Welcome to week 7 of our study, Why Israel Matters. This is a summary of a live study we’re doing each Sunday morning at CalvaryPHX in Phoenix AZ. (11am in Room 209…you are welcome to join us!) Last week we discussed the Jewish roots of our Christian faith, and how Christians and Jews are to rightly relate to one another.
We’ll follow that up this week by taking a close look at what happened to cause a split in Jewish-Christian relations in the 1st century, and what took place following that. As you can imagine, backgrounds and traditions were much different between 1st century Jewish and Gentile believers. The Jews had a history with God which included temple worship and sacrifices. Meanwhile, background for most Gentiles was one, primarily, of pagan idol-worship. Thus, problems arose as traditions clashed! (Should the potluck be kosher or not!?!)
As we begin to understand the dilemma, let’s reflect back to Abraham. To keep it all in perspective, we must remember that God birthed the Jewish people through a covenant with Abraham. Prior to that time, there were no Jews. God called a Gentile (Abraham) to be father of the Jews! He then planted our Christian roots in that soil!
What do I mean by that? Well, consider that “Christian” means “Christ follower,” and we know Jesus Christ was a Jew. (We follow a Jew!) Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses, was circumcised on the 8th day (as all Jewish male babies were), was brought to Jerusalem and presented to God, entered and read in the synagogues, observed the feasts and, ultimately, was crucified as “King of the Jews.”
Likewise, the apostles, the New Testament writers and the first followers of Jesus were observant Jews. Yet, they all serve a function in our planting as Christians in the soil of Judaism!
Given that, let’s focus a bit on Paul and dispel a couple of misconceptions. Turn in your Bible to Acts 9:1-19 to discover God’s call on Paul. (You will find another account in Acts 22:1-16 as Paul “shares his testimony” while on trial.)
In Acts 22:3, Paul clearly identifies himself as a Jew…and a very observant one, at that! It is important to understand that Paul remained a Jew even after that encounter with God in which he became a Christ follower. He did not stop being a Jew! He continued observing the feasts (as Jesus did!) and remained Jewish in his customs and traditions. (Though he did recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, etc)
The point is: Paul was not “converted” to Christianity. He was simply a Jew who chose to follow Jesus! In fact, all the first followers of Jesus were JEWS! (It was a bit later when the door of salvation opened to Gentiles. Keep reading in Acts for that!)
The other misconception is that, upon his “conversion,” Saul became Paul. In other words, his name changed. Not so! You see, “Saul” is a Hebrew name, while “Paul” is a Greek/Gentile form of the same name. Paul was called as an apostle to the Gentiles, to whom he ministered. Therefore, he was known as Paul by his audience.
Now, let’s put some puzzle pieces together. In Acts 9, we read about the life-changing event that took place in order to prepare him for God’s service. He is known as Saul in chapter 9 and, in fact, immediately following the Damascus road experience, he began teaching in the synagogues. That means he was teaching Jews!
Read verses 19b-30. How was he received by the Jews? What happened to him?
Thus, you see that, beginning in verse 31, the focus turns to Peter and his ministry, and it remains there for the next several chapters of Acts. Saul is seldom mentioned again until Acts 13:9. Take a quick peek at that verse, and a look at the chapter heading to see how God brought Paul into mission with Himself!
Fascinating, isn’t it! If you have not read the book of Acts lately, it is a great read! You will get a pretty full understanding of the ministry to which God called Paul. You will also get a great foundation of knowledge about the 1st century church.
That serves as our backdrop for the rest of this week! Stick with us as we continue down our path of examining the parting of ways! See you tomorrow!