The Gospel in All Caps

Glorified Scars in the Body of Christ

Cities Church | Saint Paul

One of my favorite details about Easter Sunday, and Jesus’s resurrection body, is his scars. The victory of Easter is so great, the triumph of the risen Christ over sin and death is so resounding, that we might be prone to overlook, or quickly forget, an unexpected detail like this.

When Jesus first appeared to his disciples, “they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit” (Luke 24:37). So Jesus says to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:38–39). Then Luke comments, “And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet” — meaning, he showed them his scars (Luke 24:40).

In the Gospel of John, when Jesus finally appears to doubting Thomas after eight long days, he says to him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).

That Jesus’s resurrected body would still show evidence of his wounds, that the scars of crucifixion could still be seen and touched, was both a confirmation and a surprise. The confirmation was that this was in fact him — and him risen. The same body that was killed on the cross rose from the grave. He was not a spirit or ghost. He was risen, fully alive, now in glorified humanity.

“Jesus’s scars are marks of his love. His scars tell the good news that he did not die for his own sins but for ours.”

The surprise is that we might expect a resurrected body not to have scars. That might seem like a defect. But it is not a defect. It is a feature. Because these scars, these rich wounds, are marks of his love. These scars tell the good news that he did not die for his own sins, but for ours. His wounds are invitations to sinners and assurances to his saints. His scars preach good news. They are marks of Easter glory, the very glory that makes the horrors of his death into what we now call “Good Friday.”

The Gospel in All Caps

And so on Easter Sunday, we come to the end of Galatians, and one of the last things Paul writes with his own hand is this: “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Like Jesus, Paul also had gospel scars — scars which pointed not to his own work, but to Jesus’s work.

Just as sinners had struck and killed the Son of God, so too sinners had struck and scarred his messenger. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul mentions some of what he has suffered for the sake of Christ: “. . . countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned” (2 Corinthians 11:23–25). Paul’s scars, “the marks of Jesus” he received from preaching the resurrection of Christ, are his final argument in Galatians. Before he closes in Galatians 6:18 with, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen,” he puts the final period in place with his own life — with what he has been willing to suffer in order to preach and defend the meaning of Good Friday and the news of Easter Sunday.

But not only is Paul’s final argument “the marks of Jesus” that he carries in his own body, but in this last section, he takes up the pen himself, relieving the secretary to whom he has dictated the rest of the letter. And so he says in Galatians 6:11, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.”

This is Paul’s way — here at the end, with so much on the line in Galatians — of shifting into bold font. This is the apostle Paul in all caps. So, these precious five sentences of Galatians 6:12–17 that will follow are direct and blood-earnest, with a power that is very fitting for Easter Sunday. And what we see is that this last flourish of Paul’s pen turns on the reality of boasting. Let’s look at these verses in that light, with Easter eyes, in three steps.

1. Humans are born to boast.

We are born boasters. You are a born boaster — in two senses. The first sense is that we are boasters by creation. God designed us, before sin entered in, with the capacity to boast. Indeed, he designed us with the calling to boast. And what I mean by boasting is rejoicing out loud in words.

God made humans not only to think and do, but to feel and to speak. He gave us hearts, and he gave us mouths. He created us in his image, meaning he created us to image him in this world, to represent him and remind others of him — both fellow humans and the watching angels.

And he not only gave us the ability to think and consider, but also to feel. He not only gave us bodies to move and work and do, but tongues to speak, giving meaning to our works with words. In other words, God made us to boast in him — that is, to not only know him with our minds, but rejoice in him in our hearts, and to not only live in obedience to him, but speak words out of our hearts that point others to him. God made us to boast in him.

Because of Sin

And as we know all too well, though, there is a second sense in which we are born to boast. We are born into sin, and so our natural inclination to boast often becomes sinful boasting. Instead of rejoicing out loud about God, we rejoice out loud about ourselves in all the various and complex forms this takes. We all know this. We all have lived this. And of course, we’re often far quicker to recognize it in others than in ourselves.

As a youth baseball coach, let me tell you that we don’t have to teach kids to boast. Rather, we try to help them not indulge their instinct to boast in the heat of the game. We say things like, “Let your play do the talking.”

What about your own soul? What are your boasts? What aspects of life — whether manifest gifts from God or seeming abilities and accomplishments — do you rejoice in most and feel most drawn to express in words? What are you so regularly excited about that you can’t help but talk about? What qualities, possessions, abilities, achievements, or relational connections make you look good when others hear about them?

“The question isn’t whether we will boast, but in what and in whom.”

When Paul takes up the pen for himself in Galatians 6:11, he puts boasting at the heart of his last push toward the Galatians. They, as well as the false teachers trying to influence them, and Paul himself, are all born boasters. We are born boasters. The question isn’t whether we will boast, but in what and in whom we will boast.

How Will You Boast?

First, Paul turns to what not to boast in:

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. (Galatians 6:12–13)

I think this is the most direct and succinct summary of what motivates the troublemakers in Galatia. They are putting on a show to appease unbelieving Jews. They are play-acting. They themselves do not keep the whole Jewish law. They know they can’t, and they don’t want to, besides.

But what they do want to do is avoid persecution. This new movement of Christians, claiming that Jesus is the long-awaited Christ, is troubling Jewish leaders. And now the movement is spreading to Gentiles. Non-Christian Jews want to snuff this out. They begin persecuting Christians — like Paul himself had done, before the risen Christ appeared to him and turned his life upside down.

And so the false teachers are trying to avoid persecution. They want to appease non-Christian Jews by boasting to them that Gentile converts to Christ are coming under the Jewish law. The word here for “make a good showing” is literally “have a good face.” The false teachers themselves don’t keep the law, but they are trying to get Gentile Christians to receive circumcision so they can boast in their flesh and “have a good face” to avoid persecution.

And Paul says that however well-intentioned or naïve this may be, it is dead wrong, and it compromises the very heart of the Christian message that promises Jesus is enough for right standing with God.

So, we are born boasters — by God’s design, and also in our sin. And the false teachers, to save their own flesh (from persecution) want to be able to boast in the flesh (from circumcision) of these Gentile Christians in Galatia.

2. Jesus turns boasting upside down.

Second, Paul contrasts their sinful boast with his own holy boast, which he wants the Galatians, and us, to join him in. This is how he wants us to rejoice in words.

Paul does not say that becoming a Christian banishes all boasting. We still boast. Oh, do we! Worship is boasting. Preaching is boasting. Sharing the gospel is a holy and humble kind of boasting — rejoicing in words. But Christian boasting is not like the natural, sinful boasting into which we’re born. It is not boasting in the flesh. It is not boasting in outward appearance. It is not boasting in our own strength.

Christian boasting is boasting turned upside down because of the worth and beauty and power of Jesus Christ. Look at Galatians 6:14, which says: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” So Paul does boast. But he boasts in the cross, of all things. The cross.

Christ on the Cross

Today, it’s easy for us to be all too familiar with the cross. We see them on steeples. We wear them on necklaces. We sing about the cross. And it’s easy to forget or to overlook what the cross meant in the first century.

Some might be familiar with the hymn “Old Rugged Cross,” which calls the cross “an emblem of suffering and shame.” The cross was horrific. It was reserved for the worst of rebels against the Roman empire, and it was designed to not only make death literally excruciating and lengthy, but also utterly shameful.

And Paul says, “May I never boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What a turn, that the very thing — a crucified Messiah — that seemed so shameful, such a stumbling block to Jews, and such folly to Gentiles, would be not only a critical truth for Christians, but central. We talk about the cross every Sunday. We remember it at the Lord’s Table. We depict it in baptism. The cross — the public execution of the Son of God — is not just a barrier to overcome to embrace the Christian faith, but it is at the very heart of our faith. We celebrate it, and we draw attention to it. We boast in it.

Why is that? Because the wounds Jesus received at the cross were not for his own sins, but for ours. Isaiah 53:5 says,

He was pierced for our transgressions;
     he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
     and with his wounds we are healed.

The eternal Son of God took on human flesh and blood and went to that rugged, offensive, horrific, shamefully public cross, as the spotless Lamb, to die for our sins. For our rebellion, for our countless sinful boasts in our own flesh, we were the ones who deserved to spill our own blood in violent death and be eternally separated from God.

But the wonder of Christianity, the heart of our faith, the very good news which we call “the gospel,” is that Jesus went to the cross for us — for all those who would take Paul’s invitation to turn our boasting upside down and rejoice in words, “Jesus is Lord.”

Our Suffering and Weakness

We see elsewhere in Paul how Jesus turns our boasting upside down. Instead of boasting in comfort and ease in this life, Paul says in Romans 5:3, “We boast in our sufferings.” If God works the greatest good through the greatest evil — that is, the crucifixion of the Son of God — then our sufferings in this life are turned upside down. We grieve them, yet even as we do, we rejoice in what God is doing in and through them.

And instead of boasting in our own strengths and abilities, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” And in 2 Corinthians 12:9 he says, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Jesus turns our boasting upside down. Instead of boasting in our comforts, we boast in our sufferings. Instead of boasting in our strengths, we boast in our weaknesses. Instead of boasting in natural human conceptions of glory and power, just like the world, we boast in the offense of the cross.

Cross-Conscious Boasting

But it’s Easter Sunday. What about the resurrection? When Paul says in Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast unless in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” how does Easter fit? If all Christian boasting is a boasting in and under the banner of the cross, what do we make of our Easter boast that he is risen?

The answer is that, yes, we boast in the resurrection, but it is a certain kind of boasting. It is a humbled boast. It is a God-magnifying boast. It is a Christ-treasuring boast. It is a cross-conscious boast. It is a boast in the surpassing power of God uniquely on display in and through human weakness, and suffering, and even death. It is the kind of boasting that comes on the other side of the grave, on the other side of crucifixion, on the other side of Christ turning the world, and us, upside down.

“We boast in the cross because the one who died there for our sins rose again Sunday morning to be our living Lord.”

And not only is the Easter boast permissible; it is essential. Paul’s boasting in the cross implies the Easter boast. If there is no Easter boast, there is no boasting in the cross. If Jesus stays dead, there is no glory in his cross. We boast in the cross, because the one who died there for our sins rose again Sunday morning to be our living, breathing, loving, reigning Lord. And our boasting in the resurrection is a certain kind of boasting because it is also a boasting in the cross.

3. Christians boast in the resurrection too.

Let’s see the resurrection for ourselves in Galatians 6:15–16, which begin with the word for and explain what Paul has just said Galatians 6:14. Galatians 6:15–16 says, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” The first and most obvious link to resurrection is “new creation.” New creation points to God’s action and initiative and power, not ours.

That’s the contrast between circumcision and new creation. In this context, circumcision would be an action the Galatians would take in an effort to make sure they’re in right standing with God. And remarkably, Paul says uncircumcision doesn’t count either. Neither taking that step in the flesh, or refusing to take that step, wins you God’s acceptance. You cannot, in your flesh, earn God’s full and final favor.

What counts is what he does. His work in Christ. His new creation. And the beginning of this new creation is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter Sunday is the great first and decisive initiative, the great burst of divine power that launches a new creation, beginning with Christ then coming to us, as God makes us new creatures in Christ, through faith, and then culminating someday with a new heavens and new earth. So “new creation” is the first glimpse of Easter.

Crucified with Christ

The second link to resurrection is the connection to Galatians 2:20, a connection which appears at the end of Galatians 6:14. Here Paul says that by the cross “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The other place in this letter where Paul talks about being crucified with Christ is Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 6:14 only mentions crucifixion, but what Galatians 2:20 makes plain is that crucifixion with Christ by faith means resurrection with him. Just as Christ was crucified and raised, so Paul’s old self — our old self — was crucified with Christ by faith, and we too have been raised to new life. We now live with a new heart, a new center, a new ultimate allegiance; we are new creatures, indwelt by God’s Spirit, even as we continue to battle and make headway against remaining sin.

And this reality of being a “new creation” in Christ is both personal and individual, as well as corporate. Not only did Christ very personally “love me and give himself for me” at the cross, but he loved us, his church, and made us a people together in him.

Galatians 6:16 says that “all who walk by this rule” — that is, all who own God’s work and power in making them new creatures — are God’s true people. He calls them “the Israel of God.” This is the church, the true Israel. “The Jerusalem above,” as he says in Galatians 4:36. Or like he says in Philippians 3:3, “We are the [true] circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and [boast] in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

There is a twist of irony here in response to the false teachers. Do you want to be God’s people? Do you want to be in “the Israel of God,” in contrast to the Israel of the flesh? Then leave behind the life of flesh, circumcision, and law, and live instead according to the Spirit and faith and love, as those who have been loved by God in Christ.

Scarred for Christ

Finally, we end with one last Easter connection to the resurrection: “the marks of Jesus.” Paul comes to the end of Galatians, takes the pen in his own hand to write Galatians 6:11–16, and then his one last word, before the concluding benediction, is one final boast. And it is a boast in the cross: “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

In other words, Paul is saying, “Not only do I answer with this letter, but I answer with my life. My skin is scarred — from being beaten, and lashed, and stoned — because I have stood by this gospel with my own life.”

He is saying, “Rather than trying to tweak the message to avoid persecution, as the false teachers are doing, I have not been deterred by threats. Rather than seeking, under pressure, to make marks in other people’s flesh and boast in a head count of circumcisions, marks have been made in my flesh as I have preached and defended the truth that Jesus’s cross and resurrection, embraced by faith alone, are enough to get and keep us right with God.”

“And so I bear on my own body,” Paul says, “as faint echoes and pointers, the very ‘marks of Jesus’ that he bears on his resurrection body — marks that are no defect, but shine with glory.” Paul boasts in the cross and the resurrection. And so we boast, The Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed.

Commune with the Living Christ

As we come to the Lord’s Table on this Easter Sunday, we celebrate that the Jesus whom we remember here is alive. His resurrection not only makes good on God’s word, and not only vindicates his sinless life, and not only confirms that his cross-work was effective to cover our sins, and not only gives us access to that salvation by union with him, but the resurrection means he is alive, right now, in glorified humanity, scars and all, at God’s right hand, to know and enjoy forever.

We call this “Communion” not only because we commune with each other as we come together to his Table, but first and foremost because we commune with him — the risen, living Christ. As we eat in faith, we receive him afresh, by his Spirit, and commune with our risen, living Lord.