FEBRUARY 15, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer


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            I imagine a couple of things popped into your mind when you saw todays sermon title.  One would be


            I'm wild again

            Beguiled again

            A simpering, whimpering child again

            Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.


            The other connection that might have popped into your mind was the television show of the same name, starring Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York (later Dick Sergeant), and Agnes Moorhead. 

            I doubt if our passage for today popped into your mind, and yet thats what the Apostle Paul said must have happened to the Galatians.  They must have been bewitched. Listen to his exact words, Galatians 3:1 on page 946 of your pew Bible


            You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you? 


            J.B. Phillips begins his translation of verse one with the words, O dear idiots!  Another writer substitutes the word numbskulls for the word foolish. Whatever the proper translation Paul cannot believe the Galatians could be so stupid, so naive, so wrong as to turn their back on justification by faith.  No one would be so foolish as to do that.  They must have been bewitched.  The Greek word used here comes from the realm of black magic and refers to a spell or a hex or an evil eye. How else can one explain leaving the freedom of grace for the slavery of the law? 

            Last Sunday was a key Sunday in our study of Galatians.  Last Sunday we talked about the chief doctrine of the Christian faith, which Martin Luther said, If we dont understand this doctrine then we dont understand Christianity at all.  Who remembers the doctrine?  Right justification by faith. In way of review, let's take a quick quiz.  Its a multiple-choice quiz based on our topic from last week.  Heres the question:  How good do you have to be to go to heaven?

            Here are the four possible answers.  Dont answer until I list all four.  How good do we have to be to go to heaven?  A) Pretty good B) Really Good C) Better than Aunt Martha D) You need to be absolutely good, absolutely perfect.

            The answer is D.  If we want to go to heaven, we have to be perfect, and I dont mean sort of perfect, or mostly perfect. I mean perfect perfect. The kicker in all this, of course, is that most people on the street would answer A, B, or C.  Most people would say if Im pretty good on the relative scale of goodness, Ill surely go to heaven.  And most folk are quick to compare themselves to Uncle Joe or Aunt Jane or the Millers across the street, but thats not what God does.  Last we saw that God does not grade on a curve.  God's standard is perfection which leaves us with two options.  One, keep the law perfectly or two, find someone who can be perfect in our place. 

            And Paul continues that conversation this morning.  In the first fourteen verses on Galatians 3, Paul puts forward three arguments for justification by faith.  Lets turn to those arguments now.

            His first argument is an argument from experience.  We see this in verses 1-5. 


            You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified!  The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish?  Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?  Did you experience so much for nothing? - if it really was for nothing.  Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you have heard. 


            Note what Paul does in this first paragraph.  Hes asks the Galatians to reflect on their own experience of becoming Christians.  He asks, How did you become a Christian and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?  Did you receive the Holy Spirit because you were circumcised, or kept the works of the law? No, says Paul, the Holy Spirit entered your lives when you heard and received the gospel message by faith. You were not saved by doing, Paul says. You were saved by hearing. You became Christians when you heard the gospel preached and placed your faith in Christ.

            Paul then asks another question, a follow up question, Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh ... or are you now trying to do it on your own." In other words, you began in faith, so continue in the faith.  Why are you changing horses mid-race?  Why are you turning from faith to works?  

              Think of it this way.  In 1859, the famous tight-rope walker Charles Blondin traveled to Niagara Falls and stretched a three-inch cable over the gorge. There, suspended on this wire, he walked 1100 feet from one side to the other. He did this a number of times: blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow, even on stilts.

            But thats not all. He also carried a man on his back over that wire. This must be one of the best examples of trust ever placed in another human being. Blondin carried his manager on his back from one side of the Falls to the other. I dont care if it was his manager; that goes beyond an honest days work.

            Imagine, however, if halfway across the manager had said to Blondin, Look, I appreciate that youve taken me this far, but I think Ill do the rest myself. Let me down, and Ill take it from here. Can you imagine? Having been carried that far, why in the world would he think that he could get the rest of the way across by himself?

            It sounds ridiculous, but that is the very situation that Paul addresses in this passage.  You began in faith, so continue in faith. Dont think that obedience to the law will get you to the other side of the gorge.

            Argument number two: the argument from Abraham.  Look with me at verses six through nine.


            Just as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, so, you see, those who believe are descendants of Abraham.  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.  For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.


            Pauls referencing Abraham was a masterstroke because those Jewish Christians pushing the Galatians to adopt circumcision and other Jewish practices would have considered Abraham the father of the Jewish people.  Abraham was a rock star in their eyes, and Pauls point in verse six is that Abraham was saved by faith and not by the law.  Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

            The term reckoned is an accounting term.  Sometime in your life before the advent of ATM's and banking apps on our smart phones, I'm sure you had to go to the bank to deposit a check from a person who banked at another institution, and the amount was large enough that the teller was nervous about it.  And the teller told you either you would have to go to that person's bank to cash the check, or she would deposit in your account but you would not have access to those funds for awhile, until the check cleared your friend's bank.  The teller told you she would have to put a hold on the check, and the check would take days to clear.  And maybe you asked her to check with the manager, because have been doing business with that bank for years, and she did, and she came back and she typed all sorts of stuff into the computer it seemed like she was writing a short novel, and then she smiled and handed you the receipt.  The money had been deposited in his account.  It had been reckoned to you.

            According to Paul, thats what happened to Abraham.  Abraham was not saved by depositing his good works into his heavenly account, even though he did some good things.  He picked up and moved when God told him to move.  He was ready to give up his son when God requested he do so, but thats not what saved him.  He believed and thats what saved him.  Paul is saying that Abraham was saved the exact same way that we are, by Gods grace, not by his own righteousness.  In fact, later on in this chapter Paul will remind the Galatians that the law did not come into existence until years later with Moses, so how in the world could Abraham, the father of our faith, been saved by the law? 

            Then Pauls third argument for justification through faith the curse argument.  Look with me at the remaining verses beginning with verse 10


            For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law. Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for The one who is righteous shall live by faith.  But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree: - in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.


            Thats some opening line.  Paul quotes a verse in Deuteronomy: Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the law.  Why are they cursed?  They are cursed because no one can obey all the law.

            Most of you know that I was born in Hawaii, in Hilo on the big island, and that we try to get back to Hawaii every year. Over the years Trudy and I have discovered that the easiest way to get to Hawaii from Omaha is US Air.  It involves only one stop. First thing in the morning we fly from here to Phoenix, eat breakfast during our three hour layover and then board a plane that takes us direct to Lihue, Kauai.  Just one stop, not multiple stops.

            Imagine, however, that the only way to get to Hawaii was to swim, to get in the water in San Diego, and swim to Honolulu, or Hilo where I was born or Lihue where Trudy and I like to go every year.  If that were the case, how many of us could make it?  None of us.  Some us would get closer to Hawaii than the rest of us because we are great swimmers, but none of us would make it.  In fact, one of the greatest distance swimmers of all time, Diana Nyad, would not make it.

            Well, the same is true in the spiritual realm. While its true that some sinners are relatively better than other sinners, and can get closer to God's ideal than others, that doesnt make any difference.  Every sinner comes up short.  In Paul's words, we are all doomed.  We are all cursed.   

            But he doesn't leave us without a way across the divide.  Look at verse thirteen: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.   A closing question.  Whos the us?  The us is anyone who trusts in Christ for salvation.  That leads to another question.  Are we in that us?  We arent in the us because we come to church every Sunday.  We are not in the us because we are good people.  We are in the us if we have placed our faith in Christ.  We jump on Jesus' back and he gets us from San Diego to Honolulu.  He gets us to God.  Amen.

[1] Much of message borrowed from Two Ways to Go to Heaven: Make Sure You Choose the Right One by Ray Pritchard.