26), Zipporah got the job done.
Armed with these strong “proof texts,” the Judaizers demanded to know how Paul could dare deny the rite of circumcision.  Why did his boasting in the cross oppose those who boasted in circumcision?
Paul knew that circumcision was a typical shadow of Christ’s death.  He knew that when Christ was “cut off” (Daniel 9:26) from life, He fulfilled the rite of circumcision, just as He fulfilled all of the other typical services.  Circumcision of the flesh meant the cutting off, or the death, of the flesh.  So, Christ was to be circumcised or “cut off” from life on the cross in order to save us.
The word used here in Daniel for “cut off” is karath’.  This is the same word used when God gave to Abraham the rite of circumcision in Genesis 17:13,14.  It is the same word used when Zipporah circumcised her son as recorded in Exodus 4:23-26.  The use of the “proof texts” proved to be invalid in the light of the cross.  In this light Paul boasted.
The opponents of the gospel presented circumcision as if that were far more important than merely the cross of Christ.  Paul told the Galatians that those legalists wanted to “boast” in their flesh (Galatians 6:13).  Paul’s boast was always in the cross (v 14).  That those “Pharisees who believed” elevated circumcision to salvation is clear from Acts 15:1, 5.  They taught that the gospel without circumcision was nothing.  Paul taught that circumcision was nothing and that the cross was everything.  The ceremony of circumcision became null and void, because it was a type of the death of Christ and thus met its fulfillment and its end at the cross.  The shadow ceased in the glorious Substance.  The Sun of Righteousness obliterated all the shadows.  This was the reason for Paul’s boasting.
The Cross both crucifies and elevates.  It “cuts off” from the world all those who will believe.   This is the work of God in humbling us in the dust.  Faith in the cross gives us humility and contrition.  It unites us to God.  Union with God then elevates the believer.  It was the cross that lifted Jesus up from earth to heaven.  This was His glory.  It is the cross that brings us glory and as Paul said, it is the only thing in which to glory.  Yes, the cross means derision and shame from the world, but it lifts us away from the world, and sets us on high with Christ in the heavenly places (Colossians 2:2,3).
The power of the cross is the power of creation (Romans 1:16-20; 1 Corinthians 1:18,24).  “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).  Circumcision has no power to create.  Only the cross can do this.  “If any man be in Christ, there is a new creation” and it is only through death to self that we become joined to Jesus (Romans 6:3).
 “Why glory in the cross?—Because by it the world is crucified to us, and we to the world. The Epistle ends where it begins,—with deliverance from “this present evil world,” and it is the cross alone that accomplishes the deliverance.  The cross is the symbol of humiliation, therefore we glory in it, because in humility is exaltation” (E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, page 254).
--Jerry Finneman