Where Did You Hear That From?

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 3C, June 9th, 2013

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For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. [Galatians 1:11]

And neither is what I am about to preach; so you know what that means, don’t you?  We all better pay attention; we all need to hear God’s voice.  But hearing God’s voice, hearing the clear call of the  gospel can be hard sometimes, especially in our society today when there are so many other voices, messages vying for our attention.

Ask a young person a question today, and you’re likely to hear this as a response: “I don’t know.  Let me “Google” it!”  Some of you might be asking, “What’s a Google?”  Well it is a search engine, one of  many available on the Internet, which promises to find an answer to almost any question.  In this information age, that can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing.  You see there is no quality  control on the Internet.  Not in Google, or anywhere else for that matter.  Anyone, and I mean anyone can put anything out there and claim it as the gospel truth.  Did you know that on the Internet, you  will learn that former Pres. George W. Bush was responsible for the 9-11 tragedy?  Yep, according to the Internet it was our own president who ordered the attacks and not Al Qaida.  Oh, and did you  also know that President Obama is secretly a Muslim and that he is preparing to replace our constitution with Sharia Law.  Yep, it’s all right there on the Internet.

So, again, in this day and age when someone says something and swears that it is the truth, we need to look into it a little deeper and ask, “Where did you hear that from?”

In our Epistle lesson (Galatians 1:11-24) St. Paul answers that question from the very beginning; before he shares the Good News about salvation, grace, and the forgiveness of sins.  He says, “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.” [Vs. 11-12]

Then, in an attempt to keep you from looking to him as the source of the “good news” and keep your eyes on Christ, he completely disqualifies himself as being worthy of the title “Apostle” by giving you  a look into his background.  Listen: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  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.” [Vs. 13-14]

In those words, Paul is telling us that as a Pharisee, that as a teacher of Judaism, he was also a defender of it; his call was to hunt down any voices that taught against the traditions of Judaism.  Mind you, he wasn’t defending the Word of God, but the accepted rules of practicing the worship and interpretation of God’s Word.  And the chief target of were those who called themselves Christians.  Why?  Because of what they preached, taught, and confessed as the truth.  And the dangerous message that they proclaimed as good news was this: God was not impressed or moved to show mercy by what we do, which is called active, or civil righteousness, but instead, God’s mercy is given to us by a righteousness completely foreign to us; a righteousness that comes to sinners solely by believing in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, who suffered and died upon the cross, to forgive the sins of the world!

But then after a successful career of hunting down the Christian troublemakers, Paul, who was then called Saul, met Jesus!  By the way, did you know that Paul was not only present when the first Christian martyr Stephen was stoned and killed, but that he actually supervised it? (Acts 7:58)

So why did Jesus choose Paul?  Was it because of his great training in the traditions of Judaism?  Was it because of his intimate knowledge with the languages of the day?  Was it because he was zealous for the things he thought came from God?  No, it was none of those things.  It was because everything that Paul was not, Jesus was.  It was because in weakness and sin, God could come to Paul in power and grace.  Listen to how Paul puts it: “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, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone”. [Vs. 15, 16]  Did you hear those wonderful words of grace.  God set Paul apart, before he was born; He called Paul by grace, not by anything Paul did or did not do, but by the undeserved love and mercy of God.  By grace, Paul was introduced to the Son of God Jesus Christ.  Why?  So that he could preach Jesus crucified and resurrected to the world!  Paul was given the complete gospel of Christ, by Jesus Himself.  The message that he was to preach was identical to the message of the other apostles; it was given by the same Holy Spirit, but it was given independently.  Why?  So that we today, would hear this gospel Word and believe that it comes directly from the mouth of God!  So that we will hear about the forgiveness of sins and hold onto that message above all other messages.

Today, as I said earlier there are a lot of messages out there, and unfortunately there are also a lot of false gospels as well.

Some teach a universal gospel, or in other words they say that there are many paths to heaven, not just the Christian way.

Others think that they must defend God, or explain every mystery in life.  The widow in our Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 17:17-24) tried to do that.  She spoke for God by making the assumption that her son was taken from her at such a young age, because of her sins.  Many false preachers of God do the same thing today.  We ask, “Why did God let this happen to me?” And they are quick with an answer.  Sometimes they blame our lack of faith, sometimes they blame our nation, and sometimes, like the widow speaking to Elijah, they blame our sins.   The truth is, like Paul’s call to faith and like our own call, we do not know why God does what He does, but we do know what motivates His action; it is His great love for us.  In love God speaks His Word and then leads us to the waters of baptism, and then every day thereafter, that same Word shows us again and again, the cross of Jesus Christ and continually encourages us to receive the undeserved gift of forgiveness of sins, and then simply trust that God loves us and is ultimately in control of all things.

But it is in our sinful human nature not to trust; not to rest in anything so easy and free, so sinful preachers and teachers attempt to tweak the Word of God so that it gives us credit for earning some of God’s free gift of grace.  This kind of false gospel is probably the most dangerous for us who call ourselves Christian, because it takes our eyes off of what Christ has done, and instead encourages us to look at what we are doing.

Usually, this false gospel is based in a human-tradition and it has been handed down throughout many generations.  In time, after the false message has been repeated so many times, it becomes the truth and replaces the pure Word of God, and those who continue to teach this false gospel, along with those who blindly follow it, eventually break away from Christ’s true church, and condemn everyone else who won’t follow them.

Scripture teaches that by their fruit you will know them, and their fruit usually calls for the true Christian to “do the right thing” rather than trusting in Jesus’s righteousness.  It presumes that doing a good thing makes us better (more righteous) than those who fail to do the good thing.  Thus God’s law, written in the human heart, is at work but it becomes twisted into a game of pilling up of good deeds, in order to impress not a God of love, but an angry God who is chomping at the bit to punish all sinners.  In the process, real sins, which sometimes only God sees and knows about are ignored as though they never happened, and the sinner feels safe and secure, while in reality, they are going straight to hell.  Where did this version of religious life come from?  People made it up!  Why?  Because it feels and tastes good.

Mixing and confusing Law and Gospel always makes for a very poisonous and deadly mixture.  It’s kind of like ethylene glycol, or anti-freeze to a dog.  It tastes sweet but it will kill him.

But the gospel is the true sweetness of God.  It is given to you through no merit of your own; you did not earn it nor did you deserve it.  But instead, while you were still a sinner, a dog who will stupidly lap up anything that tastes sweet but in truth is deadly, Christ died for you! [Acts 5:8]  He died for you so that you need never wonder if you are forgiven.  He led you to the waters of baptism, so that you need never wonder whether you are truly saved.  He surrounds you with His Word and His Holy Supper so that as often as you have the opportunity, you can take and eat and take and drink of His body and blood, and know for certain that you are loved and never abandoned!  That is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and none other should ever take its place in your heart.

In the call of St. Paul and in your own call, Jesus gives us the Way of God’s mercy, He shows us His cross and His empty tomb; He gives us forgiveness for all of our sins; He gives us a new beginning.  Each morning this beginning is fresh and vibrant.  In this new beginning, we are constantly shown a new way to live; a way that agrees with the Word of God, which declares that doing something right is not enough because, “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.  (Instead, we have learned that) God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.” (Romans 2:12, 16)  But this is the true gospel, the good news, “The righteousness of God comes “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

This is the message that brings new life.  It is the message that touched the dead sons of the widows in both our old testament and gospel readings, and it is the message that touches ourselves and our children and brings life where before only death ruled.  I pray that you will forever cling to this message and no other, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

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