Sunday Sermon 5 July 2015 – Paul to the Galatians (5)
Readings: Hebrews 1:1-5; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 6:7-15
Story: A group of first graders was asked to draw a picture of God in their Sunday School class. Their finished products contained some interesting theology. One child depicted God in the form of a brightly coloured rainbow. Another presented him as an old man coming out of the clouds. One little boy drew God with a remarkable resemblance to Superman. The best snapshot, though, came from a little girl. She said, “I didn’t know what God looked like, so I just drew a picture of my daddy.”
It would be great if every boy and girl could see God in his or her father. Sadly – it’s not so. The statistics are frightening. In Britain for example, I read this week about the statistics regarding absent fathers:
85% of children exhibiting behavioural disorders come from fatherless homes
90% of all homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes
80% of all rapists motivated by displaced anger come from fatherless homes
70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes
85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in fatherless homes.
The writer continues: “We live in a fatherless generation. We need to point them to God’s paternal, compassionate, restoring, gracious desire, and offer to make up that which is missing.” Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 229). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
Here’s a question for you.
Which Bible story illustrates the Fatherly love of God the most? In your view?
My favourite (again I have many favourites) is Luke 15:11 ff – which is the story of the Prodigal Son.
There’s a good argument to suggest that it’s also a story of a prodigal Father – if we take prodigal to be excessively wasteful. Simon Ponsonby puts it like this:
And here is where we see what God is like: the father is waiting and watching, scanning the horizon on the edge of his land, looking longingly as he clearly has done every day since his son left. When he catches the silhouette of his boy, knowing intimately how he carried himself and walked, the old man begins to run and run, and when he gets to his son, breathless, wet with perspiration and tears, he pauses, then crushes his pig-stinking, bag-of-bones boy in his arms of love. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 230). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
A party is thrown, because the dead son is alive, the lost son is found, and a son is with his dad! This is the most amazing good news – because this is what God is like.
David knew this when he wrote in Psalm 68:
Psa 68:5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. Psa 68:6 God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
In our series about Galatians – God is the giver. We know from other passages like John 3:16 that God the Father gives his only son. In Galatians Paul shows that the son gives himself to rescue us. You may remember from Galatians 1: 3-4 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father
We come to him by faith (Galatians 3:26-27) – becoming sons: Gal 3:26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
- And then the focal verse in Galatians 4:6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father. The spirit is given to the sons of God – so that we can become all we were meant to be.
And – interestingly enough – in this early epistle you can see the formation of a doctrine of the Trinity, even though the term is not used. God the Father of our Lord Jesus is at work. The son is given to rescue us, and the Spirit is given to transform us.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE CHRISTIAN TODAY?
In simple terms, three points!
- It’s all about grace.
We don’t have the issues that the Galatians had – whether we need to become Jews in order to become Christians, or whether we are overloaded with burdens from trying to keep the law as they did. The church today is in no immediate danger of over- keeping the laws of the Old Testament in every detail. Too many ham sandwiches in church pot luck suppers? Men’s breakfast would never be the same here without that amazing bacon!
Whatever the law we follow, we will certainly not keep it on our own. We’re not able to. If it is by our doing, then we are setting aside the grace of God. As Paul says in Galatians 2:21: I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
- It’s all about the truth of the gospel
What we do have from our travels through the letter to the Galatians is a real sense of the truth of the Gospel as something to be treasured and guarded against wrong teachings. There are no substitutes or additions that can be made. The gospel came at the right time in every way.
The gospel, like the exodus from Egypt, is a rescue mission so that we can be set free from our enslavement to the power and consequences of sin. It is initiated by God. At the right time.
Listen to Galatians 4:4 again: Gal 4:4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law
And listen to Hebrews 1 again: Heb 1:1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, Heb 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
God initiates this rescue. We who are not Jews – in other words Gentiles (to whom Paul is specifically sent with the Gospel message) – are equally bound and captive. Our wrestling is with sin, the devil, and his minions.
We equally need to be set free. And only God can do this. We are enslaved, and need to be liberated. We too worship other gods – create our own idols of every sort.
The fact that the Galatian gentiles choose to remain slaves by going back to circumcision and thus the pre-Messianic faith is helpful for us as a warning. We have to hold on to the truth of the gospel.
- It’s all about our relationship with God
We do have this – this is the most important thing today: we have a model for prayer and living in an intimate relationship with Abba, Father. (And of course the Lord’s prayer begins: ‘Our Father’”)
The word Abba is an Aramaic word and is only used three times in Scripture. Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:15. Guess what the other verse is? Yes it’s in the garden of Gethsemane when the firstborn only begotten son wrestles in prayer with his looming execution.
Mar 14:36 – “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
And then these two from Paul: Gal 4:6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
He unpacks this in his later letter to the Romans in chapter 8: Rom 8:14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Rom 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Rom 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
What a privilege that we can pray like Jesus did. The Holy Spirit cries “Abba” though us. (Galatians) And we can cry “Abba!” (Romans) Simon Ponsonby, who you recall came out from the UK for New Wine Festival again last year – puts it like this:
This passage unveils to us perhaps the most beautiful and glorious insights into the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Through faith, the believer has been justified (Romans 3– 5; Galatians 2: 16; 3: 6) and simultaneously has received the Spirit (Romans 5: 5; Galatians 3: 2). They have moved from being slaves, living in fear and servitude before the Law and the devil, to being free sons of God.
Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 231). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
Free sons of God – with Jesus as the elder brother in the family. What a privilege to be his children. (We have to learn about freedom in the light of all this. More about freedom later as we go through this letter together.)
This new status of adoption is rich with historical cultural baggage – adoption under Roman law conferred full rights to inherit on the adopted child.
He adopts us. We can’t choose Him. Most of all is the simple fact that He chooses us. (John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…)
We can’t earn it or buy our way in to the family. He has redeemed us. He pays the price for our freedom.
This is the gospel – that we are saved into an intimate relationship with the Father. And we have the inner witness of God’s spirit – that blessed assurance – as Paul says in Romans 8: 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
Conclusion (Quoting Simon Ponsonby)
We have been made sons of God; a party has been thrown in our honour, with status, dignity, inheritance, and authority conferred on us. We can live like sons in the Spirit or like slaves – it’s up to us. The Galatian Christians chose to live like slaves. The second son in the parable of the prodigal chose to live like a slave, bemoaning “all these years I’ve slaved for you” while in fact “all the father had was his”. Such a revelation of our position before God, on the basis of the decree of the Father, the death of the Son, and the deposit of the Spirit, should revolutionize our lives. God is Abba – our Father. I am his son, not his slave. I serve him freely and without fear – I relax in my sonship: security, identity, inheritance, and freedom from anxiety and fear.
Being God’s own sons should cause us to wonder and worship with all our heart. It should cause us to walk with our head held high, that such dignity has been conferred upon us, sons who perpetuate God’s name and inherit his estate. It should compel our passionate witness to this broken, lost, fatherless generation. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (pp. 234-235). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.
It also means that this Abba, Father, is one in whom we need to rest.
He knows our needs before we ask! (Mat 6:8 Do not be like them (the pagans), for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.)
And if we go astray – he is always longing for us to return. Like the prodigal Father and his prodigal son. It’s interesting that in Luke’s gospel when the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son are recorded, there is this wonderful verse:
Luk 15:10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
IF you feel astray – lost – if you don’t have that intimate relationship with God through Christ and His spirit, there is always today!