"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7
 
 

2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Galatians 1:1-10 Sermon 
June 10, 2007

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
166 “Blessing And Honor And Glory And Power”
479 “I Need Thee Every Hour” 
392 “More Love To Thee, O Christ”
209 “God Of Our Life, All Glorious Lord”

INCLUSIVELY EXCLUSIVE

TEXT (vs. 6-8): “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”

If you were to go to Milwaukee, and drive up North 76th Street on the far north side of the city, you’d drive past a very impressive Jewish Synagogue called the Temple Menorah. It’s a large brick structure perched up on a hill on the west side of the street. It’s nicely landscaped with adequate parking and it has an inviting look about it.

If you go online and look at their website, you’d see photographs of the inside and outside of the building, plus pictures of the people—and there are lots of people—as they partake in worship and other various activities. There are groups for adults, various activities for children and teens, plus other opportunities for fellowship.

All in all, it looks like the type of congregation that would interest any of us, and to which we might want to belong. And it’s all good, except for one nagging detail—they’re Jewish, and we’re Christians. And that’s no small matter either. We’re not Jewish, nor do we have anything much to do with modern day Judaism for one very good reason, and that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In order for us to be a part of their congregation, we’d have to throw away the entirety of the New Testament. We would have to deny that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, and the very Son of God himself. We would have to pick up the Old Testament ceremonies and rituals which foreshadowed Christ, and ignore the fact that at Christ’s crucifixion, the temple curtain was torn in two which signaled the end of the Old Testament ceremonial laws and rules for worship. And it wouldn’t take too long for us to realize that for us to return to that type of Jewish worship would be a huge step backward for us.

Of course our salvation would be lost. Once we denied our Saviour, then we would be back in our sins and transgressions. We would have thrown away the hope that we have, and the assurance of our place in God’s eternal heaven. By denying Jesus our Saviour, we would also deny the entire Trinity, because to deny one person of the Godhead is to deny the entirety of the Godhead. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

I chose the example of the Temple Menorah in Milwaukee for a particular reason. It was back in the mid 1980’s that somebody (or some "bodies" as the case may be) decided to go and vandalize their property. They spray painted Nazi swastikas on their beautiful building. This constituted a crime of hatred toward them and other modern-day Jews; or as we call it, anti-Semitism. And if I remember correctly, it was a group of young Lutheran hoodlums that did it.

Now certainly we don’t agree with the tenets of modern Judaism, but we’re not anti-Semitic about it either. Even though they are guilty of false doctrine, we don’t hate them for it. In this country, every religion is given the equal opportunity to practice as they wish (within the bounds of the law, of course). The freedom they have to exist is the same freedom we have to exist too. So we don’t hate them, but we do pray for them so that they might come to know Jesus as their Saviour too, thereby coming to the knowledge of the truth. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that.

As we get into our text for today, it is the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Church at Galatia. The church was having some difficulties with people who were trying to mix in some teachings which were not according to the teachings of Jesus. Numerous people were demanding that some of the Old Testament Jewish practices needed to be retained in the Christian Church, and that those practices were necessary for salvation. This constituted a “different gospel” as Paul so aptly puts it.

Now this might almost seem like a trivial matter, but it isn’t. In fact, allowing a different gospel is something like opening the proverbial “can of worms” or taking the lid off of Pandora’s Box. Let’s look at some of the ways this happens.

Some people say that faith in Jesus as Saviour isn’t enough for salvation, and that other acts of contrition or other works are also necessary. This is the same as saying that what Jesus did on the cross wasn’t good enough. So then this leaves everybody wondering if they’ve done enough to merit heaven, or if they’re going to be banished to hell forever. Nobody would know for sure.

So instead of dying with the full assurance of eternal salvation, people die in fear of what lies ahead. This in effect trades Satan’s lies and accusations for the peace of God which passes all understanding. People wind up scurrying around like rats in a maze trying to assure themselves that they’ve done enough to merit God’s blessing. This is definitely a different gospel than the one Jesus has given us.

Then you have the people who claim that one religion is just as valid as another in God’s eyes, and they’ll say something like, “Well, you go your way and I’ll go mine, and we’ll all eventually wind up in the same place at the end.”

This statement is true when you compare one non-Christian or heathen religion with another. But it is not true when you compare non-Christian religions with Christianity. Jesus very pointedly says, “No one cometh unto the Father but by me.” There is no eternal salvation apart from faith in Christ, and that holds true for the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, and so on.

This is the part that seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way. They’ll say, “How can you be so arrogant as to say that you have the only true religion?” The answer is of course that Jesus tells us he is the only way. You can’t read through the Epistle to the Galatians and come up with any other conclusion. Any other gospel apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not valid. Heaven is an exclusive thing which is reserved for God’s people—both the faithful children of Israel from the Old Testament, and the faithful Christians of the New Testament, which includes you and me.

But then they’ll argue, “What right do you have to force your religion on someone else?” We don’t force it on everyone else; we allow other religions to exist too. But if a person wants to see heaven as their eternity, then they will have to be a Christian in order to get there.

That’s why we send missionaries out to foreign lands with heathen religions. The souls there are precious, and the reward of heaven is very real. As Christians we have a love for people that extends throughout the whole world.

When we do mission work, certainly we attend to the immediate physical needs of the people. But we don’t just give them an injection and a plate of food and send them on their way to continue to be heathens. We want to attend to their spiritual needs as well. We want to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them. We want them to know that it is that very Gospel which motivates our love for them. We want them as part of God’s kingdom too.

Anybody regardless of their religious affiliation can give someone medical help, or give them a plate of food, or teach them how to grow crops and provide for themselves. That isn’t the Gospel of Jesus Christ however.

When it is a Christian who does these things, there is a much higher purpose which motivates such charitable acts. The charitable acts aren’t the Gospel, but the effect of it. The Christian will want to also share this Gospel through teaching the way of salvation to others.

As exclusive as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is, it is also very inclusive. If we take a brief look at our Old Testament lesson for today, we find King Solomon speaking the words of dedication for the newly erected Temple in Jerusalem. In I Kings 8, 41-43 we read: “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays towards this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling-place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”

Those words are about as inclusive as you can get. When people start thinking that they have a corner on the market as far as God is concerned, then it’s time to think again. The Bible tells us that God’s will is for all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. God wants everybody to be saved, regardless of their ethnicity, or their skin color, or their language, or whatever their earthly lot. He wants them all to know him; and Solomon’s prayer of dedication elaborates this point so well.

Christianity then is inclusively exclusive. It is for everyone; but only those who believe in Jesus their Saviour will be saved. It’s inclusive as far as people are concerned, but exclusive as far as the faith is concerned. That’s it in a nutshell.

Let’s think for a moment about ourselves. What’s our life been like? Have we always been the perfect person? Have we always been worthy of God’s grace and love? Have our souls ever yearned for peace? Do we want to die in peace knowing our salvation is secure?

We know those questions only too well, don’t we? Now just try to think for a moment what how we’d answer those questions if we weren’t Christians. I know it’s hard to think in those terms, but just try to imagine it. (Pause for effect)

It’s hard isn’t it? We, who have known the Gospel of Jesus Christ couldn’t imagine following any other gospel, or doing it any other way. Our life hasn’t been the greatest. We haven’t been the perfect person. And we definitely aren’t worthy of God’s love and grace by any merit of our own. And we want that assurance of our heavenly home at all times, and especially when we draw our last breath.

Jesus is the answer, and the only one. Through faith in him, we can be assured that our sins are forgiven, and that only through him do we merit God’s love and grace. That certainly excludes all non-Christian religions, but it includes everybody.

At the beginning, I spoke about the Temple Menorah in Milwaukee. It is a lovely facility in a great location. The congregation is active and involved in all sorts of things. They have things that would interest men, women, and children of all age groups. If you have access to the internet, just go to www.templemenorah.com and check it out for yourselves.

As great as it all is, there is one thing they don’t have, and that is Jesus Christ and his Gospel. I think you’d have to agree that the most important element is completely missing from the picture. People can be doing all of the right things and going through all of the right motions; but without Jesus, it is all just empty and meaningless activity. It is certainly not worth trading the Gospel of Christ for it.

This is of course no excuse for anti-Semitism, or for hating anybody for that matter. Even though the Muslim Koran teaches that murdering any non-Muslim is a direct path to Allah, that is not the way of Christianity.

A Christian looks at unbelievers and heathens with a sense of love and hope. We know their souls are precious in God’s sight, and therefore worthy of our prayers and attention. The Gospel of Jesus Christ which has saved us will save them too.

There is no room for any other Gospel in the Christian faith. To introduce or accept anything contrary to it or in addition to it is courting disaster. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, and it is open to everyone who accepts it through faith. That’s the inclusively exclusive nature of Christianity.

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