When I was five years old my mother accidentally shut the door in my right hand. It created a moon shape scar on my middle finger—-it’s still there today. I will have it till the day I die. It reminds me of that old red Chevrolet station wagon and my mom trying to handle four or five kids at one time.
Do you have a scars? From an accident…..or surgery…..or something really stupid you did as a kid? If we live long enough we will have scars and they all tell a story.
At the end of the letter to the Galatians, Paul said this: “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17, ESV).
Paul had some painful marks, or scars, on his body. In reading this passage in context, it sounds like Paul was sick and tired of people challenging his authenticity and his authority to preach the gospel. He tells the Galatians, in effect—look at my body and what I have endured because of my love for Jesus Christ. These are my credentials. “The marks” , translated in Greek is “stigmata”. It does not necessarily refer to the same scars Jesus had, though some would argue that they were.
In the ancient Greek, stigma could also refer to a brand, as when a master branded a slave. Or it could even be be a tattoo. But Paul was not talking about a tattoo or some branding he received. I mean, could you imagine the disciples walking around with tattoos to show their dedication to Jesus?
The term stigmata also could mean the scars resulting from deep wounds.Think about it: In Lystra Paul was stoned and assumed to be dead because of all the wounds and blood. At Philippi he was beaten with “many stripes” with rods. And by “many” he acknowledged that he had received “stripes beyond count”.
He received five beatings by the Jews. Each of these produced thirty-nine wounds that would leave the body disfigured. Think about that. Wouldn’t the average man have quit and picked up a different passion? What propelled this man to tolerate such suffering and hate?
Three other times he was whipped with “rods”. His would have been grotesque by now. Those rods could have broken bones, and remember, the Romans tasked with beating a prisoner were quite proficient in their vocation.
Now a modern pastor or missionary would probably be ashamed of just how ugly and scary those scars were. Others might have found them hideous and would hide their faces in amazement. But to Paul they were the signs that authenticated his dedication to Jesus Christ.
And yet, Paul does not spend chapters and chapters bragging about how much he has suffered—-the suffering was not the point! They were inevitable events in life that follows if you are serving the King of Kings in a fallen and perverted world. In fact, Paul only spent six verses to reference the appalling abuse he experienced. He was not trying to call attention to himself!
Paul was reminding the Galatians that his message wasn't just one that he had heard about and trusted. He had lived it and he suffered for it. If you want to see the handwriting of Jesus, look upon Paul's body.
What handwriting is upon my body——or your body? What have we shielded ourselves from receiving that Paul would have readily endured? Where have I shirked because of the certainty of insult or pain or humiliation? Where and when have I failed to receive His marks?
There’s something wrong in our individual pilgrimage or a congregational confession when we avoid doing or saying the right thing because we don’t want to risk getting our feelings hurt or being branded as a “zealot” or “fanatic”. Lord: bring the stigmata onto our churches and into our lives that we might be accounted as sold out for Jesus Christ. Forgive our whimpering and whining.