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Training with the Guardian June 19, 2016

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Galatians 3:23-4:7

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

June 19, 2016

 

Focus:  God grants salvation to us free of cost.

Function:  That the hearers serve their neighbors.

Structure:  This is the historical meaning of the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

Training with the Guardian

 

Today, today we continue our sermon from last week as we continue reading through Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.  As a quick refresher, the gist of the context of this letter is that the Apostle Peter has betrayed the gospel of Jesus Christ and is misleading the Gentiles back into the old covenant, rather than the new covenant.

He was teaching them that they had to earn their salvation.  They had to be circumcised in order to be saved.  In order to be part of the kingdom of God.  Paul comes along and rebukes Peter, in public, for this tragedy.  For this awful abuse of the gospel.  The gospel is the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and raised again.  It is the good news that your sins are forgiven freely in the blood of Christ and that in His resurrection, you too will be raised from the dead unto life everlasting.

This is THE good news.  There’s nothing better.  This is it.  You are saved, not by works, but by faith alone in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Now I can’t preach on this text today and not point out one of the most glaring errors in American Christianity today.  How we proof-text Galatians 3:28.  This is, by the way, what Galatians 3:28 means.  It’s the freeness of the gospel to all people.  That no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, salvation is yours in the Lamb of God.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But if you just put your ear to the ground, you’ll hear this verse out of context and misapplied all the time.  Christians use it to support their practice of ordaining women to be pastors, they use it to support their belief of gender equality and gender neutrality, which also means they use it to say that all forms of sexual attraction are pleasing in the sight of God.  This verse has nothing to do with those things.  Clearly, there are still males and females in this church.  It’s about being saved.  It’s about the fact that Christ didn’t just die for men, but for all.  He didn’t just shed His blood on the cross for Jews, but for all.  He didn’t just rise again for masters, but for all.  That’s the good news of the gospel, and that’s what verse 28 is about.

Anyway, I told you that today we would follow up by talking about the law.  What was it?  What purpose did it serve?  And if the gospel saves us, what purpose does the law have now?  What role does it play in your life?  Should you even care?

And Paul gives us a good way to look at it.  He uses the analogy of the guardian.  And in a way, we can already understand this, because this is the same place where we get our terminology, if you think of a legal guardian for a child.

But the guardian in Paul’s context was a hired man.  If you were a family that was well-off, and dad was working a little more than he should, it was common to hire someone you could trust who would help raise your child.  And this isn’t just spoon-feeding a toddler.  We’re talking about someone who’s going to teach right from wrong to a child, but also train them up in their father’s business so that when the appropriate time comes, they are a ready heir to continue the family business.

And the time is set by the father, he sets the date or the age at which the child is old enough to take over, to inherit, to run the family business.  And when this time comes, the guardian is no longer the guardian, they’ve fulfilled their job, their purpose in that relationship.

And Paul connects this for us.  That the law is our guardian.  That as we grow in the faith, as we were waiting for the faith to fully come, the law was our guardian, it raised us.  It taught us right from wrong, how to live a God-pleasing life, how to act justly before our neighbor, how to care for the widows and the orphans, how to act in all of our different relationships.  All these things and more.

Until the time set by the Father.  And that time was the cross.  That time was fulfilled when Jesus Christ came into this world and took our sins upon Himself.  The good news is fulfilled, the gospel is complete.

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

 

See what happens when we put stuff in context!  These are powerful verses.  You are saved.  You are no longer under the guardian of the law.  In your baptism, you are baptized into Christ.  You are declared a son of God.  A daughter of God.  You are made an heir of the kingdom.  The Father’s business, His creation, it’s yours in Christ.  Imagine the Garden of Eden.  Perfection, without sin, pain, or death.  A beautiful creation, filled with amazing plants, wonderful creatures.  And you’re there, tending the garden.  The Father’s business is now yours.

I think I said we’d focus on the law though today, and that stuff’s sweet gospel.  So, back to the law.  What is its role today?  Last week we said there are three types of Old Testament laws.  Do you remember them?  Ceremonial, civil, and moral.  The ceremonial laws were the laws regarding sacrifices, worship, cleanliness.  These things were clearly done away with in Christ.  We don’t sacrifice a bull on this altar every time we sin.  That’s why the cross hangs above the altar.  Christ is the final sacrifice.  Again, that’s more gospel.

The civil laws were in place to dictate how God’s people lived together as a nation.  At first as a theocracy, with God as their ruler, but even later under the kings.  These laws included the stoning laws, they included cities of refuge if you had accidently killed someone, laws regarding justice and repayment among neighbors, how to care for the least in your community, all these kinds of things.  You could certainly say these too came to an end in Christ upon the cross.  But I’m not so sure they didn’t end before that.  When God’s people abandoned Him and as a result were destroyed.  Their nations lay in ruins while they were exiled into foreign lands.  I think that’s the point where the civil law at least stopped functioning.

And then we have the moral law.  As we said last week, this is pretty much the Ten Commandments.  These are the laws God has placed on our heart to teach us what is good and what is evil.  To teach us how to love and care for others.  To show us how to fear and love the Lord our God before all things.

And these too, were our guardian.  In Christ, these too, have been fulfilled.  So, what do we do with them?  What do we do with all these old laws that Christ fulfilled for us?  A closer look at Paul’s guardian analogy should help us here.

The guardian taught the son, the heir, everything.  Right from wrong, how to be a citizen, how to run his father’s business.  Sure, when the child grows up and inherits the business, the guardian is no longer the guardian.  His job’s done.  But what should the young man do with everything he was taught?  Ignore the wisdom?  Call evil good and good evil?  Run his father’s business however he pleases?

Doing these things will undo him.  It will tear down not only him, but also his father’s business.  We have a great Old Testament example of exactly this.  King Solomon built up an empire.  And when he died he left it all to his son Rehoboam.  Within a couple of months, the empire had split, and Rehoboam had lost nearly 90% of it.

This is why Jesus summarized the law into those phrases: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.  These are good things.  These are things our guardian was trying to teach us.  We couldn’t do them perfectly, and we still can’t, but that doesn’t make them bad.

The law is God’s good and holy will for you as His people.  It’s not something that you have to do to achieve perfection.  It’s not something you have to do so you can slowly grow to be more and more like Christ every day.  It’s not something that you can do to earn your own salvation.  If you’re doing these things, you’re falling right back into Peter’s trap.  And Rome’s.  You’ve betrayed the gospel.

This is why Luther talks about the Ten Commandments the way he does.  They’re not just negatives, don’t do don’t do.  They’re also positives.  Here’s how you live this out.  Here’s what it looks like.

The First Commandment: You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.

The Second Commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

The Fourth Commandment:  Honor your father and your mother.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

The Fifth Commandment:  You shall not murder.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

The Sixth Commandment:  You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

The Seventh Commandment:  You shall not steal.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

The Eighth Commandment:  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest possible way.

The Ninth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

The Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

The Close of the Commandments:

What does God say about all of these commandments? He says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).

What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

The editors of the Small Catechism added one last bit on what the purpose of the law is today:

“What purposes does the Law then serve?”

First, the Law helps to control violent outbursts of sin and keeps order in the world (a curb).

Second, the Law accuses us and shows us our sin (a mirror).

Third, the Law teaches us Christians what we should and should not do to live a God-pleasing life (a guide).  The power to live according to the Law comes from the Gospel.”

This was our guardian.  These are good things and we should live by them.  Not because they save us.  They don’t, they can’t.  We should live by them because it is God’s will for our life.  They are good, and good for us.  They don’t save us.  Don’t do them like the Pharisees.  Do them out of love for your neighbor, that they too might hear the good news from you.  That’s what we call vocation, living out the life God has given you, loving and serving those around you.  That’s the role of the law today.  And there’s more to do there than you could manage in a lifetime.  And that’s okay, because Christ has done it for you.  You are forgiven.  And that’s the good news of the gospel.

 

 

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The Key to the Scriptures June 12, 2016

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Galatians 2:15-21, 3:10-14

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 12th, 2016

 

Focus:  God saves us only in the blood of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers stop seeking to justify themselves.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Key to the Scriptures

 

This is it.  Our text today is the hermeneutical key to all of Scripture.  This text is the key to unlocking and understanding all of God’s Word.  So, if you don’t understand what we’re talking about today, the Bible is a locked book to you.  It’s sealed shut.  You won’t be able to understand it.  If you’re still there when we’re done today, come see me, let’s unlock the Scriptures together.

And I’m not saying this as some kind of modern evangelical spin on being able to figure out the secret code of Scripture.  If we could just find all the right numbers and clues, we can tell the future.  We can know when the world will end.  That’s not what I’m saying.

Instead, what we have in this text, and in other writings from the Apostle Paul, what we have here is the very heart of the Word of God.  Whatever you read in Scripture, whether it’s Genesis, Leviticus, Kings, Psalms, or Revelation, you simply won’t get it if you don’t get this.

And I see it all the time.  People arguing against Christians in public or on social media, calling them hypocrites, because they’ll use the Bible to say abortion is a sin, but they’ll eat shellfish.  Or they’ll use the Bible to say that divorce is a sin, but they don’t stone anyone.  These critics of Christians don’t have the key to understanding Scripture.  And it’s right here, it’s at your fingertips this very morning.

The Apostle Paul tells us where salvation comes from.  And it’s a matter of understanding law and gospel.  We’re going to see a lot of Lutheran language today.  And it’s really because this key to understanding Scripture divides even Christians.  How are we saved?  Is it by keeping the law?  Or by believing in the gospel?

So when we come to key terms, I’ll unpack them for you.  And we’ll start with law and gospel.  The Law is anything that God has commanded of us.  Like, the book of Leviticus, or the Ten Commandments.  And it comes in different forms.  Ceremonial and civil laws were the things common in the Old Testament that the people of God, as a theocracy, as His old covenant people, the things they had to do to be a part of that covenant.  Then there’s the moral law.  The law God has placed on our hearts in the form of a conscience, rooted in the Ten Commandments, which Jesus summarized as love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s the law.  The gospel, the Greek word was euangellion, which simply means “good news.”  The gospel is the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and raised from the dead.  It’s that His death was a sacrifice given for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  It’s that His resurrection proclaimed victory over sin, death, and the devil once and for all.

Both law and gospel matter.  They’re important for us.  But they’re not the same.  We are saved by one, and that’s where Paul’s going.  But before we rip through chapter 2, let’s review chapter one so you can understand the letter’s context.

Paul begins the meat of his letter by calling out the Christians in Galatia for having abandoned the gospel for another gospel.  That is, they’ve rejected the good news of Jesus Christ as their Savior, for something else entirely.  And then Paul goes on to explain that that something else isn’t a gospel at all, and that they should cling to the one true gospel no matter what.  Even if Paul came back and tried to teach them something else.  You already have the pure gospel, believe it.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

 

For the rest of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two, Paul then goes on to list out his credentials.  This is why you should listen to me.  This is why you should even care about what I have to say.  This is how I can call you out on your sin right now and I can call you to repentance, that is, to turn away from your sins and believe.

Most of you are quite familiar with Paul’s beginnings as a Pharisee, as a quickly-rising-the-corporate-ladder Jew who was persecuting the church of Christ.  Even to the point of killing Christians.  And then he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and was a given a direct revelation of the gospel, of salvation, of good news to all people.  And he changed.  He repented.  He believed.

But then he gives some of his more recent history, stuff we Christians usually don’t talk as much about, and now really isn’t the time either.  But how after his conversion he met with some of the leaders of the church, some apostles, and they confirmed one another in their teaching of the gospel.  And then after some travels, some fourteen years later, he regathered with the other apostles, and once again, they reaffirmed the gospel they had received from God and were sharing with others.

And then Paul gets into the problem, the crux of the situation, he delves into what the Galatian Christians are messing up.  Where they’re sinning and falling astray.  And it actually starts at the top.  It’s a top-down problem.  It starts with the Apostle Peter.  Peter has betrayed the gospel to the Galatians.  Let me share with you from chapter two, and Cephas is just another name for Peter:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

 

Under the old covenant, to be part of that covenant, to be a child of God, you had to be circumcised.  The foreskin had to be cut off.  That was an old ceremonial law.  A requirement to be part of the Jewish people.  And so here we are, on the other side of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Here we are after the very same God said salvation is to all people.  “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd,” (John 10:16).

Here we are seeing Peter deny this.  The same man who had God appear to him in a dream and tell him that Jews and Gentiles alike are saved in Christ, and Peter’s requiring circumcision of the Gentiles.  He’s abandoning them, setting them aside because his Jewish friends showed up.  Peter was teaching that these Gentiles had to do something to earn their salvation.

And that leads to our text this morning.  Verse 16:

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

 

That’s another of our Lutheran words today.  Justification.  What is it?  In the Scriptures, it’s the same root word as righteousness.  To justify someone is to make them righteous.  To make them good, to make innocent, to make them clean.  How are you justified? That’s the most critical question of all time.  And Paul has answered it.

“A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”  This is it.  This is the hermeneutical key to understanding all of Scripture.  You are justified by faith in Christ.  You are justified not by anything you do, but by Christ’s death and resurrection.  That He willingly laid down His life, shed His blood upon the cross, to make good on your sin.  To take your sin, to drown it in His blood so that you can show your face before the Holy God of heaven and earth, and He will see innocence.  Not because you’re innocent, but because Christ is for you.

We call this Sola Fide, by faith alone.  Because in all the depths of my depravity, there’s no amount of good works to overcome it.  My sin is so deep a pit, my brokenness is so large a chasm, I could spend every waking moment for the rest of my life loving and serving others, and it wouldn’t be enough.  I would still go to hell.  That’s how much of a sinner I am.  We all are.  See sin isn’t just the little lie you say.  That’s downplaying sin.

Sin is an epidemic.  It’s a disease that brings nothing but death and destruction to everything in its wake.  And you’ve got a terminal case.  It’s called original sin.  Killing you from the moment your parents conceived you.

This is why Paul is so irate with Peter.  These Gentiles received the good news.  The good news of Jesus Christ and the free gift of salvation was given to them.  And now, now you’re stripping it from them.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

 

Peter’s actions are still around us all over today.  Countless Christian denominations teach this.  That we must earn it.  Some teach it straight, that your good works are necessary for salvation.  Others simply require it using different language.  Random acts of kindness, tolerance, love.  These are all potentially good things, depending on what you mean by them, and how much you trust your salvation to them.

Here’s your answer.  They don’t save you.  They can’t save you.  They never could save you.  Only Christ can.  And He does.  It is finished.  And that’s good news.  That’s why we call it gospel.  Because it doesn’t depend on me, on the one who can’t be trusted.  But it hinges on the One who can, on God Himself.

That’s why Maddie came to be baptized at the font this weekend.  It’s not about her.  It’s not about what she’s doing.  She can’t.  She can’t do it.  If it were up to her, she’d be lost forever.  But it’s not.  Because in baptism, God does the work.  God kills the old Adam, the sinful nature.  God proclaims victory over sin, death, and the devil for His child.  And that today is indeed who Maddie is.  A daughter of God.  A daughter who trusts in the promises of her Father.

Now if you want to know more about the law, what its original purpose was, and what role it plays in your life today, be sure to come back next weekend, as we look at the next chapter of Paul’s letter to Galatia.  But for now, trust in the Lord, trust in His promises given to you through Word and Sacrament.  It is enough, and that’s good news!