© 2012 by Martin Zender
Paperback. 352 pages. 30 Illustrations
Paul’s thirteen letters are a radical departure from the rest of Scripture, including Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The only place in the Bible where you will find details concerning God’s remedy for restoring the heavens is in the thirteen letters of Paul. The only place in Scripture where you will find law tossed out the window is in the thirteen letters of Paul. The only books in the entire Bible dealing with the special salvation of Gentiles (non-Israelites), who sin as a vocation and have never even heard of Moses—are the thirteen letters of Paul.
Here, and here alone—in the thirteen letters of Paul—are found the deepest depths of grace ever to be shed abroad from God’s heart.
You want to live like Jesus, you really do. You’re sincere as can be, but it’s an uphill climb. You love people and you love God, so maybe today will be the day you can finally imitate His Son. Maybe today you can finally be meek, turn the other cheek, and rejoice while getting mud thrown in your face.
Think how good it would feel to be pure—to have no sin and no guilt. Think how good it would feel to wake up calm each morning, love everyone during the day, and rest your head at night with a prayer for your enemies.
And yet it never quite works out that way. In the darkness of your bed each night, you know who you are. Jesus was Jesus, but you are you. When you curl up beneath the covers, you face the terrible truth: It has been another day of failure and frustration.
If only there were a gospel in the Bible for common, ordinary human beings. Or even mediocre people. It seems the gospel of Jesus that tells us to live like Jesus sets the bar just a little too, um, high.
I know all about it. I was raised Catholic. The nuns told me all I had to do was be meek and mild like Jesus (plus do everything else like Jesus) and I would go to heaven. It seemed like a tall order for someone with cartoons on his underpants. What did I know? All I wanted was to play football and eat candy.
I remember asking one of the nuns tormenting me if she was meek and mild; I asked her if she did everything like Jesus. My mistake. She fingered her rosary, made threatening gestures with a yardstick, and said of course she did everything like Jesus; she did it for a living. I wasn’t so sure. None of the drawings I saw of Jesus ever showed Him holding a green yardstick.
Nonetheless, when Jesus was on Earth, He said some difficult things. He told the rich to give away all their money and follow Him (Mark 10:21). He told sophisticated people to become as children (Matthew 18:3). If confidence was your thing, you had to lose it. Were you happy? Sorry to hear that; you needed to become sorrowful instead. Here was the prescription: Give up joy for mourning—and call me in the morning.
All you have to do is obey all the commandments (Matthew 28:20). If your hand makes you stumble, simply cut it off (Matthew 5:30). If your eye wanders, it’s not a problem—as long as you pluck it out (Mark 9:47). Quit whining; it’s better to enter the kingdom maimed and blind than to keep making fatal mistakes. If you walk a mile with someone, tough luck—you must walk another mile (Matthew 5:41). If someone sues you for the shirt off your back, it’s still not enough; you must give away your coat as well (Matthew 5:40). Throw in your shoes and socks while you’re at it. Better to be safe (and naked) than sorry.
Be watching and praying—or else (Luke 21:36). If the Bridegroom arrives and your lamp has no oil, you will be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping, gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30), and a pathetic lack of adult beverages.
Now go in peace, love and serve the Lord—and have a good day.
No wonder a friend of mine, after reading the four gospels, said, "I want to live like Jesus, Martin—I really do—but can I start Monday? I’d like to enjoy the weekend."
Obviously, the words of Jesus are perfect. His commandments are pure and holy, refined seven times—and meant for Israelites. Jesus Himself said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24, New King James Version).
Why have we not believed these simple words? Is it too shocking to think that—while on Earth—Jesus preached a national rather than a universal message? Too tough to admit that Jesus emphasized the law of Moses (the law given to Israel), rather than grace?
Wouldn’t we be honoring Jesus by believing His own declaration? Or do we think we are doing Him a favor by ignoring this plain sentence, supposing we know better than He does? Are we afraid of limiting Him? Why? While on Earth, Jesus purposely limited Himself:
"I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Am I a lost sheep from the house of Israel? I’m Dutch and English, actually—with a little French mixed in. Does that mean Jesus was not sent to me? The shocking answer is: That’s exactly what it means. While Jesus was on Earth (this is the key), He preached a national message to Israelites. Period. Which means the words in red are not meant for men and women (nor kids with cartoons on their underpants) of the other nations. Nor were the Ten Commandments meant for any non-Israelites.
Don’t shoot the messenger. I will back myself up with Scripture every step of the way. ("Those of the nations have no law"—Romans 2:24.) Keep reading, and you will be delivered from the cycle of failure and guilt that has dogged you for months or years. There is another message (gospel) in the New Testament that is for you. It’s infinitely easier (you get more for doing less) and Jesus approves of it 100 percent. Why wouldn’t He? Jesus invented it. But Jesus did not divulge this gospel until He returned to heaven and traded in His dusty robe for blinding beams of light.
The gospel that Jesus preached while on Earth has a name. It’s called, "The Gospel of the Circumcision" (Galatians 2:7). This gospel is not for losers. Idiots need not apply. It is for sinners, yes, but the sinners better shape up quickly before Jesus returns and finds them slacking. These sinners have to repent. They have to be baptized. It helps if they cry a lot. They definitely need to "produce fruit worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8). All they need to do, really, is behave themselves constantly or at least try like crazy. And wiping those silly grins off their faces wouldn’t hurt, either.
Why do we have such a difficult time shaping up and producing fruit worthy of repentance? Maybe better to ask: Why do we instinctively know we can’t do these things? Why do we give up trying to do them? Is it because we are lazy? Ungodly? Satanic? Because we think we deserve nothing more than to be crushed beneath God’s fist? Or could it be that, deep down, we think God doesn’t really expect us to weep and wail, repent, and be practically perfect in every way? But if He doesn’t expect all that, what do we do with all the Bible verses saying He does expect it? Could it be there are other Bible verses that say different things?
Are you bold enough to entertain a new thought? What if we, who are not Israelites, have a different gospel—in the Bible—than the one meant for Israel? What if this other gospel even has a different name? What if it has a different set of requirements (and a different outlook on run-of-the-mill people or hapless nincompoops) than the gospel given to Israel? And—think of this—what if this gospel promises an enormously better destiny than the one promised to Jewish believers?
Were faithful Israelites ever promised heaven? Not once. Jesus Himself said, "The meek shall inherit the Earth" (Matthew 5:5). Wouldn’t Jesus have known what He was talking about? Israelites never dreamed of getting lifted from Terra Firma. Why would they? Jesus never spoke to them of such a thing. And neither did their prophets. Faithful Israelites were promised that they would rule and reign over the other nations of Earth. This was the promise God made to Abraham.
Back to my question. What if this different gospel I have been referring to (the easier one; the kinder and gentler one; the one that caters to those of us who are not-so-perfect) does take people to heaven? Wouldn’t that be mind-boggling? It would mean that Sister Mary Yardstick was all wrong. Imitating the walk of Jesus would not have gotten me to heaven—as she insisted it would—but would, instead, have kept me on Earth to rule the other nations. What would get me to heaven would be giving up trying to be like Jesus and embracing a gospel for regular folks—assuming such a gospel actually exists.
Wouldn’t that be something God would do? Bless the socks off average, ordinary people? Doesn’t it align with everything we know about His penchant to stun loser-types (fishermen, prostitutes, tax collectors) with draughts of favor? So God gives reformed sinners (obedient Israelites) what He promised them—namely, Earth—but then later announces a different gospel that seats unworthy people (those who haven’t a prayer of being like His Son) at His right hand in the highest regions of heaven.
Would this be a gospel you’d like to learn about?
What if—after all these years of struggling and failing to be like the meek and mild Jesus—you have been laboring upon someone else’s path? Reading someone else’s mail? Straining to pay someone else’s bill? What if you have been sweating up someone else’s Mount Sinai, while misguidedly condemning yourself for not only losing your way, but repeatedly falling? And what if ceasing all these struggles will actually land you a better destiny than the one you’d have had if you’d done everything right?
The entire Bible is for us, but what if not all of it is to us? While on Earth, Jesus Christ directed His words to the descendants of Abraham. Several hundred years later, someone got the brilliant idea of taking everything Jesus said and printing it in red ink. Red is the color of "do this or else," so we who are not descendants of Abraham assume these words are our marching orders.
What if they aren’t? What if Jesus Christ did have a special message for all humanity, but He saved that message until He had traded in His earthly sandals for more glorious heavenly footwear?
Several months after Jesus Christ left this Earth from the Mount of Olives, He appeared as a beam of light brighter than the sun to a hate-crazed sinner (read: idiot) en route to Damascus to kill Christians. The glorified Christ gave this man (the apostle Paul, then known as the Pharisee Saul) a message so different than the one the humbled Christ gave Israel (it was grace instead of law; rest instead of works; joy instead of dread, heaven instead of Earth), that even the Jews who believed in Jesus as their Messiah—when they got wind of this new gospel—wanted the messenger dead.
Today, these two messages—or gospels—are so completely opposed that people wonder: How can such a strict, hardcore Messiah who barely talked to Gentiles when He was on Earth, suddenly be telling all kinds of people: "I love you no matter what you do; you are completely perfect in spite of your behavior or nationality. And you know what? Leave Earth to Israel; I am taking you to heaven"? And why are both messages side-by-side in the same Bible?
Not even I, Martin Zender—The World’s Most Outspoken Bible Scholar—have the audacity to pit the words of Jesus Christ (printed in religious red) against the words of the apostle Paul (printed in standard, boring black). I don’t have to. These words are not at odds; they are purposely distinct. Besides, the words of the apostle Paul are the words of Jesus Christ—albeit the glorified Christ Who revealed things to Paul which God kept hidden while His Son walked among Israelites.
Peaches and pears go together fine in a salad, but we mix the fruit from disparate spiritual trees at our own peril.
Does the thought of plucking out your eyes make you queasy? Are you too tired to go the extra mile? Loathe to climb one more mountain? In short, are you frustrated at not being able to live like the sandal-wearing Messiah?
Rejoice! Not even Jesus expects you to live like Jesus. He, Himself, brought a new, non-Jewish message to the most hateful, self-righteous jerk ever to walk the planet. If God’s grace can save such a loser, then what are you worried about?
These are Paul’s secrets.
I commend to you this new—yet very old—adventure.