Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
The Gospel Received from Christ - June 5, 2016 - Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 05) - Text: Galatians 1:11-24
Throughout history people have tried to discredit Christians and the Christian faith. Some have tried to discredit the resurrection. One of the main “proofs,” if you will, of the resurrection is the fact of the change of the people who come in contact with Jesus through His Word. Why would the disciples boldly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus if it were not true, especially since it usually meant their death. The same is true for countless Christian martyrs throughout history. This morning we hear Paul as he begins with a defense of his apostleship and in hearing his defense of his apostleship we also hear the validity, the power and the affect of God’s Word.
Paul begins his defense by telling the Galatians about his background. Paul says, “13For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” v. (13-14). In other writings Paul says that he was the son of a Pharisee and a Pharisee of Pharisee’s himself. Paul was educated in the best of Pharisee schools. He was educated under Gameliel. By the way Paul talks and by the history we know of Paul if he would have continued in his life as a Pharisee he may well have worked his way up to be the chief Pharisee.
Paul tells us that he excelled in legalism. He was advanced in the rules and regulations of Judaism, especially in the traditions of the church. Remember, these were the religious leaders that had over six hundred rules to “help” a person to keep the ten commandments. We might say that when it came to works righteousness, Paul would have been at the head of his class.
Paul was so ingrained in the traditions of Judaism that he was even persecuting the Christian church, trying to put down this uprising of heretics as he thought they were. Paul was very zealous for his faith, which reminds us that not only is faith important, but so is the object of faith. A person can have tremendous amounts of faith in something, in anything, but if that something or if that anything is not Jesus Christ then that person stands condemned. Faith is important, but the object of faith is just as important.
Paul was zealous for Judaism, but then Paul was called by God. Paul says that he was called even before his birth. He writes, “15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace” (v. 15). In Paul’s words we see God’s foreknowledge. God called Paul from before birth and to that end, so that Paul would be well equipped to carry the good news of salvation to the Gentiles and to be able to speak authoritatively to the Jews, Paul lived the early years of his life being trained in the Old Testament. Paul knew his Old Testament well, which, after begin given faith and the call to be an apostle to the Gentiles, and after his eyes were opened, he could see and boldly proclaim that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises.
God called Paul specifically on the road to Damascus. Paul was on his way to be rid of the Christians in Damascus. He had letters from the church in Jerusalem to do away with these people, but it did not happen as he had planned. On His way into the city he was met with a bright light and a voice, Jesus’ voice, who asked him why he was persecuting Jesus. And we know the rest of the history, that Paul was taken to Ananias’ house on Strait Street where, after three days he was given his sight, was baptized and began “proving” to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. Then he began his missionary work as the apostle to the Gentiles.
In his defense, that the Word which he is proclaiming is the Word of God and not the word of humans, or his own words, Paul’s tells the Galatians about his training in being an apostle. He says, “11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20(In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me” (11-12, 15-24). Paul begins by telling the Galatians that what he is preaching did not come from humans, but was given to him by revelation from God. What he is preaching is not his own ideas, but is from God, given to him on the road to Damascus and during the three days that he was blind in Damascus.
To dispel the thought that he was trained by the other apostles he tells the Galatians that the only time he spent with the other apostles was fifteen days and that was after three years of being out sharing the good news with others. Paul admits that he saw Peter and James, but only for a little while. He also tells us that he had to confront Peter because of his heresy in dealing with the Gentiles. He did not see any of the rest of the apostles because they were out doing their own missionary work.
So, what is the big deal? Why are we spending so much time with Paul’s conversion and his defense of his conversion. One reason is because Paul’s letters and writings are not just letters and writings to the people of Galatia, or Colosse, or Thessalonica, or Philippi, but Paul’s writings are for us. Because his writings are for us we want to be sure that we know and believe that His writings are not simply his own thoughts and ideas, but that what he is writing is in fact God’s Word. God spoke through Paul, as He spoke through the prophets throughout the Old Testament. Paul’s writings are God’s Word given to us through which the Holy Spirit works to give us God’s good gifts and blessings.
Paul’s words remind us that God’s Word is not bound by time and culture, rather God’s Word is for all time and eternity. Yes, Paul often was speaking to a particular people concerning a particular sin, even at a particular place and a particular time, but Paul’s words have the same meaning and application to us here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in 2016? Paul’s words and writing transcend time not because they are Paul’s words, but because they are God’s Word.
Paul’s words, which are God’s Word, have power. We know and understand that God’s Word is a Word with power. God’s Word is a Word which does what it says. God said He would send a Savior, that is the promise He made to Adam and Eve and to all of humanity in the Garden of Eden. God kept His promise in the sending of His only Son, Jesus in the manager in Bethlehem. God promised that His Son would live for us, and for all people, doing what no one can do, live perfectly and Jesus did live perfectly. God said His Son would fulfill all righteousness, that is that He would obey all God’s laws perfectly and would fulfill all God’s promises, all His prophecies, perfectly, and He did. Jesus kept all God’s laws, perfectly. Jesus fulfilled all God’s promises, all His prophecies concerning the Messiah, perfectly. God said His Son would give His life for ours on the cross and we see that God kept His promise on the cross at Calvary. God said that Jesus would be raised from the dead and we see that God kept His promise when on Easter morning we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. Before Jesus ascended into heaven He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit and He promised that He would come again. On Pentecost we see Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit fulfilled and even today we continue to wait for Jesus to fulfill His promise to come again. We know He will come again, because He has promised that He will come again, and just as He has kept all His other promises, so too will He keep this one.
Paul’s words remind us that we misuse God’s Word when we fail in keeping, especially the first three commandments, when we fail to personally read and hear the Word read, have personal and family devotions, when we fail to be in divine service and Bible class as often as it is offered, all of which is gift refusal. We misuse God’s Word when we attempt to twist God’s Word in order to justify our thoughts, words or actions, or when we simply refuse to read parts of God’s Word because we know it speaks against what we are doing because we believe if we do not know then we will not be accountable (although we know that even in our society, ignorance of the law is no excuse) and even when we simply want to make everything a gray area instead of simply admitting and confessing our sins so we might then be given forgiveness.
And so, Paul’s words remind us that God’s Word is a means of grace. God comes to us through the means of grace, the Word, the Bible and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as through confession and absolution. He comes through these means to give us all His good gifts and blessings. He comes through these means to give us forgiveness of sins, earned for us through Jesus’ death on the cross; which is why these means are so important; which is why our divine service is permeated with these means, because these are the means our Lord has to come to us and to give us the good gifts and blessings He promises. Yes, God’s Word does what it says. When God’s Word says we have faith, we know we have faith. When God’s Word says we have forgiveness, we know we have forgiveness. When God’s Word says we have life, even eternal life, we know we have life, even eternal life.
That God’s Word is a means of grace means that God’s Word works faith in the heart of the unbeliever. We read and hear time and time again about people who have read God’s Word for the first time, or even to try to disprove it and instead have been brought to faith through it. God’s Word works faith when and where God pleases, but it also, especially for us who have already been given faith, it strengthens our faith, and preserves our faith. God’s Word keep us in faith until Christ comes again.
Thus we see that God’s Word is a most precious thing and is something of which we will want to continually make use. We make use of His Word by daily reading our Bible, by daily have personal and family devotions, by daily speaking to Him in prayer, by regularly, every Sunday and whenever it is offered, being in Divine service and Bible class, and by responding to that Word by living our lives as a reflection of that Word. We make use of His Word by hungering and thirsting after His Word so that we simply cannot get enough of it.
Paul’s defense is important because it reminds us of what a gracious, loving and forgiving God we have and how, in His love He has given us His Word so that His Word through Paul’s letters as well as all of Holy Scripture are not the Words of human beings, but are the Words of God spoken to us through the various apostles and prophets. Our Bible is God’s Word. It does not just contain God’s Word, so that we have to find His Word in and amongst the rest of the words. The Bible is God’s Word and is profitable for reproof, for correction, and most importantly, for working faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. God’s Word is that means through which our Lord comes to deliver the gifts He has to give and so our response is to rightly always be eager and ready to be where that Word and those gifts are given out. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.