Wow! I cannot believe that we have come to the end of this letter already. In his commentary on Galatians, Luther said this, “I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: …that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel wills me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.” You just can’t say it better than that. We need it beaten into our heads continually. So if you would allow me one last opportunity, I pray that the Spirit may work.
I am also going to miss this guy called Paul. This honest, straightforward, courageous, personal, Christ centered apostle to the Gentiles. He was not about making a good impression, he was about the truth. He did not care how offensive the cross was to the world, he was going to preach it. He knew that the truth was the only way to love them. Yes, he called them all kinds of names, but the last word he uses is Brothers. Brothers. Family. That is who he is talking to.
I love the opening lines in our text today, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” I love the fact that sentences like these are in the Bible. You see it is easy to skip over these verses and say, “O, that verse is not so important, let’s get to the real stuff.” But this line was written by God. Pastor Paul wants to make sure they know it’s him, so he adds his own personal touch. Whereas most of the letter was probably written by his scribe, as he told him what to write, for this last section he tells the scribe to move over, so he can send his own person message. His own P.S.
And what he writes sums up everything he has been saying for this letter. The way forward is found in the line “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” If there is one thing that I want you to go home with it is that. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” Have you grasped it? Because it is our theme too.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world
- What doesn’t matter (12-13)
- What really matters (14-15)
- The results of what really matters (16-18)
What Doesn’t Matter (V. 12-13)
The false teachers didn’t ‘get’ the gospel, and therefore were focusing on things that didn’t matter. Because they did not have God’s affirmation in Jesus Christ, they needed man’s affirmation. Paul writes in verse 12, “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised.”
Circumcision itself was not the problem; it was that they were pressuring others to be circumcised. They were trying to rebuild the cultural wall that Christ had blown up with his death on the cross. They wanted an appealing, manageable, cultural church, rather than an international church built on the reckless and absolute faith of Jesus followers.
They were more worried about how the church looked like from the outside, rather than wanting Jesus to live in them. As it is with our heart, so it can be with the church. We can keep the outside squeaky clean, but if the inside is rotting and full of sin, then it is no different to a coffin: Dead - with a nice covering, or in Jesus’ words, “a white washed tomb.”
God cares nothing about the outward accomplishments, if the heart is not right. He wants to know what is going on here (in your heart). What does Jesus mean to you? We look at what we consider to be more traditional churches and say they are backward, or we look at more liberal churches and name them as progressive. But let us rather examine our own heart, and ask, “Are we passionately following Jesus Christ? Is this church, at this moment, in this place at this time, as a family, totally and absolutely committed to the gospel? Are we committed to the way of the cross? Is the faith in this church as historically grounded, and ancient as it is new, fresh and relevant to this culture?”
Often the sign that the church is walking a dangerous road is when it is not encountering persecution, or challenges. It means that the church looks a lot like the culture around them, and measures their success by the same standards as the world. Numbers, money, fame. Not in how obediently they are walking the way of the cross.
Paul calls the churches out on this avoidance of persecution; he says, “The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” The Church of Jesus was largely Jewish at the time. It was cool to be a part of the Jewish group. You would not be seen as an outsider, neither would you be made fun of. Understandably it would have been a big deal to fit in with the Jewish church, to have that mark on their body to show that they belonged. But the Jews wanted a king, not a criminal on a cross.
If you preach the cross you will encounter persecution. Because it destroys the walls of human pride and self-sufficiency. Billy Graham said this, “And I’ve found in my own ministry that I can preach anything else, and it’s called popular. It pleases the ear. But when I come to the heart of Christianity, when I come to the cross and the blood and the resurrection, that is the stumbling block. That’s the thing people do not want to hear.” But there is only one place God will meet the human race, that is at the cross.
It condemns our cultures immorality, and desire to do what they want. It condemns those in the church that are puffed up with religious pride. If you know Jesus but have never gone to the cross, it means nothing. The cross has come down through the centuries, passing its unfaltering judgment upon the vanities, prides, hates, greed, self-indulgent pleasures and lusts of men. The cross says to us all, “You’re a sinner.” It becomes the conscience of the world. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“For,” verse 13 says, “not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in the flesh.” We will do anything to boast in our own accomplishments. Paul is saying, “Circumcision was the sign of coming under the whole law, but they don’t keep the whole law!” So why do they want to have you circumcised in the first place?! I will tell you why, he says, “so that they can brag about the numbers, how many they have converted, and send their membership book back to the Jerusalem church. But beloved, it does not matter how big we are if we are not faithful.
So let us just be clear on what does not matter. What does not count in God’s economy – how much money you have, how far you have made it, if you have or don’t have your own business, how well your business is doing, if you are famous, what house you live in, what kind of car you drive, what color skin you have, what family you are from. They matter nothing before God! We betray what matters most by what we most think about, talk about, and pray about. The cross is the thing that Paul would obsess over.
What really matters! (v. 14-15)
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” The world here does not mean the physical world, as if God is against His own creation, but stands for everything that is against God. The worlds value systems and ways of thinking. Paul says it is all worth nothing but ‘I will not boast except if it is to point to the cross’.
Now let’s take a moment and just consider what Paul is boasting in here. The cross is the symbol of a disgusting, bloody, gruesome form of execution. F.F. Bruce says this, “It is difficult, after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul’s day. The word crux was unmentionable in polite Roman society (Cicero, Pro Rabirio 16); even when one was being condemned to death by crucifixion the sentence used an archaic formula which served as a sort of euphemism: ‘hang him on the unlucky tree’ (Cicero, ibid. 13). In the eastern provinces of the empire the Greek word [cross] σταυρός must have inspired comparable dread and disgust to its Latin equivalent. [But] the ‘utterly vile death of the cross’ was so central to Paul’s gospel that he called his message ‘the word of the cross’.”
When he says, “May I never boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he means more than just bragging. The word to boast means to glory in, to exalt in, to be fired up about, and indeed to obsess over. What are you obsessing over today? We can obsess over our body image, over fitness, over money, over a million other things! But the Christian boasts in, obsesses over, and glories in the cross! The cross, the most violent death available at that time, is the standard and symbol that we hold high, that shows how we wish to die to all things of the world, and live to Christ.
What really matters? That is the question for each one of you today. What matters? What gives all of life value? What gives your life meaning, what is motivating, energizing all that you do every day of your life; whether you are at work, home, or school? What does Jesus mean to you? The cross of Jesus signifies a radical transformation, a dying of all that comes from the first Adam, and a rebirth and new creation found in the second Adam.
The doctrine of the cross, of the atonement, is necessary to be a Christian. You see doctrine is important. The cross is the central doctrine of the Christian. Everybody loves Jesus the teacher, the ethicist, the healer, the lover. But if you don’t get the cross you don’t get it. There is this story of Peter confessing Jesus as the Messiah, and then a few verses later Jesus explains that he must suffer and die, and Peter says, “Far be it from you, Lord!” And what does Jesus say, not only, “you don’t get it,” but he says, “Get behind me Satan.” You are a disciple of Satan if you don’t want the cross. The gospels spend 30-50% on the last weeks of Jesus’ life. Why? Because that is why he came!
If you don’t get the doctrine of the cross you are not a Christian. The cross is the primary reason Jesus came. Dear church, you cannot be a Christian and not go to the cross, and feel it’s offensive. If you don’t think it is offensive meditate on it again. And ask yourself, did the God of the universe really do that!? Did the Son of God, the Word through whom all things were created, really choose to die on a tiny little hill, in an insignificant place, insignificant from a world power point of view, as the worst criminal? These are fair questions. But the bigger question is, how great is my sin? If this really happened! God have mercy upon me! A sinner!
Is this your confession? Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. If Jesus means everything to me then what the world pursues is crucified to me in Jesus’ crucifixion. It means nothing to me. I don’t care about its wealth, its fame, its lusts of the eyes, its prestige, houses, I care nothing for it. I died with Jesus to all of that! And I live in him in newness of life! Those things do not define me!
As Paul says “For neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision means anything, what matters is a new creation.” Not some ethereal, spiritual, non-physical pie in the sky kind of new creation, but a transformation - you becoming who you were meant to be. The power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead is at work in you. You are new. That is what matters - a new creation. What matters is that you find yourself in Christ, and His work. He is in the business of restoring all of creation through the atoning blood of the cross, and his physical resurrected body is the first fruits of that creation. His Spirit in your heart is the guarantee of that creation – and also the creative power in you. Creating a new heart, new desires, new loves, new hates, new wills, renewed intellects. He gives new meaning to your work, your recreation, your relationships. The kingdom has come in Jesus Christ, and is being established through his Spirit! What does Jesus MEAN to you?
Blessings in Jesus Christ
The first result is peace and mercy. “For all who walk by this rule (The rule of the new creation), peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” There is no greater peace, no greater mercy in knowing that Jesus has done it all. The cross speaks peace upon us. Be at peace evermore! Have I not given you my Son? How much more along with Him will I not give you all things? At the cross, peace was made. Peace between God and man. God and creation were reconciled in the blood of the Son. Creation was being restored. Heaven came back to earth. God came to man.
The second result is that rather than carry the mark of circumcision, Christ followers carry the mark of the cross. Not least of all Paul. “Finally let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” In other words, he says, “I have been branded a slave of Jesus Christ. I have the marks of a cross follower on me. The marks he might be thinking about are those marks left by the stoning that he experienced. They had been so offended by the good news of the cross they had left him for dead. Just as men had killed the One who was Himself the good news. Because of the cross the Christian can be hard pressed, but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not feel abandoned, struck down (i.e. killed) but not destroyed. “For we always carry in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
We display Christ to the world, by living out the story of the cross, the story of grace. The story of Galatians. As I wrote these last few paragraphs, I wish this sermon series did not have to end. I have loved it, and fallen in love with it all over again. This is the book of the gospel par excellence. It is not that the whole Bible does not have the gospel, but no other book lays out so clearly not just how an unbeliever gets saved, but that the gospel is the heartbeat of a believer’s life.
The letter to the Galatians, with its trumpet-call to Christian freedom, has time and again released the true gospel from the bonds in which well-meaning but misguided people have confined it, so that it can once more exert its emancipating power in the life of mankind, empowering those who receive it to stand fast in the freedom with which Christ has set them free.
I leave you with this hymn
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit, my dear brothers and sisters.”