Christianity is a uniquely historical faith. God really came in Jesus Christ to the same earth that you are living your life on. He really died, was really physically raised, and people could actually see him go to heaven. Today also the Paul’s story is as much a historical reality as what you did yesterday. The Bibles authority was established on historical fact. Paul here says, “What I say has authority because of certain undeniable facts in my history.” The source of this authority is Divine, revealing himself in History. The Bible is infallible because it came from God. That is Paul’s point here: The Word I speak has supreme authority and needs no human backing.
The argument for this section can be summed up in verse 11-12 where he lays out his thesis statement in three negatives and one positive. Verse 11-12 “I want you to know brothers that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” In other words, “My gospel (and my preaching of the gospel) do not belong to the human level of existence: and has not been guided by human motives and ambitions.” It is from out of this world, straight out of heaven – from the God- man, Jesus Christ himself whose historical life, death and resurrection we still celebrate today.
The reason for this section is because the Galatian teachers were attacking his character – saying that he did not really have authority. If you don’t respect the man you won’t respect what he says. Scholars even today want to discredit Paul so that they don’t have to listen to what he has said. They say that Paul invented Christianity. He was smart, and wanted to solidify the movement so he wrote theological treatises, to gather a following. But here Paul says, “Nope, all lies. I did not make it up. My message, my gospel comes directly from the risen king himself. It is as if Jesus Christ himself is speaking! I had nothing to do with it! Let me tell you my life story to prove that to you.”
In verse 13-14 Paul says, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” I was a persecutor of the church of God. I wanted to annihilate it off the face of the earth. Trust me! This was not my plan to be an apostle. The path I was on didn’t prepare me to serve the church; it was directly opposed to the church of Jesus Christ! I was finding value in history, community, ethnicity, moral excellence. I was finding value in what I was doing, not what God had done.
My plan was to keep advancing in Judaism, kill Gods children, destroy the church, and hold zealously to the traditions of my fathers. Nothing, and no one was going to stand in my way in advancing what I believed to be the God given right of Gods covenant people. And anything that was endangering the Jewish faith needed to be annihilated. You see how Paul thought? I wasn’t advancing toward Jesus. I was advancing toward Judaism. I was going above and beyond all the people my own age.
And then in verse 15: we have ’BUT GOD’! You see the contrast? I was doing this, and I was advancing here, I was righteous when it came to the law. Persecuting Christians. BUT GOD! God steps in the picture and everything changes. Only divine intervention could put Paul on a different path. And now the subject is no longer I, but God. When God steps in everything that you thought was SO important before, suddenly doesn’t seem so important. ‘BUT GOD’! What did he do? Verse 15, “But when God who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man.” “Before any of the other apostles were even apostles God chose me,” says Paul. You hear that, Peter and James, and the other apostles? God’s mission to the Gentiles (me and you) through Paul was not an afterthought. God was not looking at the 12 apostles and thinking, “This is not working.” Paul being an apostle was not plan B, it was plan A. He set me apart from birth, or before birth already, then allowed him to spend ten years killing his children, and then BAM! – Damascus road! Jesus the King steps in!
Here is where it all changed. He was heading in one direction, but God took him in another. This is where he was put on a new way. A preacher to the Gentiles – preaching God’s grace to every tribe under heaven. It is the journey of grace, the story of being touched by God.
Christ was revealed in him on the Damascus road. You will notice it doesn’t say ‘to him’, but in him. It went through his very heart, changed the core of his being! God had shone in his heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). Paul had to confess, “If you are anything you are everything, Jesus.” Paul’s religion was OVER: All his advancement, all his success, his outstanding pedigree. Dung! Dung, compared to Christ. He had met Christ, and was going to tell the world about him. He was not going to Jerusalem to see the other apostles and seek affirmation! He has already been anointed as an apostle to the Gentiles and he was not going to waste time getting to work! Immediately he went into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
Verse 17 says, “Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” The word ’immediately’ here is at a strange spot, at the very beginning of the sentence “Immediately I went into Arabia! His commission did not come from Jerusalem, it came from Christ, his mission was not the Jews, but the Gentiles. Why would he need to go to Jerusalem? No one shared the gospel with Paul. No one handed him some tract, no one preached to him. No one explained the way of salvation to him. There was nothing he needed to double check. Immediately he could get to work. He had seen the Christ and was given the specific command to go to people like you and me – Gentiles.
God’s grace was being poured out on all people! Not just in Jerusalem but to the ends of the earth! The Gospel is for me, for you! And Jesus Christ opened the way to the Gentiles, not on the authority of the Jerusalem church, but through his own authority. That is why in verse 18 he tells us exactly when he went to Jerusalem just so people know that the Jerusalem church did not send him.
We read there in verse 18-19, “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him 15 days, I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother.” He just wanted to get acquainted. Shake his hand, get to know him. The point is he stayed only a short time. 2 weeks.
His separation from the Jerusalem church is so important for the church to understand that he swears an oath in verse 20, “I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie.” Sometimes lies and falsehoods swirl about a servant of God as it did with Paul, that people stop listening to the message because of the messenger. This put the Gospel at stake because Paul’s reputation was at stake. And He wanted to make absolutely sure that what he is writing – his life story, is not a lie! This is history! My Story! God is witness. It is the truth. So, you ignore my apostleship at your own risk.
Dear church, these words are true. Historically true. Everything that Paul is saying is cemented with a vow before the throne of God Almighty, and if this is true then Paul is an apostle. And if he is an apostle his word is infallible because the living Spirit of Christ is speaking though him. If that is true then what he says in his writing is the very word of God! Ignore it, and you ignore God, listen to it and you listen to God. That is the point he is trying to make. His word came from Christ, not the Jews.
In fact, after going to Syria and Cilicia we read in verse 22, “I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. He seemed to be taking his work as apostle to the Gentiles pretty seriously. Where before he spent all his time with the Jews, now he hardly spent any time there. So little that they didn’t even know him personally.
And yet! Yet! They heard about him preaching! Verse 23-24: They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me.” The church of Jesus Christ rejoices and praises God when they hear the gospel preached! It is one of the most amazing things to hear of people that are successfully spreading the gospel. We can only thank God when we hear of his powerful work across this great African continent and across Asia, as the Gospel spreads like wildfire.
And as a Christian today, it is hard not to praise and glorify God because of Paul. He is after all, by the grace of God the reason all us Gentiles are sitting here today. Not only because of his work two thousand years ago, but his work today which still speaks – because his word is the word of Jesus Christ!
We are sitting here today because God used this man. We are Gentiles, and if Paul’s story is not true then we are still under the law – then the false teachers were right. But if Paul’s story is true – then it is the real- life story of our beginning, of the birth of the Gentile church. We are Gentiles. We are different – We were once not called the people of God, but thanks be to God we may now be called the people of God. When you realize this, suddenly there is no language gap, no cultural gap, no national boundary that we will not cross to invite people to partake with us of Jesus Christ.
Beloved, when we sit around this table in a few seconds then we are participating in that story – the story of the church building work of Jesus Christ. We come from every walk of life united as one in our Lord, Jesus Christ. We remember that he made it all possible on the cross, and one day we will eternally celebrate his work as human beings in a new creation. Paul’s chapter was the beginning of the Gentile church, and the last chapter is still to be written. Today is the day to become part of that story. To become part of a new united humanity not based on ethnicity, language, or history – but based on a profound unity in Christ. A unity - a real life story that reaches across the ages into eternity. Let’s celebrate that today, as we fellowship with Jesus Christ at his table.