I already apostatized … and you?

By Hermes C. Fernandes

Paul had already been warned about the persecution he would suffer in Jerusalem. Stubborn and obstinate, he did not listen to anyone. After all, as he himself said, he did not consider his life precious, as long as it fulfilled the purpose of his existence. Not even Agabus, a renowned prophet, was able to dissuade him with his staged prophecy. The apostle was willing not only to be arrested for the love of Christ but also to die for the cause of the gospel. Arriving in Jerusalem, he had a big surprise. His fame had preceded him. So much so that James summoned the elders to welcome him and hear from him a report on the fruits of his ministry among the Gentiles. Such a reception disarmed Paul. When could he imagine he would be greeted with such pomp? After listening carefully, Tiago and the others wanted to add nothing. The gospel preached by Paul among the Gentiles seemed to be the right measure, going through the apostles’ “quality control”. However, there was a small problem … Someone would have spread the word about Paul teaching the Jews to apostatize from Moses, failing to fulfill the rites prescribed in the Law. There was only one way to undo this “misunderstanding”, by giving a “shut up” -Boca ”in his slanderers: Paulo would have to take a vow to shave his head and report to the temple. In order not to create further embarrassment for the apostles, he did not even bother to argue. He joined four others and passed the razor over his head. failing to comply with the rites prescribed in the Law. There was only one way to undo this “misunderstanding” by giving a “shut up” to his slanderers: Paul would have to take a vow to shave his head and appear in the temple. In order not to create further embarrassment for the apostles, he did not even bother to argue. He joined four others and passed the razor over his head. failing to comply with the rites prescribed in the Law. There was only one way to undo this “misunderstanding” by giving a “shut up” to his slanderers: Paul would have to take a vow to shave his head and appear in the temple. In order not to create further embarrassment for the apostles, he did not even bother to argue. He joined four others and passed the razor over his head.

I am sure that this episode was one of the few that Paul repented for the rest of his life. The same Paul, who seemed willing to be beheaded for the love of Christ, now let himself be shorn to make media of the religious Jews in Jerusalem. Result: the preservation was of no use. As soon as the Jews caught him in the temple, they tried to accuse him before everyone and narrowly did not take his life. Had the Roman soldiers not intervened, Paul would have been beaten to death (Acts 21: 10-32).

What strikes me most in the passage summarized above is the fact that Paul was accused of apostatizing Moses. Was this a fair accusation? I am convinced that it is. In a sense, the Gospel is an apostasy. From ancient Greek απόστασις (apostasis), apostasy means “to be far from” and has the sense of a definite and deliberate departure from any belief or doctrine.

Why would Paul and the rest of Jesus’ followers have apostatized from Moses?

John, the author of the fourth gospel, offers us a precious clue:

“For we have all received from its fullness, and grace upon grace. Because the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. ” John 1: 16-17

In the text above, we realize that Moses and Jesus have different and antagonistic proposals. One brought the law, the other, grace, and truth. The Law served as a basis for building a system that is based on human performance. It is, therefore, a system based on merits, of the type, “do this and you will live”. The grace revealed in Jesus dismantles this system. Some argue that Law is the foundation of Grace. Therefore, the Kingdom of God would be a “grace over law” system. Others argue that the Kingdom of God is a “law on grace” system, that is, grace saves us from sin and places us in the lap of the law. Therefore, one is introduced into the kingdom by grace, however, staying there will depend on our performance in keeping the law. It was this error that the Galatians incurred. They started in the Spirit (100% dependent on grace) and ended in the flesh (dependent on performance). What we read in the introductory chapter of the gospel of John is that the Kingdom of God is“Grace upon grace”. Grace is the foundation of grace itself. In other words, it is a grace from beginning to end, with no place left for human merit. Christ is the author and finisher of our faith, Alpha and Omega, or in the famous words of Paul, “he who started the good work” and will finish it within the established time (Phil.1: 6). Therefore, when yielding to grace, we apostatize from Moses. There is no way to reconcile the two systems, the meritocratic and the aristocratic . They are water and oil. Different temperatures. One is hot. The other, cold. To try to mix them up is to warm up the gospel. And this was the reason why Christ rejected the Laodicean church.

Those who are seated in the heavenly regions in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2: 6), should never wish to occupy the “chair of Moses” , occupied by the scribes and Pharisees at the time of Jesus (Mt.23: 1-4). However great the glory of the old covenant, it cannot be compared to the glory of the brand new and definitive covenant celebrated on the cross. The glory shining on Moses’ face when he came down from Mount Sinai is overshadowed by the glory of love manifested on the cross at the top of Golgotha. Paul says that the glory of the law was fading. So Moses covered his face as he came down from the mountain. He realized that with each step he took, the splendor diminished. However, “we are not like Moses,” says the apostle “apostate”. Unlike him, we do not cover the face, because we are conducted “from glory to glory”to the ultimate glory (2 Cor. 3: 13-18). We can compare the difference between the glory of the law and the glory of the gospel to the difference between the brightness of the moon and the brightness of the sun. One night, the moon appears rising, the next, full, and then waning. Therefore, its glory varies in intensity according to the season. However, the sun maintains the same glory at all times. If the moon insists on continuing in the sky during the day, its splendor is overshadowed by the majestic presence of the sun. Knowing grace and then going back to the law, is like causing an eclipse, where the moon dares to outshine the sun. This, however, has no value for this, as it does not have its own shine. Its splendor depends directly on the light of the star king. This is true of the law. Whatever glory you have depends on grace. If it passes in front of you, the day gets dark.

I recently received a nasty comment on my Facebook timeline, accusing me of destroying what had been built by the generation that preceded me. However, do not confuse the removal of the scaffolding used in the construction of the building with the demolition of it. The law served us as scaffolding. As soon as the Word pitched His tent among us, the scaffolding had to be removed. In the building of the Kingdom of God, grace serves as the foundation, walls, and ceiling. Everything else is just scaffolding.

– But isn’t everything the same? – some could imagine. The answer is no! Paul says that the Law, represented by Mount Sinai, produces slaves, while grace produces children (Gal.4: 24-25). Although both systems produce faithful people down to the core, the motivation behind this faithfulness will be different. One’s faithfulness rests on the expectation of the reward, while the other’s faithfulness rests on gratitude.

The writer of Hebrews draws an interesting comparison between Jesus and Moses. He testifies that Moses was faithful “in the whole house of God”, but “as a servant”, while Christ is faithful as a Son “over the house of God” (Heb. 3: 1-6). Therefore, He is worthy of much greater honor than Moses. The servant’s faithfulness is different from the son’s faithfulness, regardless of circumstances, rewards, results, etc.

The problem is not the law itself, but what it produces in us. In other words, the problem is us. Whoever wants to follow Christ must renounce the claim to achieve perfection through the fulfillment of the law. This is what Jesus calls renouncing himself.

Grace makes us depend entirely on the Spirit, and no longer on our performance. Furthermore, by overriding our arrogance and conceit, grace makes us more compassionate and tolerant of others’ mistakes. The rigor of the law yields to the gentleness of grace.

This happened in the “tight skirt” that the scribes and Pharisees tried to give Jesus in the episode when they brought Him a woman caught in bed with a man who was not hers. Brazenly, those proud religious said:  “Master, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. Now, Moses orders us in the law to be stoned. So what do you say? ” (Jo.8: 3-7).

They were those same religious who, according to Jesus, occupied the chair of Moses. What they did not know was that the same Moses accused them before God (John. 5: 45-47). We were not called to be promoters of justice in the heavenly court, but to occupy the seat of advocate for sinners with Christ. And this was the role that Jesus played at that moment, going out in defense of an adulteress, treating her as a gentleman does, not a judge.

Everyone knows what Moses says, but few listen to what Jesus’ lips say. What voice are we echoing? Just check if our hands still carry stones; if our fingers are still pointed at sinners or if our hands are extended to help them from the justice of the sanctuaries on duty.

Moses already has to preach on every corner, as the disciples concluded in the first general assembly of the church (Acts 15: 19-21). Our mission is to preach the gospel, the good news of the Kingdom of God.

I apostatized from Moses, how about you? Will you want to get average with the shrimp? Go on … shave your head … maybe they’ll give you a discount.