Galatians 1:11-24, ESV
I became a Christian 2003, when I was about 15 years old. As it is when you come to know Christ and his great love for you, the change in me was quite significant, so much that many people, including my own family, soon nicknamed me “pastor” (I hated that nickname by the way, it was the last thing I ever wanted to be. And yet here I am. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of cosmic humour?).
But of all the people who were surprised by my transformation, one classmate was particularly amazed. By then, I was in Form 3, and he told me I had been a bully and that, together with my friends, I had once terrorized him, especially during our first year of high school. Now, I can hardly remember ever having been mean to him or anyone else (I always thought I was a saint!), but then, bullies never do. There is a Shona proverb that says, “the axe cuts down and forgets, but the tree stump will always remember”.
But, as all of us once were, I was lost, I walked in darkness, and I lived in sin. Therefore, if anyone is surprised by my salvation, trust me there is none more so than me. And not only with God’s first love for me, but even more by the fact that he continues to love me even though I am far from the bride he excepts to see when he returns.But, amazing my story may sound, even more incredible, is the story of Paul. When he was still known as Saul of Tarsus, he had been a fire-breathing dragon, a tormentor of the people of God who sought to destroy them by any means he could. He was the embodiment of the very gates of hell against which Christ was building his church.
But in an instant, on that now well-known day on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, he had an encounter that would turn his life, and indeed the whole world through him, upside down. Several years after that incident, he had then gone on preach the gospel to the Gentiles in the region of Galatia and had been left uttering praises to God because of how joyfully they had received the message he preached. But we must ask ourselves – what words were these that so miraculously changed you, and me and Paul and the Galatians, saving us all from the deep darkness of sin into the light of God’s marvellous grace?
Well, allow me to blow your mind. It is the gospel!
But not just any gospel. A very specific kind of gospel, indeed, it is the only true gospel there is. The power that so powerfully transformed enemies of the cross as we were is the message that says salvation is given to you by God as the free gift of grace and the only way you can receive it is by believing that Jesus died for the forgiveness of your sins and gave his life for your sake.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
That is the message that Paul had preached and which the Galatians had so readily received hardly a year before he wrote the scathing letter that is Galatians. But, very soon after he had left, some messengers of the Devil had crept into their midst and preached to them a different gospel which was no gospel at all. Where Paul had so faithfully exalted faith in Jesus as the only necessary ingredient to salvation, this spawn of Satan had somehow managed to convince the Gentile Christians in Galatia that their salvation would not be complete unless they stopped eating certain foods, and started observing certain days and feast such as Sabbath days and worst of all, at least in Paul’s mind, had themselves circumcised.
And to Paul’s amazement in verse 6 of Galatians 1, they had believed these lying “angels” from hell and deserted the one who had called them to live in the freedom of the grace of Jesus Christ. Where Christ had removed the shackles of sin, they were now voluntarily chaining themselves to the burden of following human traditions and laws that had no power to save them at all. So, in a desperate bid to defend, not himself, but the true gospel they had first heard from him, Paul wrote them this letter, and our focus this morning will be on Galatians 1:11-24 (ESV), in the hope that it would somehow shock them back to sanity.
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 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.
15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 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; 17 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.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. (Gal 1:11-24 ESV)
And we ourselves are not immune to being deceived from the true gospel that preaches that mercy and grace are the free gift that come from Christ’s sacrifice and not by your own efforts. Indeed, last week we heard of the many false gospels that surround us – from Catholicism to Mormonism. And those are just the enemies outside – what more the ones lurking within you? What more the false gospel you preach to yourself, one that says God will not love you unless you do something and leaves you vainly trying to earn his love instead of receiving it?
None of these are true gospels at all, but lies – clever lies perhaps – but lies nonetheless.
And so, you must ask yourself this morning – what is it about the gospel of salvation as the free gift of God through Christ that makes it worth risking offending many? What is it about its message that made Paul so angry that in Galatians 1:8 he calls down curses and condemnation on anyone who preached anything more or less?
As you read
Galatians 1:11-12, you realize that first, it is because this gospel that Paul
preached and that you have heard and believed, comes from the mouth of God.
IT IS THE GOSPEL SPOKEN BY GOD HIMSELF
The false preachers of Satan who had infected the Galatians had come in and attacked Paul himself, and by doing so, his message. And so, in verse 11 and 12 he mounted his first defence saying
“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”. (Galatians 1:11-12 ESV)
Paul was not defending himself here, but the gospel which he preached. The false preachers were accusing him of preaching a second-hand gospel, saying he had heard it from the disciples in Jerusalem but had then twisted it and left out the important parts such as keeping the Jewish laws and customs. They accused Paul of preaching the words of men, which is what they themselves were doing. But by now, everyone knew of Paul’s testimony, and so he reminded them of how he had been saved and made a preacher of the gospel of God. He had not been appointed by some mere human being, but in verse 12 he insists that he received it directly from God “through a revelation of Jesus Christ”.
By this, he was referring to that famous incident when, on his way to Damascus to terrorize the Christians, Paul had met face to face with Jesus. It was there that, struck with blindness, he had seen Jesus, and first believed in the true message of salvation that came from the mouth of God himself. And it was by Christ, and not the disciples in Jerusalem, as the false preachers claimed, that he had been given the command to go and preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
A message is only as great as the one who sends it and had Paul’s gospel been given to him by mere man, it would have been worthless. But it had come straight from the mouth of Christ. It is for this reason that the gospel you have received is worth defending, even if it means offending half the city and becoming as a leper to you friends. We have not preached the words of men nor have you believed in the words of men, but you have heard the message of God himself and if His gospel causes offense, so be it, because while it may be a stumbling block to some and utter foolishness to others (1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV), it is the power of God of salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16, ESV).
is not the only reason that this gospel of salvation through faith in Christ
alone worth fighting for, even at the expense of your own comfort – it is also
because it is the only gospel that gives life, raising sinners from the dead.
IT IS THE GOSPEL THAT RAISES DEAD SINNERS INTO LIVING SAINTS
As we have already seen, Paul’s former life when he was still known as Saul, had been one of pure evil. He describes it himself in verses 13-17, saying in verse 13 that he
“persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13 ESV)
We get a glimpse of just how ruthless a man he had been in Acts 7 and 8, where Luke tells us that Paul had been amongst those who murdered God’s servant Stephen when he condemned the lie of salvation by works which Paul and his fellow Pharisees preached. But, in verses 15-16, it all changed when he finally believed it after it was preached to him by Jesus himself, saying
“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me…” (Galatians 1:15-16, ESV)
The gates of hell broke down as words of grace poured into Paul’s ears saying to him “I loved you before you even knew me. I saved you, not because of anything you have done, either good or bad, but absolutely because of my incredible love and mercy for you”. The light of God flooded his heart and with it, the life which Jesus had sacrificed for him on the cross.
The gospel is more than words that we preach to you repeatedly, agonizingly every Sunday (even to the point that the service ends at 10:20 and not 10:15!). Its message is powerful, bringing to life those who are dead as you once were, turning dead sinners into living saints, forgiving sins you thought could never be washed clean, healing wounds you thought would never close. This gospel is so mighty to save, that even those who have died the physical death in Christ still live on in him.
After his insane encounter with Jesus, Paul did the unthinkable by today’s standards. He didn’t plaster it on Facebook or Instapage. Verses 16-17 tell us he instead went off somewhere in the region of Arabia, then eventually to Damascus. Why he went there, we honestly don’t know. But I believe the reality of the gospel hit him so hard, that he needed time to sit and think about what had just happened. His encounter with Christ was no small thing, and life, the new life he had received, could not go on as usual. He had once been a sinner but now he was a saint, and it was simply overwhelming. Verse 18 tell us it took three years before he emerged to furiously defend the gospel he had once tried to destroy.
Will you not stop for a moment and consider what the message of salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone is worth to you? Do you realize that it alone has the power to save sinners and give life to the dead?
And if that
is true, and it is, then it is worth defending, preaching and believing – not
only because it has been spoken to you from the mouth of God himself and has
the power to turn sinners into saints – but, lastly but not least, because it
brings glory to God through sweet songs of praise.
IT IS THE GOSPEL THAT MAKES YOU SING SWEET SONGS OF PRAISE
I still remember one of the first Sundays when I came to City Presby some 10 or so years ago, and it was then that I first heard the lovely words of what must be one of the most beautiful songs ever written – “Wonderful, merciful Saviour”. The opening verse, which most of you are familiar with says (sing with me):
Wonderful, merciful Saviour
Precious redeemer and friend
Who would have thought that a Lamb could
Rescue the souls of men?
Oh, you rescue the souls of men
For surely, who would have thought that a sinner such as me could have been so loved by God, that he would sacrifice his own Son, the Lamb that was blameless and pure, in order that I might be saved? In verses 18 -24, when Paul finally emerged from Arabia and began visiting the other believers, he says in verse 22 that the Christians in Judea did not yet know him. But what they did know is in verse 23, that
“He who used to persecute us, is now preaching the faith that he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23 ESV)
The Lamb of God had rescued yet another soul, and not just any soul, but that of a man who had once been his greatest enemy. And when they saw the incredible power of the gospel, verse 24 says quite simply that
“They glorified God because of me”.
What was once the instrument of Satan’s evil, had now become the vessel of God’s grace. Brothers and sisters, such a transformation does not happen by any gospel other than the true gospel that says salvation is absolutely and completely the free gift of God given to sinners through Jesus Christ. That is the only means by which the Lamb rescues the souls of men. There is no other way by which the power of God working through the Holy Spirit can raise those who are dead, as you once were, to life.
And when those around you see it, it leaves them in absolute awe of God, for what else can turn bullies into believers, persecutors into preachers, and sinners into saints? It is the true gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone that will bring sweet songs of praise to the lips of men.
So then, I urge you brothers and sisters, knowing its delightful source, its incredible power to save those who believe it, and its unique ability to bring glory to the God who gives it, do not tire of this gospel or be ashamed of it. The men whom God has called to serve you from this pulpit will not tire in preaching it. Nor should you ever cease to defend it with every fibre of your being, even if it causes offense.
It is the power of God for salvation to us who believe. Amen.