June 10, 2010 David Balzer

Galatians 1:1-2:10: A message made in heaven

One of the first things we do when we go shopping these days is to CHECK THE LABEL. Where’s it MADE? Is it Australian made, or not? We want to be supporting Australian jobs and companies.

Who owns the brand? Who’s being employed? Where are the profits going?

Check the label. Is the toothpaste made in Australia, or Vietnam? Are those kiwi fruits from land, or California?

But sometimes it’s not so easy. When Vegemite’s owned by an American company. And X is owned by New Zealand!

Is that orange juice Australian-made from Australian oranges, or just bottled here from imported orange concentrate? Is that washing machine Australian-made, or just ASSEMBLED here, from parts made SOMEWHERE ELSE.

I even saw a toy koala with a big Australian flag in a souvenir shop. And the tag said DESIGNED in Australia. Which is deceptive, isn’t it? Could have been made ANYWHERE!

Sometimes you’ve got to look pretty closely to avoid being TRICKED. Tricked into buying something you THOUGHT came from ONE place/ when IN REALITY it came from somewhere else.

But as much as we can, if it’s not Aussie-owned and Aussie-made we DON’T BUY IT.

Which is exactly the point the Apostle Paul wants to make about HIS MESSAGE. His GOSPEL. In the face of a team of FALSE TEACHERS who are working their way around Galatia, ing a DIFFERENT MESSAGE, Paul wants to say DON’T BUY IT. Unless you check where it comes from.

Which he emphasises right from his very first words. Where he says as AN APOSTLE, as an Ambassador of Jesus, he’s hasn’t come FROM men with a message made BY men. He’s come from Jesus Christ himself. And God the Father. With a message MADE IN HEAVEN. A message MADE by God. And Owned by God. See it there in v1?

Paul, an apostle-sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the –

Paul’s holding out HIS label for everyone to see. Check the label, he says. APOSTLE – which means commissioned by Jesus himself.

It’s a point he keeps coming back to, again and again. Whether he’s talking about HIMSELF as a divine appointment, or he’s talking about HIS MESSAGE. Like down in verse 11 and 12 of chapter 1.

11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is NOT SOMETHING THAT MAN MADE UP. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it BY REVELATION FROM JESUS CHRIST.

Which is ONE STEP UP from simply being APPOINTED by Jesus. He’s even been given THE MESSAGE TO PRESENT / by Jesus.

Sometimes someone will be APPOINTED. But then they’re given the freedom to make the job their own. But not here. Paul is APPOINTED, then told EXACTLY WHAT MESSAGE he’s to present.

Check the label says Paul. Designed and made by God. Chosen by God. Owned by God, distributed by God. The copyright’s all his.

And you can see what that message IS back up in v4. The good news Paul’s declaring.

the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

It’s GOOD news because we needed RESCUING. We were headed down a long, slippery slope to judgment and . Sin had us caught. But the good news from God himself is that he provided a RESCUER. His son Jesus. Who threw himself in the path of God’s just wrath, and deflected it away. Saved anyone who accepts his rescue offer.

And so, even though we keep living in this world. We’ve been SAVED from it. We’re citizens of ANOTHER world. Another AGE. With whole new priorities. And new directions.

And down in v13, Paul describes how that worked for him. And all the way through to the end of the chapter it’s got a point. Paul gives us his biography, not because he likes talking about himself. But because his life is LIVING PROOF that his message, and his commission to preach it, come straight from Jesus himself. There’s no other explanation.

He was headed in the completely opposite direction. Arresting and punishing anyone who followed Jesus. Ruthlessly hunting them down. On the fast-track to the top of his career path.

But then Jesus hunted HIM down. Listen to Paul as he takes up the story. V15.

15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

He didn’t get his message from the other apostles. He didn’t head off to study for his introductory degree in Christian studies. He was off in another country, preaching the message Jesus had already given him. Doing what he’d been TOLD – telling the Gentiles (the non-Jews) the good news about Jesus.

Obviously some people didn’t believe him. They reckoned he was preaching a SECOND-HAND MESSAGE he’d picked up from the REAL Apostles. That he wasn’t the real deal. See how Paul has to defend his position in v20?

20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

Grace plus (1:6-10)

And the reason Paul’s going to such pains to spell out where HIS message came from, is that ANOTHER message is doing the rounds. A counterfeit. A cheap import.

And the Galatians are being TORN BETWEEN TWO GOSPELS. Pulled in two directions by TWO CONFLICTING MESSAGES. About how to get right with God. And live a life that pleases him.

I guess Paul’s saying to you and me too, “If that’s YOU, if you’re not sure where you’re standing with God, if you hear one thing, then you hear another thing… ask the question. Where’s the message coming from? CHECK THE LABEL. How’s it measure up to the made-in-heaven gospel – that says The Lord Jesus Christ GAVE HIMSELF FOR OUR SINS to RESCUE US? There’s no list of rules. There’s no set of pre-requisites. Pure GRACE. Not grace PLUS”.

And yet the Galatians are deserting it. Hop back up to verse 6 and you can see the problem. The problem that underlies the whole letter. Verse 6 and 7 here in Galatians 1 sum up what the letter’s all about.

Funny, you can look through all Paul’s other letters in the New Testament, and none of them start quite like this one. Usually you get to this point in the other letters and he’s saying how much he’s PRAYING for them. How much he wants to be WITH THEM. How much he THANKS GOD FOR THEM. But with the Galatians there’s nothing to celebrate. Straight down to business. V6.

“I am ASTONISHED,” says Paul, “I can hardly believe that YOU ARE SO QUICKLY DESERTING THE ONE WHO CALLED YOU by the GRACE OF CHRIST and are turning to a DIFFERENT GOSPEL – which is really NO GOSPEL AT ALL. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion, and are TRYING TO THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST.”

Paul’s been to their towns. They’ve heard his GOSPEL, his message about THE GRACE OF CHRIST, his generous mercy in taking God’s CURSE on the cross.

And now some OTHER guys have come along saying something new. A DIFFERENT GOSPEL. A slightly reworked Gospel. Not so much CONTRADICTING what Paul might have said. Just adding a little. A few finishing touches. A sprinkle here. A garnish there. Which Paul says means it’s really NO GOSPEL AT ALL.

It’s dangerous to think that adding a few subtle modifications to your salvation can IMPROVE IT. It’s ly to think it’s like your CAR. Add a big stereo, or mag wheels, or some fluffy dice on the mirror. And that will make it BETTER.

Adding stuff to how you’re saved is more like adding stuff to PETROL. It’s DANGEROUS. Some people are EXPERIMENTING these days – trying to stretch their petrol dollar FURTHER. But you can’t add cooking oil, or sugar, or paint thinner/ just because you think it will make the petrol BETTER. Might be tempting, with petrol the price it is/ but it’s just asking for an explosion, or a car crash.

Paul’s point is that adding ANYTHING to the simple message of the gospel, and you’re not preaching a gospel AT ALL. Because news that says you’ve got to DO something to EARN your salvation/ well, that’s not GOOD news at all. Which is what GOSPEL means. And you can’t grab hold of SOMETHING ELSE unless you LET GO OF Christ TO DO IT.

And Paul goes on to say, it doesn’t matter WHO tells you otherwise.

I want you to imagine for a moment. Something EXTRAORDINARY happens at church this morning. (Not that hard to imagine – church is ALWAYS extraordinary). But just imagine that a huge hole opens up in the roof. A shaft of brilliant light beams down, and an angel floats down. All wings, and pure white gown, gleaming white halo. Perhaps there’s trumpets blasting too. And you can hardly believe your eyes.

And just imagine. He’s got a message for us here at Western Blacktown. And the Angel says, “Wait a minute. You’re not really saved by the SACRIFICE OF JESUS AT ALL. You’ll need to do some EXTRA STUFF AS WELL. You’ll need to – I don’t know, make up your own bits here. Perhaps some rituals… observe some Angel Days. Once a month. And s can only wear dresses. And guys have to grow beards. And only read the King James.

Add this. Do that. And whatever you do, you need to make sure you don’t eat Green Vegetables. Or else. No problem for the kids, they’d sign up straight away. And don’t drink Coke.

You can only be saved if you do THOSE THINGS.

What would you DO? Let me tell you, my guess is you’d go out from here, raving to everyone. SO WOULD I. We’d be sucked-in in a flash, wouldn’t we? Western Blacktown – tourist attraction. Right up there with Featherdale Wildlife Park. We’d sell souvenir angel tea-towels, we’d talk about it for years. Phone the papers. A Current Affair.

Terrific. And we’d say, God’s revealed himself in a NEW WAY. Which we’d around everywhere. Wouldn’t we?

Play let’s pretend again. Pretend you’re back in Turkey. One of the churches Paul’s writing to here. You’ve just been to church – the church Paul founded; and you’re home eating your Turkish Kebab for dinner. There’s a knock at the door. Dusty, road-grime on his face, there’s Paul. He’s BACK.

And he says, Oh listen, wait a minute, about the GOSPEL. The good news I preached to you FIRST time round? CHANGED MY MIND. Got it wrong!

What are you going to say? What should you do?

Verse 8; read it. Paul says, there are people who are trying to throw you into confusion about the gospel of Christ. But verse 8, he says, even if WE… or AN ANGEL FROM HEAVEN… should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, LET HIM BE ETERNALLY CONDEMNED.”

Which is the slightly more polite way of saying, if an angel lands in the middle of church with a different message, if I myself, says Paul, come back and say I’ve changed my mind, you can say “GO TO HELL” – let him be eternally condemned.

You don’t get anything more serious than messing with the message of salvation as we’ve got it from God himself in the Bible.

Messing with the gospel of Christ is messing with THE MESSAGE FROM GOD. And so Paul says it again, verse 9… as I’ve already said, I’ll say it again… if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, the gospel I preached in the first place, let him be eternally CONDEMNED.

Grace alone (2:1-10)

If you pick it up into ch 2, Paul starts to get a bit more specific about the false teachers. He heads up to Jerusalem, finally, 14 years later. To check that the gospel he’s been preaching to the GENTILES / agrees with the JEWISH Christian head office. James, Peter, and John.

And the key issue comes in / there in v3. He’s taken along Titus who’s NOT a Jew. And the end result of the meeting/ is that there’s no decree that Titus should get circumcised.

And that’s the crucial extra the false teachers want to add. “Yes, it’s great Jesus died for our sins. Great that he’s even died for GENTILES. As long as Gentiles do all the things that JEWS do. Keep the Sabbath, get circumcised, don’t eat pork. And so on.

See there in v4.

4[This matter arose] because some FALSE brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us SLAVES.

They want to make the new Gentile Christians/ slaves to the law just like the Jews are. But Paul’s gospel says, No, we’re not SLAVES. We’re FREE. Jesus has done it all. “There’s no extras required. It’s all included in the original quote!”

Grace alone. Nothing ANY human NEEDS to add to what Christ’s done, or CAN add. Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

And James, Peter and John AGREED. (end of v6). “These men ADDED NOTHING TO MY MESSAGE.” The good news of the gospel is that it’s GRACE PLUS NOTHING.

The message that’s made in heaven is that the work of Jesus BEGINS the job, and FINISHES it. And that means we’ve been SET FREE.

Evangelical Christians keep going on about THE GOSPEL because it’s so easy to FORGET this. To let go of Christ and reach out for EXTRAS TO ADD. It’s the human way. And it’s the way every HUMAN religion ever invented works.

But it’s just as easy for it to happen with Christianity too. Let me tell you two ways we forget it. Forget that’s it’s only about what Jesus has done. Opposite really. But two sides of the same coin.

First, you’re having a GOOD day. You remember to read your Bible and pray before work. The traffic’s clear, you get to work on time. Even get to listen to 103.2 on the way. Over coffee you get to tell your workmate about the Christian conference you went to, and how good it is being a Christian. He asks some encouraging questions, and you agree to meet to study the Bible. You get home that night, and before you go to bed you pray, full of confidence, “Praise God, how GOOD it is to be chosen by you and saved by grace!”

You know it’s all about JESUS, but you can’t help thinking that God’s just that little bit EXTRA pleased with us, and our salvation’s that little bit more SECURE/ because of how GOOD we’ve been today.

That’s wanting to add things to Jesus.

Or think about THIS day INSTEAD. The garbage truck wakes you up early, the kids are y, there’s no milk for breakfast. You miss your quiet time, trip over the cat, and reverse into the letter box. The traffic’s terrible, you forget your notes for the presentation, the boss blames you, you sulk and mumble under your breath. Your workmate, the one you’re meeting to study the Bible with, says, “I thought Christians weren’t supposed to act like that!” You bury your head in your hands, and wish you were back in bed.

That night you lie in bed and try to pray. But you can hardly string two words together, and feel too embarrassed and gutted to even BEGIN.

That’s forgetting that you’re saved by Christ alone. And that you DON’T add anything. That’s thinking that when you fail, that your salvation is somehow at risk, or that God will give up on you.

Christ has FREED us from that CONSTANT PERFORMANCE REVIEW. DAY after DAY. Always being about our performance.

That’s the FREEDOM we have. That’s the message that’s come from God himself. Through the messenger of Paul.

The fact of your salvation is FIXED in what Jesus has done. That’s where our ASSURANCE comes from. Cling to it. Don’t let go of it. Whatever the temptation might be. When you DO let go of it, then assurance goes out the window TOO.

BE CAREFUL you don’t ADD anything to the work of Jesus.

WATCH OUT for those who want to convince you OTHERWISE.

Always be checking what people say with what’s in the Bible. Be like Horatio Caine on CSI Miami. “Find me the evidence!” he says. Look for the PROOF.

Be like the Bereans in Acts 17. When Paul preached the gospel to them, Acts 17:11 says this.

11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

And it WAS true. Because Paul was preaching the gospel message he got from JESUS HIMSELF. The message that our salvation is all ABOUT Jesus himself.

Which in the end is why REAL CHRISTIANITY doesn’t look like other religions at all. Because it isn’t about what you have to DO… it’s about what’s already been DONE… at the cross. It LOOKS different because its ORIGIN is different. It’s the only religion that’s made in heaven.

And if there’s someone who wants to TAKE AWAY THE FREEDOM that comes from that, if there’s someone who wants to BIND YOU UP with rules, to question whether you’re saved, to lay something extra on your conscience, Paul says, STAND YOUR GROUND.

And stick with the message made in heaven.

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