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October 28, 2018

Sermon Galatians 1:6-10  . . . “Bible places:  Galatia”

“Bible places:  Galatia”

Galatians 1:6-10

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

You’ve heard of Jeff Foxworthy and his “You might be a redneck”?  Did you know that there’s one for Lutherans too?

Let me try some on you.  You might be a Lutheran...if you have more than five flavors of Jello in your pantry...if the only open pew is up front, so you volunteer to shovel the sidewalk...if you and your family of six all squeeze into the last pew along with the other 140 members that are already sitting there...if, when they say on “Star Wars,” “May the force be with you,” you reply, “And also with you”... if you know what a Lutheran Church Basement Woman is...if all of your casserole dishes have your name written on the bottom...and if Bach is your favorite composer, because he was Lutheran too.

You might be a Lutheran.

This Wednesday we’ll again celebrate the Reformation, the day we remember when, five hundred and one years ago, Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, his ninety-five statements of debate, on the Castle Church door, an event that marked the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation.

And it’s good that we remember it, for it was an event that not only changed us, it changed the world.

But before I say anything more, let me have you turn to the words of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians.  I’ll start at chapter 1, verse 1:  “Paul an apostle--not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead--and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen”

He continues in verse 6:  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again:  If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

Now before we go any further, we should notice that the book of Galatians is different from many of Paul’s other epistles.  Most of his epistles, another name for “letters,” were written to a specific pastor or church.  For example, he wrote one letter to the Romans, another to the Philippians, and another to the Colossians.  And he wrote two letters to the churches in Corinth and Thessalonica.

But the letter to the Galatians is different because it was a “circular” letter.  It wasn’t addressed to one particular church.  It was addressed to a group of churches.  As Paul wrote in verse 2:  “To the churches of Galatia.”

So where’s Galatia?  It’s a large area of land that sits on the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean.  It’s where Turkey is today.

And it’s where Paul once preached the gospel to the people of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  It’s where Luke says, in the book of Acts, that he spent a “long time,” likely many months of his life and ministry.

Even more, as one commentator wrote, the book of Galatians is “one of the most explosive, hard-hitting, controversial, liberating, grace-saturated, salvation-clarifying, Christ-exalting, gospel-advancing, Bible-defending books in all of Scripture.”  And he wrote:  “This book put steel in Martin Luther’s spine when he had to stand against the world, the church, and the devil on behalf of the supreme authority of Scripture and on behalf of the truth of justification by faith alone.”

And it’s in this book that we find words like these:  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And it’s where Paul wrote:  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

And how does he begin his letter to the Galatians?  That too is altogether different than the rest!

He wrote to the Romans:  “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.”  To the Corinthians he wrote:  “I give thanks to God always for you…”   And to the Philippians he said:  “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy…”

But that’s not what he wrote to the Galatians.  Look at verse 6:  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”

No “I thank my God for you.”  No “And here is my prayer for you.”  Instead, he wrote, “I am astonished.”  Or, as another translation puts it:  “I’m shocked!”

Imagine if I started my sermon today by saying, “Grace and peace to you,” and then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I said, “What are you people thinking?  Have you lost your minds?!”

I’d probably have your attention!

And that’s exactly what Paul was trying to do!  And he needed to have their attention because they were in danger of losing the one thing that mattered the absolute most.  Here in these words, Paul insists, in the strongest way possible, that if anyone would lead them away from the truth, they’d be in danger of losing the very gospel itself!

That’s why he wrote in verse 6:  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

Now before I look at ways some distort the gospel, let me ask, what’s the gospel?

The word “gospel” comes from the word “euangelion.”  It’s how we get the word “evangelical” and “evangelist.”  Simply enough, it means, “good message” or “good news.”

And what is that good news?  It’s the message of salvation--the word of truth offered to mankind, by grace through faith, in the finished work of Christ on the cross.  It’s a message not only of eternal life, but one that tells of God’s plan to redeem His people from sin, death, Satan, and hell, and the curse they hold over all the earth.

And to preach the gospel, a pastor must preach that sinners are justified by the free grace of God alone, received through faith alone, made known to us by Scripture alone, all of it a gift from God, and that this faith rests on nothing except Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

As a hymn writer once put it:  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”  And he wrote:  “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

So if that’s the gospel, what would be, in Paul’s words, a “different gospel”?

I can think of several.  

The Mormons have a different gospel.  Their “gospel” rests, not on the Bible, but on the Book of Mormon, a revelation supposedly given by the angel Moroni to their “prophet” Joseph Smith.

And in that “revelation,” Mormons learn that everyone, except Satan and his demons, can be saved.  Even if you never were a Mormon, as long as you’re good, you can someday experience Telestial or Terrestial Glory.  And better still, if you’re married and keep all of the church’s laws and commands, you can know the highest level of all, Celestial Glory, and stand in the presence of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.  It’s where you can even become a god yourself.

Islam has a different gospel too.  It teaches that all people are sinful, just like Adam and Eve, not because they disobeyed Allah, but because he willed it.  And the only way to even hope for salvation is to pray, give alms to the poor, fast, and live a life according to the Quran.  

And even then, no one can know for certain if they’re saved.  Even their prophet, Muhammad himself, couldn’t be sure.  That’s why, whenever Muslims say his name, they add the words, “Peace be upon him.”

And another “gospel,” really the most troubling of all, is the one that says that Christ died, but His death wasn’t enough.  Instead, for you to have any hope of heaven, you must believe in Jesus AND obey the decrees of the church AND do good works AND not die with any mortal sins AND…”

Do you see the problem?  Christ’s death plus anything else, isn’t the gospel at all!

And if that’s not enough “gospels” for you, think of the “Prosperity Gospel,” that says God will give us whatever we want, or the “Social Justice Gospel,” that says it’s every Christian’s responsibility to eradicate poverty, or the “All Roads Lead to Heaven Gospel,” that says it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere,” or the “Self-Help Positive Gospel,” that says God simply wants us to reach our full human potential, or the “Mystical Gospel,” that says salvation comes through an emotional experience with God.

All of them are false “gospels.”  And all of them fall under this command--verse 8:  “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

What’s “accursed” mean?  Eternally condemned.

No wonder, then, that Luther wrote in his Ninety-Five Theses:  “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.”

One more thing.  Once upon a time, or so the story goes, there was a beautiful young woman who married her childhood sweetheart, a man named Mr. Law.  He was a good man, but unfortunately, he wasn’t kind at all.  In fact, on the very first night of their honeymoon, he handed her a list of duties and responsibilities he demanded that she fulfill as his wife.  

And if that wasn’t bad enough, in the days that followed, every evening, when he came home, he asked, “So, how was your day?  Did you do what I told you to do?  Did you make the kids behave?  Did you waste any time?  Did you complete everything I put on your ‘To Do’ list?”

Month after month, and year after year, it was a miserable marriage because, no matter how hard she tried, she could never be good enough.

And the worst of it all was--he was always right!  And for ten solid years, she did all she could to please him, but never could measure up.

Then, out of the blue, one day he died!  And thankfully, a few years later, she married again, this time to a real prince, a man named Mr. Grace.  And he loved her, and poured out his affection on her.

And each evening when he came home, and the house was a mess, the children were misbehaving, and dinner was burning on the stove, still he lovingly swept her into his arms, and said, “I love you.  I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

Then strangely, some years later, while she was cleaning out some papers, of all things, she stumbled upon that list of expectations her first husband, Mr. Law, had once given her.  And as she remembered all his demands, anxiety began to cloud her heart.

Then something remarkable happened.  As she read that list, she realized that all the demands she could never fulfill when she was married to Mr. Law, she naturally did out of love for her new husband, Mr. Grace.

And do you know what?  They lived happily ever after.

As Paul once wrote to the Romans:  “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”

 

We thank You, dear Father, for the truth of Your Word, the good news, the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  By Your grace, help us to live a life of love and praise to You, for His sake.  Amen

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