God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

December 7 - Acts 20:1-3; Romans 1-3: Jews and Gentiles Always Shared the Same Fate

Today’s Reading: Acts 20:1-3; Romans 1-3

The Message

English Standard Version

Today's reading includes three verses from Acts. I am going to skip them in the summary, since they only tell us that Paul continued travelling while his Jewish opposition followed him.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Circumcision did not automatically make the Jews acceptable to God. They had to set things right to gain the benefits of being God's Chosen People. Non-circumcision did not automatically make the Gentiles unacceptable to God. They could set things right and be acceptable, too.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul to the believers in Rome:
The Prophets spoke of Jesus through whom we receive Life and attempt to spread it to others. Greetings! I want to preach the Message to you soon.
Everyone saw the Truth but chose to ignore it. God allowed them to spiral downward. Someday God's Judgment will come down on you, too, hypocrites!
God blesses and punishes based on actions, not mental understanding. Religion cannot save you; only a changed heart can. God entrusted His Scriptures to His Chosen People.
Only God, the god of everyone, through Jesus sets things right. Chosen People shouldn't boast.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Everyone knows God.

We do not need to tell the world that God exists. Everyone knows there was a Creator because the evidence is so plain. It was "woven into the very fabric of our creation" (2:15, The Message).

The problem is people do not acknowledge God as god.

If everyone knows God why is there such evil in the world? Because people suppress the Truth. When we cover up the Truth we eventually can't recognize it and fall for another truth. In this case it was worshiping the created instead of the creator. In addition, they allowed their willful ignorance of God to cloud their judgment to the point they became "inventors" of evil. God will allow the world to do evil because He will only be served voluntarily.

The Jews thought God was too nice to punish them.

Romans is written in a Gentile vs. Jew format at times. The first chapter (as we split it up) mentioned the Gentiles' wrongdoings. Then Paul rhetorically turns to the Jews and states (I paraphrase), "What are you looking at? You do the same thing. Do you think having a copy of the Torah in your synagogue will prevent God from punishing you? You're wrong—dead wrong." The Jews would not receive preferential treatment just because they were born the descendent of Abraham. God wanted them to set things right.
I find that the Jew-Gentile relationship is very similar to the churched-unchurched relationship today. Churches love to talk about how the culture is becoming more and more evil every year. They love talking about marriages that end in divorce, families that break up, and young people who do bad things. Yet what do we see in churches today? Marriages that end in divorce, families that break up, and young people doing bad things. If we want God to bless us, we must obey Him no matter if we are part of God's Chosen People or not.

God wants cut hearts, not cut foreskins.

Paul's discussion troubles many Christians. In fact, we are often so excited to get to chapter three (no one is righteous) that we gloss over Paul's explanation that those who set things right are acceptable to God, no matter if they have been physically circumcised or not. The cut foreskin was meant to help Abraham remember that God had a Promise with him. His descendants were circumcised to join in that Promise. There was nothing magical about circumcision that prevented God from seeing Abraham's or his descendants' sins. They did not get a pass while the Gentiles were punished for being born Gentile. Anyone who sinned would be punished—no matter if they were circumcised or not. Anyone who set things right would be accepted—no matter if they were circumcised or not.
Is it still true for today? Absolutely! Why do we expect God to now accept only those who are baptized? Remember, everyone still knows God and has no excuse for doing evil. It's still true—God accepts anyone who sets things right, no matter if they have been baptized or not! There is nothing magical about baptism that forces God to reject us before and accept us after.

God gave His Word to His Chosen People.

Then why would anyone want to become a Christian, you may ask. Why not just be a good person? The answer is simple,
So what difference does it make who’s a [Chosen Person] and who isn’t, who has been trained in God’s ways and who hasn’t? As it turns out, it makes a lot of difference—but not the difference so many have assumed.
First, there’s the matter of being put in charge of writing down and caring for God’s revelation, these Holy Scriptures. (3:1-2, The Message)
Christians are God's Ambassadors to the world. We have a personal relationship with the Creator. We know His Name. We are called to tear down barriers between God and the world. We have the assurance that God is with us always. Just like the Jews, we assume the benefits are salvation, community, and wonderful potlucks. We have assumed wrong. The benefits are far greater! Our task is not to sit back and complain about the world becoming more and more wicked or unequal. We are to actively break down the barriers between our neighbors and God by showing them God's Scripture—both in word and deed.

God used Israel's faithlessness to set things right.

This will come up in a couple of days, so I will tease it here and write more on it then.

Jesus died on the cross to set things right between Him and an entire world unwilling to set things right.

We love to take these verses and state that Paul means no one, absolutely no one, does what is right. If this is true, chapter two is wasted papyrus. Paul wants the Jews to realize they were no better than the Gentiles. God accepted them when they set things right, not just because they were His Chosen People. But in the end Paul reminds us that there is no group of people who set things right. Individuals? Maybe. Groups? No. The point is moot anyway because God set things right for the entire world. We can live with God, not because of our actions but because of God's. We don't boast because we are God's Chosen People. We boast because our god is God.

Do you think baptism is magical?

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