Paul continues his assault on the human gospel by stressing that His gospel is directly from Jesus Christ, and is not the message of men or of angels. The work of the true gospel leads to a testimony of transforming grace that God continues to work in us.
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And 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. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But 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!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
Morning, guys. Well, first Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms. It’s good to have you. Secondly, we’ll be in Galatians today. There’s a Bible at the end of your row, so if you want to grab a Bible you can get yourself to Galatians and while you’re doing that I’ll update you on our building project. We have completely outgrown this building and that’s why you’re here at 8:00 in the morning. Otherwise we would never have a service at this time of day.
This past week our church, you have purchased a new building down, basically in Fremont, on 14th and Leary. The sanctuary will seat over 1,000 when it’s all done. There’ll be parking for 500. Lots and lots and lots and lots of classroom space. A much, much, much bigger facility. About six times bigger than this building. We will keep this building for office space. We’ll use that one for worship and large events. Where we are at presently is on Monday we had an all-church meeting for those of you that were here. It was great to have you and I hope you’re encouraged. We signed the contract on Monday. We’re now in the middle of an inspection period, 60 days, that we have to work out zoning issues and conclude some of our inspections on the building. Our appraisals are already done, those sorts of things. At the end of the 60 days, basically in early July, we can begin construction, and our goal is to be in sometime in fall or winter, depending on how long the project takes. And so that’s where we’re at.
Insofar as the funding goes, there’s two phases on the project itself. The first phase is $230,000 for the down payment, which includes the attorney’s fees, brokers fees, those sorts of issues. That has to be in hand within about 45 days, I think it is. Presently, we have about $200,000 of that $230,000 pledged. 185 people, I think it says, have contributed already. I’m up on the top right-hand corner of your sermon notes if you want to follow along.
We’re presently in our 60-day inspection period. Phase 1 budget by June 15th is needing $230,000. It’s $200,000 for the down, $30,000 for the fees that are related to the purchase. Presently pledged we have $196,000 from 185 people. So what we need is an additional basically $34,000 pledged and in by June 15th for the purchase. So we’re almost there. And Phase 2 then will be $620,000 that we’ll need to raise for the furnishings and for the build out. We’ll need to raise that by September 15th. We’ve just gotten started on that portion of the project and the fundraising, so we’re at about $45,000.
Our annual budget as a church is about $1.4 – 1.5 million is what we’re on target for, for the year. In addition to that, we’re anticipating that with the purchase and with the furnishings, our budget this year is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about $2 million. And so I want to say thank you to the church. You look around and it doesn’t look like there’s an enormous wealth in this room. There’s a reason for that. There’s not an enormous amount of wealth in this room. But what there are in this room is a lot of faithful people, and a lot of faithful people actually working together generate a lot of resources. And so I want to thank all of you. It does show that we’re a bit behind for the budget year; don’t let that frighten you. We’re behind 1 percent, which is something, but not the end of the world. Right now we’re on about 99 percent for our general offering, and we’ve raised almost an additional quarter million dollars above and beyond that for the building project, and we need to continue raising for the building project.
My intention with you as a church is not to shame, guilt, and yell at you to get this project done. I want you to be excited about what God’s done, about the opportunities he’s afforded us to do what you can. Fill out a pledge form. Let us know what you’re able to do. Our goal is not to squeeze one or two people, but to see the 1500+ that call it home involve themselves in the project at whatever level they’re capable. And I believe that all of our needs will be met. So far we’ve basically gotten almost the entire purchase amount covered through 185 people. And so if the rest of the people that go here do what they can, we’ll make up the rest. We’ll be totally fine. So the goal is not to scream and yell, but to say thank you. Many of you have been very, very faithful. Our finances are actually in very good order and the building project is coming along nicely and as many of you that are able, let us know what you’re able to do in the next 45 days to help get us into that new building for the fall. And thank you. Seriously. It’s a pleasure to be your pastor. It’s a pleasure to see things continue to grow. Financially in the last four years we have grown 60 percent a year. Attendance-wise we have grown at about the same amount. And so I would say that things are going well. You should be encouraged. And if we all just continue putting our hand to the plow we’ll be just fine.
I’ll pray and we will get into Galatians. Father God, thank you for a chance to get together to study your word today. Thank you that on this Mother’s Day it is supposed to be sunny and warm and nice. I pray that we would all get a good chance to enjoy the company of friends and family and to enjoy this great day of Sabbath and rest that you’ve given us. Lord God, as well, thank you for your Scriptures, that you, through your Holy Spirit, have decided to speak to us, and Lord God we pray that as we study today the Holy Spirit who wrote the scriptures would also work in us and teach us and lead us and guide us and convict us, only as He can. And so we bring these things to you in Christ’s name. Amen.
We’re in Galatians Chapter 1, versus 11 through 24. I’m not gonna do the typical Mother’s Day sermon because I just did Proverbs for eight months, and I said everything I know about being a mother. I’m all out. So we’ll just, we’ll do Galatians.
First, before we get into Galatians 1:11, I’m just gonna back up and I’m gonna give you the whole Bible in about two or three minutes. Obviously I’m gonna skip a few parts. The story of the Bible is one that starts with God. That God exists before anything and everyone. God is first cause, uncaused being; that God speaks creation into existence. All that is, matter and time and space and life and human beings, God creates. And God creates the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. He creates them with great freedom to enjoy the life and the creation that He has given them. That God loves them and He has an intimate relationship with them. And He commands them that there is only one thing that they’re not allowed to do, and that is, basically. they are not allowed to distrust Him. If you want to summarize it, that’s one way to summarize it.
They were to trust Him and have faith in Him. And they were not to take matters into their own hand or be their own God or create their own morality, or try to live life apart from him.
But they sinned against God. They did the one thing that God had forbidden. They disobeyed God. They tried to live apart from Him. They tried to live as autonomous persons on their own. They separated themselves from God and from each other, and because of that sin death came into the human world. Paul says that the wage for sin is death. They die physically. They also die spiritually.
And we are all born, then, in that same condition, of sin and of death. And we all need some sort of remedy. And so God spoke in Genesis Chapter 3, verse 15, to Adam and Eve, and He made a great promise that one day Jesus would come. Jesus would come and He would die for our sins and He would rise to conquer enemies of sin and death.
You walk through your Bible a short bit further and there’s a man named Abraham. At first his name was Abram. God speaks to this man and says that, even though he is barren and he has a barren wife and they’re both very old, they’re going to have a son and that this son will be the son of a promise and that through this family line will come a nation of people, Israel, the Jews, and that through them will come Jesus, through whom all nations of the earth will be blessed.
God makes good on His promise. They have a son, and they become a mighty nation, the nation of Israel. They become the Jewish, the Hebrew people. What happens then is out of this family line comes a great number of prophets. And these prophets literally speak the word of God. They speak as God’s ambassadors and representatives on the earth and what they say are the very words of God. They’re recorded in your Bible and they’re authoritative as such. And they continually declare, “Thus sayeth the Lord, thus sayeth the Lord, thus sayeth the Lord.”
What began to happen, though, is that throughout the course of God’s people’s history, they were continually tempted to comingle with other religions and with other peoples and cultures around them. God gave them specific laws to keep them as a distinct people, so that they would not fall off into other religions and philosophies and worshipping of other gods. And when they would stray, the prophets would be risen up to sort of rebuke them and to push them back into relationship with God.
What happened over time was that they became very lax and very compromised in their thinking and in their actions. What we call syncretism. They took their beliefs and sort of melded them with some other religions and some pagan thinking. There was a group of religious teachers called the Pharisees that rose up, very serious, very orthodox, very strict, and they felt like people needed to be more serious about their relationship with God. They need to be more devoted and committed to God. They shouldn’t be pursuing other religions and philosophies. They should just commit themselves, not only to the Scriptures, but also to the traditions that have been handed down to them through the centuries and through the millennia through their religious teachers.
What happens then is that Jesus Christ is born, and Jesus comes into this world where there is a conflict about how zealous people should be for God, and how committed they should be to the Scriptures, and how committed they should be to their religious traditions in addition to the Scriptures. And Jesus looks at the Pharisees and He tells them in Matthew Chapter 15, verses 1 through 6, that what they have done is they have taken their traditions and put them over the Bible, and they are now in fact nullifying the Scriptures and the words of the prophet and the words of God for the sake of their own traditions.
And so when it comes down to this matter of tradition or the Scriptures, Jesus says that we should obey the Scriptures, but that the traditions are flexible and there are certain traditions that if we keep, we will end up nullifying the Scriptures all together.
They hate him for that, because they are very zealous for the sum total of their way of life. That includes their culture, their religious traditions, their language, their feasts, their festivals, circumcision, as well as their Old Testament. They are committed to all of it, and they cannot distinguish between that which is cultural or traditional, and that which is Biblical, and they see it all as one entire entity. That’s very hard for us to comprehend, because we live in a world where there is religion and there is culture, and your religion and your culture are really different. You can be any race or nationality or ethnicity, and be a Christian, or be a Muslim, or be a Jew in the United States of America.
For these people, they viewed it all as one conglomeration. In that way it would be like going into a Muslim nation today. You can’t say, “Oh, well, that’s religious. That’s cultural.” For them, it’s all one way of living. It’s totally synthesized. You can’t distinguish between those things.
So when Jesus challenges their traditions, He is challenging their entire way of living. He is undermining millennia of traditions and teachers and philosophies, and He is really attacking the sum total of their way of life. So they hate him and they put him to death. Ultimately, He resurrects three days later, conquering enemies of sin and death, and He ascends back into heaven, and this movement called Christianity is born. Initially it was a pejorative term meaning “Little Christ,” “Little Jesus,” of all these people running around trying to act like Jesus.
And Jesus came not to abolish the law and the prophets. He says in Matthew 5, “But to fulfill them.” So Jesus isn’t opposed to the Old Testament. Jesus isn’t opposed to the Biblical teaching. He is the fulfillment of all of that. They had kings; He is the King. They had priests; He’s the priest. They had prophets; He’s the prophet. They had sacrifices; He’s the sacrifice. They had the temple, where the presence of God dwelled; He was the temple. All of the Old Testament led to Jesus and it was all fulfilled in Jesus, and so it was completed with Christ.
What happens then is that these Christians take this message of Jesus out, and these Pharisees who had fought zealously against Jesus also began to fight zealously against the Christians. And as they had put Jesus to death, they also were seeking to put the Christians to death. And among this group of Pharisees there was one particular young man named Saul. Saul was a very zealous young man. Young men tend to be very zealous and sometimes they run in the wrong direction. That was exactly Saul. He hates Christians, he hates Jesus, he is putting Christians to death because he views them as blasphemers who are preaching a different God and who are going to hell and are leading people astray. He is very committed to his traditions and then all of a sudden Saul’s life is transformed when Jesus comes back from heaven, confronts him on the road to Damascus, blinds him, and converts him. Saul becomes Paul and he, all of a sudden, goes from hating Jesus to loving him, from seeing Jesus as a false god, to seeing Jesus as the real God, and from hating Christians to being their pastor.
He goes out and he preaches the gospel. Churches get planted. One is a particular region called Galatia that is in present-day Turkey. These churches in this area he started, he loved. He had left, and as soon as he had left other teachers came into the church and they were called the Judaizers. And what the Judaizers are saying is, “We want to go back. We want to go back to our traditions. We want to go back to our old way of life. We don’t want to see Christianity spread.” They claimed to be Christians. That’s why they’re confusing. So what they will say is, “Jesus is a Jew; be a good Jew. Jesus was circumcised; get circumcised.” What they were trying to argue was that in Jesus fulfilling the law, we all should go back to the law. We should go back to the Old Testament way of doing things.
And what Paul is arguing against is the fact that we don’t need all of these traditions. We don’t need all of these symbols. What we have is Jesus. And so we don’t need the shadows because the light of God has come into the world. And this article, this letter, rather, that he’s writing to the Galatians is fighting on these levels. We may look at it, and it looks like he’s fighting a cultural argument. And I’ll tell you this, Christianity exists in the middle of the world. And in this world there are cultures, different ways, ethnic groups, and peoples, and nations organizing themselves and doing things. There’s also different religions. Different people have different perspectives and opinions about God. This is all called pluralism. This is a big debate in our day. Is Christianity just another world religion? Is Christianity just another cultural movement? And Paul is addressing this issue. He’s saying, “No. Jesus is not another religion, and Jesus is not owned or belonging to any specific culture. That Jesus sits above culture, and Jesus sits above religion, and Jesus has authority over all religions and cultures.”
With that in mind go with me to verse 11. This will all make sense as we get through this section. The reason I think that Paul is arguing so strongly for this is that he had already done exactly what they were saying should be done. And he didn’t love God. He says in verse 11, “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.” Okay. What I just told you, basically, was the gospel. The gospel is the story of the Bible. And the high water mark, the central theme and the focus of all of the Scriptures is Jesus. And so the gospel, the good news, is the story of the Bible about Jesus. And he says that he didn’t make this up.
Now there’s a lot of people that will take Christianity and lay it down as yet another world religion, and if it were yet another world religion, then it would be something that man made up. Religion is people coming together, usually around one central teacher, and putting together rituals and traditions and understandings as they sort of gaze up into the heaven and speculate and conjecture about God. And as such, those religions and philosophies are only binding on those people that adhere to them. For the rest of us, we look at it and we say, “That’s your opinion, that’s your perspective, that’s your culture, that’s your religion, that’s your tradition. You made that up. You made up this perspective of God. You made up this religious practice. You just sort of created this. Someone did.” And what you can find, then, is that all religions have their origins in some human teaching. Someone made it up. And what they’re arguing against Paul is, “You’re just making this up. You’re making up all of this teaching about what Jesus accomplished. And since you’re making it up, it’s not authoritative. It’s not binding. You have no right to tell anyone else that they should believe this.” Is this still a pressing question in our culture? People say, “We have all our religions, our cultures, our traditions, our philosophies. Everyone’s got their opinion. What right do you have, as a Christian, to tell me that my religion or cultural practice, my traditions, my views of God are erroneous? Who are you? I teach man-made philosophy; you teach man-made philosophy. What’s the difference?”
If you’ve had a world religions class in high school or college, this is exactly what you hear. But Paul makes a very interesting statement. He says, “The gospel that I preach, the story of the Bible, is not something that men made up.” We didn’t make this up. The interesting thing with Christianity is, Christianity never allows itself to be considered just another world religion. It always says that it’s the truth, and it is the only truth. That it is exclusive. And that all other religions and all other philosophies and all other –isms are to be gauged by the story of the Bible.
So Paul says, “God” – rather, “Men did not make this up.” He says, “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” Okay? Where does Christianity come from? Does it come from people coming together, speculating about God, making up a religion, and then perpetuating tradition, or does it come from God revealing himself to us in Jesus and telling us exactly how we can come to know him and love him and belong to him and have our sins dealt with in Jesus? This is the difference between Christianity and every other religion. Every other religion is philosophies of men speculating about God. Christianity declares that God has revealed Himself to us so that we know who He is clearly. Very clearly.
You need to understand this. This is one of the central issues of the Christian faith. Will you get yourself in trouble in our present-day culture if you say, “Well, that’s your religion and perspective. This is my religion and perspective”? Not at all. But at the moment that you say, “That is your religion and perspective and it is wrong because that is men looking up into the sky. That is not God speaking down to the earth. You are just promoting philosophy, tradition, conjecture, opinion, and speculation.” That’s the one thing that is not allowed in our world and Paul takes great issue with this. What Paul is saying – where did he receive his information? God. God – Jesus. Now, Jesus had already come, lived, died, resurrected, and ascended into heaven. Paul is stating that Jesus is still alive and that He’s up on His throne in heaven and he makes this argument that Jesus came down and literally sat with him and discipled him and taught him. He says, “If you are opposing my teachings, whose teachings are you ultimately opposing?” Jesus. You’re opposing God.
Paul is not arguing that he should be followed and believed because he’s a great guy, or he’s a winsome communicator, or because he has a good moral life, or he has good philosophical background, or he has a good education, or because he is wise, or well read, or efficient in the Hebrew texts. He is saying that he is speaking the truth as an Old Testament prophet did because God was speaking through him and that God had revealed himself to him and that Jesus had sent him.
He goes on. He talks about, then, his previous way of life before he received this understanding of Jesus Christ. He says, “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. I was advancing in Judaism beyond the Jews of my own age, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” He says, “You know, before I was a Christian, I was very passionate about my religion and culture. I was very committed to the traditions of my ancestors.” And one of the great arguments – Paul dissembles a lot of present-day arguments. One is that religion is nothing but just another form of philosophy. And if it’s another form of philosophy, as we don’t feel bad editing Hume or Kant or Bentham or Mills or Foucault or Lyotard or Derrida or Heidegger or Freud or Nietzsche or Skinner, as we don’t feel bad editing philosophers and psychologists and sociologists, we shouldn’t feel bad editing Jesus because he’s just another human teacher. Paul says, “No. No, He’s God. And when He speaks, He speaks authoritatively.”
Another problem in our day is people say, “Well, how can those people with that religion be wrong? They’re very – ” what? They’re very sincere. They’re very committed. They’re very zealous. They’re very good people. They have a very nice family. They’re a lot nicer than the Christians. Is that true? Yes. We’re saved by grace, not because we’re nice people. There will be some people in hell that will be very nice. There’ll be some people in heaven that’ll probably annoy us all. Okay? You need to know that.
They’ll say, “Well, they’re very zealous. They’re very committed. They’re very serious about their belief system.” Was Saul very zealous, very sincere, very committed to his religion? Very much so. Does sincerity, zealousness, and commitment make it truthful? No. You can be absolutely committed to the wrong thing. You can be absolutely devoted to the wrong god. You can be zealous for a false gospel. Saul was. Absolutely. Not only that, he was zealous for the traditions of his father.
Again, most of us, this makes no sense at all. Because one, we’re not zealous for anything, except for maybe our day off. We’re really zealous for that. You think about it, what things are you and I willing to die for? It’s a very short list, and usually it just – maybe has Jesus. Other than that, it’s a very, very short list. We live in a world where people won’t suffer a paper cut for any cause, let alone death. Right? Saul was willing to die for his cause. That zealousness seems almost fanatical to us. In addition to that, he’s zealous for particular traditions, not even things that are necessarily in the Bible, but that had been taught through time and that he wanted to perpetuate this movement, this religious grouping that he was a part of.
In this way, it is hard for us, it is hard for me to understand Saul. Now you know why he became a highly used man of God after his conversion. A man who was zealous, willing to die for a cause, who when he commits himself to something is unwavering in it, becomes a very useful pastor. It may be an indication of why we have so few useful pastors in our own day. Most people aren’t willing to really commit themselves to anything or suffer any consequence because of it. It’s a very convenience-oriented society that we live in. Paul know nothing of that.
But you start to think about the traditions. Can you imagine if all of a sudden someone came in and they said, “Well, you know, the way you have practiced your religion now needs to change. We don’t need English anymore. We don’t need capitalism anymore. We don’t need democracy anymore.” That’s exactly the depth of what is going on in Paul’s day. Paul has been transformed by Jesus and he realizes that he needs nothing but Jesus and that the cultures and that the religions are in service to Jesus and that the cultures and religions will need to be adaptive to the message of Jesus. And this is very, very, very, dicey. People love their traditions. People love their way of doing things. And when most people think of religion, they think of religion as nothing more than other traditions. The Muslims have these traditions; the Hindus have these traditions; the Jews have these traditions; the Christians have these traditions. Is tradition bad? Is tradition without Jesus worth anything? It’s not at all.
The whole point of tradition is to remember Jesus. And if Jesus is not a part of the tradition, then the tradition is worthless. That’s exactly what was going on. They would practice Passover, but not realize that Jesus was the Lamb of God who was slain. He is the Passover Lamb. They would celebrate all of the feasts and festivals that were supposed to lead them to Jesus. They would love the priests that were supposed to lead them to Jesus. They would adore the prophets who were supposed to lead them to Jesus. You can have lots of traditions, but if you don’t have Jesus Paul is saying that they are null and void. You can be very zealous for your traditions. It is very common, even among Christian religion, to not have Jesus but to hold onto traditions. You’ve seen that? Take communion. Read a verse. Get together. Wear a robe. Sing some hymns. Nothing wrong with any of it. But if you ask the people about Jesus, they will give you a blank stare because they have committed themselves to the traditions.
How many people, when Easter comes, get up, put on a suit, go to a service, and – like some formal official event, because it’s a good tradition. The whole point of Easter is what? Jesus’ resurrection from death. And what Paul is arguing against here is you can be zealous and you can be committed and you can even have traditions and you can even be religious, but if you don’t have Jesus Christ then it is all null and void and worthless. That was his whole life. And what you’ll end up doing is becoming very committed to the wrong cause and the wrong movement.
In our day, what are the movements and causes? It can be feminism. It can be multiculturalism. It can be pluralism. It can be chauvinism, for that matter. It can be democracy. It can be capitalism. There is always this temptation for people to chase their causes and to keep some form of religious tradition, yet the religious tradition and the cause has nothing to do with Jesus. That’s exactly what Paul’s dealing with. These are people who have a political agenda. They have a social agenda. They have a religious agenda. They have a cultural agenda. They have a moral agenda. They have put it all together into one movement, and they’re saying, “Now here are our traditions. Let’s fight for our traditions.” And Paul is saying, “No, I’m not worried about your traditions or your movements or your causes. I’m worried about Jesus, and people loving Jesus, and people belonging to Jesus, and people encountering Jesus, and people being transformed by Jesus.
Okay? This still happens. It happens with us all. It’s so easy for us, like the church at Galatia, to lose our first love and to stop being zealous for Christ and get interested in something else. Maybe it’s a human philosophy. Maybe it’s a religious tradition. Maybe it’s some form of political cause or social cause or religious cause or moral cause, and then all of a sudden we are sitting in the seat of the Judaizers whereby we have these traditions and we’re still being spiritual and religious, but it’s really not about Jesus anymore. It’s about Jesus being the means to another ends and we’re more worried about this other thing than we are Jesus. And so all of a sudden Jesus becomes the way that we’re happy. Jesus becomes the way that we’re rich. Jesus becomes the way that we’re healthy. Jesus becomes the way that we’re satisfied. Jesus becomes the way that our political party wins. Jesus becomes the way that our religious philosophy wins. Jesus becomes the way that our theological system wins. Jesus becomes the way that our religious tradition wins. Jesus becomes the way that we get good families. Jesus becomes the way that we get self esteem. And who’s it about? It’s about us, our movement, our traditions. It’s really not about Jesus. That’s exactly what Paul’s fighting against.
Does he fight against this because he hates the people? No, he does so because he loves them so dearly. They have lost Jesus. They have decided that Christ is not sufficient for them. That in addition to Jesus, they need human teachings, philosophies, -isms and speculations, and traditions, because they’re not getting the life that they desire in Christ, which means they haven’t been seeking Christ. In Christ there is all that you need. And if you’re dissatisfied with Christ it means you have not encountered Christ.
So he goes on to say, verse 15, how this all begins. “But when God, who set me apart from birth” – some of your translations say, “from my mother’s womb” – “and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his son in me so that I may preach him among the Gentiles.” Here’s the good news. We all are in this state, trying to chase whatever movement, cause, or human philosophy today – these teachings of men. That would include sociology and psychology. That would include religious studies. This would include philosophy. This would include anthropology. We have entire disciplines devoted to human study. I’m not saying that they’re all null and void and bad, but I am saying if you study them and you don’t end up loving Jesus and realizing that He is your only hope, then you have absolutely missed the point. We all do this. We have our philosophies. We have our beliefs. We have our causes. We have our commitments. We have our traditions. We have our opinions. As Saul did. And Saul tells us how God changed him. He said that God, before he was even born, made a decision that He was going to reveal Jesus to this man, Saul, before he was even born. And for us, we look at it and we say, “That’s kind of odd. Why would God choose to do that?” Well, because God loves His people.
He says, “before I was even born God decided that He was going to reveal Himself to me.” It shows that what happens is this, the movements, the causes, the philosophies, the –isms do not lead to Christ. They all lead to the edification of certain men, certain teachers, certain leaders for certain causes. But he says what happens is that God breaks through all of that noise and He reveals Jesus to us in a profound way so that we can love Jesus and belong to Him and be healed from all of our illusions.He says, “And He called me by His grace and was pleased to reveal His son in me so that I might preach Him to the Gentiles.” Don’t you love that? In the middle of all of our falling, in the middle of all of our wrongheadedness and our stubbornness, God opens our eyes, He opens our heart and He reveals Jesus Christ to us and He gives us Jesus because He loves and cares for us. And all we need is Christ, and all we get is Christ. And God is faithful to us. Before we’re ever even born God does this. Because all of us would be like Paul. We would be religious without Christ. We would be spiritual without Christ. We would be moral without Christ. We would be philosophical without Christ. And so God, knowing that, has to just break through all of that and give us Jesus in the middle of our confusion.
What he says, then, is after he became a Christian, he says, “I did not consult any man, 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.” What these false teachers are doing is they’re saying, “Paul, you’re just teaching another religion. You’re teaching another philosophy. You’re teaching another perspective. This doesn’t come from God. It isn’t special. It isn’t authoritative. It isn’t unique. In fact, you probably just learned it from the other apostles. You probably just went and studied under them and you’re just parroting what they’re saying, just like all students do. Students pick a teacher, they go learn from a teacher.” He’s saying, “No, that’s not true. Jesus and I spent time together after he ascended into heaven. He came back to disciple me.” Amazing claim.
If that’s true, what kind of authority does Paul have? Now you know that they’re trying to undermine his authority and his integrity and his credibility. He’s no longer in this church. He’s writing this letter to defend himself in his absence. They’re saying, “You’re just another religious teacher. You’re just like the guy down at the college teaching a philosophy of religions class. You’re just a guy with another set of human opinions that somebody gave you and you’re passing on to someone else.” Do people still say that about Paul? Do people still say that about the Bible? All the time. Human traditions, philosophies, man-made teachings put together. Paul’s just another guy giving the philosophy of religion lecture, no authority, no revelation from God, nothing to be obeyed or admired here. Just another perspective. Just another man looking up into the sky, conjecturing and tossing his opinions up and creating a movement with a number of teachers. They will tell you that that is exactly what Christianity is.
I believed that when I was in college until I started reading the Bible. Then I realized that the Bible never speaks of – Christianity never speaks of itself in that way. It never says that it’s a human philosophy. It never says that it’s speculative. And it never says that it is man grasping out for God. In fact, it says exactly the opposite. That it comes from God; that it is not given because of human speculation. And as I read the content, I realized that one of the greatest arguments for the truth of Christianity was simply the content of its instruction. No one would make this stuff up. You think about it.
Well, what’s the human condition? You’re wicked, evil, and depraved, right to your core. There’s nothing good in you. Would we make that up? I mean, we don’t even like it as Christians. What about, what about God? Well, there’s only one God, and He exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. Make it up? We still don’t even know what it means. Right? That God would speak through certain men who would rebuke others? How about the Doctrine of hell? Like, who’s gonna make that up? Who makes that up?
The other philosophies, what they end up doing, they end up saying, “Well, we’re pretty good. God’s not far away, and when you die nothing bad happens, so don’t worry about it.” That’s the continual instruction of most other philosophies and religions. And as I read the Bible I’m like, “My goodness. This is unbelievable. There’s one God and you love him or otherwise you go to hell. And you’re wicked and evil and sinful and separated from him, and He’s holy, righteous, and good.” And the question is, well, who made this up? If I was gonna make up a religion, it would not look like this. My religion would be, “We’re good and the more we eat the holier we get.” I would make up something like that.
What Paul says is, “I’m not just teaching human opinion here.” And Paul says, basically, “These aren’t even things that I necessarily liked.” A lot of people dismiss Christianity, they say, “Well, I don’t like it.” Did Paul like it? Do you think Paul was excited to see Jesus? Paul was probably crying out for his crucifixion at the cross and had been murdering his pastors and servants. Paul is not really excited, all of a sudden, to love Jesus.
What you find about Christianity is that it never makes the claim of being widely popular. It never makes the claim of being academically pleasing. It never makes the claim of keeping your culture or religions or your traditions intact. The one thing that God continually declares through his Word is that it’s simply true. It’s just the way it is. That’s exactly what Paul is saying here. He’s saying, “I sat with Jesus, and the things that I teach are the things that He taught me. And this is the way that it is.” He says, “Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him 15 days.” He says, he’s making a distinction here. Is Paul teaching something different from all of the other apostles? Peter? James? No. John? No. But is he teaching the same thing as them because he was discipled under them? No. He’s teaching the same thing as them because Jesus taught the other apostles. Paul was not present with them because he was still a non-Christian, and then after he became a Christian, Jesus discipled him as well. So the reason that Peter, James, and John and the other disciples, and Paul, are preaching the same gospel, the same Bible story, is not because they’re all following the teachings of Peter, but because they’re all following the teachings of Jesus, who is God.
So he says that he did meet with Peter, but it is for the purpose of friendship and relationship building, that he had been discipled by Jesus before he even met Peter. And he stayed with him 15 days because we read in Acts they tried to kill him, so he had to run for his life. He wanted to stay perhaps longer, but when they’re going to kill you, you always cut your vacation short as a general rule.
And he says, “I saw none of the other apostles, only James.” Who is that? Jesus’ brother. Okay? You think about it as well. Jesus’ brother worships him as God because James sees him rise from death and conquer sin and death. And as I’ve said before, to get your brother to worship you as God Almighty takes an enormous amount of evidence. Jesus’ brother worships him as God. James, the Lord’s brother. And he says, “I assure you, before God, that what I am writing you is no lie.” Is no lie. Okay, here’s the question. In Paul’s day, he is teaching exactly what is taught to him from Jesus. Nothing that he necessarily initially even was really excited about or believed. In fact, he was committed to just the opposite. “Jesus is a false teacher, a liar, He’s not God. I’m going to seek the crucifixion of His people as we sought the crucifixion of Him.” And then Jesus shows up – boom. Blinds him, converts him, reveals the true gospel, the story of the Bible to him. He then is discipled by Jesus, and he goes out to preach this great, glorious news of Jesus fulfilling all the Old Testament, Jesus redeeming us from our philosophies and from our traditions and our religions and our cultures, to liberate us so that we can belong to him. We can still participate in our culture. We can still participate in this world, but now our allegiance is to Jesus and our identity is in Jesus. He says, “All of this comes from God.” And what happens is everyone is saying, “That’s not true. That’s not true. That’s not true.” Okay?
Now, if we take Paul out of our Bible, do we even have Christianity? We do, but it looks considerably different. Because with Paul, the gospel went from just being among the Jews to being among the non-Jews, and that’s the point of contention. The Jews were saying, “Great. You wanna worship Jesus? Be a Jew. Get circumcised. Obey all the traditions.” You know, just, “Join our movement and cause.” Paul was the one chosen by God to take this message of Jesus out to people who weren’t Jews, who didn’t have those traditions, who didn’t speak Hebrew, who didn’t have the Old Testament in their understanding.
Now how hard do you think that was for Paul, to take the gospel from his people out to people that he despised? And as soon as the gospel goes from one culture to another, there’s always a fight. Well, what parts of this teaching have to go with it because they’re Biblical, and which parts need to stay behind because they’re traditional? And the fight here becomes, “Do we have to get circumcised?” No. “Do we have to obey the feasts and festivals?” No. “Do we have to obey all the traditions?” No. What do we need? Jesus. Just Jesus. That’s all we need is Jesus. Because Jesus has fulfilled all of the Old Testament and now He enables us to love Him in our language. He enables us to serve him in our culture. He enables us to participate in His light here in Seattle, Washington. See, we don’t have to go to Mecca. We don’t need to go to the temple, which doesn’t even exist. We don’t need to perform all kinds of rituals and traditions. We don’t need to go through ceremonies. We don’t need to go through processes. We don’t need to devote ourselves to philosophies and teachings of men. All we need is Jesus, revealed to us from God. Love Him, obey Him, believe Him, follow Him, serve Him. All we need is Jesus.
And what Paul is saying is, “I’m not lying.” Lots of people in that day believed that he was lying. Lots of people in our day believe that he’s still lying. How many of you have heard that we shouldn’t obey Paul because he’s a sexist? Because he’s a false teacher? Because he was whatever? How many Christian theologians and scholars even go to sections of Paul’s teachings and say, “We don’t know about that. That might not be true. Maybe that was culture. Maybe that was Paul’s opinion. Maybe that was his perspective. Maybe he wasn’t inspired of God there. Maybe that’s not accurate.” Does this still happen? It happens all the time. All the time. How many books in the New Testament did Paul write? Thirteen, maybe fourteen. We’re not sure who wrote Hebrews. The guy wrote thirteen, maybe fourteen books of the Bible because Jesus revealed Himself to him, and Jesus changed him, and Jesus taught him, and Jesus told him what to do.
Now, you need to realize, are we sitting on top of this fact? You and me, are we sitting on top of this fact today? If Jesus didn’t show up and convert Paul, and if Jesus didn’t disciple Paul, and if Jesus didn’t have Paul speak on His behalf, are we absolutely wrong? We’re absolutely wrong. Because we are studying Paul. And we are following his example and we’re loving Jesus as he has instructed us. You see where this is important to us as it was important to the church at Galatia?
Hold your place right here. Go to 2 Peter, chapter 3. Hold this section, real quick. That’s just a few books to your right. 2 Peter, Chapter 3, verses 15 and 16. What I want to argue for here is Paul’s right to teach us and lead us because he speaks on God’s behalf authoritatively. Now, you gotta ask yourself, “Who’s Peter, the author of this letter?” Okay? Leader of the disciples. He is present at all of the major events of Jesus’ life and ministry. He is one of the inner circle: Peter, James, and John. They get to see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. They get to see Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration. He gets to see Jesus even when some of the other disciples don’t get to be with Him. Peter is appointed as the leader of the disciples. His name is always mentioned first. After he sins against Jesus he’s reinstated as the leader in the early church. So you need to understand that Peter is serving on Christ’s behalf with tremendous authority, and read what he says about Paul, in 2 Peter 3:15. He says, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation just as our dear” what? “Our brother Paul also wrote you,” right? “In the letters that he writes with wisdom that” what? Where did Paul’s wisdom come from? God. “The wisdom that God gave him. He writes this way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are” what? “Really hard to understand.” Is that still true? That’s why there’s commentaries on Paul and they’re all saying, “This is a tough text. We’re not sure where he was going.” Don’t let that surprise you. Just because part of your Bible is hard to understand, does that mean that God didn’t write it? Not at all. Peter says, “I sometimes have a hard time with Paul.” Okay? If Jesus Christ discipled Peter for three years, and he was the leader of the disciples, and got to write books of the Bible, and he has a hard time with Paul, don’t feel bad if you get stuck, okay? Don’t feel bad at all.
His – it says, “He writes the same way in all his letters speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort.” That was what was going on in Galatia. “As they do” what? As they do what? The other what? Scriptures. Scriptures. Okay? Is Paul writing Scripture? Authoritatively, like an Old Testament prophet, the truth, as revealed to him, directly from God, without error? Yes. Yes. Peter confirms it. Paul tells us, Peter confirms it.
Is this because Paul was trained by Peter? Paul was his great disciple and Paul spent years under Peter? No. Paul just says he didn’t have any of that. That he became friends with Peter after he was trained by Jesus. He’s not just speaking as another religious leader on behalf of religious leaders. He’s speaking on behalf of God. And he says in verse 20, Galatians 1, he says, “I am writing this to you and it is no lie.” No lie. Okay?
Can we take our Christian faith and just enable it to be another world religion, or another human philosophy, or another cultural agenda, or movement? We can’t. We can’t. If we do, then we are doing as the Judaizers did, and we are not doing as Paul did, which is taking that good news of Jesus and preaching it to all the other religions so that they’ll love Jesus, and preaching it to all the cultures so that they’ll love Jesus, and preaching it to all of the philosophers and speculations and –isms so that they’ll love Jesus. And any time we come in saying, “Well, how can we make Jesus acceptable to this religion or this culture or these scholars?” we have completely lost all of our right to speak with any authority, because what we’re saying is Jesus is just another cultural form. Jesus is another religious tradition. Jesus is another religious teacher. He’s not. He’s God, risen from dead, speaking the truth through His servants, binding on all.
Now what happens when that is comingled with faith, when we trust the story of the Bible, when we serve and love Jesus with our hearts, here’s what happens. He says in verse 21, “Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.” He hadn’t been there before, but he’s going there to preach and teach. “They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’” It’s a good case, isn’t it? In our day that would be all of a sudden like if some years ago Adolf Hitler came to Christ and got on TV and bowed his knee and repented. Or all of a sudden today if Osama Bin Laden got on CNN and bent his knee and said, “You know, Jesus showed up and I am really sorry.” You’re like, “Man, that would definitely be a story. Now I’m gonna be a pastor and I need to go plant churches and I need to tell everyone it’s not about culture, tradition, religion, philosophy, zeal. It’s about Jesus. I was totally wrong.” We’d say, “Yeah. We’d love to have that guy show up and give his testimony. It would be a great story.” That’s exactly what’s going on.
And he says in verse 24, “And they praise God because of me.” What he’s talking about here is this. In Galatians 6:14 he says, “May I never boast accept in Christ.” Here’s what I want you guys to understand. We are to be humble people. We are to be meek people. We are to be simple people who just love Jesus and experience His kind grace and His loving power. And some people may be better philosophers, some people may have more exotic traditions and rituals, other people may have more organized and zealous religions, and some may have a more well-imbued, completely synthesized cultural form. But we don’t appeal to any of those things. We just say that Jesus has loved us before we were born, and He has revealed himself to us. He has come and died for our sins. He has risen to conquer enemies of sin and death, and that we are His children, and we are loved by Him, and we are saved by Him, and it is all about Him, and it is not about us or our movement, religion, philosophy, tradition, or teacher. So when you ask us why we’re committed to this, we’re not going to say, “Because we’re trying to preserve our heritage or our ethnicity or our nationality or our democracy or our capitalism,” or, “We’re trying to carry on our traditions, that we’re trying to please our good teachers, that we’re trying to continue with whatever has been handed to us.” Our only answer will be, “Jesus loves us and we love Him back, and He has utterly transformed us so that now we can tell our story as Paul did about how we were, and how we met Jesus, and how He’s changed us.” All you’ve just read here is that, that simple story of Jesus’ transformation in Paul’s life. “Here’s who I was, zealous, committed. Here’s what happened. I met Jesus. Here’s who I am, utterly transformed.”
Tomorrow night when we have baptisms, that’s what you’re gonna hear. whole work of the gospel and the story of God comes down to change human lives. Let me ask you this, it sounds arrogant when you read Paul and he says, “And they praise God because of me.” Do you praise God because of Paul? I do. Not because of Paul, but because of what God did in Paul and through Paul and in spite of Paul. Is there anyone that you look at and you say, “I praise God for the work that God has done in that person’s life. I praise God that I get to see that not only is the gospel true, but it is powerful and effective, and it transforms people’s entire lives. That all of a sudden, people who are into their sin are now into Christ. That people who are enemies of God become friends of God, and people who hate God love God, and people who are sinning against God, by His grace repent and are transformed.” I’ll tell you this, Mars Hill, this is a part of our worship that we really fail at as a church. As a church, do you think we are better at confessing our sins, or boasting in Christ? As a church? We’re very good at confessing our sins. And we should be. So we could talk about how bad I am and how much I – how much I have done, and how terrible of a wicked, evil, worm-of-the-earth that I am.” But that must result in boasting in Christ. “That I’m saved by Jesus, that I’m changed by Jesus, that I’m loved by Jesus, that I’m transformed by Jesus, that I’m used by Jesus, that I’m commissioned off to tell others about Jesus, as Paul was.” This become the taproot of joy. This becomes the heart of evangelism. This must become the heart of all works of God and the gospel in every church. People like Paul saying, “Here’s really who I was. Really, who I was. And this is really who Jesus is. And this is truly what he has done.” And boasting in that.
Do we have good reasons at this church to be very excited about certain people who God has just done a wonderful thing in them? How many of you have become Christians in the last few years? Okay, fifteen, twenty of you. How many of you previously had been totally slack and doing exactly what you shouldn’t be doing and returning to your first love and getting it put together by God’s grace? Another fifteen or twenty of you. How many of you have become married? All right, ten, twelve. How many of you have had children? How many ladies have become mothers? All right. Could we go on and on and on about all of the wonderful things that God does in people’s lives? I get the privilege of being pastor. I get to see broken marriages mended. I get to see drug addicts healed. I get to see people that are sexually deviant delivered. I get to see people who are committed to other religions converted. I’ve gotten to see Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Baha’is and atheists and agnostics and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons all experience the real Jesus and be transformed, utterly. Okay?
This is what Paul’s about. This is what we must be about. Boasting, bragging about how good Jesus is. That’s why, guys, it is so important that we don’t walk away from our Bible because that is where we find the true story about Jesus, the story that sometimes is not accurately told when it’s comingled with culture, philosophies, religions, movements, traditions, agendas, politics, nationalism. When it gets comingled with all of that, sometimes the whole story of the Bible gets lost and we start reading everything but the Bible, and we start following everyone but Jesus, and we get excited about everything but life transformation. Paul brings us back to this simple place. “Here’s who I was, here’s Jesus, here’s who I am.” Brag. You guys need to get into the habit of boasting, not out of arrogant pretention, “Here’s what I’ve done,” but out of humble worship, “Here’s what God has done.” And we encourage each other and then we encourage others to love Jesus and to see him as we see him. Okay?
I’ll close with that. In a moment we’ll take communion, which is remembering Jesus’ body and blood. That is for us a tradition, but I’ll tell you the difference between routine and ritual. Routine is where we do the same thing all the time and it never means anything. Ritual is where we do the same thing all the time and every time it means something. Okay? Every time we take communion it should not be routine. It should be ritual. “Ah, we get to confess our sins and remember Jesus and how great He is, and be transformed by His loving power and His resurrection in our lives, so that we can boast about who we were, who He is, who we are now, and what he has done.” We collect an offering. It should never be routine. It should be ritual. Act of worship. Afterward we gather to meet each other and share our stories, not as routine but as ritual. And we go to live our lives and to boast in the goodness of God and Christ and the wonderful things that He’s done in us and in those around us, not as routine, but as ritual. It’s alive and it means something every single time.
So I’ll call the ushers forward to collect our offering and I’ll pray for us, and then we’ll do something a little different with communion.
Lord God, we do thank you so much that you have revealed yourself to us in Jesus Christ. And Lord Jesus, we are so grateful that we don’t have to understand every philosophy, movement, culture, religion, tradition, that all we need is you. And that all we need is to know that you are God who has died for our sins and risen to conquer enemies of sin and death, that you have fulfilled all of the Old Testament, that you have redeemed us, that you’ve loved us, that you’ve put your life in us, and that you’ve sent us out into this world so that all the religions and traditions and philosophies and cultures and movements and agendas could bow their knee and love you with us. We boast, Lord God, on the change that you make in our life, and we thank you for all the good reports that we get to receive from one another about all the glorious and kind things that you do. Lord Jesus, we love you and we thank you and we celebrate you today. Amen.
As they’re taking the offering as well, we’ll do something a little bit different with communion today. It’s Mother’s Day. What I want to do is I want to pray for the moms. We’ll let the moms take communion first. So, in a moment we will do that. How many of you, here this morning, are moms? Moms we got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, about a dozen moms here this morning. Any moms-to-be, expecting? Baby on the way? One? One. Good. I feel somewhat guilty not preaching the traditional Mother’s Day sermon, but I told you about Jesus, so that’s good.
At Mars Hill we have always held that motherhood is a calling that God gives to certain women, not to all. That certain women do not have children and that that is not sin or erroneous, we don’t want to slight those women in any way. This is the day where culturally it is traditional for us to honor our mothers and to honor motherhood as a vocation and a call on God’s behalf. And so what I will do is, I will pray for the moms and then the mothers are welcome to come forward and to take communion; then after them, the rest of you, when you feel that you are ready, after maybe praying and repenting and maybe thanking God for the good things that he’s done in your life and in the lives of others, confessing any sin that you might have so you can experience his grace, you’re welcome to take communion as well. If I can get the mothers to stand, let’s pray for you.
Lord God, we thank you on this Mother’s Day for the mothers that you have placed in our church. We pray, Lord God, as James says that we should, for much wisdom for them, that Lord God you would give them much, much, much wisdom so they could be women who teach and instruct and lead and guide and govern their families with a lot of prudence. And I pray, Lord Jesus, that the agenda in their homes and the agenda from their lives would always be you, that their children and their friends and their family and their neighbors and their extended circles of relationship and influence would always just be about one thing, just about you, Lord God, about your work and transformation power, and boasting in your grace. Lord God, we thank you for the moms and the children in this church and we commit them to you this day in Christ’s name. Amen.