Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Who Gave You This Authority? - Sermon on Galatians 1:1-12

Galatians 1:1-12

Paul an apostle--sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- and all the members of God's family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:  Peace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!  As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!   Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin;  for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.


Sermon: Who Gave You This Authority?

One of the first things that I noticed about Paul’s letter to the Galatians was the abrupt greeting.  Look at his greeting to the church in Rome:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apartfor the gospel of God

Or as he opens his letter to the church at Ephesus:

“Paul, I am under God’s plan as an apostle, a special agent of Christ Jesus, writing to you faithful believers in Ephesus.”

Or how he greets the church in Philippi

“Paul and Timothy, both of us committed servants of Christ Jesus, write this letter to all the followers of Jesus in Philippi,”

Now notice how he begins his letter to the church at Galatia,

“Paul an apostle” With his deliberate use of the word apostle, Paul is reminding them that he is on equal footing with the original 12 because he, like the original 12, was “sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”

After he has quickly reminded them of his authority he then gives them  his greeting and blessing from himself and all the members of God's family who are with him.

In Paul’s other letters he says he is a servant or a slave or is sent by God.  However, in this letter he felt it necessary to clarify where his authority does NOT lay.  He is NOT writing because some human authority has commanded it.  He is NOT acting as an agent of a man or of a man-made institution. 

This seems to be important to Paul to re-establish his credentials.  Perhaps he was remembering how in his previous life, that is his life before his encounter with Jesus the risen Christ. As we read in the ninth chapter of Acts:

“All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem.”

Saul had sought and received his authority, to arrest Christians, from the Jewish council. He was acting under human authority to do what he THOUGHT was God’s will.  However the truth is that instead of taking God’s will to the world, he was taken the council’s will (that is the world’s) and presenting it as if it were God’s.  I’ll  return to that thought in a moment.

So now, Paul makes it clear from whom his authority comes.

“It comes directly from Jesus the Messiah and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. I’m God-commissioned.”

God-commissioned. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary commision means:

  1. A formal written warrant granting the power to perform various acts or duties.

  2. A certificate conferring military rank and authority

  3. Authority to act for, in behalf of, or in place of another

  4. An act of entrusting empowering with authority.

Paul or Saul had previously had a formal written warrant granting the power to perform various acts or duties.  He was acting as an agent for the council under their authority.

Now he was acting for and in behalf of Jesus the Christ.

Jesus himself was questioned about his authority in Matthew 21:23-  it reads, “Jesus entered the temple courts, and while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked.  “And who gave you this authority?”

I’ve often marveled and enjoyed how Jesus handled this.  He said, “I will also ask you one question, if you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Do you see what he did here?  He made their question secondary to his own. If you, then I.  He snatched their power from them in just a few words.

He then goes on to ask these chief priests and elders of the people about where they believed John the Baptizer had received his power.  This really put them on the spot. “They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

Again and again it comes down to where the source of the the authority lay.  Heaven or Earth.  God or Man.

Paul, having established his authority to speak for God, then says, “So I greet you with the great words, grace and peace!  We know the meaning of those words because Jesus Christ rescued us from this evil world we’re in by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. God’s plan is that we all experience that rescue. Glory to God forever! Amen!”

Paul said that his readers know the meaning of Grace and Peace.  However, I’m don’t convinced that we in this age understand what he meant by Grace and peace!

First let us look at Grace: Biblical grace is unmerited favor.  It is God’s free action for the benefit of His people. Grace is often misunderstood to be like Justice or Mercy.  So to properly contrast Grace to these two,  We need to better define what they are.

1. Justice is getting what we deserve … do the crime, do the time

2. Mercy is not getting what we deserve … guilty but set free

3. Grace is getting what we do not deserve … we deserve death and eternal separation from God. (All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Rom. 3:23)  However, what we received is eternal life and all the other blessings of God. (God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:8)

Here is an acronym for grace that may help in our understanding: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Grace is the Spiritual Reset Button.  Grace is deserving death but given life.

Have I clarified Grace sufficiently?

Okay now let’s understand the word “Peace” as Paul uses it here.  For the most part when I hear the word ‘peace’, I equate it to lack of conflict or not being at war.  However, Jesus in John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  So, Here is peace as Jesus defines it, hearts not troubled and no fear.

Now as we read the New Testament and other histories of the early church, it becomes clear that the early followers of Christ did have peace in the worldly sense.  They were often reviled, persecuted, imprisoned, and sometimes executed.  That is not peace in the sense of opposite of conflict.  No, the peace that Jesus and Paul are speaking about is the internal peace in the midst of conflict and the storms of life.  It is peace with God and peace in God.  Not as the world gives but Christ’s peace is what we have received.

Okay we and the Galatians are now on the same page as Paul continues. “I  can’t believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message!”

Paul seldom speaks so bluntly as he does here.  He is shocked to learn that they have so easily wandered from the Truth. 

Wait!  Stop!  We must not judge the Galatians until we have looked into ourselves.  Have we become fickle and wandered from the truth?  Many things in our modern culture can pull us away from the truth of God’s word.  We must be careful of what we accept as “the word of God.”  Listen to these words in the King James Version found in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  I like how the amplified Bible translates it, “Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved, a workman (tested by trial) who have no reason to be ashamed, accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.”

Then Paul says, “It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God.”

Be careful here.  Understand this, In today’s Christianity there are many denominations.  I call them families of God.  Generally speaking all denominations and nondenominational churches are founded on the good solid word of God.  We may disagree about the politics of the church organization such as, how pastors, elders, and deacons are chosen.  We may have slightly different understandings of some biblical passages.  But we nearly all agree that we believe in God the Father, the creator, God the Son, Sacrificial Savior, and God the Holy Spirit, the comforter and indwelling power of God.  These minor differences in understanding are not what Paul is speaking about. 

Listen to what he says, “Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head.”

The main thing that was turning the Message of Christ on its head was the teaching that, to be a Christian, you first had to be a Jew.  There were new teachers in the church that were telling the Gentile followers of Christ that only by following all of the Jewish laws, and elaborate symbolic ceremonies (including circumcision) could they become truly followers of Christ.

Paul continues, “Let me be blunt: If one of us—even if an angel from heaven!—were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed. I said it once; I’ll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed.”

Here is the BIG SECRET … are you ready?  Read your Bible!  Read, pray for understanding and guidance.  Read for understanding.  Ask yourself, “What does this mean to / for me?” 

Paul instructs Timothy (and us) where the true authority can be found, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Earlier I said that I’d get back to the statement of taking God’s will to the world,or taking the World’s will and attributing it to God. Well here we are.

Lately, it seems as if Hollywood has discovered “religion”.  There are many recent movies and television shows that are representing their storylines as if they were God’s messengers.  A few are even very good movies.  But beware of basing your understand of God and His plan on things that you hear, see, or read in the popular media.

Understand that by far and away, many of these are purely business based decisions not necessarily built on the Solid Rock of God’s word. 

Be discerning of all … including me.  Compare what I present to you with the entirety of God’s written word.  Many cults are built on a few Bible verses taken completely out of context.  Remember, even the devil can quote scripture. 

Don’t accept something as true just because someone says, “The Bible says ….’  I am reminded of the Facebook image that I’ve seen going around.  It goes something like this: there is a picture of Abraham Lincoln with a message in quotes that says, “Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook just because it has a picture and quotation marks.’ signed Abraham Lincoln.

It is fairly easy to fact check most of the things posted on the internet.  Just go to www.snopes.com and enter the information.

To fact check in the Bible, read the bible and internalize it.  You can also use many good internet bible sites.  However, again let me caution you, read the bible verses in their proper context.  Understand the whole story that surrounds the verse or verses.

I have heard the excuse of “I just don't have time to read the Bible.” Well Jesus didn't really have time to take the beating and the hanging on the cross and the burying that should have been our reward for our sins and yet he did it.  I think we can take the time to do some reading.

I will gladly add my agreement to what Paul says next, ”Do you think I speak this strongly in order to manipulate crowds? Or curry favor with God? Or get popular applause?”

There are many good preachers today.  However, there are some that appear to me to be seeking to entertain rather than inform.  I’m not opposed to using humor or visual aids in a sermon.  Jesus did this.  However, I’ve seen some televangelists that use all manner of stage tricks to get the congregation stirred up … but have a message that is so shallow and lacking in the depth of God’s word that their preaching is merely a stage presentation.

It seems that Paul knew of some of these folks also when he said, “If my goal was popularity, I wouldn’t bother being Christ’s slave.” 

Paul continues, “Know this—I am most emphatic here, friends—this great Message I delivered to you is not mere human optimism. I didn’t receive it through the traditions, and I wasn’t taught it in some school.”

Here Paul is once again contrasting his previous life with his new life in Christ.  As Saul, he was raised in the Jewish traditions and studied the Law of Moses with one of the greatest Jewish teachers.  Paul was very well trained in the Law and the Prophets.  However, he reminds his readers where his true authority comes from when he says, “I got it straight from God, I received the Message directly from Jesus Christ.”

Here I will leave you with a question for which you must find your own answer.  Where do you receive your authority?  Are you 100% sure that what you THINK the bible says, is what it actually says?  Are you willing to take a little time each day or even a little each week to STUDY (not just read) to show yourself approved?