Paul equated Jesus with God in all his epistles, usually in the greeting. When you consider that Paul learned at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the greatest rabbis in Jewish history and that Paul (then Saul) was trained to be a Pharisee, an elite sect of the Jewish religion of the time, equating Jesus with God was radical. It was also clear evidence of Paul’s complete conversion to Christ.
Since the time of Moses all the way into the days of Paul, every Jewish child knew the phrase: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:4). After the Babylonian Captivity, the Jewish people were staunch monotheists in a polytheistic world full of idolatry. They were known for being a one-God people. For some Gentiles, like the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10), the Jews’ belief in a single, all-powerful God is what drew them to the Jewish faith. Paul never denied the tenet “the LORD our God is one LORD.” He never encouraged any Jew to cast off the Law of Moses as irrelevant or unworthy. But he did have a radical understanding of the person and character of Messiah. The Jews expected Messiah to be a king and a political leader, sent to break the power of the Roman yoke. Paul knew Him to be their Savior and the Son of God, co-equal with the Father. His greeting to the Philippians proves this. It also takes a common Jewish greeting and turns it on its head:
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:2)
It was common for Jews to greet each other by saying, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God.” Every Jew understood that true grace and peace could only come from God. He is the source of those gifts. Paul understood this too, perhaps even better than most Jews, but then he adds “and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not just a cliché that he is adding onto this greeting to “Christianize” it. This is something he does on purpose, knowing full well the kind of reaction it might get from a Jewish reader. Saying this was just as radical as Jesus saying, “I and my Father are One” (John 10:30). By adding this simple phrase, Paul put Jesus on the same level as God. To an unbelieving Jew this was offensive!
But why the disconnect? Paul and other Jews knew the same God, shared much of the same doctrine, spoke much the same theological language and even hoped together for Messiah. Paul, however, had found Him. Why could both Paul and an unbelieving Jew know the same Jesus Christ and NOT see the same thing? Preconception. Paul had been like the unbelieving Jews of his day. He used to be an avid persecutor of the church. He saw Jesus as the leader of a radical and heretical sect – until God changed his preconceptions of Who Messiah is. The Jews weren’t expecting a Savior Who was the Son of God, co-equal with the Father. They wanted a Messiah who fit their mold. So, when they saw their true Savior, they could not see Him because of their preconceptions.
You and I don’t have the luxury of worshipping a Savior of our own design. We cannot allow ourselves to worship a Jesus Who has been reinvented to be more relevant or more approachable. By becoming flesh and blood – like one of us – He became as relevant and as approachable as He could ever be. Now we must accept Him for Who He is! Whatever preconceptions we might have about Jesus need to be completely radicalized by Scripture. Otherwise, we’ll miss Him completely.
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Photo by Glenn Haertlein on Unsplash
[FYI: I am working my way through Philippians. Instead of trying to find pics directly related to the devotional, I am just going to share pics of places around where I live.]