The Truth of the Gospel: Sermons from Galatians
Galatians 2:11-16 Faith in Christ, Not Works WC McCarter
There are several movies that have come out over the last couple of decades that show one actor playing the parts of several characters. The first one that comes to my mind is The Nutty Professor with Eddy Murphy. I also grew up watching the TV show “Family Matters” which had one actor play Steve Urkel and his alter ego Stefan Urquelle. In more recent memory there are the Tyler Perry movies and especially his role as Madea. These are great examples of how one person may play the role of several characters. Think back in past history to the days of Shakespeare when women were not allowed on the stage, and men had to play both male and female acting parts. Even farther back in history to the days of Greek actors there were those who would wear a mask and would “speak from under” the mask to play their roles. The Greeks called these actors “hypocrites.” The term was not used in a derogatory fashion, but literally referred to them as those who spoke from under their masks. Of course, the Lord Jesus used this term especially of the Pharisees who would claim to be righteous but were actually living a double standard. In today’s passage, one apostle has good reason to call another apostle a “hypocrite.”
We have all seen people change over time. We are especially shocked to see sudden and drastic change. We are often hurt by it and do not know how to react. When you know someone well, when they have lived a certain way for an extended period of time, and then they suddenly flip-flop to another lifestyle, we are caught off guard. Even when someone maybe does not feel very well, we say that they are “not being him/herself.” Paul records for us in Galatians 2 a time when Peter deserts his Gospel-driven lifestyle because of fear.
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Peter was to be Blamed (11)
Paul has been defending his authority as an apostle of Christ. In this passage, he demonstrates his apostolic confidence and defense of the truth. What we have here is an epic clash. The great apostle from Jerusalem, Peter, and the great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, are set to square off. Paul dares to stand up to Peter to his face in front of others in public. I cannot imagine a tenser scene with such crucial consequences. Paul basically says that he had to stand up to Peter because “he was to be blamed.” Now, for what was he to be blamed?
They Played the Hypocrite (12-13)
Let us set the scene as we read verses 12-13. Peter decided to head up to see Gentile country. A thriving Christian community, of mostly Gentile believers, had developed in the city of Antioch (of Syria, the third largest city of the Roman Empire at that time) because of the work of Paul and Barnabus. Peter went to visit and apparently was spending a good bit of time up there. We are told that he was in the habit of eating with the Gentiles. Of course, this was something new for a Jewish man. No Jew would be caught exchanging much of anything or communing in any way with a Gentile. They would not visit in a gentiles house much less eat with them. Not only would they not eat with Gentiles, but they followed the OT law strictly when it came to the food regulations. They even added many regulations to the OT law about eating.
Yet, Jesus had personally taught the apostles that it is not what a man eats that defiles him, but what comes out of his mouth, that is, what truly comes from his heart. Jesus had also demonstrated that a Jewish man could commune with sinners, Samaritans, and Gentiles. He did so on numerous occasions, eating with them, talking with them, teaching and healing them. The Lord had even given Peter a vision confirming these things. One day while Peter was praying on a rooftop, the Lord gave him a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with all sorts of animals that were unclean according to the Law, but the Lord said, “Take and eat . . . do not call unclean what I have called clean.”
When Peter went to visit Antioch, he was routinely going into Gentile houses, eating pork BBQ with them, and having a great time of friendship. When the men from Jerusalem came all of that changed. The men claimed to be “from James,” but all of the facts prove that to be a lie. James was the half-brother of Jesus who was not a believer before the resurrection. When he saw the Risen Lord, he became a believer and quickly an elder in the Jerusalem church.
The designation “hypocrite” was originally used for Greek actors who put on different masks in order to fulfill different roles. Peter would put on a certain mask with the Gentiles and another with the Jews. This is something Paul could not allow. The influence of the Judaizers, now including Peter, was so great that it even persuaded Barnabus, who was so well-known among those in Antioch. Barnabus was a close associate with Paul in preaching the Gospel of Grace to Gentiles, and now he had abandoned the Gospel truth. This was so relevant and personal for the Galatians because they knew him very well.
This account involving Peter and Barnabus tells us that even the greatest of leaders can and have made mistakes. He has now thrown Peter and Barnabus’ reputations under the bus for the sake of what? Paul’s reputation? Paul being right? I think it is for the sake of the Gospel. Paul really meant what he said in 1:10 “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”
The Truth of the Gospel (14-16)
Not only were Peter, Barnabus, and others not acting in accord with their convictions, but, worse, they were not acting in accord with the Gospel. It is one thing to make personal mistakes that need confrontation and correction, it is another thing entirely for a great leader to publicly act against the truth of the Gospel. As Paul said before, Peter was to be blamed. This could not go unnoticed. Something had to be said and done about this situation.
Peter and Paul have a close connection. Both were born Jews and have that heritage. Both had lived at least part of their lives attempting to achieve righteousness by works of the Law. In verse sixteen alone Paul exalts justification by faith in Christ Jesus and three times in that verse he negates justification by works of the law. He could not have emphasized this Gospel teaching much more! And so Peter and Paul both had the advantages that Paul refers to in Romans 3:1-2. These were Godly men who were raised under the Law of the Lord, yet even they had put their faith in Christ for justification. They came to understand that the Gospel was the truth and the only way.
There was no chance that anyone could ever be justified in the flesh. If you are a living person, you cannot be justified in God’s sight by any means of your own. In Job 25:4 Bildad, one of Job’s supposed friends, asks an important question. He asks, “How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?” The answer is no one can be righteous or pure before God. This is a common foundation for the Gospel. Either God saves us or we perish in our sins because we are never just in God’s sight!
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) There are core truths and facts contained in the Gospel, and that message has clear, outward consequences. If one accepts the Gospel, then one must submit to the results of it. The Bible says that we (humans) all have been created in the image and likeness of God. It is not our physical appearance that is His image, but the human spirit. Every human on this planet, no matter how they look or talk, have been created in His image and are special among all of creation. The Gospel says that Christ died to redeem people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Therefore, there is no Gentile church and Jewish church or Hispanic church, Black church, and White church. There is only one church. The Gospel forces/requires us to come together and celebrate Christ Jesus.
(2) Gospel truth is more important than keeping the peace. Standing back, closing our eyes, and wishing with all of our might that peace will come will not accomplish true and eternal peace. Just because we do not want to “rock the boat” or “hurt someone’s feelings” does not mean that we should stand idly by. Neither does it mean that we have to picket every event we can think of. Yet, it does require us to take a stand for Gospel truth at certain times.
(3) We cannot leave this text without criticizing legalism, that is, works=righteousness. Religious performance cannot save a person, no matter what form it may take (Mosaic Law, Fundamentalism, etc.).
(4) Lastly, we all fail (even great Gospel ministers) – but that’s what grace is for.