MESSAGE FOR MARCH 9, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 1:11-24

 

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"The Gospel of God, Not Man"

MESSAGE FOR MARCH 9, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 1:11-24

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          This morning, we again pick up our series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  We have been reminded in the past few weeks that Paul writes this letter in an effort to save these Galatian churches from believing a false gospel.  False teachers from Jerusalem had come in after Paul had planted these churches and worked strategically to cause the Galatians to accept a distorted gospel that would not save.  In their teaching, they advocated that these new believers accept a false gospel that added law-keeping and circumcision to the one Biblical requirement of faith.  They knew however that before they could accomplish that, they first had to discredit Paul and his claim to have preached the true gospel of grace to them.  If they could cast serious doubt on Paul’s credibility among these Galatians, they would then be free to sow a different message than he had preached. One of the lies the Judaizers spread to discredit Paul was that the message he had preached to them was not from God.  They claimed instead that Paul was actually only parroting what he had heard from the “real” apostles of Jesus in Jerusalem.  They evidently portrayed him as an apostolic wannabe who had never really been called by God and whose message were a pale imitation of the gospel preached by those Jesus had “truly” called to be his apostles.  They contended that Paul’s experiences of Jesus and the gospel were purely second hand and should not be trusted.  He was a counterfeit—a poor copy of a “real” apostle.

          It’s to those charges that Paul responds in the text for this morning.  Let’s read Galatians 1:11-24.  Paul says, “11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel.  12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.  13For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  14And 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.  15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,  16was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;  17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.”

“18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.  19But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.  20(In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)  21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  22And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  23They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy."  24And they glorified God because of me.”

          This is a challenging text to preach from for at least two reasons.  First, because it’s purely autobiographical in nature.  Paul’s primary goal here is not to teach doctrine.   He is defending himself against specific charges leveled against him by these false teachers.  Second, it’s also a bit of a challenge to apply these truths to our lives because some of the experiences he relates here in his defense we simply will not and cannot share.  We will not be as one scholar says, “confronted, converted and commissioned” [Fung, 32] by a personal vision of the risen Christ like Paul was in his dramatic Damascus Road experience.  That’s the “revelation” Paul is referring to here and he experienced this unique vision of the risen Christ because as one called to be an apostle he needed it in ways that we will never need it.   Because we have the apostolic word of God, our confrontation with, conversion to, and our commission from Christ will not require a vision as Paul’s did.  Although those two factors present some challenges to us in knowing what God is saying to us today in these verses, there are still crucial and richly rewarding truths and implications that we must know and apply from these verses.

          For the sake of clarity, let’s begin by very briefly giving the simple meaning of these verses as Paul intended them for the Galatians.  There is really just one point he is making and which he supports with four lines of evidence.  The gist of what he is saying is simply—the gospel that I preached to you (the Galatians) was not of or from man, but God.  His point throughout these verses is to defend himself against the charge that the gospel that he preached had its origin in what other people—like the apostles in Jerusalem--had told him.  He wants the Galatians to know that the gospel that he preached originated in the Person of Christ himself, just as it did with the other apostles.  His four lines of defense against this charge are found in verses 13-24. 

First, in verses 13-16 he maintains that he certainly didn’t get his gospel from the apostles early on because he was in fact trying to destroy the church of Christ, which he saw as a dangerous perversion of orthodox Judaism.  For a good Jew, especially an expert in the law like Saul, a zealous, impeccably trained Pharisee, the notion of a crucified Messiah was ludicrous.  The prophets said the coming Messiah would be a person of unique favor with God, whereas a person hung on a tree was under the curse of God.  Saul of Tarsus could never understand how those two truths, which intersect in Jesus, could ever be reconciled.  Paul’s point in relating his early persecution of the church is simple.  He could not have received this gospel from these apostles because in his mind they were teaching heresy. He was a one-man, commissioned cult buster whose zeal for the truth fueled his mission to destroy the church.  He saw the church as a dangerous and heretical sect of Judaism.

          Second, in verse 15 he defends himself against the charge that he wasn’t truly called of God to apostolic ministry, that his was a phony, self-appointed “call.”  He counters that by reminding the Galatians that he was in fact called by God to give this gospel to the Gentiles through a dramatic revelation from God he mentions in verse 12.  We know from Acts chapter nine and the later recountings in Acts of Saul’s conversion experience that on the Damascus Road Christ personally called him to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. When he appeared before Caesar Agrippa years after his initial encounter with Christ in Acts 26 he recounted how Jesus called him.  Jesus told him, “16But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,  17delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you  18to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'” Paul is saying that his call did not emanate from himself or from some person. He stands solidly in the line of men exemplified by the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah.  Like him, God had set Paul apart as his messenger from before he was in the womb and was personally commissioned into service by the Lord Jesus himself.

          In his third line of evidence in his defense, Paul says in verses 16-24 that, contrary to the claims of the false teachers, he did not consult with any outside source—apostolic or otherwise—in order to discover the gospel.  He says in effect that the apostles in Jerusalem didn’t even personally know him.  Verse 18 says that it took him three years after his conversion to even stop into Jerusalem.  Then his purpose was “to visit (the word literally means “to get acquaintedwith Cephas (Peter).”  Acts 11 tells us that on this first visit to Jerusalem as a follower of Christ, the “…believers were afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.”  Paul defends himself against the charge that he got his gospel second hand by saying that he couldn’t have been influenced by the apostles because he had been in Arabia and then in Syria and Cilicia—all a good distance in both miles and culture from Jerusalem.  We don’t have any record of what Paul was doing during this period of his life.  I agree with those who believe that Paul went immediately into ministry in these regions.  We know from Acts 15 that churches had been planted in these regions and perhaps that was Paul’s doing.

          The final defense Paul gives to fend off the charge that his gospel was not a “real apostle” is in verses 13-16.  Let’s read it again.  Paul writes, “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  14And 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.  15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,  16was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…”  Unlike the other defenses, Paul does not state this one explicitly, but it is certainly there implicitly.  That is—we know that Paul’s apostleship was genuine and his gospel was his own because his life was dramatically and forever changed by it.  Throughout Paul’s writings when his status as an apostle is questioned, his strongest defense is not found in the facts surrounding his encounter with Christ, but with the radical character of his life.

          Second Corinthians chapter 11 is renown in Paul’s letters because it’s in that chapter that Paul spells out the unimaginable amount of suffering he experienced as an apostle.  He was repeatedly tortured, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, flogged, left for dead.  His life was in constant peril.  That much may be familiar to us.  What you may not know is that the reason Paul gives that rather detailed account of his suffering is because in the context he is contrasting himself with false apostles in Corinth.  The crucial difference between Paul and them is his love and devotion to Christ and to that truth is seen most vividly in his willingness to suffer for him.  Paul’s radically devoted life validated his apostleship.  The false apostles would not pay that kind of price.  Only those who were truly called by Christ would suffer like that. 

It was the quality of Paul’s life—the radical change the risen Christ had made in his life—that was another line of evidence authenticating the genuineness of his apostleship.  When he converted to Christianity, this man paid a high price.  He went from being the up and coming expert in Jewish law and zealous hero of Judaism to social and theological outcast.  When he was in Damascus, the governor of the province was after him and according to Acts chapter nine, he had to be let down over the wall in a basket.  Paul went from traveling in the circles of the Jewish elite to being a cultic outcast.  You don’t go through that if you are simply mimicking someone else’s message.  That kind of change happens within those who are the real deal and Paul’s life resounded that, unlike these false gospel teachers, he was the real deal.

          That is the basic content of Paul’s defense.  The primary message of this text for us to apply today from this text is:  The gospel of grace is supernatural in both its origin and its results.  That is, the gospel of grace that Paul preached is supernatural in at least two ways.  First, the gospel originates in God--in our case, through his supernaturally inspired word as he miraculously brings it to bear on our hearts.  Second, it produces supernatural results or fruit in any person who has been saved through it.  As we study Paul’s experience with Jesus, we want to apply one truth this morning.  That is—The truthfulness and life-changing power of the gospel is realized only when we genuinely encounter the risen Christ.  Paul’s life is a peerless example of a person who for years had known the content of the gospel, but it didn’t have any impact on him until he had a supernatural encounter with Christ. 

          Remember, when Paul met Jesus on the Damascus Road, that wasn’t the first time he had heard of Jesus.  We know that Paul (then Saul of Tarsus) heard one of the best sermons recorded in the Bible in Acts chapter seven. There, Stephen gives a tour de force of Biblical theology arguing from the life of Abraham to Moses to Isaiah proving how the Jews had always persecuted God’s messengers.  He then boldly charges the Jewish leadership who had put him on trial of following in the wicked tradition of their fathers.  He accused them of killing the promised Messiah and Saul was right there listening to it.  Do we really believe that a scholar like Saul would go around trying to wipe out the church without grappling with the doctrines of this new sect of believers who believed Jesus was the Messiah?  There had to be some basis for his persecution of the church.  It was obviously because he had investigated the message of this new sect of Judaism.

          He doubtless knew the claims about Christ quite well.  He had heard the gospel—he was aware of what this new sect believed and he doubtless knew what Old Testament passages were used to support those beliefs. His old teacher, Gamaliel in Acts four had witnessed Peter and John defending their right to preach in the name of Jesus after they had performed a healing his name.  To believe Paul didn’t know the content of the gospel is to give him far less credit as a scholar than what his impressive academic resume dictates. He knew the gospel, but it wasn’t until he personally encountered the risen Christ that he became instantly convinced of its truthfulness.  We know this from the word Paul uses to describe his experience in verses 12 and 16.  In both places, he says that he received a “revelation (apokalupto) of Jesus Christ.  I agree with those scholars who hold that in these contexts that word conveys the idea of an internal experience.  This was not just about Paul physically seeing a great light and being scared to death by that phenomenon.  This was much more about Jesus instantly pealing off the many layers of deception draped over Paul’s heart and giving him an undeniable internal witness of the truthfulness of who He is.

In that astonishing moment of revelation, several truths came crashing down on his soul all at once.  First, Paul knew for the first time that he had been as absolutely wrong as he could have been about Jesus Christ.  This Nazarene wasn’t just some mesmerizing teacher who managed to hoodwink some unsophisticated Galileans.  His death on the cross was not a disqualification for his messianic identity—it was at the very heart of it!  In this paralyzing moment of revelation he knew that he had been horribly wrong and instead of serving God by persecuting followers of this false Messiah, he had been instead assaulting God in the worst way imaginable.  He had been trampling on the apple of God’s eye, his church.  No wonder he didn’t eat for three days after this encounter! 

Paul also knew that with the coming of the Messiah, the new Messianic age had begun.  You see, the Pharisees believed that when the Messiah came, the law would be replaced by something greater. So, when Paul the Pharisee is confronted by the Messiah, at that moment he knows that the law has been replaced. That of course opens the door for him to believe a gospel of grace, not law.  All this was a cosmic change in mind and heart for Paul and what he wasn’t immediately able to process, doubtless became more clear to him in the three days of blindness he spent in Ananias’ house.

Another indicator that this encounter with Christ was an internal experience for Paul is in verse 16.  There Paul writes that God was “pleased to reveal his Son to me…”  That phrase is more literally, “in me.” “God revealed his Son IN me.”  Paul is saying that at this moment when Jesus outwardly appeared to him, he also came and lived within him.  This moment on the Damascus Road is when the words of Galatians 2:20 became a reality for Paul. There he says, “…It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives IN me.”  It was on the Damascus Road that Christ began to live within the apostle.  It was this internal experience with Christ that prompted this man who had been killing Jewish believers to begin making Gentile believers and preaching Christ instead of persecuting him. 

This encounter with Christ immediately began to produce fruit in Paul’s life.  It impacted the content of his preaching.  Notice what Paul says about the gospel in verse 16.  Paul says that God revealed “his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.”  This is so important because it tells us what Paul preached.  Paul didn’t preach law.  He didn’t ultimately preach a set of theological propositions.  He didn’t preach moralistic messages on being a better human being, nor did he offer people the secrets to a holy and overcoming life.  He didn’t preach social and political commentary.  He preached Christ!  He equates the gospel with Christ.  That means that if you have the wrong gospel as the false teachers had, you don’t have Christ because Christ is the gospel.

In verses 16-22, Paul argues that this gospel he preached to the Galatians did not come to him by way of hearsay—his ministry was not simply that of a wannabe who mimics others.  His was a genuine encounter with the risen and living Christ who had radically changed his life forever.  He didn’t get this gospel by parroting someone else—he OWNED it because Christ had revealed himself to him, had rebuked him for his great sin and had powerfully humbled him, setting him free from the law and bringing him into a life of God’s grace.  The result of that life being put on display before others is in verse 24. Paul says, “And they glorified God because of me.”

Although there are many points where we simply cannot identify with Paul’s call as an apostle and his dramatic vision of Jesus, we can and must plug into his experience at that is point.  The truthfulness and life-changing power of the gospel is realized only when we encounter the risen Christ through God’s word as it’s preached or as we meditate on it ourselves.  Oh beloved, this truth is so needed today.  So many people in the North American church don’t own the gospel themselves.  They may very well understand it—they apprehend the substitutionary atonement of Christ.  But their gospel is second hand—their experience of the Christian life is a vanilla substitute for the reality of the risen Christ.  At the end of the day, these evangelicals’ version of the Christian faith more closely resembles a family tradition—a well loved relic that has been passed from one generation to another.  Perhaps their parents or grandparents had a vibrant faith, but their experience of Christ is mostly borrowed as they outwardly mimic what was to a previous generation a glorious internal reality.  The driving motivation behind everything Paul did was to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection, sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”  He “suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish, in order that he might gain Christ and be found in him…”  Paul suffered exquisitely to know Christ.

So many evangelicals today are more drawn to the church because the people are nice and not openly immoral; not necessarily because they are radically in love with the Savior and want to be around others who feel the same.  Their religion is not so much about knowing Christ as it is entering into a Biblical self-improvement program. Sin is thought of more as a personal failure than cosmic treason against their Creator.  As a result, there has been no dramatic change in their life.  Perhaps a few external alterations have been added, but no deep heart work has been done.  Their desires and treasures in the end pretty much mirror their unsaved, Minnesota nice neighbor’s.  Their passions are more inflamed by their possessions or their kids or their sports team or their friends or their career.  When you get on those subjects, their pulse and speech quicken, their volume increases and, their gestures become more expressive.  Those same people find it a significant challenge to fit a daily time of prayer and study of the word into their busy lives.  Their prayer lives are stale and stilted.  When hard times come, rather than cry out for Christ to work in their heart through the difficulty to make them like Jesus, they instead complain about their situation and wonder why God would put them through this senseless trial.

That describes so many in the evangelical church today and this text tells us that what we need are regular encounters with the risen Christ!  We need massive infusions of gospel truth of the wretchedness of our sin and the greatness of our Savior and by God’s grace we need to own them personally.  Our often borrowed, flickering spiritual flame desperately needs the incendiary breath of God to blow across it.  Beloved, does this describe you?  Make no mistake—Paul’s radical love for Jesus was birthed here in this encounter with Christ.  He was confronted and converted and commissioned—have you been confronted with the living God?  Have you been genuinely converted to Christ, not a religion or a family tradition or an escape from hell?  Have you been converted to Christ?  Do you carry within you a passion for the Person of Jesus Christ?  Have you received your commission from him and are you living life purposefully, strategically for Jesus? 

If not, then come to Christ.  If you have abandoned your first love, then come and renew yourself at the feet of Christ.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”[Rev.2:5]  He loves you and wants to know the intimacy with you he once had.  May God give us the grace to have regular encounters with the risen Christ so that others may glorify God because of us.

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