Sermons > 2014 -Aug. 3, 2014, You Never forget your Past
You never forget your past. If you attended a certain school like Texas A&M or UT, you'll always pull for your team. If you were a member of a fraternity or sorority, you'll always remember the mottos and slogans and pledge chores. If you played in a sport or competed, you'll always remember those fight songs and pre-game rituals. Being a part of something with other people is a bonding experience. You're connected with them for the rest of your life and every time you see one another, you're always pulled back to that time in your past when you all went through something together.
It's like that today for Paul. Yes, he is a Christian now. He doesn't worship as Jew anymore. He doesn't see the scriptures through Jewish eyes or worship in Jewish ways. He doesn't avoid certain foods or enjoy certain privileges. That's all in his past now. But as I just said, you never forget your past and you never forget the people that were a part of it-especially when they're in grave danger.
See, Paul didn't leave Judaism because he wanted to per se. He wasn't looking for a change; he wasn't dissatisfied with his priest or with his fellow worshippers. He didn't get rubbed the wrong way at the temple or feel the Pharisees were only out for money or control. He didn't leave Judaism for any of those reasons. He left Judaism because his eyes were opened to the revelation of God's truth that was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Judaism taught that Jesus was not the Messiah. It taught that faith was about obedience to the Law and loyalty to the nation. It mandated certain practices like circumcision and it called for participation in certain rituals like Passover. But Christianity taught that many of these things were shadows of what was to come. "These are a shadow of the things to come," Colossians 2:17 tells us, "but the substance or reality belongs to Christ."
And when the reality came, meaning Jesus, these shadows were no longer necessary. The reality took their place. It fulfilled those things, which merely served as symbols or guideposts that pointed to the reality. And that reality was Christ.
And so Paul had a break with his past. He could no longer go on worshipping as if he didn't know God's full identity because when you see Jesus, you see God. "He who has seen me has seen the Father," Jesus told Phillip in John 14:9. "For in Christ, all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form," it says in Colossians 2:9.
So, there is no going back now. Christ has revealed Himself. Christ has revealed Himself to Paul and you know that story. Paul came to faith and was baptized. The transition has been made and he can no longer go back to his past.
But that doesn't mean that he has forgotten it and it doesn't mean that he's not haunted by it.
There is a desperation Paul has now that he didn't know before. There is an urgency. See, Paul now knows that Jesus Christ is his salvation. He knows that the crucifixion was payment for sin. His Judaism prepared him for that. Paul used to have to bring a lamb down to the temple and sacrifice it and have its blood shed and see it smeared on the horns of the altar. The blood of the lamb, the life of the lamb for the sins of Paul. This is what they did every Passover. This is why they had a Temple-to have a place to bring your animal so you could see the Priest sacrifice it in your place. Judaism had prepared Paul for understanding the crucifixion. Shed blood is payment for sin.
But the difference here was that Christ paid for sin once and for all. This was not going to be a daily or weekly or monthly thing that had to be done over and over again like the animal sacrifices. Those things were shadows of the once and for all sacrifice that Christ would make. And so, once the reality came, the shadows became obsolete. We didn't need them anymore.
But if you continued to live in the shadows, that meant that you were in denial of the reality. It meant you didn't accept the reality. It meant that you didn't accept Christ. And remember what Jesus said about those who saw Him saw the Father. Well, the reverse was also true-those who rejected Him also rejected the Father, which meant that those who rejected Him also rejected their own salvation.
Paul wasn't a Jew anymore, but he didn't forget his past and he didn't forget those whom he counted to be his people. This was not a cult that he was a part of now. It was a church whose mission it was to save the lost by proclaiming to them the Gospel – the Good News that Jesus died for sin and that salvation came to those who believed.
But these were just any people to Paul. These were his people. The Jews were his people. They were his heritage. And so knowing the truth of the Gospel and knowing what happens to those who reject the Gospel, Paul says in verse 2, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart." See, sometimes knowing the truth can make you sad because you worry about those who don't know it.
In fact, there is a sacrifice Paul wishes that he could make for them. He wishes that he could sacrifice his own salvation for them. He wishes that he could go to hell for them. Verse 3, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsman according to the flesh."
No one else in the Bible says anything like that. But Paul cannot forget his past. He loves his people so strongly, he would give up his own salvation for them – if it were at all possible. Parents, you know this love for your children when they do foolish things or choose harmful paths for themselves. You would gladly give your own life for theirs. You would probably even express sentiments similar to what Paul says today for them if it came to that.
But as Martin Luther once famously said, "Every man must do his own believing and his own dying." You can't pay for loved ones to get out of purgatory as the church in his time taught (not that there really is a purgatory), but the point is that we cannot affect another person's salvation by our own actions or faith. Not even Paul himself, the greatest Apostle who ever lived, could do that.
But what he could do was preach to them and teach. He could be all things to all men so that by some possible means he might save some as he told the Corinthians in 9:19. Sacrifices could still be made for those he loved—not in terms of salvation, but in terms of his own life and in terms of his becoming a servant to humanity. In this way, the Gospel is proclaimed in the love shown in sacrifice to others. It's expressed in the conviction of self-denial and putting others before yourself. It's expressed in time that you give and privileges that you deny yourself that others may benefit.
God has called Paul to this life and in a number of ways, Paul's life now is less pleasant and less accomplishment oriented than it was before. I'm sure many of his fellow Jewish friends now resented him and hated him and felt betrayed by him. To them, the past was gone and there would be no more reminiscing with Paul. But Paul has not forgotten and the persecution he now receives has not lessened his love for those with whom he shares a common heritage.
He cannot be cut off from Christ for them, but he can proclaim Christ to them. He can talk to them about shadows and reality and about the shedding of blood and the forgiveness of sins. And these words of life and Spirit will seek to do their work and convert them just as they converted him. And there is an urgency about this because those who do not believe in Christ have no hope in the life that is to come. They might have their laws and their worship and the patriarchs and all that Paul says, but they do not have salvation. Paul wants to see that change and so do we. Not just for the descendants of the Israelites, but for the descendants of all people.
And so we speak the truth in Christ and we proclaim the reality of His incarnation and crucifixion and resurrection. And we do so urgently, knowing that salvation is about life and death-for those we love and for those with whom we share a past bond and heritage. You never forget your past, but in Christ, there is the anticipation and expectation of all believers that we will share a common future. In His Name. Amen.
Pastor Chris Bramich