As we start this morning let me begin by asking you few a questions:
How convinced are you of the truths of Bible? Perhaps you've recently had challenging conversations or a piece of news has knocked your faith or have your ethics have been challenged by the world around you perhaps as you speak to someone dying of a terminal illness, or should the government or the law courts be able to tell us what Bible verse we can and can't preach in public?
Is it ok in our age of tolerance for someone say they know the truth and other people are wrong?
Can we and how do we know who's right and who's wrong?
Well we may find some answers in our Bible reading this morning as today we're beginning a new sermon series in the book of Galatians so please turn with me to p821 in the blue church Bibles and we're looking at vs1-5 of ch 1.
And as we see from the first two verses it's a letter from Paul and his fellow Christians with him probably in his home town in Antioch in Syria - (bottom right of the map on the screen) and it was to the Churches in Galatia which is modern day turkey.
And of this letter to the Galatians I'm told that the great Reformer Martin Luther said he was engaged or betrothed to it. Martin Luther felt so passionate about it. He thought so highly of it. Why? Because this letter contains the most important doctrine - the most important belief this world has ever seen! What is that doctrine? What is that belief? Let me read to you what Luther says:
"I mean the doctrine that we are redeemed from sin, death and the devil, and made partakers of eternal life, not by ourselves (and certainly not by our works, which are less than ourselves), but by the help of another, the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ."
The belief that we are forgiven for our sins, that we become friends with God 100% by God and 0% by us, We are saved by grace alone, by God being kind to us because he is kind to us, in spite of us, not because of us. In short we are made friends with God not by anything we can do but by Jesus. This is the most vital doctrine that could ever exist. It is called justification by faith. We are justified by faith in Jesus.
That is what is at stake in this letter and that is why Paul begins the letter the way he does:
So let's see today we're going to look at v1-5 in two parts beginning with v1-2 (in which we'll spend most of our time). So firstly
Turn to the Apostolic Truth verse1-2
"Paul, an apostle--sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead--
and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:"
Paul usually begins his letters by reminding people that he's an Apostle by God's will or a servant of God but in Galatians he is more specific; saying he has been sent by God and spells out that he has not been sent by man. He has not been sent by a group of elder men in a church who have recognised and tested and affirmed the gifts God has given him, which is rightly the case for most Christian ministers. People may have God-given gifts but no pastor can say that they have been called or sent in the way that Paul was or in the way any of the Apostles were. "Apostle," literally means, "one who is sent". To be one of the 12 apostles you had to have had some communication with Jesus - you had to have been sent by Jesus himself.
Notice verse 1
"Paul, an apostle - sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead …"
"God the Father, who raised him from the dead—" Who's the 'him'? It's Jesus. This sentence is about Jesus; but it's about Paul. Do you see why? Paul in his greeting - in his very first sentence mentions the resurrection - that Jesus rose from the dead. Why? Why is the resurrection here? The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead is hugely important but I don't think the resurrection is mentioned here to show how important the resurrection is as a doctrine. It is here because it's important in this context - in the context in which Paul is writing. To be one of the 12 apostles you had to have been sent by Jesus himself. And that is precisely what happened to Paul when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (you can have a read of it later in Acts ch 9) but it wasn't just that Jesus appeared to him (and sent him). It was that it was the RESURRECTED Jesus who appeared to him and sent him. And being sent by the risen Jesus was key to being an Apostle. In Acts 1:22 the disciples concluded that an Apostle had to be a witness to Jesus's resurrection. And Paul begins his letter stating that he has authority as an Apostle. And so if Paul is having to defend his Apostleship then it's pretty good to have on his CV that he's been sent by the raised Jesus Christ. Paul's defence of his apostleship is particularly important in the letter to the Galatians - because as we'll see in a few weeks there were false teachers who were calling in to question his apostleship. These false teachers were trying to turn gentile Christians into jews. They were saying if you want to be a Christian then you have to do certain Jewish things such as get circumcised. If you want to be saved then you have to DO certain things. They were saying that what Paul was teaching wasn't the truth. They were saying that what Paul was wrong. But Paul is teaching the truth. The fact that he's an Apostle means exactly that what he's teaching is the truth because his teaching is not from man but from God. His teaching is not from man but from God and so he has the truth from God. You see listening to the Apostles means listening to God (and vice a versa). Listening to God means listening to the Apostles; their teachings written down for us in the Bible.
And so Paul has the truth and he has the right to say that he's right and other people are wrong. He's an apostle and we have his teaching. I'm not sent by God in the same way Paul was. The only truth that I can teach is the truth that Apostles have already taught. I can point to the Apostolic truth that is written down for us.
If someone says the Holy Spirit is telling you something remember the Holy Spirit has already told the apostles all the truth we need and that truth is the truth about Jesus.
I remember when I was being interviewed at the end of my curacy to see if I had passed the three years to become a vicar and one of the interviewers said to me that he thought the Holy Spirit was telling him and the whole of the Church of England something opposite to Scripture. I replied that that was impossible. I'm 100% certain of that. Are you? You see the Holy Spirit has given us his teaching. He gave it to the apostles. He guided them to the truth and they have written it down for us. Do have a read of John 16 later.
Notice what it says in verse 2;
"and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:"
"To the churches in Galatia:" ChurchES plural had gone off the rails. ChurchES plural had been led astray. There was more than one local church which was in danger of going astray to the false doctrine. So the question for the Galatians and for you and me is, "Are we going to turn to the Apostolic truth?". All churches need to turn back to the apostles teaching. We constantly need reforming - not to a new teaching but back to the apostolic teaching. We need to continually return to the apostolic teaching.
And because Paul was an Apostle who had been given the Truth by God and who had been sent by God. He had the truth and he could tell those churches who was right and wrong. He could put the churches right, and he can put our churches right today. The question is, "Will we let him? Will we Turn to the Apostolic Truth?"
So in summary: Paul stresses that he is sent by God, not man but by Jesus Christ, and what right does Paul have to say that he's right and other people are wrong? He has the Apostolic ministry. Other people were trying to drag the Galatians away from the truth and other people are trying to drag us away from the truth today. They were under the Apostolic ministry of the Apostles. We are still under the Apostolic truth today. And none of us are free to choose to believe what we like and we must continually Turn to the Apostolic truth.
Let's have a look at our second and final section;
Praise the God of Grace vs 3-5
"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
As he does in most of his letters Paul prays for grace and peace to be given them from God. Paul knows what a kind God we have. God loves us and wants to give us grace and peace. the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for us - what grace - why wouldn't we Turn to the Apostolic teaching in Bible when we have a God like that? Paul reminds the Galatians of the kindness of God - of the Grace of God in action spelled out in the Truth of Gospel; that the Lord Jesus gave himself for us - he laid down his life for us - he sacrificed himself for us - he was punished to death on a Roman cross to take our punishment instead of us.
"who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age,"
Theres a link in that sentence. Jesus paid the price for our sins (not just for our sins but also) in order to rescue us from this present age (so that we'd be rescued from this present evil age)
Paul reminds the Galatians that the age they are living in is evil and they need rescuing from it. They were being led astray. They were being led to believe something that wasn't true. They were being led to believe a false gospel which makes them slaves and that is evil. And they needed liberating from it. They needed rescuing from it. They need rescuing from an age that says 'You can make your own way to God. You can save yourself. You can work your way to heaven. You can work your way to salvation. You can be good enough to to go to heaven AND have eternal life'. And it's the same present age that we live in; an age that feeds us lies. Do you recognise that? The world is constantly invading our thoughts, constantly invading our values, constantly invading our desires, constantly invading our hopes, constantly invading our fears and we constantly need delivering from it. Do you recognise that this present age is evil and we need rescuing from it?
So if the Galatians have been rescued out of that age then what age have they been rescued into? They have been rescued out of that age and they have been brought into a different age; not an evil age but a good age and not a present age but a future age. Christians have this tension. We have our feet in two ages - one foot physically in the present age and one spiritually in the future age. If we're Christians we have been rescued and placed into the future age even though we are still surrounded by this present age. If you're a Christians do you recognise that? Do you recognise how we have been saved from this world even though we still live in it?
It's a little bit like the 2000 film Castaway where an ever punctual and time obsessed Fed Ex employee, played by Tom Hanks, survives a plane crash and a night at sea in an inflatable life raft and gets washed up on an uninhabited island. He's safe from the plane crash - his life is saved but he's still in the wrong environment. He's still in the wrong and unsafe surroundings but he doesn't become a savage and he doesn't lose all sense of his real home - he doesn't eat the body of the dead pilot that gets washed up on shore and he is still obsessed with time and charts the time of year, the seasons and tides. His values are not of his present environment/ the surroundings he's in - his values and thinking are of his home environment and he brings them in to where he's at presently. Are our values and the truth we believe of the future age or of this present age?
To help in getting our heads round this it may be helpful to recall three tenses of salvation that: we have been saved from the penalty of our sin, we are being saved from the power of sin, and we will be saved from the presence of sin. Praise God! Praise the God of Grace that he has saved us from sin - the penalty, we won't get punished for our wrong doings, and our future environment is secure, but we are continually being saved from our current environment. Yes, God is continually saving us as long as we're returning to the Apostolic truth.
So in summary Paul wishes v3;
"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,"
God loves us. The Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for us - what grace. He's saved us from sin - the penalty - the future environment of hell, but he also to saves us from our current environment. How loving. How kind. How gracious.
How do we respond? How should we? How does Paul respond?
"to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Let's give God the glory; forever! Let's praise the God of Grace. Let's praise him in the quietness of our hearts. Let's have a moment of quiet and then I'll lead us in prayer and then we'll praise him together in our final hymn.