Only one way - Galatians 2:1-10
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Aim: To persuade the congregation that there is only one unchangeable gospel that needs to be preached to every people group in the world.
Theme: Paul demonstrates to the Galatian Christians, who are currently being troubled by Judaising false teachers, that his gospel, with its non-compulsory circumcision, is identical with the gospel preached by the Jerusalem church.
When you drive up or down Beverly Road on a Friday or Saturday evening does your heart not break? I remember very clearly the first time I ever set my eyes on the vast number of people crowded on the pavements and scattered across the road. Young people and middle aged people who couldnít walk a short distance without stumbling over to one side. Girls with skirts like belts, walking slowly along the road before the eyes of the waiting voyeurs. How do you react to such a scene? Do you get angry? Do you mutter to yourself or to the person in the car with you: just look at the state of society today, whatever will happen next? Or does your heart break? And do you think to yourself in that moment that these people need to hear the gospel? They need to hear the important news about who Jesus is, what he has done and what he offers them today. Do you not say to yourself, although I may not know how to reach them I am fully convinced that they need to be reached.
Would you say the same about the Muslim council of Britain? Or what about if you turn on your television and see a picture of thousands of Hindu pilgrims streaming to the River Ganges to have their sins washed away? Or what about if you see a group of orthodox Jews gathered by the wailing wall in Jerusalem rocking back and forth saying their prayers? What do you think to yourself? Are you convinced that there is one unchangeable gospel that needs to be preached to every people group in the entire world?
From Beverly Road to Bethlehem Square. From Newland Avenue to New York City. Are we convinced that no matter what religious devotion a person maintains there is only one way to be rescued from the consequences of our past behaviour? Are we convinced that there is only one person in the entire universe who can rescue us from the judgement to come? Do we believe that Jesus Christ is not an optional extra required by just a few but commitment to him is necessary for us all? Galatians chapter 2 verses 1 to 10 focus on the oneness of the gospel. They declare to us that God has only one message for his world. There is not a separate message for Jews or Muslims or Hindus or atheists or young people or old people. There is only one message about Jesus that God the Father wants everyone in the world to hear.
So far in the book of Galatians Paul has been defending the independence and the authority of his apostolic ministry. He has been keen to point out to the Christians in Galatia that the message he preached to them when he was with them in Southern Turkey was not a human invention. It was not something that he made up when he was walking the streets of Jerusalem. No the message that he preached was given to him by the risen Lord Jesus himself. Despite the fact that he was a murderous pursuer of Jesusí new church he was shown abundant mercy, and was changed from being a persecutor to being a preacher. Amazingly he became one of Jesusí right hand men. One of his apostles. Someone entrusted with the authentic and the authoritative message that Jesus wanted, and still wants, spread across the globe. Should you listen to this guy? Absolutely! No question about it!
But just imagine that you were one of those Galatian Christians who had turned up to church on the morning when Paulís letter first arrived. You make your way to your favourite cushion on the floor, right at the back, just behind the pillar, making sure that the new congregation leader, a man called Melvos Tinkos, cannot quite look you in the eye.
Eventually he stands up and announces to the church that a letter has just been delivered from the apostle Paul. Now picture the scene. You know there have been problems. You know that certain teachers have been travelling from church to church accusing Paul of neglecting his duty. They say "He only told you part of the truth. He deliberately decided not to tell you about the need for the males among you to be circumcised. Yes of course believe that Jesus is the Messiah but if you really want to demonstrate that you are a member of Godís people, and so therefore that you will be saved on the day of judgement, then if you are a man then you need to be circumcised." Have you got the picture? You have gathered together with the other believers to hear what Paul, the man responsible for your original introduction to Jesus, has to say in response to this new situation that you are facing in your church.
Now what have you discovered by the end of chapter 1? You have been convinced that Paul needs to be listened to. Not only was Paul a man on a mission but he was Godís man on a mission. And you have been convinced that the message he brought to you as he travelled throughout Southern Turkey was the message that your King and Saviour Jesus Christ wanted you to hear. But what is the big question that you are left with at the end of chapter 1? Youíve just heard chapter 1 read and your mind is whirling full of information. But what are you left thinking about as you wait for the church leader to begin reading chapter 2? What is the relationship between Paulís gospel and the gospel preached by the church in Jerusalem? Granted that Paulís message was authentic and the Jerusalem message was authentic what is the relationship between the two? The key question is this: does God have the same message for the Jews and the Gentiles or does he have a different message for each group? This is the question that chapter 2 seeks to answer. So letís find out what the Bible teaches.
And weíll do this by, first of all, inspecting Paulís commission from God (Verses 1-2). Secondly, by examining Paulís confrontation with people (Verses 3-5). And then, lastly, by focusing on Paulís conclusions for us (Verses 6-10).
First of all, we focus on Paulís commission from God. Have a look at verses 1 and 2. "Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles." In response to a revelation. Now do you see the importance of that? Paul was not summoned to Jerusalem by the Jewish apostles to give an account of his ministry among the Gentles. This was not an example of central headquarters sending for the regional representative to guarantee that the quality of the product was being maintained across the companyís vast distribution network. No, Paulís visit to Jerusalem was in response to a revelation from God, most likely the prediction from the prophet Agabus that we read about in Acts 11. So Paul was effectively on a mercy mission to Jerusalem. He was commissioned by God to take practical aid to the Jewish Christians in the city.
And yet did you notice who went with him. Have a look at the end of verse 1. I took Titus along also. Here was a deliberate and provocative choice by the apostle Paul. He said "Titus you are coming with me to the very centre of Jewish Christianity." Can you just imagine what Titus said to him? "Hey Paul wait a minute, hold your horses, are you not forgetting something? Remember I am a Greek and so therefore I was never circumcised as a young boy. So what do you think will happen to us when you take me to the historic city of Jerusalem and introduce me to the Christian leaders there?" Do you see how potentially risky it was? And yet Paul deliberately chose to take one of the converts from his Gentile mission to the very heart of Jewish Christianity. Here was an opportunity not to be missed.
He may have been on a mercy mission to Jerusalem, that was certainly his primary aim, but at the same time he saw his chance to demonstrate to the leaders in Jerusalem what God had been doing amongst the Gentiles. So, according to verse 1, he took Titus with him, and, according to verse 2, he set before them the gospel that he preached among the Gentiles.
But he did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders for fear that he was running or had run his race in vain. Now we must be careful not to misunderstand what Paul is saying here. He is not afraid that the leaders in Jerusalem will veto his ministry. Paul was not on the payroll of the Jerusalem church. In fact, this visit described in Galatians chapter 2 was only his second trip to the historic city since his conversion experience on the Damascus Road. So what was he afraid of? If not the Jerusalem veto then what?
I donít know if you have ever been in a crowd situation when someone is trying to argue their point and persuade others to believe it. When I used to live in London I once paid a visit to the infamous Speakersí Corner. I donít know if you have ever heard of it but every week on a Sunday afternoon hundreds of people gather at one corner of Hyde Park. And various people bring their step ladders with them, in order to stand at the top and proclaim their message to the gathered crowds. But to be honest with you it is mostly ineffective. There is very little persuasion in the minds of the listeners. And the reason is simple: the crowd always get their way. Do you not find that in crowd situations? It doesnít matter how persuasive the argument is, if the crowd are currently against you, you will not win the day.
So when Paul arrived in Jerusalem with Titus he met the Jewish leaders in private. You see he wanted to preserve the unity between Godís people. He knew there was only one gospel, one unchangeable message that needed to be preached to every people group in entire world. And I think he was convinced that the Jewish Christian leaders believed the same thing. But what about the crowd?
What would happen to the unity between the Jewish mission and the Gentile mission if there was a head-to-head interaction between Paul and Peter in front of a patriotic Jewish crowd? Paul could not be sure and so therefore to ensure the success of his mission he decided to meet with the Jerusalem leaders in private.
And yet despite his best efforts to avoid confrontation of any kind he nevertheless encountered face to face opposition over the issue of circumcision. Letís call it the Titus Question. Would he have the snip or would he not? According to verse 4, some false brothers had managed to infiltrate the secret meeting taking place in Jerusalem. They wanted to spy on the freedom that was available to those who had a relationship with Jesus Christ but ultimately not to join them but to make them slaves. They wanted to compel Titus to be circumcised. And the key word is compel. Circumcision was not an optional extra for them, to be done as it was in Acts 16 with Timothy when it was useful for gospel advancement. No, for this group of people circumcision was an essential requirement for getting into heaven. They still believed that the people of God had to follow the rules set out in the Old Testament. Yes of course they believed that Gentiles could be saved. They knew about the rules for the foreigner written into the pages of the Old Testament. They had not abandoned Titus to the fires of hell simply because he was born into a non-Jewish family. But this is what they did believe. If he wanted to be a member of Godís people and so therefore if he wanted to be saved he would have to become an Israelite. He would have to put into practice the laws of God that he found in the Old Testament. And that meant circumcision, Jewish holy days and a vast number of different dietary laws. Here was the Titus question and here was Paulís confrontation with people.
What would he do? Would he capitulate to their demands? Would he stand his ground? Would he draw a line in the sand or would he instead take Titus along to the local hospital for a little bit of surgery?
Have a look at verse 3. "Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek." And the reason is found in verse 5. "We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you." And what is the truth of the gospel? Have a look at verse 4. "This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves."
There is the truth of the gospel, in a nutshell: freedom in Christ Jesus. Paul was convinced that a new era had opened up in world history. Jesus Christ was not just the continuation of the old, he was the arrival of something dramatically new and different. In him was to be found freedom. Both for the Jews and for the Gentiles. First of all, freedom for the Jews. For years and years they had been enslaved by their inability to keep Godís law. Godís law was good. It consisted of his loving instructions to live life to the max. But Godís people were enslaved to their sin and so constantly found themselves under Godís condemnation. However, with the arrival of Jesus, a man walked the earth in perfect obedience to the law of God. He never failed. And because of his amazing love for his people he took the curse of their disobedience onto himself so that they could be freed from the burden of their guilt and condemnation. In Jesus Godís people were offered a fresh start. The arrival of Jesus meant freedom for the Jews. But, secondly, it also meant freedom for the Gentiles. For years and years they had known nothing of personal intimacy with the God who made them. They were far from God and far from his people. They were fearful of death, superstitious about the stars, terrified by the power of the natural elements and afraid that uncontrollable disease would spread through their region. Not so different from today is it? The Gentiles were not free. Mel Gibson may have proclaimed in a very bad Scottish accent that they may take our lives, but theyíll never take our freedom, but such freedom is an illusion for any person who has not committed themselves to God and asked him for forgiveness.
However, let us be clear about this. Before the life and death of Jesus Christ the only way for Gentiles to achieve this release from spiritual slavery was to commit themselves to God by committing themselves to the Jewish religion. So do you see the radical change that has taken place since the arrival of Jesus? Previously, to be saved we would have to follow the laws outlined in the Old Testament. But now because of his perfect law keeping life and because of his sacrificial death all we have to do today is simply put our trust in him. And this was a truth that the apostle Paul was fully persuaded of. He was completely convinced that in this new era of history dramatic changes were required to the way non-Jews, people like you and me, were included in the people of God.
We have tremendous freedom as Gentile Christians. No longer slaves to the fear of death. No longer slaves to the stars of fortune. No longer crippled by the fear of failure and unresolved guilt. But also now we are free from the obligation to put into practice the complex laws of the Old Testament. We did not give in to them for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. Do you ever thank God for the apostle Paul? Do you ever thank him for giving Paul the courage to stand his ground when the pressure was on to change his mind? And do you ever thank the Lord Jesus Christ for leaving the security of heaven to become the perfect Israelite so that you and me can be rescued from the consequences of our behaviour without becoming ethnic Jews? Why donít we thank him today as we come forward to take communion?
Let me finish by stressing two of Paulís conclusions for us.
First of all, we must believe that there is one unchangeable gospel that needs to be preached to every people group in the entire world. Have a look at verses 6 and 7. Paul says " as for those who seemed to be important Ė whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearances Ė those men added nothing to my message.
On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews." How many gospels were being preached? Just the one. The Jerusalem apostles added nothing to Paulís message and the reason was simple. Because it was the same message that they were preaching. Different people groups? Yes! But different gospels? Absolutely not! We need to remember this next time we drive down Beverly Road or next time we see a representative of the Muslim Council of Britain on the TV or the next time we stand next to our non-Christian friend at work. No matter what people group they belong to, no matter what social status they command, no matter what age bracket they fall into and no matter how much religious zeal they possess: they all need to hear the one unchangeable gospel about who Jesus is and what he has done. Because without it they cannot be saved. Do you believe this?
Secondly, we must also believe that different people can and should reach different people groups. So, in verse 9, we read that James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. They agreed they were partners in the gospel. But did you notice what they also decided to do? The end of verse 9. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. The same message but different people reaching different groups. I find this a huge encouragement and I hope you do as well. Our parish is very diverse. Our city is very diverse. And sometimes you might think to yourself I have no idea how I can possibly reach those particular people with the good news about Jesus? Well maybe youíre not supposed to. Do you believe that God has purposefully made you the person you are today? Do you believe that God is not in the business of making mistakes? I passionately believe that God has designed us differently in order to reach out to the different people groups that we encounter day by day. So let me challenge us as we go into this next week to be asking God to show us more and more the people he wants us to talk to about his Son, Jesus Christ.
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