O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Gospel is about Jesus
The Gospel is about Jesus
Based on Gal. 1:11-24
Preached on June 09, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, have you ever thought you knew better than someone only to find out you were totally wrong? I remember a time when I was a teenager when I thought my parents knew nothing. That these people who had brought me into this world and taught me almost everything I knew, just did not understand life. They couldn't possibly know what life was like for a teenager. But doesn't that sound hilarious? I was total joke - a fool. It was like I intentionally forgot that my parents had to have been teenagers at some point in order to be my parents. I treated them like they had always been parents. But they were not. They had been teenagers too. They knew what it was like. They had been just as passionate through their teens as I was through mine, but here's the kicker. They knew more. Not only did they know what it was like to be a teenager, they knew what it was like to be a parent as well. They knew both, and now I thank God for that, for they are the reason I'm still here.
In our epistle reading today, the second in our Galatians sermon series, the apostle Paul continues his attack on the false teachers that snuck into the church after his departure. Last week, we heard about how these rodents had infested the churches of Galatia with a false gospel, one that taught the people they were justified before God by the Law, because of the things they do, not by faith in Christ alone. We heard that these false apostles were men of prestige who were renowned within Judaism and claimed that Paul knew nothing of the true way of salvation - that although He brought the Gospel of Christ to them and taught them almost everything they knew, he just did not understand life. These false teachers were acting like foolish teenagers, and treating Paul like a stodgy old parent that couldn't possibly understand the righteousness of the Law.
But here's the kicker that Paul reveals in our text. Paul had been a teenager too. He had been the Pharisee of Pharisees, the one pushing the righteousness of the Law. He knew what it was like. He writes, "You have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers." I know the righteousness of the Law. I murdered Christians for it. I was just as passionate for it as any of these false teachers among you. But I know more. Not only do I know the righteousness of the Law which leads to death, I know and now proclaim the righteousness of faith, which is free life in Christ. By the grace of God, I know both. And as your spiritual father, I call you back to the true and only Gospel, the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done for you, which is received by faith alone.
"You see when I was a teenager," Paul says, "I too blasphemed God, attacking the Gospel and Christ with my own righteousness of the Law. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, I did not immediately consult with anyone; I began to preach the truth of Christ."
Paul admits to some pretty horrible things here, doesn't he? Things we would all find very hard to forgive. But he does this unashamedly and without hesitating. Why? Because he wants us to know, the Gospel isn't a new way to earn God's forgiveness. The Gospel isn't an impossible set of rules to follow. The Gospel doesn't even happen in you. It happens outside of you - in Christ. "Don't you see," Paul says, "none of this is about you. It is about Jesus. It is about the One God sent to save you. God is not trying to make you a better behaving teenager. He is trying to restore the one thing mankind lost in the fall. Faith. Trust. Certainty, that what God says is true and leads to life. All the time. Our words and actions cannot do this. We cannot create faith. Only Jesus can do this. From outside of us. Breaking into our cycle of self-righteousness. He takes these evil eyes of ours that look only at ourselves, that are always turned in on what we have done, and He draws them to look at Him on the cross. To perceive Him. To recognize Him. Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This Jesus is the One Adam and Eve turned from in the beginning, but He hasn't given up on us. He hasn't abandoned us in our unbelief, to pointlessly look for God in ourselves and in the work of our hands. Instead, by pure grace, He has revealed Himself to us, penetrated our human cycle - not as a vindictive judge, but as the restoration of our lost faith, as a humbled, crucified Savior, that looked only to His Father, and withholding nothing shed His blood for every single wrongdoing of every single one of us. Can you trust God? Take a look.
And this is why Paul does not hesitate to admit his past. He makes it perfectly clear. God forgives everyone in Christ. Your debt is paid. By sheer grace. This is the Son God was pleased to reveal to you. Trust Him. For, as Paul says, "He set me apart before I was born." Your heavenly Father planned you. He knew who you would be and intentionally made you who you are - and then in the waters of baptism declared this truth to the whole world - This is my child - who I want to be with me forever. This is my Son in whom I am well pleased. In those waters, His Word made it so, and even though you, like Paul, have done things during your life that rebel and rage against your Father, He has called you by grace. Look at His Son, and believe it, you are forgiven. Don't let the old teenage righteousness creep into your new life, and if it does, remember the promise God made in the waters of baptism. Wash that old man away every morning and walk in the newness of life God has given you in baptism. Walk with your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your what? Works? No, the author and perfecter of your faith.
Paul knows this righteousness of faith is much more than a replacement for the righteousness of the Law. It is freedom from it. It is God's salvation from a false righteousness that rules over us. To return to it would be to willingly put yourself back into slavery. It would be to ask the devil to reign over your conscience again, even though Christ has already freed you.
And yet this is the natural tendency of all mankind. This is the trap of our fallen flesh. For the teenager lives inside each of us, tempting us night and day to take our eyes off Christ and look at ourselves. It is a fight. A constant struggle between the old Adam who would rob us of our faith, and the new man that lives by faith alone.
And this is why God sends men to preach the Gospel. This is why God called Paul. Why Paul writes this zesty letter to the Galatians, because here is the beautiful thing about it, the only thing that sustains you in this righteousness of faith, the only thing that guards you and keeps you safe while you wrestle and grind and fight through this cross-filled life is the Gospel. The plain simple Word about who Christ is and what He has done for you. Baptism. Preaching. The Lord's Supper. These are the things by which Christ delivers the Gospel, by which He, this crucified One, comes to you in your temptation, in your fight, in your dying, and says, "I have you. You are mine remember. Look at my hands. Now stand behind me."
The old Adam, that rebellious teenager in us, always thinks he knows better, but he is totally wrong. God does not want us to find Him in the good we do, or anywhere in our self. He is found only in the external Word of the Gospel - the simple message of who Jesus is and what He has done for you on the cross. Look for Him there, for this is the righteousness of faith. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr