I went to Jerusalem again … 14 years later. This time, though, it was for a different reason; and God had compelled me to go. My constant companion, Barnabas, went with me … and I also took this kid named Titus, because being a Greek and not a Jew he had not been circumcised.
Now, this may not mean a whole bunch to you guys, but for us it was a distinction we learned from childhood. We called people who weren't Jews the uncircumcision. It defined who we were as a people. With you, if one of your males are born in a hospital they get trimmed automatically … no ceremony, no meaning. But in my day this distinction between us and them was used by these religious men as a token requirement that could be held over non-Jews to push them into conformity. They came up with the absurd formula that you weren't really delivered by Jesus unless you were circumcised. I call it absurd because the meaning of the ritual should have been more obvious to us … it actually gave proof to God's acceptance of believers from among the uncircumcision.
(You may wonder how we knew who was and who wasn't. First, it was assumed. No one had it done unless they were Jews. The only exceptions were those who joined themselves to us and became Jews. That was it. If we didn't know we could just ask. Most who weren't circumcised despised us, and had no reason to claim it. But either way, we could always find out. We didn't have the privacies you have and we had spies all over the place.)
Now, this formula had quite an impact. Non-Jews who believed began to feel less than Jews who believed. This put pressure on the have-nots to consider becoming the haves in order to get connected with God! So, the rite of circumcision had become this essential thing that caused those who don't have it to feel inferior … and it gave those who do have it a false reason to feel superior.
Don't pretend you don't know what I mean. When I wrote to the Galatian believers there was one big, obvious issue that was being used to bring them back into the hell-hole they had been delivered from. Today, you have so many issues I can't even begin to count them. But you know what? It's all the same. You just think it's so different.
Anyway, I went up to Jerusalem to hit this thing head-on and take the message of freedom that I speak to the heathen to see where they would stand with the truth. Now, I didn't want to bring this up in their open forum … I went privately to those who seemed to be something (this whole reputation thing can make people agree to some pretty stupid things, as I well know). I did this because I have seen how this perversion destroys freedom … I could only imagine the devastation caused if Jesus' own head-honchos were promoting it.
But I was relieved to find that none of them tried to push Titus to have the initiation rite performed, which is what the impostors among them wanted so bad. Don't you remember how many times I wrote in my letters how there would be people who hang with you and pretend to be your brothers? These spies can't stand the freedom we have in Christ. They have no idea what living in freedom is. How could they? Their have lived their whole life behind bars … and they won't be happy unless they force us into the same prison they are in!! But we did not give into them for a moment because the integrity of the message of freedom was on the line; and I was not about to let them take that freedom away.
Just in case you didn't know, it was Peter who really spoke out at the big meeting that had been called to discuss what was called the necessity of circumcision. They had been arguing for quite some time (You know, I hadn't heard so much twisted scripture in years … I had been pretty good at it myself at one time). But anyway, it was getting rather heated when Peter decided to stand up and talk about how God had used him to take the message of freedom to the non-Jews. You should have heard him drive home the reality of how they had received the Spirit in the exact same way we had: through faith. Man, he was bold that day … here he was silencing this foolish concept by pointing out that God made no distinction between the heathen and us Jews. Those self-righteous men among us were steaming … but they couldn't answer against him. Then he asked this question: Are we trying to fool God by forcing these believers to live in the prison that none of us Jews were able to bear? That got them to shut up long enough for us to describe how God had been working among the heathen through our speaking the message of freedom.
Okay, so as you can imagine Peter had gained quite a reputation and definitely seemed to be something; add to this the power of James and John and they became a force to be reckoned with. Don't get me wrong because I really do count them as friends, but I didn't care less who they were. God is not biased or impressed by what people think about themselves or each other. And you know what? Those who had reputations didn't add a doggoned thing to me or to my message! Actually, the effect was the opposite. It had become obvious to them that God really did give me this message of freedom to take to the non-Jews in the same way that Peter was chosen to speak to Jews. It's just like God to do something like that. These men who had the reputation for being the pillars among God's people fully accepted me, the guy who had been their enemy years before! You know, I think they were very surprised that God chose me.
The only concern they had with us had nothing to do with appeasing the false ones among them. They simply wanted to know if we would ask the believers who were not devastated by the famine in Jerusalem to help out financially. Which was something I had already planned on doing when I got back.
I want you to understand the dynamics surrounding Peter's visit to Antioch (that's the town where I was). Keep in mind that I had gotten over my earlier obsession with climbing the ladder of success. You see, I had learned to stay out of conflicts within the hierarchy of my own religion. Oh, I was aggressive alright, but I wasn't stupid! We observed the proper protocol when we stepped on each other. But strictly speaking, we were professional yes-men! We didn't really tell each other what we truly thought and felt … and we especially had to take care what we said to those who were above us. Otherwise, we would have never gotten as far as we did.
Now, don't forget that God had used Peter to take this message of freedom to the non-Jews in a very powerful way. You remember, it was the thing where he had the vision about the animals on the sheet coming down from heaven. God said, “Have a barbecue” … Peter said, “No way, it's not kosher, I'll get contaminated!” The lesson Peter learned was that if God calls it clean, then it's clean! The next thing Peter knew he was going to visit some Italians, and he got in a lot of trouble from that visit. He actually ate dinner with these heathen. I know, this might not sound like such a big deal to you, but for a Jew it could ruin his life! Imagine losing the respect of the people you live with … then you can understand what he had risked. This was the story he told during the big meeting that helped put an end to the discussion about circumcision.
Had I been operating by the fear I had grown up with I wouldn't have confronted such an important man to his face … in front of everybody! But the simple fact was that he was acting as a carrier of death!
So, here's the situation. Peter was living in the freedom of one who knows there is no distinction between people. The fear that someone might see him and think less of him for it didn't concern him one bit. The Gentiles knew he accepted them simply by how he lived among them. But then the boys from Jerusalem, the circumcision, came to town … and Peter began to act like a different man! The bottom line to his actions was fear ! He stopped eating with his brothers and instead started treating them as the uncircumcision. It was infectious! The other Jews also began acting out of character (that's the new character, mind you) and copied Peter's example. It was so bad that even my buddy, the rock-solid Barnabas, got caught up in the hypocrisy!
Okay, you may say, What's the big deal? So, he stopped eating dinner with the goyim! It's not like he was preaching a false message! But it was exactly that. Can't you see how his actions were presenting another message of freedom? Chances are that you don't … and that's no surprise. I say this because your modern culture and thought processes have been built upon the Greek philosophy system. Now, I had quite a few run-ins with that, but your whole concept of knowledge has taken what I saw to the extreme. Hey, most of you people can't even think without one of these systems!
Let me see if I can describe what Peter was silently telling these uncircumcised believers. Imagine this. You're at a social gathering where much to your surprise you find yourself accepted by some people you had previously considered snobs. Things are going well and you are feeling like one of the gang until some really cool people show up and join the party. All of a sudden you realize you are being treated as an outsider again. So much for the acceptance, huh? You've been there before, haven't you? The stuff that hurts is the silence and the subtle looks of rejection. You don't have to be told, “We are embarrassed by you”, but it comes across loud and clear. That is what Peter communicated. Because of his fear of reputation, he told the Galatians this simple message: You are not one of us … you didn't really think that you were our equals, did you?. What else is the rejected one left with than to consider that in order to be accepted he must have whatever it is the other person has?
I know what I said to him had quite an impact because it was almost a rewording of what he so boldly said at the Jerusalem meeting. Talk about Deja Vu, huh?
Here is what I asked him. If you are one of the initiated, but you live like the uninitiated, where's the rationale to push the uninitiated into receiving the initiation? Put another way: If you are one of the insiders, but you live like an outsider and not like an insider, how can you force the outsiders to live like the insiders? Oh, sure, we were born into the initiation (automatic insiders) … we aren't one of the heathen sinners (outsiders)! But hasn't God taught us that being made right is not a matter of doing this law that we were initiated into? Don't we know that it is through faith in Christ that God has included us among the righteous? Even we, the initiated (the insiders), had to believe in Christ Jesus for this righteousness that comes by faith and not by following the set of rules. Because nobody can be made right by following the rules no matter how hard he tries. But if we are trying to be made right in Christ, and in doing so we see ourselves as the sinners we despise, does that mean that Christ, through what he has done, brings sin? This is an insane question, for it is not the grace of Christ that causes sin!
Listen to me. If I put myself back into the system I tore down of trying to prove I'm better than you, who is it that is proving that I am a law-breaker? I am! The crucified and risen Christ has nothing more to do with sin. Don't you get it? It is the old system of rules that killed me, which, in turn, removed me from that system of rules, which has removed me from the sin … for the purpose of making me alive to the God I had been dead to! When Christ was crucified, I was crucified. The man I used to be, the initiated one, is no longer alive, but it is Christ who is my very life! This life I am now living in this body I live by the faith that has its source in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.
I'm not going to void out the grace of God with another message (spoken or not); because if you can make yourself right or improve yourself by some kind of law (God's or man's) or rule or principle or self-help course, then Christ did not have to die … it was for nothing!