Pastor Walther / Sunday, May 29, 2016 / Pentecost 2 / Galatians 1:1-10 / Grace and Peace
Grace and peace to you, brothers and sisters in Christ who may be hurting as you see Christians around the world persecuted for their faith, fellow Christians who are in our own state and fellow Christians in our own synod who are persecuted because they would rather preach the law and the gospel than to throw away that good news for the sake of relativism. Grace and peace to you, who may question how our little church will ever be able to survive in this hostile world that hates Christianity. Grace and peace to you who think it just might be better if we loosen up our “rules” as a Church and get along with what society is doing. Grace and peace to all of us, as we suffer from sin, the infectious disease that ruins our lives and tries ruin our relationship with God. Grace and peace to you.
Even though the word “Peace” was actually a very common Jewish greeting, Shalom, these words are more than simple colloquial greetings. Grace and peace are more than ideas. They are more than nice words to say to you in the congregation. They are reality. These words are important because in any age they answer the basic question asked by the human heart: “How can I find true happiness?” “How can I find peace? How can I find tranquility and even freedom from fear?”
The apostle Paul reminds us that in order to have peace, we must first see the environment that we live in. It is a treacherous environment that demands being saved. It’s if we are caught in a surging river with rapids crashing over our heads, thrashing us every time we try and catch a breath. With every decision we make, we can’t save ourselves. Every branch that we try to grab is merely a piece of driftwood hurling itself down the river with us. The environment is that we are lost in this river that is brought about because of our own sin. As long as we are in this world, we can’t save ourselves or rid ourselves of our sin.
However, with the words, “That he might deliver us,” Paul reminds us that there was one crazy swimmer who dared to go out in the rapids to rescue us, risking everything to throw us back to shore, only to have been swept by the current of the approaching waterfall to his own death. Any comparison falls short, but we see how much we need Christ. No other person, no other thing can possibly deliver us from this present evil world. Christ was the one who risked his life for ours. That is perfect love. That is grace! Grace and love leads to peace, knowing that we have a place in God’s eyes.
This news of grace and peace has to be shared with the whole world. In fact, it was imperative that the early Christian church begin immediately by sharing with people they never would have expected to encounter. Jesus had made the apostles his witnesses to the ends of the earth. On Pentecost, the gospel fanned into a fire spreading quickly throughout the middle East and Europe. The apostle Paul was able to work with churches in the Roman province of Galatia, which is modern day Turkey. After spending time with a church, he would move on to other churches, but would still keep in communication with those churches by writing letters. These new converts to Christianity were much like his spiritual children. Paul dearly loved his people as any pastor and missionary cares for his people.
Because of the spread of the gospel, a lot of non Jewish people, in other words, Gentiles became Christians. Even though the Jewish Christians knew that the gospel was meant for all people, especially the Gentiles, these Jewish Christians were sadly unsettled by all these Gentiles coming into Christianity who didn’t have the same spiritual upbringing as these Jews. This raised some questions in the mind of Jewish Christians, who hadn’t really grasped the total message of the New Testament Scriptures. Not that anyone denied Gentiles the right to membership in the church, but the question was rather: How was a Gentile to attain membership? Some Jewish Christian men, that we often name “Judaizers,” insisted that Gentile converts had to come into the Christianity through Judaism. They demanded that these Gentiles follow some of the laws that the Jews had gone through like circumcision. In short, they wanted the Gentiles to do things backwards.
You see, Satan hates and despises seeing the gospel being spread. He will do anything and everything to stop it. He has tried so many different methods of trying to stop it, and the destructive method is definitely a go-to for him. In fact, he would love to have all Christians persecuted and killed to stop the gospel. But so often, God actually works through persecution and the blood of martyrs helps to spread the gospel. When Satan can’t hurt the cause of the gospel with these destructive methods, he does it with his favorite method, the lie. Did “God really say that?” So, Satan uses wicked and ungodly teachers who maybe at first make sense to us, who maybe look like they are trying to advance the gospel, maybe even claim to teach the “hidden mysteries” of the scriptures, only to superimpose heresy and false doctrine onto the truth of Scripture. The first Christian church, especially these Galatians, were beginning to be influenced by many of Satan’s lies.
Satan’s lie crept in when the Judaizers claimed that they did not come to destroy Paul’s work, but to complete it. They taught that a Christian who bases their life on faith alone in Christ, without circumcision and without keeping the law, was simply unfinished. They taught that a Christian could not merely be saved by Grace, but that they had to do something in order to REALLY be saved. They were rejecting the one who rescues us by grace, as if Jesus rescuing us from that raging river wasn’t enough and so they demanded that they throw themselves back into the river to prove that they were saved. Does that make sense? Of course not!
Paul was reminding the Galatians of that Grace and Peace, the grace and peace that they were beginning to forget. They were putting chains on the freedom of the gospel. Paul calls that some “other gospel,” which really isn’t the gospel at all, because the gospel means “good news.” Being chained to the law is not good news.
Satan’s lie has continued to eat away at the church. In Paul’s day, it was the Judaizers. In the middle ages, Martin Luther saw the laws and restrictions that the Catholic Church had placed on its people, laws and restrictions that have no biblical basis, laws and restrictions that continue even today! You can see why Martin Luther became so frustrated with the Catholic Church when they were too lazy to look in the bible and look at the letter to the Galatians as the apostle Paul combated the exact same problem.
Do we unintentionally pose these laws on people? Do we ourselves become Judaizers or Pharisees? We might be tempted to think, for example, that we have met God’s requirements by showing up to Church. We begin to corrupt God’s good news for us when we measure our worth and value by what we do and not by what Jesus has done for us. Do we also pose these thoughts on to new Christians? Do we demand that they worship the German way or do we lovingly instruct them in God’s Word and instruct them why we worship that way? Are we happy to hear that God’s Word is spread but become leery when it actually works and we don’t know how to handle the people that come into church?
While there are always Satan’s lies that come from within the church, it also comes from outside. These verses are so spot on for modern America. Society and relativism has become that modern “other gospel” that we are so keen on listening to. Society claims that Muslims and Jews and Christians all have good paths to heaven so Christianity has to settle with every other religion, thought, and feeling, and as long as it doesn’t get in the way of world unity. We see that the “gospel” of society has infiltrated how Christians view living together or sex before marriage as if it’s part of the dating process, or even how pornography and homosexuality is normal. Even worse, we see how some Christian denominations encourage those things.
Think of it this way: true biblical doctrine is like a beverage. Crisp, delicious, and refreshing. But when the teeniest tiniest little drop of poison and false doctrine gets into the drink, you hopefully don’t want to drink it anymore because it’s poisoned. Or let’s say you went in for a routine checkup at the doctor and saw a little melanoma on the skin and thought no big deal. Or, when they were doing an MRI because of your headaches, they just happened to see a little tumor. Would you keep it there as if all is hunky dory? As if maybe it will give you superpowers like an X-men? Of course not! You’d want that gone immediately! The apostle Paul did not take false doctrine lightly, as people in our day are so inclined to doing, because he saw the poison.
Paul shows the seriousness of the situation by saying that even if he or even an angel came down from heaven and were preaching not grace and peace but merit and peace, they should be eternally condemned. Even if the messenger appears good looking on TV, or even comes to you in the middle of the night, or even comes across on Christian radio, LOOK AT THE MESSAGE. The only message that matters is Grace and Peace, because it comes from God himself. No wonder why Paul pronounces curses upon himself and upon others, upon the angels of heaven, if anyone should dare to preach any other gospel than Grace and Peace through Christ.
Because we have that Grace and Peace, why would I want to preach anything other than that? I’m not trying to please people with what they want to hear or what society is trying to tell me that goes against Scripture. The gospel message is founded on the comforting truth that we can do nothing for our salvation; God has done it all! I preach Christ crucified, by grace alone and by faith alone because that is God’s message of eternal salvation for us, and God is the only one I do it for! Paul said the same thing!
Are people going to get upset with us because we preach what God’s Word has to say about sin and grace? You betcha! Will the government someday pull funding Christian schools or even try to eliminate Christianity entirely? Maybe! Does that sound dangerous to stand up like that? Maybe a little. But what better opportunity than to share with the people around us why we believe what we do, because people are constantly searching for answers. They wonder why we stand our ground (in their mind) for such trivial matters. They wonder why we might even be willing to die for the truth of salvation. And if they see that conviction in us, and if they hear the sweet words of Grace and Peace, if they see the love that you have for them and for their soul, they just might be convinced that those words truly are important to hear.
In the midst of persecution, remember this: People want peace. We have the answer: It is the Lord who brings grace and peace. We place the confidence of our hearts in him alone. There is no other gospel like that! Amen.