THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
6 September AD 2020
“But the scripture hat concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” Galatians iii. 22
The Epistle this morning comes to us from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. All was not well in the Church of Galatia. False teachers had infiltrated the Church and were leading this group of Gentile converts away from the Gospel that St. Paul had proclaimed to them. The false teachers were Jewish men who were saying in effect, that the One true God is the God of Israel. Jesus Christ, is first and foremost Israel’s Messiah. If anyone is going to be saved, and to receive the blessings of Christ, they must become a part of the nation of Israel by being circumcised and obeying the Law of Moses. Then, and only then, could the Galatians have any true hope of salvation.
St. Paul hears of this and immediately pens the letter that we have before us this morning. In this section of the letter, we encounter St. Paul’s teaching concerning Abraham and Moses and how the promise of God and the Law of God are to be understood. To be sure, these things may sound foreign to us. Nevertheless, as we shall see, this question has tremendous implications for us today.
Perhaps it may be made clearer if we begin by asking a couple of fundamental questions.
How are we made right with God? Are we made right with God by believing His promise or by obeying His Law? If we say that we are made right with God by believing his promises then why does he give us Laws that ought to be obeyed? If we say we are made right with God by obeying his Laws what is the point of his promises? For St. Paul, how we answer these questions is the difference between eternal life and blessedness and eternal condemnation.
The false teachers were arguing that we are made right with God by obeying the Law of Moses. St. Paul argues that we are made right with God by believing His promises. Let us see how St. Paul makes his case.
First, St. Paul notes that God’s promise to Abraham came first. 430 years before the Law of Moses was given to the nation of Israel, God had already promised to bless all the nations of the earth, in one of Abraham’s descendants. Furthermore, God makes this abundantly clear by limiting this promise to ONE of Abraham’s descendants.
“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ…AND this I say, that covenant [that promise] that was confirmed before by God in Christ, the law, which came 430 years later, cannot disannul…The giving of the Law cannot undo what God had promised.
In other words, God promised to bless all the nations of the earth in Christ, the descendant of Abraham…this is the true blessing and inheritance of every man, woman, boy and girl…and no amount of Law-giving and Law keeping can bring this promise to pass.
Therefore, we see, that God relates to us on the basis of promises. Promises that are to be believed. Promises that are to be rested in. Our salvation rests in the hands of God alone. Salvation is of the Lord. We, on the other hand, are broken sinners who could not and do not obey the Law of God in all its perfection. In fact, this experience of knowing what we ought to do and failing in doing it points to the true reason why the Law of God was given.
St. Paul then turns and asks a very compelling question. “Is the law then against the promises of God? He answers with an emphatic NO! Never! May it never be. God’s Law and God’s promises do not contradict one another. They just different functions…
Listen closely to what St. Paul says…
If there had been a law given which could have given life, then righteousness would have come by the law…
But what is our experience? Does the Law of God bring life and righteousness? The Jews had the Law of God, they memorized it, sought to live by it, prided themselves on possessing it…did it bring life and righteousness? NO…instead it brought death…it brought all kinds of envy, greed and judgmentalism, and self-righteousness. It brought about the rejection and death of the Son of God…not because there was anything wrong with the law…no the problem was not with the Law…it is with us…the problem resides in the human heart that is devoid of the grace of God…it reveals to us just how wicked mankind truly is…and that is the point of the Law…Far from bringing about life, peace and righteousness…our sinfulness twists the Law of God to bring about death, sin and self-righteousness. This is why the God deals with us on the basis of promises. He deals with us on the basis of faith. And this is how St. Paul concludes his argument…
The Scripture, the Law of God has shut us all up under sin…it reveals to us that we are sinners every one…So that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
Jesus Christ is the promised seed of Abraham, in whom all the promises of God reach their fulfillment. It is in him alone, that we have the hope eternal life and shall become coheirs with him of His everlasting inheritance. It is in him that all our tears will be wiped away and all wrongs will be made right. It is through Christ alone that all things will be made new. By being joined to him by faith and receiving Divine grace through the sacraments of baptism and the Holy Eucharist, we are made one body with him and he comes to dwell in us and we in him. Through the Law of God we come to understand the unruliness of our hearts, our profound weakness…God willing we learn humility and to live knowing and feeling our constant need for the mercy of God…and it is precisely here…in the moment of our greatest need that the Promise of God comes to us… “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That …at the name of Jesus…every knee shall bow and every tongue shall swear alligence… this is my Beloved Son…in whom I am well pleased…repent and believe in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ…and you shall be saved!”
O Jesus, thou hast promised To all who follow thee,
That where thou art in glory There shall thy servants be
And, Jesus, We have promised To serve thee to the end;
O give us grace to follow, Our Master and our friend.