June 30, 2019 [Pentecost 3]  Galatians 1:11-24  J.D.Roekle

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

                                                          

Accept No Substitutes

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

            If you ordered butter for your bagel, would you accept margarine instead?  That wasn’t acceptable to a man from Massachusetts who sued 23 Dunkin’ Donuts locations for serving him “margarine or a butter substitute” instead of butter with his bagels over a 4-year period.  He paid 25 cents for butter and was not told a substitute was used.  So, he decided to file a class action lawsuit and he won!  Those joining the lawsuit could claim up to 3 buttered bakery goods, and the stores in question were required to use only butter for a year.  After that year, if they used butter substitutes, their menus would have to explicitly say so. 

            Are you that serious about the butter vs. margarine debate?  The dairy state is!  Do you know there are laws here in Wisconsin regulating butter substitutes like margarine?  For instance, a restaurant cannot simply serve margarine instead of butter, unless the customer specifically asks for margarine.  If the restaurant does that, it could be punished by paying a fine of up to $500 and a possible jail sentence of up to 3 months.  Each subsequent offence carries a penalty of up to $1000 fine and up to a year in the county jail. 

            As serious as Wisconsin takes butter, we want to make sure that we take the Gospel even more seriously.  No, I’m not suggesting we file lawsuits or look for laws to be made about it.  But we do want to make sure that the Gospel remains pure in our hearts and in our lives.  Any kind of alteration to the Gospel can have worse consequences than simply a small fine or a short prison sentence.  It can affect us well beyond this life.  That’s because a substitute Gospel will lead to a reliance on someone or something other than Jesus Christ.

            The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Galatia because they were being influenced by a group of people known as the Judaizers.  The Judaizers were a group of people who believed in Jesus as their Savior, and yet they also believed that there were certain requirements of the Old Testament law they were to attain to in order to be saved. 

            And these Judaizers were apparently accusing Paul of speaking a false gospel.  What was the gospel Paul preached?  Listen to his reminder about that Gospel in what he told the people in Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:3b-4): “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” 

            That should sound very familiar to you.  That is the Gospel you listen to here.  That is the Gospel you confess in the creed.  Paul taught that we are saved by grace alone.  That it has nothing to do with following the Law or any other requirements.  We are saved by grace through faith. 

            Where in the world would Paul get such an idea?  He says: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it.” 

            Paul is clear: the Gospel he preached wasn’t an invention of his.  In fact, if he were to invent his own gospel, it would have looked much different.  In fact, it would have looked more like the gospel of the Judaizers.  It would have contained some aspect of work righteousness…of us having to do something or meet some requirement.  After all, that’s how the sinful heart thinks.  I must make up for my sin!  The sinful heart cannot understand God’s free and faithful grace.  The sinful heart wants to ask: what’s the catch?  Clearly, Paul did not make up this Gospel.

            And no one else made it up either.  Paul makes that point by saying that he didn’t receive it from any other man.  There were plenty false teachers out there.  Paul didn’t receive it from them.  The other apostles were around too, but Paul didn’t receive it from them either.  If that’s the case, then where did Paul receive it from?  “I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” Paul stated.

            Remember that Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.  It was Jesus himself who taught Paul the true Gospel message.  That’s who teaches you the Gospel today too. 

            There is a distinction we should make between how Paul received the Gospel and how you and I receive it today.  Paul received it by direct revelation from Jesus.  He saw Jesus face to face.  Jesus spoke directly to him.  You and I receive the Gospel indirectly.  We receive it through the Bible. 

            That’s not to say that God isn’t revealing the Gospel to us.  He is!  It is the Holy Spirit who is at work on our hearts as we hear and read Scripture.  In fact, that’s what gives the Gospel its power. 

            We see God’s power clearly at work on the Apostle Paul’s heart.  Consider who Paul was before he was a Christian.  He was completely against Christ and his followers.  He is first on the scene holding the garments of the people who stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  Paul’s zeal is well known.  Before he was a zealous missionary, he was a zealous persecutor.  Paul tells us: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” 

            The Apostle Paul that the world knows best today is the one who is the great missionary.  The Apostle Paul’s zeal to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles is well known.  In fact, we can trace the fact that we have the Gospel among us back to Paul.  When he was in Asia Minor, he had a vision of a man in Macedonia which is in modern day Greece pleading with him to come to his home country.  Paul went to Macedonia marking the move of the Gospel to Europe.  Where did our ancestors get the Gospel from?  From Europe…primarily from Germany. 

            The fact that the Gospel is among us today is to God’s credit.  God deserves all the glory for the fact that we have his Gospel.  But not only that we have it, but that we believe it.

      Think again about Paul.  In fact, look at the reaction of the people of Judea when they learned about Paul.  “I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.” 

            Your story may not sound as miraculous as Paul’s, but it truly is.  In fact, in some ways, your story is identical to Paul’s.  In describing himself, you should also be able to see a description of yourself:  “God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” 

            God set you apart from birth too.  He had great plans for you too.  He called you to be his own.  It isn’t that he saw something special in you.  It isn’t that he saw something unique in you.  It isn’t as if he saw you as better than anyone else.  No, in spite of being conceived and born in sin, and fit only for serving Satan, he called you to be his own by his grace.  When you were baptized, Christ was revealed in you.  And now your mission is to communicate Christ to others.  You are who you are by the grace of God, and to the glory of God. 

            Butter or a butter substitute such as margarine?  What do you prefer on your bagel or bread?  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  But that’s not the case with the Gospel.  Remember the Good News is that Jesus has done everything necessary for you to put you in a right standing with God, so that you will reside with your Savior in life and in death.  Believe it!  Hold onto this truth zealously.  And no matter what anyone else may say, accept no substitutes.  You have the one true Gospel that saves!  Amen.