Sunday, September 6, 2020

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity - Gal 3:15-22


                                                                                                Trinity 13

                                                                                                Gal 3:15-22



            I am quite sure that all of you could use a little more money. You may have credit card debt to pay.  There may be work on your house that you want to do.  There may be that big trip that you would really like to take.

            So I am going to help you out.  As an expression of appreciation for your participation and support as members of Good Shepherd, I am going to give each one of you a million dollars. That is a promise.  I will have a cashier’s ready for each one of you next Sunday. That is the promise that I make to you.

            No doubt you are surprised by my promise. Certainly, it would be a wonderful thing to have a million dollars drop into your lap. Think of the difference it could make in your life!

            But as you sit there this morning, what can you do to make my promise come to fruition?  The answer is nothing. You either believe me, or you don’t.  Certainly, there are reasons to be skeptical.  After all, you all know how much money I make each year – it’s a line item in the church budget.  There is no way that my salary is going to provide seventy or eighty million dollars.  Amy has a good job as a Nurse Practitioner, but she works part time – and again there is no way she is earning that much.  I could have inherited a huge amount of money that you don’t know about.  Or perhaps the whole model railroad thing is actually a cover for the fact that Matthew and I are cooking crystal meth in our basement, and I am one of the largest drug dealers in the Midwest.  However, all of that seems very unlikely.

            When an incredible promise like this is made, there is nothing you can do to make it happen.  You either believe it – you trust the one making the promise to deliver - or you don’t.  No amount of doing can change this basic character of a promise.

            In our epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul is emphasizing this very point to the Galatians as he talks about how God has given forgiveness and salvation in Christ.  God has given it to us by a promise, not by anything we can do.  The only response to the promise is that of faith.  Works – doing – can have no part in it.

            Paul had brought the Gospel to the Galatians during his first missionary journey.  However, since his departure others had come to Galatia and taught the Gentile believers there that Paul had not told them the whole story. Yes, Jesus Christ had died on the cross for their sins and risen from the dead.  But if they wanted to be part of God’s people who receive the benefits of Christ, they needed to do certain parts of the Torah – the law God had given through Moses at Mt Sinai.  In particular they emphasized the need to be circumcised, follow the food laws, and observe Jewish religious days.

            For Paul, this was a denial of the Gospel.  These were in fact false teachers because they were saying that salvation was based on Jesus plus something that believers had to do. Paul was exasperated by what was happening.  He began the chapter in which our text occurs by saying, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”

            Works of the law – doing the law – or faith. Those were the only alternatives that Paul said were available.  To prove his point from Scripture, the apostle went back to Abraham.  He told the Galatians they had not received the Spirit by works of the law, but by the hearing of faith and then added, “just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

            Abraham and Sarah had no child, and they were too old to have one.  But in Genesis chapter 15 God brought Abraham outside and said, “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” We are told, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed God’s promise when there was nothing that Abraham could do to make it happen. And God counted it to him as righteousness – he considered Abraham righteous because he believed God’s promise.

            So Paul adds, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’” When God first called Abraham, he promised him that in Abraham all nations would be blessed. God was promising that the Savior would be part of Abraham’s lineage. Therefore Paul concludes, “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” To be a son of Abraham – to be a part of God’s people was to have faith in Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.

            That is the way of faith. But the way of works – the way of doing - produces the opposite result. Paul says, “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.’”  The law says do these things; do all of these things; do all of these things all of the time perfectly and you will live.  As Paul adds, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’”

            The law offers the way of life.  It expresses the will of God and how a person lives in fellowship with him. The problem here is not the law. The problem is you.  As Paul says in our text, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” God’s word has declared the truth about your fallen state. On your own, you are imprisoned under sin.  You sin in thought, word, and deed. You don’t put God first. You hurt the people you claim to love by what you say and do. You covet what others have and share gossip that harms your neighbor.

            Paul says in our text, “Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”  The reason the law can’t give life is not a problem with the law.  The problem is you.  Let me illustrate the point. A regulation major league baseball bat has the potential to hit two hundred home runs in a season.  It inherently has the potential to make contact with a ball and drive it out of the park that many times.  But place that bat in my hands and it is never, ever going to happen. I don’t have the ability to do that. None of you do either.  In fact, no one in history ever has.

            Because of our sin we couldn’t keep the law. And so, because we faced the curse and judgment of God – the Father sent the Son of God, Jesus Christ to receive this in our place.  Just before our text Paul writes, “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.”  Jesus died cursed by God in our place. But then on the third day he rose from the dead as God vindicated him.

            Now, we receive that blessing through faith.  The fact that it had always been God’s will to save us by faith is seen in the promise God made to Abraham.  Paul writes in our text, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings, referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”  God made the promise that in Christ all nations would be blessed.

            The law of Moses that was added later did not change this basic fact – the fact that salvation was based on the promise God has given in Christ.  The law had its role to play in keeping Israel separate from the pagan nations, as they looked in faith for the Messiah. But it only had a role to play until the coming of Christ. 

            Paul says to the Galatians that now that Christ has come, the Law of Moses is no longer in effect for God’s people.  That’s why we can worship on Sunday, and not Saturday – the Sabbath. That’s why we can eat all of those tasty things made from pigs.

            Because salvation is based on God’s promise and faith in Christ, Paul ends this chapter by saying “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” You are in Christ – you have been joined to the Lord.  In the very next verse Paul tells us why we know this is true as he writes, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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.”

            Through baptism you have been clothed with Christ and his righteousness.  The forgiveness he won on the cross is yours.  Because you are in Christ – since you have been joined to Christ – you are a descendant of Abraham.  You are part of God’s people.  Paul says in the last verse of this chapter, “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”

            God has made the promise that you are sons and daughters of God in Christ, through faith.  He has promised that you are forgiven because of the crucifixion of Jesus. Now I made a promise at the beginning of this sermon – the promise to give each of you a million dollars. The difference between God’s promise and my promise is that you know God can and will deliver on his promise.  You know this because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus is Lord! God raised him from the dead.  God has revealed this through Christ’s apostles – his witnesses.  Jesus died on the cross and was buried. And then the craziest thing happened.  His followers went out in the world to suffer and die in order to proclaim that Christ crucified is Lord and Savior of all.  James and Jesus’ brothers who didn’t believe in Jesus during ministry, turned around and did this as well.  Paul, who hated Jesus Christ and wanted to destroy the Church, turned around and did the same thing.

They all did it for the same reason. They did it because they saw and touched the risen Lord in ways in which there could be no mistake.  Jesus has risen from the dead.  And because he has, you know that all of God’s promises are true. You are forgiven.  You have salvation.  You will be raised by Jesus on the Last Day.  You know this because you have been baptized into Christ.  Because of God’s promise, you are all sons and daughters of God, in Christ, through faith    








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