Monday, June 03, 2013

Sermon on Galatians 1:1-12, for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Part 1: "Divine Origin"

·         Intro to 6 part sermon series on Galatians: Apostle Paul, to the Christian church in Galatia (modern day Turkey). Church founded by Paul, but now in his absence, overtaken by a powerful and destructive false teaching. Paul was no stranger to churches suffering confusion about the Word of God, wrestling with immorality in their midst, or a facing a host of other serious concerns. Uniqueness of Galatians in the fervor, anger, and vigorousness of his reply. Skips his usual pleasant greeting, his habit of thanking God for the church he’s addressing, and almost immediately expresses his profound shock and disappointment.
·         Why? What moved Paul to such heights of emotion and passion, that even remarkably dysfunctional churches like the one in Corinth, did not create the same intensity of response?
·         Here, above all else, it’s the heart of the Gospel that’s at stake. The Gospel, that stands as the theme of this powerful and short, 6 chapter letter. The good news that the sinner is justified before God by faith alone in Christ alone. This truth, the truth that sinners are saved purely by the act of God’s grace in Jesus, was forcefully under attack by Paul’s enemies in the church at Galatia. Paul’s fervor and passion are because it was the very beating heart of the Gospel that they were attacking, and his defense rises against this most deadly threat to the Christian faith—because salvation itself is at stake.
·         Some of us might be concerned by the bluntness of Paul’s speech, or even of his anger in this letter. We know that anger can lead us to doing hurtful things, and we’ve seen others hurt by anger. But is there ever a proper place or limit for anger or passion? Ephesians 4:26 seems to leave a narrow place for anger when it says, “Be angry and do not sin, and do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Or the example of Jesus’ own anger on several occasions, most notably in His cleansing of the temple. We could add to this both the many passages that speak of God’s righteous anger, as well as numerous passages warning us as humans to avoid anger and the results it produces. James 1:19-20 says “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Human anger is stirred up by all sorts of petty things, and does not produce the righteousness of God. And while anger itself may not be sin in all cases, it stands precariously close to a host of sins, including violence, abuse, hatred, jealousy, and all manner of other sins that the Bible clearly warns against.
·         Yet there is such a thing as a righteous anger and passion that is stirred up by a noble cause or by conviction for the truth, or to protect something good or dear to us. And this is the passion that stirred Paul to his defense of the truth of the Gospel. The opposite of this good passion, would be indifference or apathy. Next week: a little more on that topic; the difference between a holy zeal and a zeal without knowledge—that is zeal or passion that is turned to destructive purposes, even if supposedly in the name of good.
·         Though in the coming weeks we’re going to get into the heart of the controversy over faith and works, we’re going to follow the basic outline of the letter in our 6 part sermon series. The first two chapters, Paul defends his apostleship and why they should heed his letter. Next two: the heart of the gospel: justification by faith, and not by works of the law. Last two: the Christian life lived in the Spirit—what is called “sanctification.”
·         Ch. 1, Paul is at pains to establish that the Gospel he preaches and teaches is from God and not from man. “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead.” Apostle means “sent one” and Paul was sent directly by Jesus, who called him on the Damascus Road, and turned Paul’s life around 180 degrees. Paul’s authority to speak, then, didn’t rest on any man or any human opinion, but his calling was direct from God. Lest they have any doubts about his motives, he points out that it’s obvious that he’s not trying to be a people-pleaser or win brownie points with them, but has his sole aim to please God. His message was of Divine Origin. Especially in chapters 2-4, he will teach them how to recognize the true gospel from the counterfeit gospel being taught them.
·         But already in these first verses are some giveaways, that show he’s teaching the true Gospel, the genuine article, the real good news—not a substitute, imitation, or knock-off. First is that his message revolves entirely around, and gives all the credit to Jesus Christ alone. He says our Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever, Amen.” The whole message of the book flows from Jesus’ rescuing us from our sins, and that it’s believing this and this alone, with no other combination or addition of our effort, that makes salvation possible. God alone gets the glory, the credit, the honor for salvation. And all human effort, boasting, merit, or works are out of place. Not just out of place, but deadly to the very heart of the gospel—the good news Paul is so vigorously defending.
·         Why does any of this matter to us today? Didn’t the issue with the Galatians end there? Or even if it didn’t, what does this conflict in the churches of Galatia, nearly 2,000 years ago and halfway round the world from us—what does it have to do with us? In short—everything. As Luther put it eloquently in the quote found in your bulletin,
"It is very necessary, therefore, that this doctrine of faith be continually read and heard in public. No matter how well known it may be or how carefully learned, the devil, our adversary, who prowls around and seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8), is not dead. Our flesh also goes on living...Therefore this doctrine can never be discussed and taught enough. If it is lost and perishes, the whole knowledge of truth, life, and salvation is lost...but if it flourishes, everything good flourishes—religion, true worship, the glory of God, and the right knowledge of all things and of all social conditions."

·         The message of Galatians matters to us today because we suffer from the same sinful human nature that always wants to insert ourselves and our glory into the equation. It matters to us because we face a proliferation of “different gospels” which Paul would’ve warned us are no gospel, no good news, at all. It matters because the teaching of faith is always under attack by the devil, and it’s our precious treasure of truth, life, and salvation. When we know and learn it aright, all the treasures of Christ are ours. When we lose it, we’re robbed of salvation itself.
·         So strongly was Paul convinced of this that he says that if anyone—whether those troublers of the Galatians who distorted the gospel of Christ, or even if an angel from heaven would preach to them a different Gospel, let him be accursed. The Greek word is “anathema” or “eternally cursed.” He says it twice lest anyone mistake his deadly seriousness. To corrupt or twist the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a harmless or minor mistake—it is to lose the very message by which God saves us, and those who distort or falsify that saving good news, will face eternal judgment. So let us hold as passionately as Paul, to the truth that saves us, the grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. As we continue this sermon series, we’ll unpack that word “grace”, the word that is the powerful summary of all God’s loving and undeserved gift of salvation to us. The word that embraces Jesus’ saving act of His death on the cross and resurrection for us. And the “peace” that comes from a clear and forgiven conscience, and that shouts a confident cry of victory even in the midst of our troubles in this “present evil age.” The peace we have comes from the victory that comes from Jesus’ perfect and accomplished work on the cross. In His name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
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  1. At whose initiative was Paul sent, and at whose initiative did he preach the Gospel? How did this shape and inform his ministry? How did it contrast to those who were troubling the Galatians with a false gospel? Galatians 1:1, 6-8, 10-12. Cf. Acts 9.
  2. Luther comments that the words “grace” and “peace” in Gal. 1:3, contain a summary of all of Christianity. What good news is summarized in each of these words? Unpack it. For “grace” see Romans 3:23-24; 4:4-5; 4:16; 11:6. For “peace” see Luke 2:14; 7:50; John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19-23; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:14
  3. Read Galatians 1:5. If God alone gets and deserves the glory for salvation (cf. Psalm 115:1), what does that mean for human boasting, glory, works, or taking credit? Why is this the greatest assurance for the troubled conscience, to know that salvation is 100% God’s work, and not even the smallest inkling of credit goes to us? If this were not so, how would it be the source of all kinds of doubt and trouble for the Christian conscience?
  4. Why did the situation in Galatia provoke Paul to such a passionate response, above and beyond all his other writings? What was vitally at stake? Galatians 1:6-9. Why should we never listen to any distortion of the true gospel, no matter how glossy and attractive the presentation is? When is passion and zeal (or even righteous anger) a good thing, and when is it dangerous and misguided? Cf. John 2:13-22; Romans 10:1-2; Galatians 1:13-14.
  5. When we have become certain of the message of the Gospel, that comes from Christ, why is it vital that we treasure this good news above all earthly wisdom, promises, and man-made religion?

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