Paul Preaches The Gospel
Just to recount the story of Paul in Galtia.
Paul has arrived in Galatia because of sickness.
He has preached to them a gospel.
Now the gospel here, is a Greek word which means Good New.
Good News, note the plural here, was a phrase that the Galatians would have known, and it would have had two connotations.
The first was when a battle was being fought, and people eagerly waited to hear what was the result of the battle, whether they were going to be saved or not.
The people would have lived in a city state, surrounded by walls, and news would have reached them of an army which was marching.
So the women and children, it would have been in those days, would have prepared their men for battle, lifted the gates of the city, and watched them go out to march,
And then all they could do was wait.
It was a bit like us in Church last Sunday waiting to hear how Andy Murray was getting on. We didn’t quite know the result of the match when we came to Church, there was always this possibility that he might have turned things around.
So these folks would have sent the men out to battle, and all that they could do was wait.
And several days later – those of you who have watched the film 300 will know the kind of thing I am talking about, Gerard Butler going out with his band of warriors, and the people wait,
And they know that their lives depend on this battle.
And thy wait, and they wait, for a messenger to come running over the horizon.
And Paul appears, like that messenger in Galatia,
There has been a battle going on against death, it happened in Jerusalem,
And a man, who was the Son of God, this man Christ, fought death for us, dealt with God’s anger for us, and he won.
This is how Paul puts it in 1 Thessalonians,
9 All those people speak about how you received us when we visited you, and how you turned away from idols to God, to serve the true and living God 10 and to wait for his Son to come from heaven – his Son Jesus, whom he raised from death and who rescues us from God’s anger that is coming.
And when normally people spoke about these battles in the ancient world, the runner would come running over the horizon, exhausted, and he would reach the gates of the city, and when he was close enough to be heard, he would lift up his voice, and he would say
But what is interesting with Paul is that he shortens the message in one subtle, but vitally important way – he would say
There is something so transformative, so different, so final about what this Jesus has done, that he gives it a category all of its own
The second context that people would have used this phrase Good News, would have been in the birth of the emperor, no more so than the Emperor Augustus.
This is what has been found in a pillar in Asia minor, to the West of Galatia, from 9 BC
And it is to do with the fact that the Emperor Augustus has been so magnificent that the only appropriate response is to start the calendar year on the birthday of Augustus.
And all through this inscription Augustus is venerated as a God.
Augustus was filled with all virtue, and Providence (a kind of oblique way of referring to God) sent Augustus to the world as a Soter, as a Saviour, (interesting choice of word) and the year should start on his birthday because he causes wars to cease and replaces those wars with peace. Before his birth glad tidings, good news had been announced, and with his coming, says the pillar, those Good News had been more than fulfilled.
So the idea here is of a transformational figure, who is filled with goodness, and in his coming, brings to the world a new era.
There is a little idea of what that is like the in town of Ypres.
Ypres as you know was at the centre of many of the most violent battles in the First World War.
My great grandfather fought there at Hill 60, one of the most violent places, which included in it Hellfire corner. The story was that you could tell the men who had fought at Hill 60, because even amongst all the men who fought around Ypres, these men had a particularly haunted look to them.
But there was a haven in Ypres, a chaplin, a man called Tubby Clayton, had taken over a house, Talbot House, known by the initials Toc-H, and this was a sanctuary for the men on the front.
I have been there, there is a library, and there is a garden,
And the idea being that this place was utterly different from the war that was being fought back out there on Hill 60.
And for Paul what Jesus has done in his gospel, is bring about an existence so transformative, so utterly different from the battles of life, even our battle with God, that he cannot just say “Good News” but he says “Good New”.
A New People
There is a third dimension to this idea of gospel, which comes from Paul itself, and you can see it in Ephesians 3:6
The secret of this gospel
6 The secret is that by means of the gospel the Gentiles have a part with the Jews in God’s blessings; they are members of the same body and share in the promise that God made through Christ Jesus.
So all this Grace and Peace has meant peace with God
Has meant a new reality in which we live away from the destruction of our former life
And it means we are brought into a new people
Peace with God
New environment in which to live
A new people
So the story continues, and other teachers came into Galatia, and they changed Paul’s gospel slightly.
To Paul, they took away its impact, its transformative message
What Jesus had done was not quite enough, there were a few more things that had to be done to win the battle, it wasn’t quite over yet.
I was being shown an old football book of the year 1970? When Rangers thought that they had won the game sufficiently, and invaded the pitch, only to hear about a last minute goal from Celtic.
Or like the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2008 when it looked like Felippe Massa had won, and the Ferrari garage started celebrating, only for Lewis Hamilton to move up a place on the last lap
Paul sees the additional message being pedalled like that, the battle has not yet been won.
Or the suggestion that peace has not yet been won fully by Christ, and so there is more to be done,
That the Gentiles, the people of Galatia, also called the Celts, for they are our cousins (all of us are descended from a tribe of Austrians) are not yet quite part of God’s people
Because they have to be circumcised, and they have to avoid certain foods, and they have to keep certain days in the calendar, and Paul is as we know, quite raging about all of this.
Now there is a strong connection here with the Jerusalem Church which Paul has had a difficult relationship with. So he brings the Galatians back to something which happened 14 years after he had become a Christian.
He had been away from the Jerusalem Church for a large number of years, and he had a message from God to go up to Jerusalem again. This was an unsettling thing, why did he want to get involved with the folks in Jerusalem, he was happy by himself.
So he went with his ally Barnabas
And he brought another man Titus – Paul is quite clear in verse 1, I brought Titus with me
Not Titus happened to come along, but Titus was brought.
Titus is going to represent something to the Jerusalem Church and this something is going to force the Church to deal with something.
You see for 2000 years the Jews have worked on the understanding that if any man wants to be part of God’s people, then he needs to lose his foreskin.
It’s just the nature of things, it goes right back to Abraham
It is a sign of the cost of becoming a member of one of God’s people.
It is a sign that belonging is taken seriously
And it just is, it’s just the way it is done. It goes beyond logic, it’s what you have to do.
You become one of us, the foreskin goes.
And this has kept happening in the Church in Jerusalem
But Paul has been going rough proclaiming a gospel which suggests that Jesus has done all that needs done, no foreskins need chopped off any more,
There is something wholly adequate about the death of Jesus,
So complete and furiously effective
That means there are no more foreskins being chopped
No matter diet having to be watched
No more special festivals having to be observed
Jesus is enough.
And in Paul’s Church in Antioch, the men, for the first time in 2000 years have been part of God’s people whilst still keeping a hold of their foreskin.
Whereas in Jerusalem, the foreskin has been coming off, or perhaps since most of the members are Jewish, it was off anyway.
And Paul brings up one of these men, one of these uncircumcised men
To established that Jesus’ death has changed the rules of things.
In a private meeting with the leaders I explained the gospel message that I preach to the Gentiles. I did not want my work in the past or in the present to be a failure.
And Paul wants to check that the Church in Jerusalem gets this,
Not because he wants them to check that he has been telling the truth about the death of Jesus
But he wants to make sure that the Churches have the one understanding of Jesus death
– Battle won, new peaceful era, new people formed
Is shared between the two Churches, otherwise there will be a schism between them
So you have to Churches, doing two fairly different things
Some different emphases
And Paul wants to make sure that the Church is one
And the test for the one Church is “How are you going to deal with Titus”
And there are some problems here
Paul remembers an incident that happened back in Antioch – and at this point in the Greek Paul’s grammar starts going all wrong
Some False brothers slipped into our meeting in order to spy on us
They wanted to make slaves of us
But those who seemed to be the leaders
– Paul says not “were the leaders” but “seemed to be the leaders”
They took our side, and offered us the right hand of fellowship
And they recognised that it was my job to preach to the Gentiles
And Peter’s job to preach to the Jews
– It seems that some of the Teachers who have corrupted the Galatians have suggested that Paul has been operating without the agreement of the Jerusalem Church, and the pillars they ought to be listening to are James, Peter and John.
On the contrary says Paul, they offered us the right hand of fellowship
And they asked us to remember the poor, which probably means the poor of Jerusalem
Which Paul says he was eager to do, because he was eager to establish the idea that two Churches were one.
Things to think about
The Gospel Is An All Consuming Reality
For Paul the Gospel is not some extra thing, a little boost to life. The genie in the bottle.
My life is school and work and money and friendships and cyber-friendship, and there is this extra bit called Gospel.
Rather gospel is an all consuming reality of Grace and Peace
Which transforms every moment, every relationship,
It is peace with God, it is a new way of being, in fact every moment could be rendered differently because we live in the light of the gospel
It is like that Garden in Ypres, it is totally new.
And the temptation is to always go back to the older reality, go back to the war.
The Gospel is to be fought for
The gospel is to be fought for for Paul
The way that he fights with the Galatian teachers
The way that his Greek goes to pieces when he thinks about the false brothers
The way that he doesn’t just say to the folks in Jerusalem
We have Titus here, and I really don’t think that we need to be circumcising him, but if you folks have a different interpretation, then to keep the peace I am happy to get the knives out.
He will fight for this idea, because for Paul it has come from God.
Small things are important
And sometimes small things are important, because they are a symptom of how much we perceive this other reality.
The foreskin issue could only be that, but if you give into this says Paul it is “slavery” – they wanted to make slaves of us he says of the false brothers in verse 4.
Often people used to laugh at the folks in Northern Ireland for fighting over the issue of parades, what is it that’s so important about a wee stretch of road that gets walked over at 6am in the morning.
But there are big issues to do with justice, truth and tradition bound up in this little piece of road at 6.30 in the morning, the future depends on what we do here.
I heard Simon Mayo recently discussing autographs with Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo I always give an autograph if asked except if someone has knocked on the door of my house, why so, why such a small thing, because behind lies issues of home, and separation.
Sometimes the small things really do count.
Your Length Of Service
Your length of service doesn’t make you right.
There is an insulting thing almost that Paul does not treat the Disciples of Jesus as having any special authority. He says that the leaders were seeming leaders. I say this because it makes no difference to me what they were.
We all have this thing where we judge the truth of a thing, partly on the thing, and partly because of who said it.
I was at a couple of conferences this week, and at one of them I heard speak a minister called David Arnott, he is retired, and he used to the minister of Netherlee Church on the South Side. When I bumped into him in a corridor later on I was more deferential than I might otherwise have been because he is also going to be the Moderator next year.
You Cannot Overstate What Jesus did for us
You cannot overstate the power of what Jesus did for us in dying for us.
He did everything for us.
We go striving for far off targets, and everything good is offered to us now
We imagine that the secret of life is held for us by some guru, whether Paul McKenna, or some management guru, or some time management guru, or some appointment – and the secret of what makes us whole is given to us now
We imagine that our perfection, our purity depends on our good behaviour, Don Miller talks about a time that he and his group of friends decided to live like Navy Seals for a while, in order to know God more, and if they devoted, and if they prayed, and if they fasted, then they would have God, God has already been given to us in Christ.
You can never overstate what Christ has achieved for us.
Things to Look up
– Trevor Morrow
– Donald Miller