As you can see these are the last words of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Having studied this book just a few years ago, I hope you remember Paul’s general purpose. The Book of Galatians is a defense of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It carries warnings against a reversion to the corrupt Judaism which declared that obedience to the law was necessary for salvation. And since this was at the core of his gospel message, this letter also carries a vindication of Paul’s Apostleship.
As to Paul’s authority – he reintroduces himself saying – “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father…” “I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He says, “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood,” after which he relates how the Lord taught him the truth.
And as to his defense of the gospel he says, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”
And then he summarizes things and concludes with our text – “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
In essence Paul says, “My faith – as well as my praise and glory – are in the completed work of Christ. And when it comes to my Apostleship and authority, leave me alone, because in bear in my body the brand of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is to that branding that I would like to draw your attentions this afternoon. “For I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
First, let’s consider the facts.
And it is to ACTUAL facts that Paul points; he is not speaking metaphorically or allegorically. We might APPLY Paul’s “marks” as allegories or use them as illustrations in a sermon or lesson, but they were as real to him as the nose on his face. He was marked – horribly scarred – probably to the point of disfigurement. He endured those markings, even receiving more, because he considered them to be from his Saviour. “For I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He was NOT speaking about Jewish circumcision – in fact his scars were contrary to those scars. It was because he opposed circumcision that some of the marks of the Lord Jesus were laid upon him.
As I say, Paul’s were not metaphorical marks. He wasn’t speaking about the scars which our Saviour bore in the process of redeeming us. These were not like a crucifix around his neck or a tattoo of the cross on his shoulder. These were real scars upon the real and physical body of the Apostle.
In II Corinthians 11:24-27 Paul tells us about some of those marks. (Please turn to II Corinthians 11). In verse 24 he says, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” Notice particularly verses 24 and 25. 5 times the Jews whipped Paul, laying 39 stripes across his back and his sides. That you can’t find the history of these beatings in Acts does not mean that they didn’t happen.
Then 3 times Paul was beaten with rods, which was a Roman form of punishment. One of those took place in Philippi, when Paul helped a poor demon-possessed woman. In Acts 16:18 we read – “Paul… turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many STRIPES upon them, they cast them into prison.” Some time prior to that he was stoned to the point of death by the Jews in the heathen city of Lystra. In fact, the people to whom Paul was writing this letter probably knew of that stoning quite well. Lystra was in the Roman province of Galatia.
There have been some saints, but not many, down through history who suffered to this same degree. After being stoned or after the first of the whippings…. after beating as in Philippi, many Christians would have quit Christ’s service, saying that they had done enough. That Paul would not quit proves that he sincerely loved his Saviour. Jesus once said, “to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” Paul had been forgiven of so very, very much that he felt these marks were not to be compared with what it cost the Saviour to bless him. And us? None of us have suffered even a tenth of what Paul endured.
Try to imagine for a moment what it was like when the Philippian jailor ordered Paul and Silas to be beaten. How many times were they struck? A dozen times? More? Every stroke smashed veins and capillaries under his skin, creating instant and painful bruising. Several times the rod hit flesh already bruising and swelling. How did those beatings not fail to break bones? How did they not cause internal injuries. Were the beaters trained to inflict maximum pain without cracking bones or splitting open the skin? Perhaps, just perhaps, months later there were no marks from the rods.
But those whippings by the Jews permanently changed the physical landscape across Paul’s back. The Old Testament stipulated that criminals could be beaten, but the number had to be no more than 40. It was not out of pity that Paul wasn’t beaten 40 or more times – it was the law. Most likely he was tied to the ground or between two pillars with his back uncovered. And then 13 times a brute of a man would lay the treble lash upon his back, creating the 39 stripes. Maybe not with the first swipe, but certainly by the 4th or 5th the skin on Paul’s back would be shredded. By the 8th swing, those lashes would have been falling on open flesh and muscle, splattering blood in every direction. Then by the 12th or 13th it was probably exposing spine and ribs.
Quite similar to Paul’s whippings was that of Obadiah Holmes at that hands of his Protestant persecutors. In September 1651, Holmes was arrested for participating in a Baptist preaching service. According to the testimony of the Governor of Massachusetts, “Mr. Holmes was whipped thirty stripes, and in such an unmerciful manner, that in may days, if not some weeks, he could take no rest but as he lay upon his knees and elows, not being able to suffer any part of his body to touch the bed where he lay.” There is no reason to think that Paul’s beating was any less severe. And this didn’t occur just once in Paul’s life, but five times by the writing of II Corinthians.
And then there was the stoning. Austin told me a few months ago that people can go on-line and google an actual stoning. I probably should do that so I can properly understand it, but I am not going to. It’s not my cup of tea. I am forced to use my imagination, and that is awful enough. I picture those stones raining down on Paul – not only opening bleeding wounds, but most likely breaking or cracking bones – including collar bones, ribs, shoulder sockets, and of course his skull. He could very easily have been deformed by those heavy stones – thrown with as much force as an angry grown man could throw them. Yes, I know the Lord miraculously healed him, and he walked out of Lystra on his own two feet, but did those stones leave scars – marks? I am going to assume that they did. Was his face disfigured?
Obviously, none of those marks were self inflicted. And even though they were “the marks of the Lord Jesus” they were actually inflicted by Satan’s people. The rustlers didn’t know it, but the brand they were applying to the Lord’s steer was God’s own brand. And yes, over the years, they just kept adding to the Lord’s mark.
They were not tattoos. Please don’t misunderstand me at this point. I am not angry with any Christian who is carrying around a tattoo on his body. Even though many of the silly things we do as young people stay with us forever – most of them aren’t as visible as a tattoo. If you have a tattoo – even a sleeve full of them, they are what they are – there is no sin in a scar. But for future reference, I believe that it is stupid, and probably sinful for a Christian to get a tattoo. I have heard people say that their bodies are canvases and as such could be used for God’s art work. I beg to differ. The Bible doesn’t say that. Rather it says that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost. And as such they shouldn’t be covered with graffiti, no matter how religious we think it might be. And I am quite sure that when we get to Heaven and see the glorified bodies of those saints, there won’t be any tattoos. Tattoos are NOT glorious.
Paul’s scars – “the marks of the Lord Jesus” – were the result of the world’s hatred of the gospel which he preached.
Now, with that background, what about the FIGURE. What might lay behind Paul’s reference?
According to Strong’s Concordance, the word “marks” is from the root “stizo” – “to stick, that is, to prick.” “This mark is incised or punched (for recognition of ownership), that is, a scar of service.” From what I have read, in the days of the Bible, no one deliberately pierced themselves – there were no piercings of tongues, cheeks, belly buttons or eye brows, and there were generally no tattoos among the common citizens. Only three kinds of people had these marks – slaves, and sometimes soldiers and criminals. I suppose that depending on the context, Paul might have called himself any of these. He said, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” – I Timothy 1:15. There is a difference between being a criminal and being a sinner, but we might make that substitution. Paul also called himself a soldier for Christ, and he was in the midst of fighting the good fight of faith. But in the Book of Galatians Paul referred to himself as only one of these – “a servant of Christ” – (1:10). Paul was a willing bond-slave to the One who saved him – the Lord Jesus.
Now, do you remember the Old Testament law in regards to servant’s whose time of service was over? Exodus 21:2 – “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.”
When Paul used the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for “boring through with an aul,” he may have been declaring himself to be a willing and permanent servant of Christ. He may or may not have been thinking about these “marks of Jesus Christ” as being piercings through his ears. But he certainly considered himself to be a servant of the Lord, and these marks were his proof.
What was the FUNCTION of those marks? What was Paul saying?
I go back to the purpose of this book. Paul was defending the doctrine of justification by faith against the attack of the Judaisers. He was saying, the mark which the Pharisees demanded – circumcision – was not a part of the gospel. And because he was so insistent that the Gentiles did not need circumcision if they had faith in Christ, Paul himself had been attacked by the Jews – stoned to the point of death and whipped to a bloody pulp. Both to those Jewish persecutors and to the brethren in Galatia – Paul was pointing to his wounds – to the scars – to the brand of Christ in his flesh, and was saying, “This should prove how firmly I believe in this gospel message.” Those marks were signs of Paul’s previous service, and they deserved respect.
Secondarily, when he looked in a mirror and saw those scars covering his body, he wasn’t discouraged or deterred. It was just the opposite, he moved forward, willing to accept even more of those marks. “After all He’s done for me, after all He’s done for me, how can I do less than give him my best and live for him completely, after all He’s done for me.” Those marks were signs of Paul’s continued dedication and service to Christ.
How does any of this relate to us? In face, as Paul might say to you and me, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” As you look at me, you won’t find my back scarred every which way and back from the lashes of God’s enemies. My skull hasn’t been indented from the effects of persecutorial rocks, and I still have full motion of my shoulders and arms. But if you look closely, at my life, I hope you can see that my metaphorical ear lobe has been pierced by the awl of Christ. I am, as I hope you are, a bond-slave to Christ.
I ask you, Are you wearing the brand of Christ – “the marks of the Lord Jesus?” Cattlemen, from early in our history, branded their cattle with their own distinctive symbols. Maybe we should picture the mark of Jesus Christ as the shape of the cross. Earlier in this letter Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Are you crucified with Christ?
These are the last days. This is a day and age when, above all others, God’s children need to be fully engaged for the Lord – serving and bringing glory to His name. Again I ask, are you crucified with Christ, do “bear in (your) body the marks of the Lord Jesus? The Lord doesn’t place His brand on only the elite of His flocks and herds. He wants every steer, calf and heifer to bear His mark. He wants YOU to “bear in (your) body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Do you love the Saviour enough to be willing to bear His marks?