Good Shepherd is a "neighborhood church" in South Charlotte (NC) with a deep love for scripture, people, and the arts. This is a super-friendly group of ordinary people who follow after an extraordinary God. Check out the website at gspc.net for a look. We'd love to hear from you!
The Role of the Law
TEXT: Galatians 3:15-4:7
Amazing grace – that’s been on the Apostle Paul’s mind thus far in Galatians as we’ve looked at it these past few weeks. Paul is very concerned that people not add onto the work of Christ to require “Jesus PLUS something” to be a Christian. He’s introduced the topic, shared several stories where Grace and Works have collided, and he has launched into teaching mode. To this point you might think, “Grace good; Law bad!” After all Paul has just talked about the “curse of the Law” (Gal 3:10). But the Law is not bad. He is talking about the curse of thinking the Law (or good works) can save us. Rather, the Law has another purpose, which is a good one!
If you noticed in our Call to Worship today, the Law is described in multiple positive ways. In today’s text Paul spends some time talking about the good uses of the Law. I want to make sure I don’t send you away with a negative view of God’s laws and commandments, but with a right understanding of their purpose.
NOT SALVATION; WHY THEN? (vv.18-19)
If the Law is not for salvation, what is its purpose? That’s exactly what Paul asks in v.18: “What is the point, then, of the law? … It was a thoughtful addition to the original covenant promises made to Abraham.”
Last week we looked at how Paul emphasized that Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith, his trust in God’s covenant promises. And Abraham came 430 years before Moses received the Law! So Paul is going to explain in some detail what he means by “a thoughtful addition” and he’ll name three different good uses of the Law (that aren’t salvation!).
You may even recognize these from our children’s sermon!
#1 CURB/RESTRAINT (vv.19-20)
The first good use of the Law is spelled out in verses 19-20: “The purpose of the law was to keep a sinful people in the way of salvation until Christ (the descendant) came.” I like that phrase, “the way of salvation.” It wasn’t salvation, but pointed God’s people toward the descendant of Abraham who would inherit the promises and distribute them to us.
On the way to that destination of Christ, the Law CURBS or RESTRAINS evil. Think of the “thou shalt nots”… heeding the commandment not to steal doesn’t save us, but it sure helps keep us out of trouble. The Ten Commandments (and other biblical laws) don’t remove sin or reconcile us to God, but they restrain the consequences of sin and disobedience somewhat… kind of like a seatbelt. God’s law is good protection to help keep us safe, given in love like the household rules of loving parents who want the best for their children.
#2 MIRROR (vv.21-22)
In vv.21-22 Paul goes on to name a second good use of the Law: “Its purpose was to make obvious to everyone that we are, in ourselves, out of right relationship with God.” God’s Laws are helpful to us, but because we keep falling short of keeping them perfectly they also serve as a MIRROR, holding up God’s holiness to us so that we at once see what God intends us to be and how far we fall short of that.
It’s like the seatbelt reminding me both that it is protecting me and that I am a very fragile creature if my car is moving at 60mph. Yet Paul is also careful to note that the keeping the Law does not have the power to create life in us, otherwise “we would certainly have gotten it by this time.” That’s simply not its purpose. But in showing me myself and my human limitations, it does point me towards the one who can and does create life.
#3 TUTOR/GUIDE (vv.23-24)
Finally, in vv. 23-24, Paul offers a third good use of the Law using an analogy which would have been familiar to his audience. He compares it to “those Greek TUTORS who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure they children will really get to the
Hearing with Faith
TEXT: Galatians 3:1-14
Last week we looked at two encounters in Galatians 2 where Paul’s teaching on grace was put to the test. First he met with the group of Apostles who led the new Christian movement in Jerusalem to confirm that they all shared the same MESSAGE of grace and MISSION to Jews and Gentiles. They did. Then he ran into Peter in Antioch. At first Peter was eating among the Gentile Christians, but when a certain group pushing the requirement of circumcision came into town, he started acting contrary to his own beliefs and the agreed-upon message and mission and separated from the Gentile believers. Paul challenged this behavior, pointing to God’s grace alone as the measure of salvation and belonging.
Paul recounted these two encounters to the Galatians because apparently they are dealing with similar issues. So now in Galatians 3 he turns his focus to them directly, asking who has fooled them into accepting a counterfeit message. He fires off a series of six questions before turning to Abraham himself as an example of God’s grace over works. We’ll look at that and then look at some application for us.
Here are the six questions. They are all rhetorical, not seeking information as an answer, but reflection upon the implied answer.
What happened to my thoughtful friends? (v.1) – Having just finished ch. 2 with “if righteousness is through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” Paul is incredulous. Don’t they know of the crucifixion and its necessity? (Paul has told them, if nothing else!) This is not “foolish” like he’s calling them stupid; rather it is so out of character (they have a reputation for being smart!). He goes on to ask if they’ve been ‘bewitched’.Did you receive the Spirit by works or faith? (v.2) – Paul appeals to their own experience: they did not begin with works and Law, but by responding to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. They did not ‘earn’ the Spirit, but experienced it as God’s gift to them.Again, where did my friends go!? (v.3a) – Paul, still incredulous.If by faith, why would that change now? (v.3b) – If it all began by receiving a gift through hearing with faith, why would it change now to works of Law. Aren’t they already saved? Haven’t they already received the Holy Spirit? There is not “another level” of perfection to attain. (Maturity is a better way to understand Christian growth, and one he will introduce in chapter 4, where he will actually equate legalism with immaturity.)Did you suffer in vain? (v.4) – This word could be ‘suffer’ or ‘experience’. It is not clear to what it refers, but either persecution over their initial conversion or perhaps experience of the Spirit and miracles in v.5. In either case the sense is “isn’t all that you’ve come through by grace to this point validating to you?” In other words, God would not bait and switch, bringing you in with a gift and then holding you with a requirement.Again, is God’s Spirit and miracles a gift or a reward? (v.5) – One last run through the same argument… are you with me, yet? God provides and you hear and believe; it is not a reward for your good behavior. Right? Let me remind you of how God works….
THE BLESSING OF ABRAHAM
Paul exits the rhetorical questions and turns to a direct and positive example of how God has worked. And it’s no random example, but Abraham, the father of the faith and the original receiver of God’s covenant. Paul introduces this approach in verse 6, then goes on to ‘unpack’ God’s gift and Abraham’s faith: “Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Paul is quoting Hebrew scripture, from Genesis 15:6. It is in that chapter, which we heard in our Call to Worship, that God promises Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars. Abraham did not
Grace on Trial
TEXT: Galatians 2
Last week we began Galatians with a simple illustration to help understand what is going on: wooden nickels! Out of a personal encounter with the risen Christ, Paul has been charged with taking the Good News of God’s grace to the Gentile or non-Jewish world. And grace is not just part of the message; it IS the message. Jesus has fulfilled the requirements of God’s Law on behalf of those who could not and has fulfilled the promise God made to Abraham to not only bless his descendants but all the nations of the world. And Paul is concerned that those who are already Christian, particularly Jewish Christians, not accept a version of the Gospel that is anything less than the real deal. No wooden nickels!
In today’s text in Galatians 2 we see Paul’s concern played out in two main interactions. The first is with the Jewish Christian leadership in Jerusalem, that is, the Apostles like Peter and James. The second interaction is with Peter, who on a particular occasion did not act in accordance with the Gospel of Grace. I want to look with you at Paul’s approach and message in both interactions, then consider application for us today.
Unity of the Spirit (vv.1-10)
Last week I mentioned that Galatians shows us Paul acting out some of the theology he writes about elsewhere. In Ephesians he writes about “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:3) This seems to be exactly what he was describing in the first half of Galatians 2. Some fourteen years had passed since his first visit to see Peter and James (described in ch. 1). In the intervening time he has been traveling through the Gentile/Greek world sharing the message about Jesus Christ. But he comes again to Jerusalem with a Gentile Christian named Titus to meet privately with the Jerusalem Christian leadership, including Peter, James, and John.
Paul made it clear in chapter one that he does not need approval from the other Apostles for what he is teaching and doing because Jesus revealed the message and mission to him directly. Yet he does not disregard the other Apostles because he also understands the importance of unity. The whole letter of Ephesians is centered around the theme of unity. And we see it played out in these meetings with the Jerusalem Apostles. In verse two he writes about this private meeting that it was “for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.”
While this sounds like Paul might be doubting his mission and message, he was not, as the subsequent verses make clear. Rather, he wanted to make sure that he and the other Apostolic leaders were unified because there were some factions emerging in the early Jewish Christian community that were anti-Gentile. Paul did not want this faction undermining the Christian movement whether in Jerusalem or beyond. In his Message translation-paraphrase of v. 3, Eugene Peterson draws out the underlying issue for Paul:
At that time I placed before them exactly what I was preaching to the non-Jews. I did this in private with the leaders, those held in esteem by the church, so that our concern would not become a controversial public issue, marred by ethnic tensions, exposing my years of work to denigration and endangering my present ministry.
There were those in the early Jewish Christian community that wanted to insist on Gentile converts adhering to the Torah in order to be accepted in the Christian community. It was “follow Jesus AND keep the Torah” – and this specifically was brought to bear over the issue of circumcision. They were trying to influence the Apostles in this direction. In fact, in verse 4 our translation uses words like “secretly brought in” and “sneaked in to spy.”
Nonetheless, Paul and the Jerusalem leadership are able to agree on the MESSAGE and MISSION of the Gospel – that it is by the gr
Grace and a Wooden Nickel
Text: Galatians 1
I remember being a little boy and my grandfather telling me, “Don’t take any wooden nickels!” I think he might have even given me one. I had to look up the origin of “wooden nickels.” They were used in a few places during the Great Depression as a stand-in for money, redeemable for specific things at participating stores. The Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 issued them as souvenirs. But the phrase “Don’t take any wooden nickels” pre-dates both those things and has a specific meaning. It means something like “Don’t be fooled” or “Don’t fall for any counterfeits.”
For the next six weeks we are going to go through the New Testament book of Galatians. And in a very significant way, “Don’t be fooled” and “Don’t fall for any counterfeits” is the theme of Galatians, or at least one side of the coin (ha!). The Apostle Paul is teaching and living the real thing and he is running into Christians who have fallen for a counterfeit. It may be called the same thing and look very similar, but it’s like a wooden nickel. So in Galatians Paul is focused on what is real, what is from God, and calling out the counterfeit wherever he sees it. In the process he lives out many of the teachings he writes about at length in other letters. In Romans he talks about God not playing favorites. In Ephesians he writes about unity. But here is where all that has to be lived out and figured out. In the first chapter of Galatians he puts the counterfeits on notice and declares what is really real: the grace of God.
When You’ve Seen the Real Thing…
Paul begins with a summary of the great theme he will take up for the whole letter: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us…” (vv.3-4) That’s the real thing and at the core not only of what Paul has to say, but who Paul is, because Christ rescued him.
Paul pretty quickly names the problem of a counterfeit gospel, but he won’t get to the details of it until chapter two and following. He writes in verse 6, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel….” It’s like he has said, “Don’t take any wooden nickels; hey, let me show you what a real nickel looks like!”
And so for the rest of chapter one he focuses on the “real thing” – and begins by sharing his own experience of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And he has quite a story to tell!
He makes a point to say that Jesus is the ultimate authority who determines what the real thing, the real gospel is. He warns against anyone deviating from or distorting the gospel of Christ: another person, an angel from Heaven, or even Paul himself. Any message, any teaching, any claim to be the Good News, needs to be measured against the very person and teaching of Jesus Christ.
And that’s where Paul begins his story, by describing how he received that Good News from Jesus Christ himself, through “a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (v.12) He goes on to say, “You have heard of my former manner of life.” Yes indeed; Paul was the enemy! He “Used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it…” (v.13). The detailed version of his story, as Saul, begins in Acts 7:58 where he is noted as standing over the robes of those who killed Stephen, one of the early Christians. Acts 8 continues, describing his zeal for persecuting the early Christians: “Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3) He was certainly known and feared in those early days.
But God had a plan! Echoing themes he’d write more about in Ephesians 1, Paul says that God “had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called m
Text: John 21:1-17
Today we conclude our “Journey to Easter in John” in chapter 21. I realize we are past Easter and past the resurrection, but this is a kind of epilogue to the story we’ve been following.
Last Sunday – Easter Sunday – we looked at several of those who interacted with the empty tomb and then the risen Jesus. They weren’t looking for resurrection; it found them. JESUS found them, coming to Mary, then the disciples, and then again to Thomas. And he appeared to others as well.
And today he appears to a group of the disciples and specifically interacts with Peter. I want to look at that appearance and interaction and then, since it is such a personal encounter, I want to share a personal story of how Jesus found me.
In John 21, in that strange post-Easter time, we find seven of the disciples together. Peter announces, “I am going fishing” and the whole group decides to go with him. Now that’s not too strange because many or all of them had grown up as fishermen and it was natural for them to go together to handle the nets. Nonetheless, it must have been a frustrating night for them, because they did not catch any fish; no one likes to fish and catch nothing.
And then, as the sun was rising, they experienced an amazing event that Luke tells us at least four of them had experienced three years earlier. Luke (ch. 5) records that Andrew, Peter, James, and John also had a failed night of fishing that ended with a miraculous catch and Jesus saying, “Follow me.”
The young disciple, John, turned to Peter and said, “It is the Lord.” Peter put his outer garment back on and dove in the water to swim to shore. The others were left to haul in the fish and bring the boats to shore. By the time they got to the shore, Jesus had a fire going with fish cooking, and bread ready to eat. Jesus invites the disciples to “Come and have breakfast.” Come, sit with Him; come, worship Him; come love Him and be loved by Him; come enjoy God’s provision and the result of God at work in your life. The disciples did not need to ask who this was. They knew him as their Lord and friend. Jesus had come to them yet again, in love and with grace.
We don’t really know why these disciples went fishing that day. What seems apparent in the scene that follows is that Peter was feeling cut off from Jesus. He had betrayed Jesus and denied every knowing him, and resurrection or not, Peter probably felt like his discipling days were over.
Jesus’ conversation with Peter flows right out of the encounter with the larger group. Peter, who had done all the other disciples have and more in terms of giving up, running away, and denying him, now must confront his own failures and see what the Lord has in store for him. Jesus came and found him in the Upper Room. Jesus has come and found him fishing with the other disciples. And now Jesus comes even further in to speak with him personally, to find him in his particular lostness.
Three times, matching each time Peter denied knowing him, Jesus asks Peter some variation of “Do you love me?” Three times Peter has the opportunity to respond. And three times, Jesus answers with some variation of “tend my sheep.” Three times, “Peter, will you turn to me and love me?… Then I have work for you to do – to share in my own work.”
Jesus’ words to Peter do not end there, but with the same words with which he began three years earlier. On that day, after telling Peter and others to push back out and throw their nets back in, Jesus invited them to “Follow me.” So also, on this day of second chances and new starts, Jesus calls Peter (and then John!) once again, saying, “Follow me.”
That part of God’s grace – God’s GIFT to us – is always so striking. God doesn’t just forgive and restore us, but calls us again to sha
Text: John 20
Today is Easter Sunday! Jesus is risen; he is risen, indeed!
The heart of what I want to share with you today are Good News and grace. Those are familiar Christian terms, but I’ve seen them freshly in this familiar account of Easter morning in the Gospel of John. Jesus’ resurrection is Good News because it happened whether we understand it or not, and in fact, whether we are even looking for the right thing or not. And Jesus’ resurrection is grace because God offers it and its benefits to us whether we understand it or not, and whether we are even looking for the right thing or not.
I want to look at four examples in the story of people misunderstanding or looking in the wrong place for Jesus, because I see myself in them. I see us in them. I see humanity in them. And you know what, they don’t have to understand or find there way to Jesus. He explains and seeks them out; and that’s what he does with us as well.
Honoring a Great Man (v.1a)
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark…
Mary Magdalene came early on Sunday morning to the tomb. The other gospels fill in some information: there were other women with her and they were bringing spices to anoint Jesus body. (Mark 16:1) It is no contradiction that John doesn’t mention the other women. He is focused on Mary’s story and how she interacted with the disciples and with Jesus. But what I want to focus on is this snapshot in time. She did not yet know what had happened. She came to Jesus to honor him as a dead teacher (and friend).
Many view Jesus in this way. He was a great and influential moral teacher due honor and respect. But he is dead and gone. And lest we in our church clothes think, “That’s what unbelievers say,” I find that even within the church we can relegate Jesus to that status. We study his teachings and life, but we remain unaffected by the reality and power of what he has done in life and death and life again. Mary was as devoted as they come, but she did not yet understand.
Eager to See What’s Going On (vv.1b-10)
…and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.
Seeing the stone taken away and concluding “they have taken away the Lord” (v.2), Mary ran to get Peter and John (aka “the other disciple whom Jesus loved”). Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves, entering to examine the linen wrappings and face-cloth. There are very specific details about the placement of things, as only an eye-witness might provide. We read in verse 8 that John “saw and believed,” but this must be belief that the body was missing, not of the resurrection, because the next verse says “as yet they did not understand.”
Peter and John, like many, are eager to check out Jesus and faith, but don’t stick around or dig deeper or study the scripture to connect all the dots. It might be
Listen to this podcast to hear a word from