Some things are so familiar that they feel like a warm, cozy blanket on a long winter’s night, no matter what it is…
the house you grew up in
a favorite song or hymn
a person’s laugh
a favorite book or decoration
They are usually attached to a web of memories and people for us that lies below our consciousness. Things are comforting for a reason, not just because of their shape or size, but also because of their connections.
The connections build and strengthen over time in our brains as real pathways of memory. It’s a beautiful gift from God, the neurology woven into us to receive meaningful comfort, but it can also be a stronghold against our freedom. Just like anything else created by God for our joy, Satan can use it for his ridiculousness.
Paul calls out the stronghold of holding too tightly to that which comforts in Galatians 4:21-27:
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”
Um…you say, “That doesn’t sound like a bit of comfort, Heidi.”
Let me explain –
Paul points out several things that the practicing Jews and the Jewish converts to Christianity would have found comforting –
Abraham was who the Jewish believers followed their whole lives; for generations he signified this great comfort of God’s faithfulness. It would be like us seeing a cross or a picture of Jesus, to some extent, all the comfort flooding in without us even trying to find it.
The flesh seems weird and like a very small thing to us, when the Spirit is so much greater, but remember that God’s promise of a Savior, and their chosen-ness as people, was physically present for them in circumcision. Again, it’s not completely unlike baptismal banners and bread and wine for us. We value and appreciate the physical things God offers as concrete comfort in our eternal relationship with Him.
Promises – whether connected with circumcision, the prophets, the stars in the sky, the people of Israel very much survived on promises, waiting and hoping in what was to come, but also in the promises that God was faithful, never to leave them, unchanging… all that stuff that gives us comfort and hope in the Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament.
Sinai was more than the mountain of the Ten Commandments. It represented a place where God came to His people, met with Moses, and brought them out into freedom. Read Exodus 19:3:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”
God came down “visibly” in this place and revealed His plan for the people. I don’t know many things more comforting than God revealing His plans, rather than leaving us to guess at them. Are churches comforting to you or maybe one church in particular? It’s because someone told you over and over that God is in that place, He meets you there.
Jerusalem continues, in a bigger, more eternal way, this concept of God permanently meeting with His people. It also signifies forgiveness and freedom from their sins, personally, and as a nation. The temple, the city, all connected to forgiveness and eternity, and God coming back for them. Those things matter and give us great comfort too, so we can understand the draw.
However, Paul needed the Galatians to understand that all of that was old. It was meant to point them to the New Thing that God was doing, that God had done in Jesus Christ. He uses an allegory about Sarah and Hagar to make a point-
all that old stuff is slavery if that’s what you follow.
It was meant to point you to true freedom – to the New, to our Savior.
Christ always holds the real comfort.
Where in life do we hold to an old standard? Where do tradition and ritual hold more for us than who they are pointing to? When do we make more of the items that comfort us than the Savior who gave them to us?
Paul tells the Galatians what they will find in the old standard – barrenness. The law and all the comfort that touches it is only a shadow; it cannot do the work of salvation, only Christ can.
Sometimes religion feels vacant and worthless because it’s about things and even people, rather than Salvation. God intended for the old to pass away and the new to come, while holding to solid Truth in His Word. It’s a difficult challenge, but it holds so much freedom over the barrenness of the old just for old’s sake.
Refuse the Old standard, the Old covenant – demand that every moment, every piece of comfort, every part of worship point you to the New covenant, the Beautiful Savior, doing a new thing in you each day.
Name two things that give you comfort – one that is traditionally comforting, and one that is maybe oddly shaped or not tangible at all? Why are these so comforting to you? (No judgement, we love comfort in many forms!)
What parts of the Old Covenant are hard for you to understand? In which of the five segments listed today can you relate to the Israelites, and understand where they find comfort there?
Where in life do we hold to an old standard? Where does tradition and ritual hold more for us than who they are pointing to? When do we make more of the items that comfort us than the Savior who gave them to us?