St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles
June 29, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In walks Paul and Barnabas, the two of them known to the congregation, but in tow is someone new, someone unknown. Titus. The Greek. The Uncircumcised. The rebellious. The outlaw. Titus walking into the Jerusalem congregation probably got a reaction similar to if a new face walked in here, and after taking off his jacket, revealed a sleeve of tattoos up one arm. And I’m not talking about cute dragonflies and frogs, or a hipster’s inked irony. I’m talking some seriously disturbing images, the kind of stuff that makes you want to lock your car doors when you see the guy walking down the street.
Titus. The living breathing, walking, talking object lesson. St. Paul writes of his trip to visit St. Peter, Then after fourteen years, I again went up into Jerusalem with Barnabas, and we also took along with us Titus (v 1). Paul and Barnabas were the ones with the mission, the ones that had business with the Jerusalem congregation; Titus was a tag-along. He was only there by the request of Paul and Barnabas.
When they arrived, St. Paul recalls that much of what he saw “seemed to be.” Four times in these ten verses, he writes that someone seemed to be something. In other words, there was a slick, polished exterior to the Jerusalem congregation, but there was something more at work among them. The truth of things was not as things seemed.
As St. Paul writes to the Galatians, he recalls that there was a faction at work in Jerusalem, whom he calls the false brothers, or the pseudo-brothers. I went up according to a revelation, and laid out to them the Gospel which I was preaching among the Gentiles, but privately to those who seemed influential, lest I was running or had run in vain. But Titus, who was with me, who was Greek, was not even compelled to be circumcised, on account of false brothers who were secretly brought in, who snuck in to spy out our freedom, which we have in Christ Jesus, so that we would be enslaved (vv 2-4).
St. Paul didn’t preach in the public assembly at first, but he met with those who appeared to be something—influential, maybe?—to talk theology. He laid out the message he had been preaching (going on eighteen years now).
But things weren’t as they seemed. These false brothers also appeared to be something they weren’t. They seemed to be pious, committed, Christian. But Paul sees through the outward presentation. He perceives something different at work among them. They sneak around and try to destroy the freedom of the Christian.
For the Jerusalem congregation during St. Paul’s visit, this meant compelling Titus to be circumcised, to submit to the laws of the Old Testament. They would be satisfied if Titus conformed outwardly, but they cared little about his inward regeneration.
But what does it mean for our congregation? No one here is compelling anyone else to submit to the Laws of the Old Testament, circumcision or otherwise. We don’t practice any of the Levitical code. If St. Paul and Barnabas walked in here today with Titus in tow, we’d welcome him with open arms and offer him some donuts and coffee.
The problem that falsified the pseudo-brothers in the Jerusalem congregation wasn’t just a love for the ceremony and discipline of the Jewish Law. What falsified these particular brothers was that they put sanctification before justification. In other words, they believed that in order to become right with God, you first had to become obedient to God. In their particular context, coming out of the Levitical Law, or the Mosaic Law, they believed that to be right with God, you had to be obedient to the Mosaic Law.
This flip-flopping of sanctification and justification wasn’t only at work in the Jerusalem congregation, but it’s also what gave rise to the papacy (obedience to the pope). Furthermore, the same false theology is at work among protestants—and even Lutherans—who believe that in order to be worthy of the Gospel, you have to first straighten up your life (obedient to a moral code).
St. Paul writes the false brothers—false Christians who appear to be pious on the outside—are the ones who sneak in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, in order that we would become enslaved again to the Law. False Christians live the Christian life when all eyes are on them, but they whisper about the failings of others over dinner, they gossip about secret sins, they murder reputations with their tongues.
Do we have false brothers in this congregation? I think we do. I’ve been keeping tabs. And it’s time to start naming names. We’ll begin with…Jacob Ehrhard.
St. Paul goes on, From those who seemed to be influential—of what sort they were and when makes no different to me; God does not take man at face value—for to me, those who seemed influential contributed nothing (v 6). These words written by St. Paul are some of the most frightening and lovely words ever put to paper. God does not take man at face value.
In our congregation, if you were looking for someone who seems to be something, you’d probably first think of the preacher. He is, after all, the guy you let stand up and speak to you every week, the guy you let teach you and your children. Some preachers even wield their influence so skillfully that they can mold an entire congregation to their own will. After the preacher might come the elders, then the chairman, then the officers, then the voters. The Ladies’ Aid definitely has its own little circle of influence.
But God does not take man at face value. It’s frightening to think that God sees past what seems to be—the good, pious, Church behavior—and sees the contradiction that hides underneath. False brothers and sisters, with something to hide down deep.
But at the same time, it’s beautifully good news. Because He does not take sinful man at face value. Our wickedness, our disobedience, our rebelliousness, our lawlessness, does not disqualify us from the Gospel. St. Paul will not yield to the circumcisionists so that the truth of the Gospel would remain for you (v 5).
The Truth of the Gospel Is for You Regardless of Your Outward Appearance
St. Peter is on the other side of the knife, as it were. Like Paul, he was raised under the old covenant, circumcised on the eighth day, obedient to the Levitical Law. He was a preacher, evangelist, and apostle in Jerusalem, and therefore, among the circumcised. Unlike, say, sacrificing a lamb, circumcision wasn’t something you could stop doing. The Jews who came to faith in Christ still bore the outward mark of the old covenant, which would seem to prevent the Christian faith from extending much beyond Judea.
There was a divide between the circumcised and uncircumcised, Jew and Gentile, obedient and outlaw with respect to the old covenant. But that dividing wall has been torn down in the death of Christ. He was circumcised for the uncircumcised. He was glorified for the Jews and Gentiles alike. He was obedient for the disobedient.
This Christ is the One who sent both St. Peter and St. Paul—St. Peter when He commissioned the eleven; St. Paul when He appeared to him on the road to Damascus. But rather, seeing that I had been entrusted the Gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter for the circumcised, for He who was at work in Peter for apostleship to the circumcised, was also at work in me for the Gentiles, and acknowledging the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we would be for the Gentiles and they for the circumcised (vv 7-9).
The same Christ who sent both St. Peter and St. Paul is the One who continues to work in both St. Peter and St. Paul, for Jew and Gentile alike, for obedient and rebellious alike. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not depend on works or obedience. It is the good news that God justifies a man by faith apart from works. But we know that a man is not justified from works of the Law, but by faith of Jesus Christ, and we believe in Christ Jesus, so that we would be justified from faith of Christ, and not works of the Law, because from works of the Law no flesh is justified (Gal 2:16).
Justification has no prerequisite but Christ. You do not need to be circumcised, declare your allegiance to the pope (or your pastor), or straighten up your life to be justified before God. He justifies by faith. That is to say that He declares you to be just and upright apart from your outward appearance—even contrary to your outward appearance. This is the truth of the Gospel for those whose outward show is false. God does not take man at face value; He sees beyond the outward show of piety and obedience, but He also sees past the lawlessness and wickedness that hides just below the surface. God sees all the way to your heart, where He has begun a new creation. He sees to the inner man who is continually being renewed by faith in the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins.
Before St. Paul left Jerusalem, “the pillars” Peter, James, and John extended to him and Barnabas and Titus the right hand of fellowship. The word for fellowship means that they all shared something in common. It wasn’t their outward appearance, the people they associated with, or even the way they conducted themselves in public. What they shared was the common Gospel that God justifies the ungodly by faith. This is evident in their common concern for the poor, that is, for people who had nothing to show for themselves.
There is a fellowship between St. Peter and St. Paul, and it’s a fellowship that you also share. Your Lord Jesus Christ justifies you, apart from your outward appearance.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard