Well, we are coming right along! This week, by the grace of God, I completed chapter 1 and I am honestly amazed and humbled that God’s precious, beautiful, perfect Word chooses to dwell in my wretched mind. Grace. Then not only that, but It chooses to take root and sanctify this sin-sick heart. Grace upon grace upon grace upon grace (John 1:16). I’m overwhelmed.
OK, so we ended last week’s blog in the middle of the Apostle Paul telling his story, mainly as a defense that the Gospel he preached was not one that he created or learned from someone else, but rather that it was the Gospel of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus Christ. He continues in 1:18-24:
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
After three years of being discipled by Jesus Christ Himself, Paul went up to Jerusalem to visit with Peter, who is called Cephas in this passage. He apparently also saw James, Jesus’ brother, while he was there for those fifteen days. One thing that I found very interesting in my research is the Greek word for “visit” (v. 18) that Paul uses: historeo. You most certainly see the English word “history” in it. This is the only usage of this word in Scripture–so we have to wonder why Paul chose it…
Historeo means, “to inquire into, examine, investigate, to find out, learn by inquiry, to gain knowledge of by visiting.” In short, I believe Paul wanted to know Peter–wanted to know his history with Jesus, wanted to know the stories first-hand, wanted to ask questions about Peter’s faith, wanted to hear the Christ-ordained plan for reaching the world with the Gospel! Paul knew that Christ Himself named Simon “Petros”–the Rock upon whom He would build His Church. My guess is that Paul figured he was a good place to start! 🙂
It seems as though Paul’s purpose in going to Jerusalem was to “historeo” only with Peter–and as though seeing James was an accidental or an unplanned experience. Scripture gives NO additional information as to this meeting between the Apostle to the Gentiles and the Lord’s brother. This is one of those times in bible study that has my pen writing a mile a minute in my journal–asking the Lord what this could have been like for the two of them, speculating what would have been said, wishing so much for more information. But alas, it isn’t there.
Would you mind if I did some of that speculating right here with you? I can imagine that James would have been skeptical. James is, after all, the poster-child for ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2:17)! What had Paul done to “prove” his sincere faith and to throw out all doubt regarding his true conversion to Christ? James, being the head of the Jerusalem Church, was going to be a diligent, responsible shepherd of his flock–and do some hands-on research. I imagine that James heard he was in town and cancelled his entire appointment calendar to make sure that he spent sufficient time with Saul, the Christian-killer (Acts 8:1-3).
Put yourself in the room with them. Can you feel the tension? It’s been three years since Stephen’s death (Acts 7) and his pastor (James) is finally meeting his murderer (Paul). Not to mention the countless others from James’ congregation who were beaten and arrested under Paul’s direction. Do you think James had some difficult questions for Paul? Do you think Paul humbly stood on the promises of Christ’s forgiveness for his wrong-doings? Do you think they both raised their voices? Do you think they both shed tears? Do you think they ultimately embraced? I do.
I believe this was an incredibly intimate time between these two Christ-followers. They had different histories with Jesus. Paul had never even met Him while He was flesh and blood, but James was His flesh and blood. Paul and James had committed different sins. Paul was a Christian-killing zealot, and James was a self-righteous younger brother. They had different callings. Paul was called to the Gentiles and James was called to the Jews.
Unity between them came SOLELY in the Person of Jesus Christ. For James himself wrote, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12).
With whom do you have differences? With whom do you have disunity? What issues do you have among your fellow brothers and sisters? What are you allowing to divide the body of Christ? Who do you need to forgive? Whose sins are you judging?
“For Christ Himself is our Peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).