Getting People to “See” Jesus…

“You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you hear?  Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?’’ [Galatians, 3: 1-3].

In this third of seven Galatian affirmations that John Stott uses to conclude The Cross of Christ , we see Paul directly confront the Galatian Christians about the source of their belief.  Stott feels this passage of scripture, along with six others from Galatians summarizes the main points he is trying to make in his book.  He  calls the seven affirmations from Galatians “an amazingly comprehensive grasp of the pervasive influence of the Cross.”

So let’s explore Galatians 3: 1-3.

First of all, Paul’s words in this Scripture are described by Stott as “astonished indignation.”  He calls the Galatians “foolish” for they seem to have forgotten the real source of their faith.  He describes them as “bewitched” and implies that someone has cast a spell over them.  Paul knows he has preached the honest Gospel to them, that Jesus Christ died for them and they need to continue their Christian lives by faith alone.

Instead living by faith and belief Paul, accuses them of “beginning with the Spirit, are you not trying to attain your goal by human effort?”  Are you going back to the past and trying to receive the Spirit “by observing the law?”

Stott writes this whole passage of Scripture is about the preaching of the Gospel.  What are the frustrations inherent in trying to get people to believe?  Scholars believe Galatians was written A.D. 55-57 not long after Jesus was on this earth.  What about the challenges preachers are facing today, trying to bring people to Christ two thousand years after the fact?

What needs to be done to express this life-changing message?

First the cross needs to be “proclaimed.”  The idea of Jesus’ crucifixion should be front and center.

Secondly, the fact should be presented “visually.”  Paul feels that preachers should “draw or paint” the image of Christ on the cross for their audience.  “Paul…likens his gospel- preaching either to a huge canvas painting or a placard publicly exhibiting a notice or advertisement.  The subject of his painting or placard was Jesus Christ on the cross.”  Of course we are not talking about an actual visual image;  we are talking about creating the image with words.  The preacher should be able to make the audience “see” the centrality of the cross.

Effective gospel preaching should proclaim the cross as a present reality.  Paul is trying to bring the past into the present and his task is difficult.   Certainly the Galatians knew of Christ’s sacrifice but none of them were present at the crucifixion.  Today’s preachers have a much harder task, getting people to understand the need for Jesus and their need to accept His loving forgiveness of their sins and His pathway to a better life.   Not only are there present benefits to following Christ to the cross but the benefits are permanent.

Lastly, the Gospel of the cross should be explained “as the object of personal faith” [Stott, 334].  Paul is not imploring the Galatians to “see” the image of Jesus because it is an object to behold.  He wants them to “see” it and put their trust in Him as their Savior.  This is why Paul writes “are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”  If you contemplate what was done for you, how can you take credit for your own salvation?  How can you claim it was done by your own work?  How can you say that you attained your salvation by following the law?

What Paul is really saying in Galatians 3: 1-3 is that the Galatians have heard the Word.  They should believe the Word.  They should acknowledge the Source of their belief.  That ultimate source is Jesus Christ and His sacrifice of the cross, but since we are not first-hand witnesses of that sacrifice, we should “believe what you heard.”

If we desire God’s grace, His forgiveness of our sins, and His offer of eternal life.

“I am the way and the truth and the life.”*

It would benefit us all to remember that, even though it is more than two thousand years after the fact.

*from John 14: 6.

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