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The Key to the Scriptures June 12, 2016

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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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!

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