Sermon 6/5/16 Pentecost 3

Galatians 1:11-24 Pastor Kenneth Frey
Pentecost 3
June 5, 2016

Galatians 1:11­-24 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 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 of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas 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 Then 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.

You can trust the gospel

What if it’s not true? What if everything you have learned about the Lord Jesus and the salvation he provides is a combination of wishful thinking and fantasy? What if you have been programmed, duped, hoodwinked, and otherwise misguided? This thought has most certainly crossed your mind from time to time, hasn’t it? You wish that it didn’t, but it does.

It may cross your mind when you notice how bad things seem to be in the world. It leads you to wonder if there is really, truly a God who cares. It may cross you mind when you notice the sincerity of those who practice religions that do not confess Christ. “How can I say that y belief is right and theirs is wrong?” you wonder. It may cross your mind when you are watching a nature show on TV and evolution is assumed to be true.

So, what if our message, our belief and the basis for our hope is not from God, but from men?

You are in a very small minority of people in the world that believe that the Bible is totally the Word of God and without error. You are probably in the minority even among those who call themselves Christians. For even many Christians don’t believe the Bible is really from God, at least, not all of it.

Many will tell you that much of written Scripture was once oral stories and you know how stories can change over time. Others will argue that it’s been a long time since Bible days and the writings will inevitably become corrupted over time. And they will tell you it’s just not reasonable to believe that an ark preserved all the animals of the world, that a sea would just divide apart, that a fish swallowed Jonah, that a virgin would give birth or that someone rose from the dead. Nice stories, they say. But real? Don’t be a rube.

In our lesson today, Paul made this claim: I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. Can we believe that? Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, also claimed to receive a revelation. Mohammad claimed to receive a revelation. We mock those claims. Why not the claim of Saul from Tarsus? What makes us so certain that Pau’s claim of a revelation from Jesus is true?

For one thing, if it’s not true, what changed Saul of Tarsus? 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 of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. Saul of Tarsus was the Osama bin Laden of Judaism. He once called himself a Hebrew of Hebrews. He could out Hebrew, out Jew, out Pharisee anybody. Not only was he the best of the best when it came to Judaism, he persecuted Christians. He arrested them and put them in prisons until they renounced Christ. He killed some and even more. Paul hints here that he abused the people of Christ’s church, and not just a little but to an extreme.

So what changed Saul of Tarsus? He explained, “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ 8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.
9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. 10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. 12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. 14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’” (Acts 22:6?16)

Saul who persecuted Christians to death, who hated and abused them – why would he suddenly become one of them? If he were just making this up, why would Saul go from persecuting those who believe in Christ to suffering for Christ?

Saul of Tarsus became an apostle of Jesus Christ because the gospel is true. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. Only God’s grace could change someone like Saul of Tarsus and make him into the Apostle Paul. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to change hearts the way it did for Paul because the gospel is unlike anything else.

Look at all the other religions of mankind. They all share one thing: man must do something to earn salvation. The gospel is so contrary to reason that no one could make it up. Who would have thought that God himself would be born into this world to die for his sinful creatures? Who would have thought that God would sacrifice his own Son? Who would have dreamed up the teaching that God chose us before creation? Who would have guessed that the answer to our dilemma is not in ourselves, but is God’s free gift of grace? It is that gospel that changed Paul. It’s that gospel that changes all of us.

Just as God set Paul apart from before his birth to be his apostle, so God set you apart from before you were born to be his own. Jesus paid your penalty on the cross and rose again to guarantee salvation is accomplished. He brought you the gospel message and worked faith in your heart. He placed you here where you could nurture that faith with Word and sacrament. The gospel is God’s free gift of salvation, which he gives to us.

And we can be sure it’s true because it was given by revelation of Jesus to his chosen servant. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas 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 Then 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.

The internet is a wonderful thing, but you have to be careful what you read on the internet. You may read a quote supposedly from Abraham Lincoln that he never actually said. It’s always best to go to the source. That’s Paul’s point with this little history. The gospel wasn’t passed down to him from others. He got it straight from the source. He got it from Jesus Christ himself.

So you can believe the message. In fact, it is vitally important to believe the message. In July of 1863, in a little town known for a shoe factory and a Lutheran seminary, the decisive battle of the Civil War took place. On the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, the confederates under Robert E. Lee had dealt the Union forces a severe blow. After the Union army retreated to high ground, Lee sent a message to one of his generals to take an unoccupied hill on the south side of the Union camp. It would have been relatively easy then to take that unoccupied ground. But, in one of the greatest military blunders of history, the general who received the message, did nothing.

That night, more Union forces arrived and occupied that hill – Culp’s hill – and the confederate army would never be able to gain that strategic point. Because a general didn’t pay attention to a message, they lost the battle and, eventually, the war.

Even more strategic and vital is the message of God’s Word. We dare not ignore it or disregard it. It’s a message that is a matter of eternal life or death. That’s the message Paul has for us, a message straight from Jesus himself. And there is no other gospel.