Monday, June 10, 2013

Sermon on Galatians 1:11-24, for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Part 2 of 6

·         Last week: Paul’s vigorous response to the Galatians, astonished they were abandoning Christ and His Gospel, for a false gospel. Strenuously argued his gospel is from God, not man. Evident because centered on Christ, not man, and all glory to God.
·         First, pause to define “gospel.” Good news or good message. But not just any good news, but here, precisely the gospel taught by Paul, or the Gospel of Jesus Christ, has a particular content: the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. His whole saving act accomplished for us, by grace (undeserved love), received by us through faith. Pastor Roschke’s sermon next week will touch in greater depth on what that gospel is, but this “gospel” or good news, stands distinct from God’s other holy message—the Law, which shows us our sins and condemns us. The Gospel is what frees us and comforts us with the love of God, and delivers us from the judgment of the Law.
·         Anyone could claim their message was from God, not man. And false teachers today still claim they have a message direct from God, or learned something new that was never revealed before in Scripture. Paul’s opponents, who were troubling the Galatians with their false gospel, no doubt claimed their teachings were from God as well. So how does Paul show that his gospel, and not that of his opponents, was really from God? None of his opponents could claim that they were taught directly by God, by revelation.
·         His defense also shows that the opponents were zealous for the laws and traditions of the Jews. Tried to preserve circumcision as a requirement for salvation, even for new Gentile believers. Also the Jewish feasts. Paul starts by proving that he was no “slacker” or mediocre follower of Judaism, an easy-target for the influence of the Christians or apostles (in fact he makes a major point of the fact that he didn’t learn from the apostles, and barely met with them! He was an independent witness to the resurrection of Christ, receiving the Gospel direct from Jesus, just as they had). And anyone could tell that he was zealous beyond compare for the traditions of his people. He was an overachiever, star-pupil, exceedingly dedicated. So dedicated and zealous that he was ready to destroy whatever threatened those traditions and the Judaism he embraced. Acts 9 describes him setting out to Damascus, “breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” and that he was authorized by the high priest to arrest Christians and bring them to Jerusalem. Paul shares this, not to boast of himself. After all, elsewhere he declares this kind of boasting mad and foolish—but rather to demolish all grounds for boasting in human effort—both his own, and anyone else who thought they had reason to boast.
·         In fact, Paul shares this out of deep thankfulness that God nevertheless, beyond all expectation, had mercy on him. And remorsefully, Paul counts himself as chief of all sinners. He thanks God in 1 Timothy 1:12ff, that Jesus appointed him to service, even though Paul had formerly been a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Paul had been a poster boy for having “zeal without knowledge” and employing violence, hatred, and force in his cause, which he had thought was God-pleasing, but was in fact the blasphemy, persecution, and insolent opposition not merely to the Christian church, but to Jesus Himself. Jesus said it Himself to Paul when He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul was a walking example of God’s completely undeserved mercy and forgiveness. He credits his 180 degree turn-around entirely to God’s grace in revealing Jesus to him.
·         Suddenly the misguided zeal without knowledge that drove Paul, was redeemed or “bought back” for God’s true purposes, and immediately after his conversion and baptism, he became a powerful instrument for Jesus Christ. Within days of his baptism and recovery from his blindness, Paul was confounding the Jews by proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ, and proclaiming in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. A holy zeal, or a passion turned toward good purposes, is something we rarely see and experience. This kind of zeal does not employ the tools of violence or force, but employs the power of the Truth and exercises love. This astonishing change in Paul (still known as Saul at that time) was so incredible to the Christian churches that they glorified God because of it. And it was so infuriating to the Jews, that they plotted to kill him.
·         What had changed so remarkably in Paul’s understanding of the Bible? The revelation of Jesus Christ had created a total paradigm shift for Paul. He knew the OT Scriptures inside and out, and was the most highly educated and studied in the Scriptures of any of the apostles. But when still a Jew, he was missing the key to understanding the Bible. He was missing Christ, that is, the Messiah—the Promised One of old, who was to fulfill all the promises of the Scriptures. Without Christ, without the key to understanding the Scriptures, it was almost inevitable that he (along with the other Pharisees) would read them as a book of laws and commandments, obedience being the key to God’s favor. A highly righteous and observant Pharisee, who strove to always obey God’s commands, could be assured of God’s approval. A wicked sinner, who disobeyed, or gentile sinners who were ignorant of God’s law, were condemned. But Jesus Christ shattered this “works righteousness” that understood human obedience to be the measure of God’s satisfaction with us. Paul learned of the depth of human depravity—that even the most righteous, law-abiding Pharisee, had fallen just as completely short of God’s glory as the most immoral outward sinner. The Law of God, rather than enabling him to develop his own righteousness to hold over other “sinners”—struck him and all men down to the same flat level. All were under total condemnation by the law until Christ came. And the Gospel even more dramatically breaks the chains of our sins when we are forgiven by Jesus—even when we can rightly call ourselves “chief of sinners.”
·         Paul’s life story shows us the remarkable grace of God that loved and sought even a man so bent on destroying the church. It gives hope for those who are likewise stubborn and bull-headed. It also shows us that it was God’s power, and not Paul’s effort or will that brought about this tremendous change in his life. We can never give God too much credit, and when we try to take more credit (however small), we jeopardize our salvation, and uncertainty can creep into us, asking whether we’ve really done enough, or deserved it. If the gospel ever ceases to be “gift” or starts to be about “deserving it”—the gospel—the good news of Jesus, perishes. You Christians, forget any thought of your own worthiness or being deserving of salvation, but humbly thank God that nothing you have done credits you or endears you to his favor, but that entirely apart from what you do, God loves you in His grace. His undeserved love. In Christ Jesus, He has called you by His grace. Before you were ever born, before you ever where able to do anything right or wrong, or before you were even able to have a thought or desire in your mind, God chose you to be His own. A pure, undeserved gift. Throwing your effort, your supposed self-righteousness or merit, or anything else that its yours, into that mix, and you have tainted and spoiled the gift. So know that Christ loves you and values you so much as to have given His life, to purchase you as God’s own children. God has redeemed you for His purposes, and as He accomplished much through Paul, so He can use every one of you in your gifts and talents, for His service.
·         We also learn from Paul’s story, that even the most intense persecution and opposition to the Church of Christ, will inevitably fail. Paul’s own mentor, Rabbi Gamaliel, had wisely warned that if the movement of the Christians were not from God, that it would fail on its own right. But if it is from God, all opposition would fail—and worse, the opponents would be found opposing God. Christians can rejoice that whenever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is mocked, scorned, persecuted, and disbelieved—that God will still prevail and preserve His church. And that He just might turn some of the most hardened enemies into powerful messengers of His name. We pray that God would confound the thoughts of those who oppose Him, and bring to saving faith all those who do not yet know or confess Jesus Christ as Lord. All glory be to Him!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. The word “gospel” is used in at least two ways in the Bible. In the broad sense it is used to describe the whole of Jesus’ life and teaching, as in the Four Gospels. In the narrow sense, and as it is contrasted with God’s Word of Law, gospel means the “good news.” In this narrow sense, it encompasses all that God does in Christ, and speaks no threat or condemnation, but only the free and unconditional promises of God for us in Christ Jesus.
  2. Why would the false teachers, both then and today, claim that their “gospel” was also from God? What unique claims did Paul have to show that this was really true? Galatians 1:11-17. How did Paul stand independently as a witness to Jesus’ resurrection? What made the people marvel to God about Paul’s life?
  3. Why did Paul share the account of his overwhelming zeal for Judaism, in his former life? 1 Timothy 1:12ff; Philippians 3:1-11; 2 Corinthians 11:21-23.
  4. What is different about the methods and actions of Paul’s “holy zeal” after his conversion? What tools can (and cannot) such a zeal for good employ? Romans 10:2; 12:21; Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Corinthians 4:1-2.
  5. Why will efforts to persecute the church or extinguish the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, never ultimately succeed? Matthew 16:18; Acts 5:33-42.
  6. How does the example of Paul give hope to all the “tough-minded” and stubborn? What is amazing about the love of God? Galatians 1:15-16; Romans 5:6-11. 

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