CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER SIX (Lesson CXLIX)

The Romans may not have invented crucifixion as a method of execution, but they sure went on to perfect it. In the History of Herodotus, the Greek historian tells how the Persians were the first to drop victims on the tip of a spear.[1]  Herodotus reveals that King Dareios (Darius mentioned in the Books of Ezra, Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah) had 3000 Babylonians executed by hanging on a cross in about 519 B.C.[2] The sources reveal that, two centuries later, Alexander the Great also used crucifixion in his conquests.  For example, Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus tells us that Alexander had 2000 citizens of Tyre crucified after he captured that city.[3]

The Romans eventually conquered the Greeks, and it was from them that the Romans probably adopted crucifixion as capital punishment. However, the Romans were fond of noting that barbarians utilized crucifixions earlier. One historian tells us that this “included Indians, Syrians, Iranians, and Crimeans.”

We learn from Syrian philosopher and historian Posidonius; the French offered criminals as sacrifices to their gods, and later by the Germans and British. They may well have borrowed it from the Romans and combined it with their forms of punishment.[4]

Perhaps Paul hoped that the Jewish believers in Galatia would get his point quicker. Maybe, the pagans wondered why they should respect a lamb slain upon the altar in the temple, whose blood the high priest sprinkled on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies. But maybe, just maybe, the Gentiles could be persuaded that the lamb on the altar in the courtyard was now the Lamb on the cross on Calvary, slain for the forgiveness of sins; and whose blood covered those sins, blotting them out from God’s view so He could not bring them up in judgment.

Indeed, Paul knew the Galatians, or anyone else who read this letter, would not mistake his statement as admiration for the cross as the glorification of an instrument of torture.  But they may wonder what he saw to praise in two pieces of rough lumber bound together so that both hands and feet could be tied or nailed to it, so the person hanging there would die a slow, painful death.  We might ask ourselves if there could be anything in the image of the Anointed One on the cross that might speak to our generation today, helping them grasp the true meaning of the cross that believers see by faith?

Let me offer this: When looking at Jesus crucified on the cross with his arms stretched out to the right and left and his body to hang straight down, and it forms the letter “Y.” It reminds us of the first letter in the word “Yeshua,” which in Hebrew means “Messiah or Savior.” “But wait a minute,” someone might say, “wouldn’t anyone being crucified on a cross that way would form the letter “Y?” Perhaps they would. There were those thought to be the Messiah before Jesus came, and some after He left who died similar deaths.

However, the deciding factor comes when we line them all up in their tombs and see which one God raised from the dead. Find the One who ascended into heaven and is at the right hand of God the Father. Ask which one will return as KING of kings and LORD of lords. Then you will see that only Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus Paul met on the road to Damascus, the Jesus Paul preached, and you’ll have the right one.

Let me offer one more example of the power that the image of the cross exerts on those who believe. I’m sure you know that light-years measure the universe. That’s using the speed of light traveling at 186,000 miles per second. Now our closest star, the Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light-years away from earth. So, when you look up at that star at night, the light from Centauri you see entering your eyes started toward earth’s surface over 4.2 years ago, traveling over 25 trillion miles at 669,600,000 miles per hour.

But let’s look 16 million times farther out (I confess I’m not a mathematician, so if anyone can more accurately calculate this for me, I’d appreciate it), into space to the famous Whirlpool Galaxy, about 31 million light-years away. That means the light we see tonight started toward earth 23.16 million light-years ago. At the center of the Whirlpool Galaxy is a large white area, almost like an eye, and what you are about to see in that circle has existed for billions and billions of earth years, and it should make your heart jump for joy and your eyes and mouth open wide in praise. Take a look! You’ll be amazed at what you see![5]

It significantly impacts our thinking when we read the scripture that speaks of “the Lamb slain from the creation of the world.” [6]  No wonder the cross meant so much to Paul. Today it adorns the steeples of churches all over the world; dangles on chains around millions of necks; worn on lapels with pride, and imprinted on the Bible covers in every language on earth. Paul wasn’t through yet. He also compares his motives with those of the Judaizers. They wanted bragging rights to gain favor with God based on their good deeds and obedience to religious rituals and regulations.  In so doing, these Legalists rejected the Anointed One’s work on the cross as inadequate. They could not glory in the cross of the Anointed One because it did not meet their specifications of providing salvation without their good deeds.

But Paul announced that his motivation in accepting the death and resurrection of Jesus was to glorify what Jesus did to secure our salvation. Paul told them earlier in that those identifying with the Anointed One Jesus have, in so doing, crucified their sinful-self with Him on the cross.[7] Therefore, people like the Judaizers wrestle with and try to compensate for it through the work of their hands, no longer affect the true believer.

For Paul, one of the apparent signs of worldliness was living the good life in gratifying the desires of the flesh, gaining fame, fortune, and favor with humanity because of one’s accomplishments, without giving God any time or thought. The wearing of makeup, dressing fancy, viewing forms of entertainment for the sake of excitement, binge eating, drinking parties, and gambling were all done for pride and to show off one’s esteemed level of success as captains of their souls.[8] Paul says I died to all of that, and the attraction of all those things became dead to me.  Now I’m attracted to just one thing and proudly identify myself with it, and that is the self-sacrifice of the Anointed One as my Savior on the cross.

COMMENTARY

The great preacher of the early church, Chrysostom, wants his readers to know that what Paul calls “the world” here in verse fourteen, is not the heaven nor the earth, but the affairs of life, the praise of people, assemblies, glory, wealth, and all such things as exhibit an aura of splendor. To me, says Chrysostom, these things are dead. Such a believer, every Christian should desire to be, and always to use this language.

Neither was Paul content, says Chrysostom, in declaring all these worldly pleasures as being dead to him, he added: “and I crucified myself to the world.” It implied a double putting to death by saying, “They are dead to me, I am dead to them, neither can they captivate and attract me, for they are lifeless once and for all; I have no more desire for them, for I too am deceased to them.” Nothing can be more blessed than this putting to death of sinful tendencies, for it is the foundation of the sanctified life.[9]

A fellow scholar, Ambrosiaster, of that same era, sums it up in a unique way. Just as the false apostles were ashamed of suffering for the name of the Anointed One, they did everything possible by their hypocritical behavior to avoid those who worshipped the cross because they thought there was nothing in it for them. Still, the Apostle gloried in his sufferings because he knew that they would bring a great reward. Whoever puts all their hopes in the Anointed One will glory in His cross. The world is crucified to them because they are sure that the love of the cross of Anointed One is life, and the love of the world is death.[10] He goes on to say that the apostle Paul saw nothing in the world that he liked more than what he saw in the Anointed One.  Likewise, when the world sees us, they should also note there is nothing of the world in our lives that we love and cherish more than what we have from the Anointed One.

In his letter to Cyriacus, Bishop of Constantinople, Gregory the Great (540-604) comments on Paul’s statement here in verse fourteen about wanting only to glory in the Cross of his Lord Jesus the Anointed One. That means Paul found no reason to glory in worldly power, but in honor of the Name of Jesus the Anointed One, he glories in the Lord’s suffering and victory on the Cross. Therefore, says Leo, he embraces Cyriacus from with love from the bottom of his heart in recognizing him as a holy humble servant of a holy God.[11] In other words, Leo is saying that there is more than one way to glory in the cross of the Anointed One than singing hymns and praying prayers. We can be proud of all those who have taken up their cross to follow Jesus. They are products of the power of the Gospel and the Cross.

English church scholar Walter Hilton (1340-1395) focuses on what Paul says here in verse fourteen about putting off the world to himself and his crucifixion to the world. It was another way for the Apostle to tell the Galatians that he forsook his love of the world in honors and riches and all otherworldly things for the love of God. Nor does he love it so much he wants to pursue worldly pleasures. He is well satisfied that he has no need or desire for those things now or ever. To him, worldliness and sophisticated living are dead things. He simply no longer has any interest in those things meant to satisfy human passions.

And since the world seems to have forgotten all about him and doesn’t care if he’s dead or alive, Paul finds no reason to seek any favor or praise from them. And being in this condition concerning the world, he can concentrate on the path God set him on to walk toward the goal established for him. It is valid for any person who desires to know the perfect love of God. You cannot fully love God unless you entirely give up any respect for the world’s way of living. Becoming a dead thing to the world can only be accomplished by profoundly thinking about what that means in a spiritual sense. It will mean reforming one’s feelings about their old life and attachment to worldly ways.[12]

[1] Herodotus 1:128.2; 3:125.3; 3:132.2; 3:159.1; 4:43.2, 7; 4:103; 6:30.1; 7:194.1f; 7:238; and 9:78

[2] Ibid. 3:159

[3] History of Alexander, 4:4, 17

[4] Hengel, Martin, Crucifixion in the ancient world and the folly of the message of the cross, Translated by John Bowden Published by Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1977, Ch. 4, pp. 22-23

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nikH8TJQVYE

[6] Revelation 13:8

[7] Galatians 5:24

[8] See “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

[9] Chrysostom, Homilies on Galatians, loc. cit.

[10] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[11] Register of the Epistles of Gregory the Great: Bk. 7, Epistle 4, p. 911

[12] Hilton, Walter, Scale of Perfection, Bk. 1, Part 3. pp 161-162

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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