Wednesday, December 3, 2014

All The Saints (part 16)

He says “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated with strictness under Gamaliel according to the law of our ancestors, and was zealous for God just as all of you are today” (Acts 22:3).  Talk of being a Jew, raised in Jerusalem, trained under Gamaliel, who honors ancestors, and is zealous (this is a specific term for a way of life and approach to the law and the covenant), would be quite satisfactory. 

Furthermore, Paul says “I persecuted this Way,” that being the belief in a crucified man by the name of Jesus being the Messiah, “even to the point of death, tying up both men and women and putting them in prison, as both the high priest and the council of elders can testify from me.  From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I was on my way to make arrests there and bring the prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished” (22:4-5).  As the crowd listens, they can begin to realize that not only are these not the words of a person that would bring a Gentile into the Jerusalem Temple, but that they are not the words of somebody who “teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this sanctuary” (21:28b). 

Paul’s audience remains respectful until such time as he touches what was obviously the rawest of raw nerves.  When he reports the words of the one that he now calls Lord, telling the crowds that the command of the one called Messiah, who was being worshiped as the physical embodiment of the Creator God of Israel by a small and growing group of believers that were composed of both Jew and Gentile, was that “He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (22:21), the crowd resumes its earlier disposition. 

To that end, Luke reports that “The crowd was listening to him until he said this.  Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Away with this man from the earth!  For he should not be allowed to live!” (22:22)  No longer is the issue the content of Paul’s teaching nor the possible defiling of the Temple.  The lone issue is the extension of the covenant to the Gentiles, and the idea that the title of “saints of God” would no longer be reserved for national Israel and those that had adopted the covenant marks of national Israel alone.  This is representative of part of the mindset of the world into which Paul delivers letters such as the letter to the Colossians.    

Returning to Colossians then, having effectively made the point that it is highly probable that Paul had Gentiles and the Temple in mind when he pens words that refer to them as “holy, without blemish, and blameless before Him” (Colossians 1:22b), and doing so against the well-established background of difficult Jew/Gentile relations and a hesitance to grant Gentiles an unlimited and unchecked entrance upon the covenant and the language of the elect people of the Creator God,  an exploration of the inclusive language of the letter can be resumed. 

Now being more carefully attuned to the underlying concerns of the Apostle, this church, the churches of Asia Minor, and the church-at-large, it is possible to grasp the monumental scope of the kingdom project and hear it being referenced when Paul writes “This Gospel has also been preached in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become its servant” (1:23b).  The “all” of “all creation” resounds with theological and eschatological gravity!  It is with such gravitas, as he willingly, in the manner of His Lord, adopts the position of servant to the previously unwashed masses of Gentiles, that Paul writes “I became a servant of the church according to the stewardship from God---given to me for you---in order to complete the word of God, that is, the mystery that has been kept hidden from ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints” (1:25-26).  These “saints” now include Gentiles. 

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