Messiah Lutheran Church :: A PICTURE OF THE VITAL TRUTH

A PICTURE OF THE VITAL TRUTH

Dear Christian friends,  There is a sobering passage found in II Thessalonians 2:11. This is said of all who knew the truth and are led away. When people purposely believe that which is wrong, the apostle says, “God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.”  God judges them already on this earth by turning them over to the lie so they never will believe.  He refers to “THE LIE.”  What is “THE LIE” from which they may never turn? The big lie is to think you can save yourself.  Self-righteousness! It is the denial of God’s grace. The worst lie is to take salvation out of the pierced hands of Jesus and put it into your own.   That lie has been around since God’s creation.  That lie followed the apostle Paul to all the places he preached Jesus Christ and him crucified. The Devil was there to undo what Paul told hearers God had done to save. In the province of Galatia there were churches established by the apostle Paul.  Lying teachers, instruments of Satan, followed.  They were called “Judaizers.” They taught that you had to become a Jew and, at least, keep parts of the Jewish Law of the Old Testament to be saved.  Men had to be circumcised; there were certain foods that could or could not be eaten; certain days had to be set aside as holy days. They taught that Christ can help you, but you also must help yourself.  That’s salvation by works.  That’s NOT grace.   Galatians is a very important book in the Bible because it clearly teaches the most important truth in the Bible:  A person is not saved by the works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  With these words Paul writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and he gives “A Picture of this Vital Truth.” This is a meaty section of the Bible and one needs to follow the logic Paul uses carefully.  Paul uses a Bible story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar who were real people but uses it to teach a lesson.  He uses it as an allegory.  Come on, teens and adults, remember your English courses.  An allegory is a story which involves characters and events that stand for an abstract idea. Someone called an allegory a metaphor on steroids. An allegory is usually a story; a metaphor a phrase. Here is an example of a metaphor.  Elvis sang about his significant other, “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog.”  He was not referring to Fido, he was speaking about a girlfriend he had. She snooped around like a hound dog and was nosey and whiney to get her way.  She ain’t no friend of mine.  He is breaking up with her.  An allegory broadens the comparison into a story.  Anybody here remember a novel called “Animal Farm” by George Orwell? It was allegory about barnyard animals describing the overthrow of the last of the Russian Tsars by the Communist Revolution in Russia before WW I. The actions of the animals on the farm were used to expose the greed and corruption of the revolution. For example, the pigs were those who came to power.  Mr. Jones, the owner of the farm, represented the overthrown czar.  Mr. Orwell was making his it clear that the communist revolution was evil.   The Mother Goose rhymes, on which my generation grew, were supposed to be allegories of events that took place in England.    Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, And pretty maids all in a row.[ Some say that Mary was bloody Mary who was Catholic and went to war against all the Protestants leaving a garden of graves.  The pretty maids were the countless widows that survived their husbands after they were sent on her crusades.   That’s what an allegory is. Paul uses this figure of speech to make his point with the Galatian Christians who were being harassed by those Judaizers who were teaching that you were saved by works and not faith alone in Jesus Christ. “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?”  The allegory revolves around a true story about real people - Abraham and Sarah and Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar to teach a very vital truth.  God had called Abraham to be the father of the Jewish nation.  From his offspring all the world would be blessed.  Abraham was Jesus’ ancestor.  Remember, however, that when God told Abraham and his wife Sarah, they are childless and were 75 and 65 years old respectively.    The couple believed God, but they decided to help God out.  First, they wrote Eliezer of Damascus into their will. He was probably a servant that they took a liking to.  God corrected them, “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”    Since Eliezer wouldn’t do by adoption and God told them their offspring would be their own flesh and blood, Sarah and Abraham cooked up another solution.  Ten years later when Abraham was 85 and Sarah 75, the Bible says, “Now Sarah said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”  That slave was Hagar and she conceived.    This wasn’t the answer either.  Lots of people are confused and even appalled when some of the great patriarchs of the Bible have multiple wives. The patriarchs do that on their own. Having multiple wives ends up creating a lot of unhappiness.  Hagar flaunted her pregnancy in front of Sarah. Sarah complained to her husband.  He took the chicken way out.  I will support you in whatever you do. Sarah made life miserable for Hagar.  Hagar fled…at least for a little while.  The angel of the Lord met with her and convinced her to return and the baby was born.  Ishmael was his name.  Abraham was Ishmael.  Abraham was 86 years old, Sarah 76.  God waited another fourteen years before Abraham and Sarah would finally have their son, Isaac. He would be the son who was a branch in Jesus’ family tree.  Imagine a ninety year old mother going through labor? Imagine a 100 year old Dad whose body the Bible describes as “good as dead” when it comes to fathering babies.  But a bouncing baby boy it was.  Incredible!  Miraculous!  But true!  That’s the story from which Paul teaches a vital truth about the gift of salvation.    Hagar and Ishmael represent all who try to save themselves by the Law; Sarah and her son represent those who are saved by faith in the Gospel of Jesus.  Paul writes, “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.  The plan that included Hagar and Ishmael was concocted in the mind or people. It was the human solution, not God’s.  Maybe this isn’t the perfect comparison, but it is kind of like hearing politicians these days make promises.  Bernie Sanders wants to make college free to anyone who wants to go.  Other candidates say they are going to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  It doesn’t make any difference if you are Republican or Democrat, you can’t do it by yourself.  You need people to agree with you in Congress. No one can save help save himself or herself.  In fact, neither can an act of Congress. Only God does.  The plan is his; the fulfillment of that plan by Jesus is God’s doing.  Having Hagar as the surrogate didn’t work.  God working a miracle on a ninety year old woman for Sarah does.  Salvation is not our concoction; it is only by God’s work   There’s more to the picture.  “These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants.” Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael, Paul writes, represents the Law; Sarah, who gave birth to Isaac, represents the Gospel.  Finally, there are two religions in the world, one of works and the other of faith.  Hagar represents the religion of works.  Hagar’s son was the result of conniving and human intervention.  The Judaizers were all about that - a little bit of Jesus and a little bit of human effort.  Let’s take a look at what happens when we want to add our efforts.   God would no longer perfect. He would be satisfied with imperfection, because that’s what he would be accepting if we needed to contribute. Nothing we do is perfect. Abraham, Sarah and Hagar were trying to fix the problem they had.  What happened?  The solution led to Abraham committing adultery.  The Bible says all our righteousness is as filthy rags.  We never do things with perfect motives.  We might do what is right but start patting ourselves on the back before too long or desire the praise of others. That’s selfishness, isn’t it? That’s why Jesus was perfect.  He supplied the righteousness that we were lacking before the Heavenly Father.   He is our righteousness.  He clothes us with his righteousness.  That too is not our doing but only and all his. We would always be asking the question “Did I do enough?”  The Judaizers said they could help Jesus.  How much do have to do?  Is it half and half?  Jesus does half and we do the other half?  What does half look like? For that part what does 10% or even .001% look like?  In fact, if we have to contribute, is there any way of knowing without a doubt that we are going to heaven?  Say your children want to take you out to dinner.  They have a big pink piggy bank that rattles with all the change in it. Would that stop you from wondering and worrying? Human effort never keeps us from wondering or worrying about the certainty of salvation. Put it in the hands of God.  It belongs in the hands of God.   Human effort also destroys the concept of grace.  The word grace is used about 125 times in the Bible?  The Bible defines it.  Romans 11:6 says, “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”  If we earned our salvation the phrase “God’s grace” would not exist. Yet it does.  Most of the time it means “undeserved gift.” Not like that of Hagar and Ishmael but of Sarah and Isaac. All is done. All is finished.  All is completely complete.    One more thought Paul gives to us.  If you know the story about Hagar and Sarah, when Hagar was ridiculing Sarah because she was carrying the child her husband had helped create, Sarah sent her away.  The angel of the Lord persuaded her to return. She had her son Ishmael and the son grew up in Abraham’s tents.  Isaac, the miraculous child of Sarah and Abraham, was also born.  His half-brother was a few years older.  Ishmael did as Hagar had done.  Genesis 21 says, “But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” It sounds cruel, but even God said to Abraham that it was time to send Hagar and Ishmael away.  He also made the promise that he would take care of them.  But he told Abraham that the inheritance was Isaac’s and not Ishmael’s Those Judaizers needed to be sent away from the faithful Galatians just as Hagar was sent away from Sarah. When present day Judaizers, people who think that you can earn heaven by something you do rather than by what Jesus has done, it is time to separate.  It is time to remove yourself from them.  They are nothing but trouble. Our salvation comes from the Lord alone, planned, thought out, accomplished and given to us by the Holy Spirit.  That’s why we can be certain.  It is all in the hands of him who never fails. That’s the picture of the most vital truth – our God is the one who saves.  

Amen

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