Introduction to the Reading
This message was preached at Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church, Matthews, North Carolina in July 2008. For an audio version of this sermon click on this link supplied by Christ Covenant or look for this message and others at The Call with Mike Milton at TheCall.RTS.EDU.
When I was a little boy, summer evenings were enchanting. And I would stay outside so long that my Aunt Eva who reared me, used to come out on the front porch and call (and she call like this): “Mi-cha-el!” It was distinctive call that made come running. I knew supper was on the table. Butter beans and boiled okra, cornbread and buttermilk, with black strap molasis to sop up the remaining cornbread pieces…but that is another story! Well, do you remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Aunty Em is calling for Dorothy? That is the scene I have in my mind, Aunt Eva calling for me from the front porch of our old house. And I can sometimes still hear that distinctive call of Aunt Eva’s. My heart always melts as I do. Because I loved her so much. And she loved me. I will never forget her call. I sometimes hear “Mi-cha-el” in my mind today. I want to come running.
In the book of Galatians, we learn about calls that were authentic and calls that weren’t. Some were calling the Christians in Galatia to a different Gospel, a false call that leads to law and bondage. But God’s call is an authentic call that leads to love and freedom.
Martin Luther in his Small Catechism explains the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed in this way: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit calls me through the gospel”
This reading from Galatians 1.11-24 is about the authentic call of the Gospel on one man’s life. When you hear the true voice of your Savior, you will never forget His call.
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 12 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 13 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 14 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 15 was pleased to reveal his Son to* me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;* 16 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 17
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 18 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 19 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 20 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 21 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 22 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 23 And they glorified God because of me. 24
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray.
Our Father, who did send Jesus Christ to call us out of darkness and into light, open the ears of our hearts, Lord, that we may today hear Your voice in this message and in hearing, be drawn home to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Introduction to the Sermon
I once saw a little boy in the Smithsonian Museum, standing with his parents in front of the very spacecraft that took John Glenn into outer space and carried him around the earth and back again! Wow! What an amazing testimony to the courage and teamwork and vision of an entire generation! And before this amazing sight, before this artifact from the American century, I watched as this fine little fellow was…playing his Game-boy. There could be no doubt about it. He was just not impressed. And I thought to myself, “How many times am I like that little boy, and simply bored in the presence of glory?”
Well, I have a question: Is theology boring to you? Are you bored and playing a Gameboy, or pursuing sports or drugs or a new relationship or a new spouse or a new religion, in the presence of glory? Is doctrine dull? I must admit that it can be. But should it be?
The late Stephen Ambrose, the famed writer of books like D-Day, on which Saving Private Ryan was based, which created enormous interest in World War Two and in particular the 101st Airborne, or his book, Nothing Like it in the World, which told the story of the transcontinental railroad, was also a professor of history. And Stephen Ambrose used to say that the greatest crime a professor of history could ever committee in the classroom was to make history boring! Remembering the “higher” history of dates and wars and treaties and such can create a yawn or two. But talking about the “lower history” of a king who marries the daughter of the king his nation was at war with is anther matter! Or telling the story of the Civil War by telling a story about an Army surgeon in the Union Army. Wow! That would bring that period alive! In other words, history comes alive through the people who live it.
In a similar way, St. Paul could have said, “The greatest crime a preacher could make would be to make theology boring!” Theology is the study of God. Doctrine is drama. Doctrine is practical. Doctrine is the unfolded truth of the eternal God that sets human beings free. So Paul writes to the Galatians and not only talks about the details of the Gospel, over against the lies of false teachers who were drawing the Galatians away from the true Gospel, but he draws them in to see how the Gospel began…in his own life. We have here the very origin of the Gospel in one human soul. And this hits me where I am. This will hit you where you are!
In Galatians 1.11-24 every believer can discover and discover and marvel at how the Gospel of grace becomes supernaturally embedded in the life of a man or woman or boy or girl. The origin of the Gospel is not just an idea about Jesus; it is Jesus Christ alive in you.
There are 10 ways that the Gospel “originates” in one’s life. Yes, that right, 10 ways. You didn’t think you would get a seminary president and only get three points today did you? I wanted you to get your money’s worth! But I come up with these 10 ways that the Gospel originates in your life because as I studied this text and prayed about it, the truths flooded from the pages of the text into my own thirsty soul, so that what I have received from God this week I want to share with you!
1. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life through special revelation (11,12)
The Apostle Paul tells the Galatians, who were bent on returning to a works-based religion, that the only way to know the freedom that Christ brings is to know Christ and the only way to receive Him is through special revelation. Now for Paul that meant a direct encounter with the risen Christ, in His body. And that makes Paul an apostle. But all of us must come to know Christ and the Gospel of grace through special revelation and that is called the Bible. Why doesn’t general revelation work? General revelation tells us about God but according to David in Psalm 19 stops short of conversion. David says, in verse 1-6 of that great Psalm that the heavens declare the glory of God but in verse 7 he changes course to say that “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” And the rest of redemptive history is about getting that Word in front of human beings: the word which brings life, the word which is sharper than any two edged sword and which cuts deep down into the soul of a man and changes him.
Every computer program has a default setting. If you leave that program alone and don’t alter it will always default back to the settings it came with. Beloved, you and I are the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve. Our default settings are calibrated in sin. And the default setting of the human mind and soul is works-religion: “do this or do that and God will be happy. In the worst case offer a child for sacrifice. Or in our case, go to church, do some good, and God will be pleased with you.” But the Gospel comes from a special revelation that tells us that if we simply believe, transfer our trust from ourselves to Jesus Christ, His life and His atonement on the cross, will bring us into a right relationship with God.
2. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life despite sinful resistance (13-14)
Paul tells the Galatians that he was not the ideal candidate for God’s grace. Paul is transparent before them lest they think that somehow God chose Paul because of his innate goodness. To the contrary, he lays out a case against himself. He was saying that he not only tried to please God through a faulty religion but also was a violent opponent of the Gospel, seeking to destroy it. The Gospel comes into a person’s life despite sin.
Not too long ago our nation was fixed on a mine out west that had collapsed. There were many men in that mine. As precious time clicked past, every effort was made to bring in a drill big enough to tear through the side of a mountain, through miles of iron ore and granite to save those men.
You are I are like those miners trapped. We are trapped by sin. And religion brings out every instrument available to dig through the layers of original sin to bring us freedom. Precious time ticks by as we try to please God through religious works, as we try to pretend like we are not in the mine, as we try to go around and find a hole through the mountain of sin. But Paul is saying that the Gospel came to him when he was in the worst possible condition of sin. He was resisting God’s grace. But thank God His grace is greater than our resistance! Only the divine drill bit of grace can drill deep and clean through the years of resistance to claim a human souls and breathe fresh life into a dead man. Praise God that His Gospel reached Paul! Praise God that His Gospel reached me! And praise God that new life is available to anyone here today who will receive His free gift of life!
3. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life through unconditional election (15a)
For Paul, the Gospel that saved him and transformed him was something at work a long time before. In fact, it that God had chosen Paul not based on anything in Paul’s life but based on the deep mysterious unfathomable love of God in Christ before the worlds began.
God elected Paul. Paul does not explain election as if we could fully grasp all of its divine complexities. He simply states it. And like Calvin and Luther and Knox and others many years later, Paul clings to it. For election is always revealed in order to give us assurance.
In my ministry as a pastor, I have seen over and over again that as so many of the saints of God draw near to their home going, they are fearful. “Did I do enough?” “And what of that sin of my youth?” And, “Can I really hold onto Christ during this transition?” And I have had the God given privilege of being those saints at their bedside and teaching them the doctrine that Paul here clings to: that God set you apart before you were born and if God started it, God will complete it. If God saved you then you are saved unto eternity. If you did it, you have something to worry about. But the Bible reveals the doctrine of election, not for philosophical speculation in ivory towers, but for practical assurance.
There is a Bluegrass song that my son and I used to sing, coming down Signal Mountain, as I would take him to school, “I’m Not Holding onto Jesus, He’s a Holding on to Me.” And that is the glory of this doctrine. The Gospel is not of man, but of God. And He set His love on you before you were ever born.
Now I want to rev up my engines just a bit and give you the next three ways that the Gospel originates in a human soul, and then we will slow down a bit as we head into the finish line.
Here is number 4:
4. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life through personal calling (15b)
God called Paul by His grace. My beloved each and every one of us must be called of God. That calling may not be in a blinding light on the road to Damascus, but maybe in the soft glow of your bedroom, when there comes a time in your Christian home that you recognize that your parent’s faith must be your faith and you know God’s call on your life personally.
Maybe even today, someone here is moving past the “ideas about Jesus” to the “Person of Jesus.” And you know that God is calling you.
The Gospel always originates in a personal call of God on your life. Have you answered that call?
5. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life through mere grace (15b)
Now in this call Paul refers to God’s grace. The call of the Gospel is all about God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And in our calls to come to Christ and in our heart’s acceptance of that call, it is all a divine work of the Holy Spirit. It is not of you, not of works lest any man should boast.
The Gospel is a free gift from a loving God. What did Jesus say to us?
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15.16 ESV).
The fifth way that the Gospel originates in your life is this:
6. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life with divine purpose (16)
In verse 16 Paul says that the Gospel came to Him “in order that” He could preach Christ among the Gentiles. Paul sees a divine purpose in his calling as a Christian and a preacher. He has a mission in life.
Each and every one of us has a purpose in life and it is to glory God and enjoy Him forever. We say that well. But do we know it? Do we live it? Do we live life, embrace it and know that God has called us for a purpose. Now you may be a lawyer or a doctor or a clergyman or a homemaker and you say that is your purpose. And I will not disagree with you. But your purpose in life is more than a professional occupation. Your purpose is not just to get a job, accumulate wealth, raise kids who do well, and then retire in the mountains. In fact, your purpose is to fulfill God’s purposes in this world while you are here. And God’s purposes are to redeem a fallen race through getting out the Good News of the Gospel of His Son Jesus Christ. The question to ask of yourself today is not, “Do I know God’s purpose for my life” but “Am I about god’s purpose in this world.”
7. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life and brings committed redirection (17)
Saul of Tarsus was a new man. And after the Gospel came into his life he committed to a new way of life and even a new direction. We are told in verse 17 that after Christ came to him he went into Arabia¾a sort of self imposed time of seminary¾and then he returned again to Damascus. Paul changed course. He had started on his way to Damascus to persecute Christ’s people and he ended up going in a new direction only to end back there again preaching Jesus. That is the Gospel. E. Stanley Jones, the great Methodist missionary wrote in his autobiography, Song of Ascents, about an African man. When this man heard the Gospel he changed his name to “After.” That is a funny name to us. But hew as saying that he was committed to a new way, a new direction in life, “after” Christ’s Gospel had changed him.
When Christ changes a human being there is an “after effect”: and that is a new direction.
Where are you going to day after Christ? Where are you going in your relationship with your family? Where are you going in your business? Where are you going in your relationship with God? If there is an origin of the Gospel in your life there must be an “after.”
8. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life and brings godly submission (18-20)
When Paul was saved he was saved by Christ. He was called by Christ. Who could boast up against Paul’s testimony of having received a personal visitation by the risen Christ? But Paul was submissive. After he went to his seminary experience at RTS Arabia and RTS Damascus, Paul presented himself in submissiveness to Peter and James.
The Gospel produces such a godly submission. When Christ saves you, He begins the work of sanctification and part of that involves getting rid of saying, “But I have a right!” He replaces that with “I have a debt…to pay to Christ…I am glad to just be here. How can I help?”
Is there anyone here today who is still clinging to your rights? Dietrich Bonheoffer famously said that when Christ saves a man he bids him to come and die.
But whoever truly experiences the Gospel in his life, begins the walk of surrender, even unto death of the old self and the beginning of a walk of new life.
9. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life and brings wonder (23)
This is one of my favorite verses. Those who were fearful of Paul began to say, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” I love that because this says that a man we look upon today, as a vile wicked sinner that we wouldn’t let near our children could become in God’s grace, a man who teaches those children Bible stories. The man who curses Christ today may preach Him tomorrow. And this brings wonder. Indeed, Martin Lloyd Jones used to speak of the “romance of the Gospel” and this is it! The wonder of the Gospel is that there is no story incapable of becoming God’s story! Even yours!
Sometimes I will get people saying to me, “I have prayed for my son for many years and yet I still see him living away from God. Is there any hope for him?” And I always remind them of Paul. I remind them of Peter. I remind them that the greatest preachers in the history of the Church were all, for the most part, men brought to Christ out of a life that was far from God. Augustine and his wicked sensual life, a concubine and illegitimate son, becomes the man who almost singlehandedly re discovers the doctrine of grace, which we study in Galatians, and transforms the Church of his day. Wesley was not a man of wickedness but a man of methodical religion who learned that such religion could not even give him security in a storm on the sea! He was afraid of dying and facing a holy God! But this man read the very preface of the Book of Romans by Martin Luther, another sinner saved by grace, and John Wesley fell on his knees on Aldersgate Street and said he felt his heart “strangely warmed and knew that Christ had saved even me.” And the Methodist movement began to spread throughout England so that Arnold Toynbee, a secular historian, declared that without the Great Awakening brought on by the preaching of Wesley and Whitefield, England could not have avoided the bloody revolution that had happened in France. What wonder?
The great Hebrew scholar, Abraham Joshua Heschel, was on his deathbed and he told his family, “I only asked God for wonder and He gave it.” I do not know the fate of that man’s soul, but the wonder of wonders is not just that there is a God, but that this God took on flesh and became Man and lived the life I could not live and died a death for my sins and offers eternal life to all who will turn to Him by faith.
“The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once he sought to destroy.”
Parents of wayward children, wives of straying husbands, souls seemingly locked in immovable unbelief: Jesus Christ is the God of wonders!
10. The Gospel of Jesus Christ originates in your life and breaks out in worship (24)
Paul often ends his own testimony with praise of the God of grace. It is as if the truth of Christ bubbles up inside of him and overflows into worship!
I have a friend of mine, Dr. Robert Smith, who is professor of preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Alabama. And Dr. Smith says this about doctrine:
Paul thus makes doctrine dance in his life. And it dances to the tune of grace. Paul’s theology becomes doxology.
In Galatians, Paul stands, as it were, on the front porch of the Galatians church. And he calls for the children to come in, to come in and feast on the Gospel of Grace, a Gospel that came, not from men like the false Gospels they are enchanted with, but from God Himself. Come in. Come home. Come eat the good food for your soul.
When I was a young man, I began to listen to other voices, other Gospels. Some of them came through words and music that today I would characterize as influenced by Eastern thought and Western 20th century existentialism. Then, it just sounded like the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield! It was just another voice. And I followed and I do not have time to tell you the sorrow that following that voice brought me. But I began to give out some calls of my own. And with a guitar and a pen and paper, I began to speak. When I heard the authentic call of Jesus Christ, I put down the guitar. I continued to play and to write privately, but I could not bear to play again publically because, for me, that guitar and my voice were sounds of pain, of wayward, lost years. And I shared this with some of my friends at a church I was planting, at the time in Savannah, Georgia.
One Christmas, a couple of members of that church asked me, “If you could have any guitar in the world what would it be?” I answered in jest, “I would probably want Neil Young’s Martin D-45.” That guitar cost around $10,000. The officers showed up on my door step that Christmas with a gift: it wasn’t a D-45, but a D-35, still more expensive than I would ever have paid. And as these kind believers presented me that guitar they were telling me, “Now. Play. And sing. And write. And do it for God’s glory.”
This is not the call of Aunty Em, or Aunt Eva. It is the call of Jesus Christ on your life from this Word. My prayer for you is that you will hear the authentic call of Jesus Christ from His Word, turn from all other voices and follow Him. For there you will find freedom. And there the doctrines of the Gospel will come alive and dance, and maybe even sing.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is a song about hearing His voice. It is called ,”Jesus Came.”
Jesus came when I was down,
I was lost no way to be found, He touched my soul and made me whole,
When Jesus came.
Jesus came into my life
His Word brought love
His Word brought life
I never knew what was true
‘ Till Jesus came.
“Even so Lord Jesus come”
Is the cry of those whose lives
Have felt your tender majesty
So we pray and so we plea
Jesus come when I grow old
When I see that my story ‘s been told
Come Shepherd lead me through death’s door
And find You there, forevermore.
Jesus come, in all of Your power
Though we know not the Day or the hour
We long to see the world set free
So Jesus come.
Jesus come. Jesus come.
See Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Samuel H. Dresner. I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology. New York: Crossroad, 1983.
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