Paul and the Grace of Christ

I was reading in Numbers 35 this morning and fell upon an interesting passage.  In the middle of this text describing the cities of refuge and the different rules for dealing with intentional and unintentional murderers, Moses writes, “Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death” (35:31).

Thus justice is required in God’s law.  The murderer could not be ransomed.  It was fitting for the one who took life to have his life taken from him.  At this point, I was reminded of the apostle Paul.  Paul “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13).  Paul approved of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1).  This Paul, “breath(ed) threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).  And the risen Christ encompassed him on his way to carry out such murderous threats saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? . . . I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5).

Now Paul was no slouch in the law of God (cf. Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:5-6)!  There is no doubt in my mind that he considered himself innocent in what he was doing – that is, until he finally understood the law with converted eyes and ears, heart and mind.  Then, it seems, the law that he made use of to condemn others, condemned him instead.  He was a murderer, indeed, a murderer of those who were truly Israel – that is, those who had by faith embraced Jesus Christ.  And again, the law now stood firmly against him, “”Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death” (35:31).

But he is not put to death!  Rather, the Lord blinds him for a moment, sends him to the house of a disciple to be strengthened, and having converted him, makes use of him for the advancement of the kingdom of God and its expansion into the Gentile world.  How can this be?  How could this be right by God’s law?  Paul, himself, gives the answer in several places.  I offer three of them:

1 Timothy 1:15-17: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.  To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:13-15: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.  But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me . . .”

Deuteronomy 23:22-23 cf. Galatians 3:13-14: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God” and (Galatians) “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

What thus seemed hopeless for Paul became hopeful as he looked upon Jesus Christ!  A sinner, a murderer at that, Paul was deserving of no ransom but a similar fate as that which he so proudly bestowed upon others unjustly.  The curse of Numbers 35:31 hung over him like a weight to hell – but God sent His Son, born under the law to fulfill it, deserving no curse prescribed in it, yet became a curse for Paul when He died in Paul’s place on the tree.  While no man could ransom another man, the God-man Jesus Christ could, and did – for Paul and all who call upon His name.  This Christ, it pleased the Father, to reveal to Paul, the free offer of which came and comes with such irresistible splendor that it had to be wildly embraced by faith.  So Paul did, and so Paul was ransomed unto life eternal by the removal of his sin (in the cross of Christ) and the gift of Christ’s perfect life.  And so Paul pleads with you, brother, sister, be mindful of God’s mercy and, thus, be merciful in extending the Gospel of Christ.  And to you, friend: perhaps you think that there is no ransom available for you, that you have gone to far in your sin, that God will not save you – Paul has good news for you: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  God is merciful, and Christ has perfect patience – but I say to you: do not wait, do not delay but fly to Christ, fly to Him for He is the embodiment of the city of refuge!  In Him you will find salvation from God’s justice.  In Him you will find God also merciful.  In Him you will find the curse cast upon you – as you continue to seek your salvation by “good deeds” – has been taken by Christ insofar as you repent of your sin and, like Paul, believe in Him.  And to that end, I ask my Father in heaven to grant to you that saving light – “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our (believers) hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (where?) in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  This is Paul’s testimony.  I pray it will be yours, as it has become mine by God’s grace.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: