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July 16 - Galatians 1:1-10 - "Gospel Christianity"
MPC 16th July 2017.
I don't know if you've noticed it's been a bit of a good news week. There's been a bunch of good news stories.
And I'm not just talking about the State of Origin.
Rescue stories. Like the liberation of Mosul from Islamic State. Celebrating freedom in the streets.
Or smaller stories. But just as good if you're the ones being rescued. The family saved from the Florida surf by a human chain. They've been swept out by a rip. A whole family. And 80 complete strangers joined hands to pass them safely back to the beach one by one. Great news.
Or the construction worker trapped on the roof of a burning apartment building in Denmark. Saved when crane operator John Pederson spots him through the smoke and swings his crane around. And drops him a lifeline.
Don't you love good news like that?
Paul's letter to the Galatians... is all about good news. Of a rescue. That he describes in verses 3 and 4. Where he says...
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age...
Which is the heart of the good news that Paul calls his gospel. Which is literally what the word gospel means. A word you'll notice he uses five times in verses 6 to 9.
You can see it on the screen. Five times. In five verses. Gospel gospel gospel gospel gospel.
This is a letter from the apostle Paul to the churches in Galatia. Which is kind of the middle of what we now call Turkey. A letter written astonishingly close to the time of Jesus. A gap of just 20 years. Which when you're my age is just like yesterday. This is so fresh the paint's hardly dry.
And already Christian Churches are popping up not just in Jerusalem and Judea but in Syria and now all the way up in Turkey and on the way to Rome. As Paul travels around preaching the gospel. Good news travels fast.
And the point of Paul's letter is that he so desperately wants the Galatian Christians to keep on being gospel Christians. Keeping on keeping on with good news Christianity. And not some other kind. Which they're being offered.
Now one problem with a Christian buzz phrase like "the gospel" is that it kind of gets thrown around all over the place and you maybe never quite get to pinning it down.
And I want to say that if one Christian jargon word you've gotta pin down it's this one. Not just that the word gospel means good news; but that you know exactly what the good news actually is.
Because for Paul and the early Christians it's the term they use for the very specific good message they've been preaching everywhere. With such dramatic results.
In business these days they call it the elevator pitch. You step in the lift at the ground floor and there's a guy beside you who's a potential investor. He says tell me about your business idea. Shark Tank in miniature. You've got from here to the 15th floor to pitch the essence of what you're on about. Your own version of good news.
Let's see if we can spot Paul's elevator pitch. His gospel. And can I say if you've been a Christian for years or if you're just getting started, it's worth paying attention. To make sure you're absolutely clear about the gospel.
First; Paul's credentials. First sentence. Verse 1.
Hi. I'm Paul. I've been commissioned; I'm a brand ambassador; I'm an apostle. Sent with a message. I haven't been sent a man or by men, but by Jesus Christ himself who's more than just a man; and God the father.
Acts chapter 9, you can read how the voice of Jesus from a shining light meets Paul on the road to Damascus; intercepts him on the way to persecute Christians. And in a flash of light, turns Paul into a Christian himself. The ultimate embarrassing back flip. It's Jesus. Who's now sending him.
So here's gospel point 1. Right in verse 1.
That this is the message about the fact that God the father raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
That's the Jesus who spoke to him on the road. That's the Jesus who turned him around. The Jesus who'd been crucified a couple of years before. Was alive and well and commanding the universe.
That's gospel point 1. In verse 1.
Paul, an apostle-sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.
It's the message he's preaching everywhere. And it just jumps out of his mouth in his very first sentence.
The actor Patrick Stewart who plays Charles Xavier in the X-men movies said in an interview last week that not a day passes that he doesn't think about his own mortality.
He said, "This has been a horrible three or four years for my profession. My generation has been decimated. So many actors have gone." Alan Rickman. Leonard Nimoy. They're all dying.
And Patrick Stewart at 78 knows that he could be next in line for an obituary.
I'm sure he's not on his own. When death looms large. The first step in Paul's gospel is that God raised this man Jesus Christ from the dead. Which means in spite of appearances we're not living in a one way trip to oblivion. But there's more to come. And Jesus... pioneered it.
But look, the even better news comes in verses 3 and 4 where we started a few minutes back. The rescue.
Look again. And trust me, this is good news. Let's take a closer look at the rescue Paul's talking about in verses 3 and 4...
Did you spot it? The lord Jesus Christ. He gave himself for our sins. To rescue us from the present evil age.
There's the perfect elevator pitch; Paul's gospel in a nutshell.
Now people have got all sorts of answers to the question what's wrong with the world.
In his book The Three Languages of Politics, Arnold Kling says people tend to see problems in one of three ways: and so prescribe very different solutions.
If you're a conservative; to you the problem is that there are barbarians out there who are out to destroy our culture. Destroy marriage. Destroy family. And you might be right.
But if you're a social progressive, if you tend to the left, Arnold Kling says you'll see it this way; there's an oppressive power; there's a dominant paradigm; enforcing a particular set of values on everyone else. And that oppression has got to be opposed. And you might be right.
Or the third view, Arnold Kling says, and this is in America; libertarians, who'll say there's too much governance. Inappropriate use of political power. Too much taxation. And we should just be left alone to decide things for ourselves. And you might be right.
Now it's a useful book. For one thing, he says if you don't understand those three perspectives you can never have civil debate. Because you just won't understand each other.
But you know what? All three. Even the conservatives. Are just scratching the surface when it comes to what's really wrong with the world.
Remember GK Chesterton's famous quote? In 1910, The Times of London asked a group of authors to answer the question what's wrong with the world. Expecting essays in return.
We're not just caught up in what Paul calls the present evil age.
And it's not just evil around us, which we kind of find easy to see. It's evil within us as well. I need to be rescued from me; as much as anything else.
And Paul's gospel is that Jesus; in his death; is giving himself for our sins. To rescue us from the present evil age.
So none of those political descriptions of the world gets to the heart of the problem. And none of them offers a rescue. From our present evil age. Because of the problems that are in us.
None of them offers a gospel.
And so the civilisation destroying barbarians aren't just around me. The barbarian is in me. On the inside.
The oppressed once they've overcome their oppressors just become oppressors all over again. I know I would. Doesn't history prove that? Over and over again?
Libertarians. You want everyone to just self regulate. Then all we'll do with the freedom is ruin everything by our natural inclination to greed and laziness. I know I would anyway.
So here's the rescue. Here's Paul's elevator pitch. Here's the gospel.
Purely by the will of our God and father, we're back in verses 3 and 4, not because of anything good about us; not because we deserved it; the lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins. To rescue us from this present evil age. That's what he's done.
And then to seal the deal; God the father raised him from the dead. And will raise us too. Sins paid for. Not to face judgement. but grace.
That's the gospel, and when you really get it; it really is good news.
Because there's freedom in it.
Freedom from the fear of death. Because Jesus was raised. Paul stakes his life on it.
Freedom from fear of God's judgement. Because Jesus has taken it on himself.
Freedom from having to do anything. Other than be rescued. You don't have to be more impressive; you don't have to sound more religious; you don't even have to turn up to more working bees.
Most especially, to these non Jewish Galatians. Paul first came and preached his gospel to, he's not saying... you've got to be more Jewish.
It's pure and simple God's generosity.
Paul's word for it is grace. Which technically you can define as
Undeserved favour. Grace means being treated way better than you ever deserved to be treated.
Paul's phrase in verse 6 is we've been called to live in the grace of Christ.
That's what the gospel's calling you to. Living in; swimming in; bathing in. Pure generosity.
Trouble is, and here's where we get to the pointy bit of Paul's letter; here's why he's writing; the Galatians are letting go of that. In favour of another option.
Take a look at his words. Verse 6. Because this is a disaster.
This is actually the only one of Paul's letters where he doesn't open with something positive. Like "I always thank God for you every time I remember you." To the Philippians.
I haven't stopped giving thanks for you. To the Ephesians.
I can't believe you're being such idiots. To the Galatians.
Look at his words. Verse 6. Because they've lost the essence of the gospel. And so they're missing out on living in the grace of Christ.
6 I am astonished that you're so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- which is really no gospel at all.
That having heard and accepted and believed the good news. The rescue they didn't deserve. They're letting go of the hand that's reached out to them. Which isn't going to end well at all.
Here's what's happening. Wherever Paul goes on his missionary travels, not far behind him there's a trail of Jewish Christians trying to straighten things out with a few rules. Because in their mind Paul's gospel just isn't enough.
First and foremost because these Galatian Christians haven't started out by becoming Jewish.
No big deal in our eyes. But back then, for anyone Jewish watching what Paul's doing, it's incredibly disturbing. Because Jesus is their Jewish messiah. They are God's chosen people. And nobody else.
So okay you Galatians, if you want to believe in Jesus, it's first things first. If you really want to be acceptable to god; get yourselves circumcised like a proper Jew. Follow our food rules. keep our Sabbath. Take on our old testament laws. Clean yourselves up. Then... if you can still be bothered. You can follow Jesus.
Now we don't have many Judaisers around these days. Although the SDAs with their Old Testament food rules and Sabbaths come close. There are Presbyterians who'll do the same sort of thing.
But there's so many other ways as well. So many ways that over the centuries Christianity has picked up so many extras for making yourself right with god. That sometimes there's only just a bit of Jesus at the end if you can be bothered. Optional extra.
Look again at Paul's words. take the warning. Because friends, we're meant to be gospel Christians. And no other kind. We're people who've been called to live in the grace of Christ.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- which is really no gospel at all
Because verse 8. Here's what's happening.
There are people who are trying to throw you into confusion about the gospel of Christ.
And if that happens, he says, don't listen. Get this. Even if I come back with a different message; or even if an angel shows up in full feathers and wings... if an angel turns up to preach next Sunday in a shaft of light from heaven with a voice like raging waters; you'd probably say it's a memorable Sunday. But if the message isn't that the Lord Jesus has died for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age and God's raised him from the dead; if it's not the gospel of Christ but some different gospel...
Then look at Paul's words. I'll let him say it.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under god's curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse!
Now, we'd want to say, well that's a bit judgemental, wouldn't we? We'd want to say, well, that's a bit arrogant on Paul's part, to say I'm right and the angel's wrong; but the point is, he's been commissioned not by a man or by men, but by the lord Jesus himself. Who the good news is all about.
And if there's anyone who wants to add to it, to say it's not enough, to say you've got to do something extra, that you've got to be more Jewish, that you've got to be more Presbyterian, that you've got to be more charismatic, that you've got to be more religious, that you've gotta stop eating meat; that you've gotta have Sabbath on Saturday, even that you've gotta have Sabbath on Sunday; that you've got to have more spiritual experiences; any other gospel. It's not good news at all.
If anyone's preaching to you a gospel other than the gospel we preached to you, says Paul; any gospel other than what you accepted; let them be under God's curse.
Now friends, I want to ask you this morning, are you going to be a gospel Christian? Or not?
Because this is great news. You've been invited absolutely free of charge; to the greatest party in the world. With everything laid on. Freely. Generously.
You've been invited to live free from fear of God's judgement.
Into an open ended eternity. With death no longer the looming and final endpoint. Because one who gave us his life to rescue you. Has in actual physical history; been resurrected.
You've been invited to live under the generosity of Jesus.
Not under a bunch of religious rules and regulations.
Free from trying to look impressive. Free from acting like you've got it all together. Trying to sound impressive.
Free to just be someone who's been rescued.
Can you imagine that? Sometimes we're not very good at it, are we?
As we're going to see over the next few weeks; it means we've been liberated. Rescued. From self centred-ness; liberated to love properly. Free to serve from the heart. Rescued from our old idolatries. The wrong things; that attract our hearts the wrong way.
For Paul, the gospel brings a freedom worth standing firm for. He's astonished they'd turn away from it.
Mind you, verse 10 he says there are plenty of people who'll approve if he'll compromise. Blend in with Judaism, stop rocking the boat, get people circumcised, teach them the law. go with the flow. But he's not trying to please people. He's serving Christ. Who commissioned him. Who made him an Apostle. Who gave him the gospel that he's going to keep preaching. Of rescue. Rather than reward.
I want to leave you with a quick check-list.
Number 1. I know it's a jargon word, but have you clearly understood and taken hold of the gospel. Because it's one of the most important things you can do. If you're new to church in the last few years, if you've been around forever. Same question. Have you clearly understood it? And can you explain it to somebody else. Because it's the good news that actually calls people to Christ. If you're not sure you have, come and talk to me. There are courses. Like Christianity explained. There are resources. Some great books. That I'd love to hook you up with. Make it a priority. To get clear.
Number 2. Will you check you're not adding to the gospel and especially not trying to police other people. Adding expectations. Say it has to be done this way because it's always been done this way. Make sure you're not adding rules. That just throw people into confusion and robs them of gospel confidence.
Number 3. If you've understood the gospel and grabbed hold of it, are you defending it? Are you able to notice when there are all the trappings of religion; but the gospel's just not there? Because that's what Paul's calling out, isn't he? Robustly. It matters.
If you're going to live free. You've got to stay strong on the gospel.
And finally, Number 4. How are you going at living in the grace of Christ? Is that what you're doing? Or are you feeling constantly burdened by your faith. Jesus says, my yoke is light. If it's not, maybe you're missing out on the grace of the gospel; so it's back to point 1. To reconsider. But otherwise, it's worth thinking through why.
They're the sort of issues we'll be facing in Galatians. It's all about the freedom that comes in the gospel of Christ. It's all about the great rescue. That's been done for us and not by us.
It's all about being gospel Christians through and through. Staying strong. Living free.
It's a fantastic letter. Full of really good news. So I hope you'll be here soaking it up.