Saturday, December 6, 2014

All The Saints (part 19)

When Israel would begin to respond appropriately, re-adopting the marks of their covenant, just as Gentiles responded appropriately to the Creator God by adopting the covenant marker of belief in Jesus as Messiah and King, the Creator God would revive Israel and grant them exodus.  This exodus, marked by Israel shaking itself free (always presented as the work of the their faithful, covenant God) from foreign oppression, was regularly looked upon as the evidence of the forgiveness of their transgressions against their God and His covenant.  Here then, Gentiles are enabled to enjoy the same type of relationship with the Creator God as has been enjoyed by Israel lo these many years.  Undoubtedly, it is a privilege that portends a significant responsibility. 

Paul then takes another step.  He, a Jew---a Hebrew of Hebrews, as he describes himself elsewhere---speaks through his letter in such a way that he takes up with the Gentiles.  His inclusive language expands again, as he identifies himself with the Gentiles (a radical step indeed for someone that had been zealously steeped in the Jew-delineating, over and against all other nations, covenant markers that defined Judaism and served to fence off the covenant God’s elect people and His covenant blessings) by insisting that “He has destroyed what was against us” (Colossians 2:14a). 

Elaborating on what has been destroyed, he writes of “a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us” (2:14b).  Surely, the Gentiles that Paul is addressing are heartened by this language that he has adopted.  He has moved beyond the comforting “all,” now standing in solidarity with Gentile believers, and declaring that the decrees that had been opposed to “us,” which are quite possibly the covenant markers that Gentiles had been forced to adopt if they wanted to participate in the blessings of the Creator God’s covenant people, have been removed.  Indeed, Paul says that Jesus “has taken it away by nailing it to the cross” (2:14c), leaving only a loyal, believing trust in Him as all that is necessary to join up with the Israel of God. 

The cross to which God-manifest went has changed everything.  Discarding the shame that was normally attached to a crucifixion (the most shameful and shame-ascribing event of the ancient world), as is Paul’s custom as well as that of the church, Paul exults in what the cross has accomplished in and for “all” the world and “all” creation, writing “Disarming rulers and authorities,” who had thought that Jesus was the one that had been disarmed, “He has made a public disgrace of them,” even though they had thought that it was Jesus and His followers that were suffering disgrace and shame, “triumphing over them by the cross” (2:15).  The place and the instrument that was said to be that of Caesar’s triumph is actually the place of Jesus’ triumph.  As Caesar employed the cross as part of his efforts to create, solidify, and control a worldwide kingdom of his own making, so the cross was employed by Jesus to actually accomplish that end.      

To this word of the removal of the oppositional decrees and the reminder that Jesus, as Lord, is the ruler of all (a frequent assertion by Paul as he communicates the Gospel message), along with his position of solidarity with Gentiles, Paul adds “Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days” (2:16).  This can be nothing less than a direct reference to the covenant markers that had previously served as boundaries that, in combination with circumcision, served to maintain separation between Jews and Gentiles, and which some continued to insist were a requirement for Gentile participation inside the covenant people.  Paul clearly and repeatedly strikes at this notion.  He has referred to it as a certificate of indebtedness that has been taken away because of the cross. 

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