October 1-3, 2011
Pastor Tim Smith
11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. 17 “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
DID CHRIST DIE FOR NOTHING?
Paul didn’t write this chapter of Galatians because he wanted to prove to everybody that he had stood up to Peter one time back in the day. Paul wrote this because the sin that Peter and Barnabas and everybody else had slipped into in Antioch was the exact same sin that the Galatians were slipping into.
If you think about it, it was an easy mistake to make, because it was the mistake of slipping into old habits that had once been the Laws of the Church. Those are hard habits to break. Imagine that you are not a Gentile, but a Jew; you are one of the Apostles. You know the stories about Jesus—you were there! You saw the miracles; you were in the boat when he calmed the storm. You ate your share of the fishes and the loaves and you helped collect the leftovers and laughed with Peter and John at how much really was left over—much more than the Lord started with in the first place.
Now, after his ascension, the gospel has been going out, and you find yourself north of Galilee at the city of Antioch in the far north, farther even than Damascus, up in the upper right-hand corner of the Mediterranean Sea. So many Greek are getting sick and tired of the filthy, sinful lifestyle of some of the Greeks, especially the tabloid lifestyle of the Corinthians, and these Greeks are looking for a philosophy or a religion that will guide them in a new direction. Maybe some of them tried Judaism but the rules were too strict, and maybe some of them tried the Roman occult but the Roman Caesars were even more revolting than the Corinthians, if that were possible.
And there, somewhere in Antioch, there were followers of the Way—people that in Antioch were now nicknamed “Christians.” Many of the Greeks were now looking into this Christianity, and you and the other apostles and disciples of Jesus are baptizing and teaching and there are more and more people coming every week.
That’s when some formerly Christians came from James. When Paul says “From James,” he doesn’t necessarily mean that James sent them, but that they were from James’ congregation in Jerusalem. Churches didn’t yet have names like “St. Paul’s” or “St. John’s” or “The Chapel of the Christ,” but here is a case where the people of a church are just called disciples of a certain pastor—in this case, they were members of the Jerusalem church whose pastor was James.
They had been Jews by religion, but now were Christian, but they were having a hard time giving up the old ways; they thought—this was not and is not a teaching of the Bible—that even Christians should be circumcised and should avoid certain foods and avoid eating with Gentiles.
Sometimes, a personality carries as much weight as the truth, so that as my High School music teacher, Mrs. LaFave, taught me: “The one who sings the loudest is the one everyone thinks is right.” Here is a place where many of need to consider: If God has blessed me with a voice people listen to, then I had better use it responsibly, and I had better be sure that when I dare to speak about the Word of God, that I am speaking the truth.
Now, we could step aside here from the main point of this passage and talk about using all of our spiritual gifts responsibly—and maybe that’s something for you to talk about at the dinner table. We set an example for other people and we set a precedent in the minds of other people when we do things we can do, that maybe not everyone can do. Should everyone use their phone, or Should they text, while they’re driving a car? Maybe you think you can do it safely, but you’re setting an example for people who probably can’t. Should everyone enjoy the kind of sexual relationship that a husband and wife enjoy? Or should everyone know better than that. Should everyone be permitted to take the law into their own hands? When I stop my car because I’m feeling kind and wave some children across the street, do I imagine that the cars behind me or coming from the other direction will know what I’m doing? Am I putting those children in danger with my kindness? Or do I put an unnecessary burden on consciences and tender new souls when I insist that one kind of worship or one style of music is appropriate and another is not—especially when none of the music or worship styles we use would be recognizable to Peter or Paul or to certain men from James?
I will leave those things for your dinner table. What Paul is addressing here is how even Peter was caught up in a sin that set aside the grace of God himself.
Is that putting it to severely? Can we really, with our words or actions, nullify the cross of Christ and make it as if Christ died for nothing?
Absolutely we can—and we do, when we cause people to think there is a law that needs to be kept in order for forgiveness to take place.
The spectacular work of Christ is that he did the unlikely, the improbable and the impossible for every one of us while we were still dead in our sins.
The unlikely was that anyone would give up his life for wretched people who rejected him. To see how unlikely this was, imagine that we’re not talking about Jesus the Son of God, but anyone at all. Who among us would sacrifice our lives for our enemies; for people who reject us, tell lies about us, who hate us, and who openly plot to kill us. But that’s just what Jesus did.
The improbable was that God himself would choose to come down and take on human flesh in person to rescue mankind; to put himself into danger. Nowhere in mythology has a human being ever imagined that this would ever take place. We can dream that a divine being or a hero would disguise himself and mix among us, offering sage advice or filling in the missing part of a sad story. But we would never have expected God to leave his heavenly throne and become like us, become as vulnerable as us, and put himself into deadly danger and even permit himself to be killed for us. But that’s just what Jesus did.
The impossible is that his death would atone for our sins. All of them. But it did. God demanded blood as payment for sin—death—and Jesus’ death was only possible because he was also a human being in every way. But because in addition to being completely human, Jesus was and is also truly and fully God—just as much God as the Holy Spirit; just as much God as God the Father in heaven—and since it was God who shed his blood and died on the cross, his death spreads out and covers over every sin in the world. He knows about all our sins in his divine omniscience. His powerful omnipotence was set aside out of love for us, and his omnipresence—his presence everywhere and in every thing—means that when we consume the wine and the bread of the Lord’s Supper, we are not just remembering him; we are taking part in his actually flesh and blood.
This is the grace of God, which we receive with open and thankful hearts. What was all up to Jesus, is still all up to Jesus. There isn’t anything required to be a saved believer. Paul said, “By observing the law, no one will be justified.” That means that there is nothing for us to do for eternal life.
Faith—the trust that comes from knowing and not rejecting Jesus—is all there is. Faith itself is a gift, and since God has put no other burden on us, we should never dare to a burden on anyone else. It’s time now to invite them. Who do you know that you can bring to hear the story of Jesus, the gospel of our Saving God, and let their hearts, too, know
the peace of God that transcends our understanding, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.