Sermon notes: Galatians Series, Number 13...

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Peter was trembling at the thought of offending the old guard in Jerusalem, and of having to face down their delegates just arrived in Antioch, so he caved.

He gave up God’s special revelations spoken of so clearly in Acts 10, and he gave up his immediate past practice there in Antioch—a practice he had followed with what we can suppose was joyful abandon until the day they arrived—and instead, put on airs and became a racist.

But really, “racist” is not nearly serious enough to address what Peter did because it was not simply a matter of Peter’s prejudice for his own kind and uncharitable condemnation of other people groups; in this case, what was at stake was not simply human prejudice, but the wideness of God’s mercy.

NOTE: This is number 13 in a series on Galatians. If this is your first time reading sermon notes here, please take time to read a helpful explanation at the bottom of this post...

From the Pulpit of Church of the Good Shepherd/Clearnote Church, Bloomington

February 15, 2004; AM

Galatians Series No. 13

Fearing the Party of the Circumcision II

Sermon Text: Galatians 2:11-14

This Lord’s Day, we turn to our thirteenth in a series of sermons on the New Testament book of Galatians...

Galatians 2:11-14 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

We have spent several weeks looking at the conflict between Paul and Peter—two titans of the early church—over whether Gentiles had to be circumcised to be worthy of the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ; whether it was right that the Jews in Antioch and all the churches of Galatia witheld themselves from the Gentiles, treating them as if they were second class citizens within the Body of Christ.

The Apostle Paul, fighting for the full inclusion of the Gentiles without circumcision, has rehearsed the history of this battle, and here in our text he recounts the most intense part of that conflict for himself, personally; but also the most intense for the Apostle Peter; when their conflict over this matter caused them to go man to man, with Paul rebuking Peter to his face—and publicly ("in the presence of all").

Verse 11: But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned

To say, as the Apostle Paul does here, that  the Apostle Peter “stood condemned” is no light thing. It’s not simply a matter of a difference of opinion; had it been, Paul and Peter could have gone their separate ways (just as Paul and Barnabas did at another time, when they disagreed over John Mark). Had it been such a merely personal issue, they could have taken some time off from one another, waiting for a period of restoration when they could bury the hatchet and, once again, be restored to full unity together.

No, this was a far more serious disagreement Paul and Peter were having, here; a disagreement that led the Apostle Paul to say not only that he disagreed with the Apostle Peter; but that he disagreed with Peter “because (Peter) stood condemned.”

And what is the meaning of this word ‘condemned?’

This word ‘condemned’ is a very severe word, not to be tossed out lightly.

It’s not a word used simply to mean that Peter was being opposed by Paul.

Rather, it’s a word used to indicate that Peter, standing before the tribunal of heaven, the judgement seat of God, was under the condemnation of God Himself. In other words, the Apostle Paul is not speaking for himself; nor even for any other individual or group of men within the church. Rather, he is speaking as the mouthpiece of God.

It was Paul’s work to issue God’s judicial judgement against Peter—that Peter was under God’s condemnation for his two-faced, hypocritical actions towards the Gentiles, eating with them sometimes, but when the Jews arrived from James in Jerusalem, avoiding eating with them and returning to his own people.

Had the matter been a personal slight, Paul would have passed over it easily, forgiving Peter as he himself had been forgiven by the Lord Jesus; allowing love to cover a multitude of sins.

But since Peter’s actions were not personal, either against Paul himself or against the Gentiles who Peter had shut out in the cold—but rather against the Lord Jesus Who had broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, making the two one; he (Paul) had no authority to overlook this sin. It was the work of Christ on the Cross that was under attack—no more and no less.

How had the Apostle Peter attacked the work of Christ, how had he undercut the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Paul answers by recounting for us, and all his readers, that…

12 …prior to the coming of certain men from James, (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.

It would be very easy to see here a rather adolescent cliqueishness, wouldn’t it?

We all know the routine from Junior High and High School. There are certain kids that come to youth group, certain kids that we ride the bus with on the way to and from school each day; and at youth group and on the bus—in smaller groups—we are quite willing to call them our friends because we feel responsible for their fitting in; maybe because, at youth group they’re fun to be with; maybe because both on the bus and at youth group there isn’t a whole lot of choice who we hang out with and talk to.

But at school, it’s a whole different situation. There are thousands of kids there, including some kids who are really cool and who, as it turns out, when we’re able to make a choice, we’d really much rather be around than the kids at our youth group or on our neighborhood bus.

But if this is what we attribute this conflict between the Apostles Peter and Paul to, things so superficial as which clique we’re in and social climbing, we have missed the point of this story. It’s not about social climbing or cliques; it’s not a story about the cool Jews and the uncool (or, more likely, disgusting) Gentiles, although certainly there may have been elements of that; rather, what is at stake is the unity of the Table fellowship within the family of God, the Household of Faith.

Verse 12 …prior to the coming of certain men from James, (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.

Note that this was not the Apostle Peter’s normal behavior—withdrawing from eating with the Gentiles and holding himself aloof from them—not since God had spoken to him on the rooftop of Simon the Tanner’s house:

Acts 10:1-48 “1 Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 “Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; 6 he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, 8 and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. 9 On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. 17 Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; 18 and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 “But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” 21 Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” 23 So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24 On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” 27 As he talked with him, he entered and *found many people assembled. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. 29 “That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me.” 30 Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, 31 and he *said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 ‘Therefore send to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.’ 33 “So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” 34 Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. 36 “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)-- 37 you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. 38 “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 “We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 “God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.”

Now this was an unambiguous revelation from God concerning this very matter of the legitimacy of the Gentile’s claim to salvation through Jesus Christ, and membership in the Church—and that without circumcision—isn’t it? Couldn’t be clearer.

(Go back over the underlined sections, for emphasis.)

But was Peter being faithful to this command of God, to this revelation of the Holy Spirit, to his past practice both in the home of the uncircumcised Gentile, Cornelius, and ever since?

No, instead we read:

Verse 12 …prior to the coming of certain men from James, (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.

And we read, continuing in verse 13:

Verse 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

So Peter disobeyed the clear revelation of God—the special revelation given to him on the rooftop of Simon the Tanner’s house, and later when the Holy Spirit was poured out among the household of the uncircumcised Gentile, Cornelius.

It was not that Peter was confused; it was not that Peter hadn’t understood; it was not that Peter had not heard the instructions; it was not that someone higher up in the hierarchy of the church—an authority over him—had commanded Peter to act contrary to God’s command; rather, it was that Peter—the mighty Apostle Peter—was what?

He was afraid. Afraid.

But afraid of whom?

The old-timers in Jersusalem had heard of his disgustingly common habit of eating with those who are unclean, uncircumcised Gentiles, up there in Antioch, and they made it clear to him through those “of James” who travelled up from Jerusalem, that his behavior was scandalous to them and all the other charter members (if you will) of the home church.

See, it was the common tool of Satan, fear of man, that knocks the Apostle Peter off course—nothing more and nothing less.

The Greek word describing Peter’s state of mind when he made his decision to hold himself “aloof”—great word, isn’t it?—from the Gentiles is the same word from which we get our English word, ‘phobia.”

Peter was trembling at the thought of offending the old guard in Jerusalem, and of having to face down their delegates just arrived in Antioch, so he caved.

He gave up God’s special revelations spoken of so clearly in Acts 10, and he gave up his immediate past practice there in Antioch—a practice he had followed with what we can suppose was joyful abandon until the day they arrived—and instead, put on airs and became a racist.

But really, “racist” is not nearly serious enough to address what Peter did because it was not simply a matter of Peter’s prejudice for his own kind and uncharitable condemnation of other people groups; in this case, what was at stake was not simply human prejudice, but the wideness of God’s mercy.

Jesus Himself had said:

John 3:16 “16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

And not only had Peter violated the broadness of God’s mercy, he had also led others into his own hypocrisy, making his sin the door of theirs.

Verse 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

The word in Greek translated “hypocrisy” here is a word from the theater of Ancient Greece referring to the role an actor played on the stage.

Peter was, then, clearly acting against his conscience and he led—even encouraged—others to follow him in that play-acting, that hypocrisy, so that even beloved Barnabas was led astray!

What was Paul’s response?

He judged Peter and the rest of them, including his beloved Barnabas, to have strayed from the straight and narrow path that leads to life, and rebuked him (and by extension, every one of them seeing as Peter would have been their leader) publicly, in front of the whole church fellowship.

For a moment, let’s stop and consider the vindication and joy this must have brought to the downtrodden Gentiles. What a gift from God to them, after suffering under the arrogant airs of Peter and his partners in crime. Praise God for the steadfastness of the Apostle Paul, that he faced down the Apostle Peter publicly! Praise God that he too was not afraid of those of the circumcision!

No. I’m not proposing that the Gentiles took delight in the discipline and humiliation of their brothers and sisters in Christ—although certain I am that they were sorely tempted to do so—but rather, I am proposing (and certain) that the Gentiles rejoiced in the vindication of their true status of being fully adopted sons of God, despite their ethnic background. There can be no question that the Holy Spirit had spoken through the Apostle Paul in a powerful way, vindicating the power of the Cross—and what Christian does not love the Cross, the blood of Christ, the cry “It is finished!” knowing that they are his salvation!

And so they would have been grieved to see their Savior’s work diminshed by the works-righteousness the people of the circumcision who came from James were trying to add to His work. During the period when Peter acted in accordance with God’s clear revelation, they would have loved the unity that they had at the Lord’s Table there in Antioch (and in their individual homes, certainly), knowing it was a sweet unity that prevailed nowhere else in the Roman Empire—and this despite the broad-minded inclusivity that was the core commitment of this empire.

No emporer, no governing body, no religious leader, no city fathers across the Roman Empire had been able to live the glorious egalitarian unity won by the perfect work of our Lord Jesus on His Cross when, completing the work of redemption, He cried out, “It is finished!” and gave up the ghost. And it was because of the power of the Cross—a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles—that the Apostle Paul was able, indeed required, to confront the old guard with their hypocrisy (they knew exactly what they were doing as they held themselves “aloof”) and to write, several chapters later in this same book:

Galatians 3:25-28 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But if table fellowship was broken, if the Gentiles were not welcomed to eat and drink at the Lord’s Table with their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ, unless first they came under the Jewish law and were circumcised, then Christ had been crucified in vain!

If the work of Jesus, His perfectly obedient life and death upon the Cross, was not sufficient to open Heaven to uncircumcised Gentiles, then although they didn’t realize it, apparently, it was not sufficient to open Heaven for these self-important Jews either.

Because once any specific obedience is needed in addition to the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, then He cannot cry out on the Cross, “It is finished!”

If the Gentiles are unable to join Jews at the Table of our Lord until they have been circumcised, then in that one act they are coming under the whole Old Testament ceremonial law, trusting really in it—not in the blood of Jesus—for their acceptance in the presence of God the Father.

James 2:9, 10 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”

Verse 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Now from Acts 15 and the record there of the Council of Jerusalem—the first meeting of a presbytery or general assembly, if you will—we know the home church and its apostles ruled in favor of freedom from the Jewish Law of the Old Covenant (or Old Testament); and particularly, that it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised in order for them to be fully welcomed into the Christian Church. But the process of coming to this ruling (the way or process by which the matter came to a head) is a critical part of the story.

As I said last week, we have a tendency to want to clasp the theological truths of this precious book of Galtians to our breast—that by the works of the law no man is saved, but only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His work alone; we want to clasp that truth to our hearts while despising the method the Holy Spirit used to clarify and solidify that truth within the Church.

Similarly, we want to have the joy of the Promised Land without the pain of the plagues and the endless wandering and discipline of the forty years in the desert; we want Solomon’s empire without David’s blood; we want Hosea’s allegorical understanding of Christ’s love for the Church, His Bride, without having to blush our way through Hosea’s account of the whoredom of his wife, Gomer; we want John the Baptist to go straight from his faithful proclamation of Jesus the Messiah to his place of honor in heaven, without the ignominious decapitation he suffered at the behest of a young dancing girl in the middle of what was certainly a drinking party; we want the victorious Resurrection without the bloody crown of thorns on our Lord’s head, without the mocking and spitting and jeering, without the abandonment of our Lord by His Father, just at the moment when His life was ebbing out of His naked body hanging between crosses bearing common criminals; we want redemption without death, peace without purity, truth without controversy; we want gain without pain.

But this is not the way of our God; He is infinitely wise and holy, and it pleases Him to reveal to us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins;” and without conflict, truth and unity die.

Is this not the meaning behind the statement:

1 Corinthians 11:19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

Factionalism and schism and the conflict at the center of both are not to be commended, since their occasion is always the sin of man; and yet, God is pleased to allow them and, through them, to show the truth and the champions of that truth.

In other words, it is through conflicts such as that recorded here in Galatians 2:11-14 that truth and its champions, those who are not false, but true shepherds, are revealed to the flock of sheep.

* Japan Times’ Motto and “Fear”:

Whereas the New York Times has this motto on its front page, “All the news that’s fit to print," the English language daily, Japan Times, has this motto, “All the news, without fear or favor.”

Psalms 19:7-14 “7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. 10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. 13 Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression. 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.”

Psalms 56:11 “11 In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Psalms 118:6 “6 The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?”

Isaiah 41:10 “10 ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’”

1 Timothy 5:20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.

* * *

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May God bless you, dear brother and sister, as you study the Word of God and, only by faith, find it sweeter than honey.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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