Pentecost 2, 2016, Bunker Hill Galatians 1:1-12
A posting from Christian Funny Pictures appeared on my Facebook page on Thursday. I thought there must be a problem because the picture area was blank, it was all white, like the picture of a Polar bear in a snowstorm. But then I read the caption and I got it. It was a picture of the sins that God cannot erase. So this morning I have on this sheet of paper, a list of your sins which God did not erase t, when earlier I said, “Our heavenly Father…has given his only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins.” When you look at this sheet of paper listing all of your sins which God did not forgive this morning, I guarantee that you folks in back are able read this as easily as those up front. Why? Because this sheet of paper looks like a polar bear in a snowstorm.
During the next six weeks we will be reading, discussing in Bible Class and preaching on Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he defends the gospel. As Solomon acknowledged in the Old Testament Lesson, there is no God like our God. We have an awesome God.
On Tuesday, the church celebrates Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. When Elizabeth greeted Mary, her own baby leaped in her womb. For Mary herself was growing great with child. In her womb was God, who could not be contained in the highest heavens, and yet chose to contain himself in her womb. God in human flesh would dwell on earth, go to the cross, die and rise again making us worthy to receive Jesus under our roof here at Zion and within our lives. That’s the Gospel and we do well not to mess with it. Nevertheless, we do struggle with the only Gospel we have.
Listen to Martin Luther commenting on these words of St. Paul from his letter to the Galatians, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself for our sins.” Luther says that we have a problem with that word, “Our.” Jesus Christ who gave himself for OUR sins. Luther was teaching a class at the university of Wittenberg in 1535 when he said to his students, “It is easy for you to say and believe that Christ, the Son of God, was given for the sins of Peter, Paul, and other saints…But it is very hard to say and believe from your heart that Christ was given for your great and many sins.” Luther identifies our basic problem with that word “Our.” We have difficulty believing that what we read in Isaiah, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow,” applies to ourselves. Because when I look at my life, well, my life seems more like slushy, old dirty snow.
There’s an advertisement on TV in which a young man mowing a lawn, pushes the mower about three or four feet. Stops and walks away. And a voice calls out. “You earned it.” A dog trimmer snip a dog’s forelock of hair and a voice calls, “You earned it.” Somewhere lurking in the darkness of our mind is the thought that surely we have to do something, at least go to church. Somewhere in the recesses of our mind we want God to call out, “You Earned it.” However, it is just the opposite. Christ earned it. What we earn is death. Eternal life comes as a gift in Jesus Christ. Christ your Lord gave himself for every one of the times you fail to live up to God’s expectations and does it every time you mess up. When in Revelation, an elder asks, “Who are these, clothed in white robes and where did they come from?” You and I can answer, “That’s me sir. I’ve just come from God’s laundry where I’ve washed these robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white as impossible as that may sound.” Yes, you better believe it. That is the Gospel. It’s the only one we have.
However, I have found during my forty- nine years of being a pastor, that one of the most difficult things for Christians to believe is the Gospel with no additions. When I taught confirmation, I at least wanted the young men and women to know and believe the gospel. What is the gospel? That Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by the powers of God and that someday you too shall be raised up to eternal life. What is the gospel? That Jesus Christ died for all of yours sins and paid the penalty for all of your sins, and that we are called to live a life of forgiveness. And moved by the Holy Spirit to love one another as Christ has loved us. The Jews created more than six hundred rules and regulations that they were to live by in order to be moral people and acceptable to God, but Christ gave only one rule for life: “love as I first loved you.” That is the gospel. Eternal life, forgiveness, to which we respond with a Spirit driven life of love on our part. Three ingredients to the recipe. So simple. All freely given. Don’t mess with the simple truth of the gospel.
But that is exactly what happened with the churches in Galatia, an area in what we know as southcentral Turkey. Paul had preached the gospel and formed congregations of believers in those cities. Now word has come to him that it’s all slip sliding away. Some people had come from Jerusalem telling these Christians in Galatia that Paul had it wrong. They were sharing the complete Gospel, the full gospel. Yes, of course believe in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. However, consider this. Jesus is the Son of God and God was the God of the Jews and Jesus was a Jew who followed the God-given Jewish practices. It stands to reason that Christians in order to be fully faithful followers of Jesus should also follow Jewish practices. These were things the Jews had been doing since the time of Moses; circumcision as a mark of being a part of God’s people, not eating meat like pork, not working or doing any activity on the Sabbath. And now Paul tells you that none of that matters? Yes, believe in Jesus, but to be a Christian you must also become a Jew.
Paul is upset over this to say the least. He writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning a different gospel.” But this “different gospel” was not an alternative gospel, but a distortion. It was the gospel plus. The problem is when someone offers the gospel, plus certain other things one must do or believe then that addition becomes a subtraction from the gospel. It is saying that when Jesus gave his life for our sins and the Father raised him from the dead, that did not erase all your sins, and to fail to do or believe these other thing means you aren’t a completed Christian, a first rate believer. It’s saying Jesus’ gospel is not the full Gospel.
What is the gospel? What is the core of the gospel in the Scriptures? It is so simple. God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, and shouted from the mountain tops that death itself had been destroyed. What is the gospel? Jesus died on the cross, paying the price for all of our sins. Our sins have been fully and freely forgiven. What is the gospel? That Christ loved the world so much that he gave his life so that no one might perish. That’s the Gospel. It’s the only one we got. Don’t mess with it.