Gold can be found throughout the pages of this book. It is a simple book, with a new translation of Genesis, some devotional thoughts, and some prayers. But there is gold here. I challenge you to find it.
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a different gospel? (Galatians 1)
“I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—” (Galatians 1:6 CSB).
John Stott wrote that when the devil “cannot entice Christian people into sin, he deceives them with false doctrine.”
That is what is going on in the book of Galatians. A Christian church is being attacked, not by the Roman government, not by an angry Jewish persecutor, but an attack from within. A different gospel had been introduced, and the Galatians were turning to it instead of the gospel by which they had been saved! An internal battle is going on in the churches of Galatia.
The Holy Spirit gave us the book of Galatians as part of the Bible because every church is capable of turning from the true gospel to a false gospel. Anyone who claims to believe can be deceived and turn from the gospel to a different gospel.
That is why it is important for us to study this book. We need to know whether what we believe is the true gospel, or if we have already fallen for a false gospel.
So, we need to ask “What was different about the gospel that the Galatians were turning to?” The text of Galatians 1 answers that question.
it was human centered, not God centered
Paul warned that by turning toward that different gospel, the Galatians were turning away from the God who called them to himself (6). The people teaching the false doctrine now known as the Galatian heresy didn’t advertise it that way. They didn’t say “follow our teaching and you’ll turn away from God.” No, they were teaching the opposite. They came into the churches of Galatia and said. “Hey, y’all are doing okay, but if you really want to get on God’s good side, here’s what you need to do.”
The Galatians were being tempted away from God because they were trying to please people (10). These people pretended to be true believers in Christ. But they had an agenda that was different from Christ’s agenda. They wanted to introduce bondage instead of freedom.
But the gospel that Paul had preached to the Galatians, by which they were saved, was not “of human origin” (11). He didn’t dream it up. It “came by revelation of Jesus Christ” (12).
That word “revelation” is the same word that serves as the title to the last book in the New Testament. It means a disclosure, an unveiling. Paul is saying that Jesus himself revealed the gospel to him. He didn’t get it second-hand.
Paul was pretty stubbornly set on going against the gospel, so Jesus had to knock him down and blind him for awhile to get his attention. So, after learning the truth of the gospel in such a miraculous way, Paul was not about to allow it to be replaced by another gospel.
Paul learned that he could not serve Christ by hanging on to the traditions of his ancestors (14). Those traditions had led Paul to persecute true believers (23).
Now here is an important thing to remember. The traditions were not a bad thing in and of themselves. Many of the traditions had their origin in the Bible. Circumcision, submission to the law of God, separation from idolatry – all of these things were not bad things. What made these things wrong was the way they were being used to replace the gospel. You can take the best of human tradition and you can turn it into a dangerous evil by making it the gospel instead of the gospel of God.
What was different about the gospel that the Galatians were turning to?
it was a gospel of law, not a gospel of grace
The Galatian Christians had been “called by the grace of Christ” (6). Every one of those Gentiles were told that they could be saved from their sins and inherit eternal life, and they didn’t have to do anything for it except trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross. God’s grace did it all.
But these trouble-makers had come into those churches built on grace and they introduced them to the law.
They said if you really wanted to be on God’s good side, you’ll be circumcised. You’ll eat what we tell you to eat. You’ll stop living like a Gentile and live like a Jew. You’ll memorize the law and obey it.
What these trouble-makers didn’t tell the Galatians was that in contrast to the gospel, the law was designed to curse lawbreakers (8-9). Paul had told the Romans that all who sin under the law will be judged by the law (Romans 2:12). So, if we are thinking that obeying the law is going to get you brownie points with God, think again. Paul called it “the curse of the law” and he taught the Galatians that Christ has redeemed us from it by becoming a curse for us when he died on the cross (Galatians 3:13).
The law was never intended to be God’s solution to the sin problem. Even under the Mosaic covenant, it took a blood sacrifice to atone for sin. God’s grace is the only solution to the sin problem.
That is why Paul told the Galatians up-front that Christ “gave himself for our sins to rescue us” (4). The cross is our only rescue.
If the law could rescue anyone, Jesus did not need to die on the cross.
What was different about the gospel that the Galatians were turning to?
it was a gospel of works, not a gospel of faith
The gospel is about “the grace of Christ” (6). It is not about me and what I can do for God. It is about what God did for us by sending his Son to die in our place.
The different gospel was being introduced by a group of trouble-makers (7). These trouble-makers sneaked in and distorted the gospel of grace.
They added regulations. They went to the Galatians and they said, “Hey, read your Old Testament. You see all those regulations. You have to keep them or God is going to reject you. There is no salvation without Sinai.”
So, what was wrong with that picture? It got its biblical history backwards. God did not take the Israelites to Sinai first. He rescued them from Egypt by the blood of the lamb first. Sinai was not for salvation, Sinai was for witness. The content of the Mosaic covenant was intended to be a witness of God’s grace.
In the same way, we have the content of the new covenant: the commands of Christ. In his great commission, Jesus tells us that we are to make disciples and that involves teaching people to obey his commands. But we don’t even obey Christ in order to be saved, we obey him in order for others to be saved. We obey Christ so that we can draw others to him.
What else was different about the different gospel? They added levels of spirituality. They said. Oh, trusting Jesus is okay for starters. But you gotta take this thing to the next level. You gotta level up. The real power comes from how you eat, how you pray, what day you worship on…
They also added “conversions.” Apparently one conversion was not enough. You had to convert not only your heart but your stomach, and your wallet. You had to keep converting until you looked like they did.
But the gospel of grace says that one conversion is enough. One Christ is enough. One cross is enough. The message of Galatians is that believers should find our distinctiveness in Christ and the gospel of forgiveness through his sacrifice.
How do we live the message of Galatians today?
We need to turn back from the different gospel that we have been taught. We need to search ourselves to see if we have added anything to our salvation that was not done by Jesus Christ on the cross.
Then, once we have repented from all those false gospels, we should testify to the saving power of the cross alone.
Immanuel – part 2
Matthew 1:18-25 (CSB)
18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.
19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.
20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her
25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.
I want to begin with a recap of what we saw in Isaiah 7, the story of Ahaz.
That story contains the prophecy that God gave king Ahaz – the prophecy of an unmarried woman who would give birth to a child whom she would nickname Immanuel.
God had given Ahaz a choice. Ahaz could have obeyed God by refusing to seek help from Assyria, and trusted God to rescue the nation of Judah himself. Ahaz chose to ignore God’s offer of help, and disobey him. God still gave the sign. That sign was the nickname that this young woman gave to her child. The sign – the name Immanuel – became a symbol of God’s plan to rescue his people another way, at a different time.
Now let me restate this. God gave Ahaz a choice to make, and he made his choice, but it was the wrong choice. Then, God intervened again and offered to prove that Ahaz could trust him by granting him a supernatural sign. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, but God gave the sign anyway, not specifically to Ahaz, but to his dynasty – the house of David. So, we have three elements to the story of Isaiah 7: a human choice, divine intervention, and a supernatural sign.
It just so happens that those same three elements are part of today’s story, which takes place seven centuries later.
JOSEPH MAKES THE WRONG CHOICE
Matthew 1:18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.
The Christmas story begins with the discovery of an unwanted pregnancy. In this culture today, if someone discovers an unwanted pregnancy, the choice seems to be between letting the child be born, or terminating the pregnancy.
But Joseph’s choice was not to abort the child. He knew that he had been responsible toward Mary, so he concluded that Mary must not have been faithful to him. But since he did not want to shame her, he decided divorce was his only option. In his culture, engagement was legally binding, so he decided to divorce her secretly.
The reason Joseph felt this was his only option was that he did not know the whole story.
Many times in our lives, we are going to be faced with decisions that are crucial and significant, but we will not have all the pertinent information we need to make the right choice. That is why we need to regularly seek God’s guidance through prayer. We also should be careful not to make judgments based on mere appearance.
Now, I am highlighting the fact that there are some major similarities between the stories in Isaiah 7 and Matthew 1, but there are also some glaring differences. Ahaz and Joseph are both prepared to make wrong choices, but that is where there is a change.
GOD INTERVENES, SO THAT HIS WILL IS ACCOMPLISHED.
Matthew 1:20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her
Matthew 1:25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.
God had sent a prophet to Ahaz, and Ahaz chose to ignore Isaiah, and make the wrong choice anyway. But God himself appears as an angel to Joseph in a dream. It is vitally important for the history and salvation of humanity that Joseph not make the wrong choice.
This is divine intervention. I find it interesting that the message God gives to Joseph starts out the same way his message to Ahaz did. God had told Isaiah to tell Ahaz:
“Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering sticks, the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram, and the son of Remaliah” (Isaiah 7:4 CSB).
The Lord tells Joseph in the dream “don’t be afraid.” This is something that God has to keep saying to us when he intervenes in our lives because when stuff happens to us, anxiety is our first response.
God chose to send his Son into a family that was this close to disintegrating before it even began. There was an unwanted pregnancy, a difficult trip to Bethlehem at the worst possible time. There was no place to stay. There was an evil king who wanted to kill the child. All of these things had to weigh heavily on the hearts of Mary and Joseph. They would have been tempted to give up on their marriage, on their faith, and write themselves off as hopeless.
But what I see in this story is that it is just at that point when the anxiety level was the highest that God intervened. He didn’t fix all their problems but he did remind them that they were in his will and encouraged them not to be afraid but to trust in him.
If you have lived any time at all, you have experienced times like that. Some of you are probably going through such times right now. What does it take to get through times like that? We are stronger than we think we are, so it really doesn’t take a miracle to get us through our tough times.
But it does take a message from God, assuring us that he’s got this. God told Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy is not in conflict with his plan; Mary’s pregnancy is God’s plan. Of course, we can understand that today. We have the advantage of 2000 years of hindsight. But for Mary and Joseph, they had to trust God and not give in to fear.
JESUS HIMSELF BECAME THE SUPERNATURAL SIGN TO ISRAEL AND TO US.
Matthew 1:22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
Matthew 1:23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
There are some similarities and differences between this part of the story and Isaiah 7 as well. I want to draw attention to one of the differences.
In Isaiah’s story, the supernatural sign was the name Immanuel. It was apparently a nickname that this young woman would give her baby boy. It was a sign given not to Ahaz alone, but to his dynasty, the house of David. That sign basically said that Ahaz gave up on his God, but his God has not given upon his family. One day, God was going to rescue Judah, and he’s going to do it through another descendant of David.
We know today that the descendant of David who would rescue his people was Jesus. In fact, in the Matthew passage, it is Jesus himself who is the supernatural sign, not his name.
Matthew declares that Jesus’ virginal conception was the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In Isaiah’s prediction, the birth of the child was to be natural, but the name the mother gave him was the supernatural sign.
When Matthew records the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy, he changes the pronoun.
“a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NASB).
“the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” (Matthew 1:23 NASB).
Immanuel was not going to be his parents’ nickname for Jesus. It was going to be his nation’s title.
Joseph was not told to name the child Immanuel. He was to be named Jesus, because he was God’s chosen savior. But his nation would come to recognize him as the sign of Immanuel – the sign that their God had not deserted them. God was still with them in the person of his Son.
The gospel message to you and me today is that Jesus can also be our Immanuel. This same Jesus who was born supernaturally came to die a death he didn’t deserve so that we can have a chance to live an eternal life that we do not deserve.
Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted that substitutionary death. And Jesus promises to come again and give us eternal life. Until then, Jesus being our Immanuel means this:
Jesus is with us “always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NASB).
This message was preached by Jeff on Sunday, December 15th, at Lone Star Advent Christian Church in Clifton Forge, Virginia.
The video stream of the service can be watched here.
Isaiah 7:10-17 (CSB)
10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz:
11 “Ask for a sign from the Lord your God—it can be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.”
12 But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.”
13 Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God?
14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
15 By the time he learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good, he will be eating curds and honey.
16 For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned.
17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s house such a time as has never been since Ephraim separated from Judah: He will bring the king of Assyria.”
This time of year lots of people are thinking about the Christmas traditions. It gives us an opportunity to meditate on the gospel story behind those traditions. This year, I want us to think about one of the prophesied nicknames of Jesus: Immanuel. This passage is the first time in the Bible that name is mentioned, but the idea can be traced throughout the Bible. What does it mean for God to be with someone?
Adam & Eve’s Immanuel
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”” (Genesis 3:8-9). Imagine what it was like for God to personally visit you every evening! But as soon as they sinned, they could not bear that presence!
Noah & his family’s Immanuel
Gen 6:3 And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:3).
Imagine what it was like for this family to be singled out for preservation of all the families of the earth! God was with everyone up to a point, but he would stay with Noah and his family.
“The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master. (Genesis 39:2). “But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden. ” (Genesis 39:21).
Imagine the horror of being betrayed and abandoned by your family, and your employer, and losing your freedom and hope. But Joseph had a secret that kept him from despairing in the midst of that trial. The Lord was with him.
Moses and Joshua’s Immanuel
“the Lord your God will be with you, as he was with Moses” (Joshua 1:17). “And the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land” (Joshua 6:27).
Image the tremendous responsibility of leading an entire nation. But Moses and Joshua had a secret that kept them strong. The Lord was with them.
the judges’ Immanuel
“Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for the Israelites, the Lord was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive.” (Judges 2:18)
Imagine having the responsibility not just to lead a nation, but to rescue it from the consequences of its failures and wrong choices! But the judges had a secret that gave them all the strength they needed – even the strength of Samson! It wasn’t their hair. That secret was that the Lord was with them.
“Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4) “Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left Saul.” (1 Samuel 18:12)
For David, having God with him was a mixed blessing. It meant fellowship with God, and God’s presence when he went through the darkest valley. But it also meant that king Saul would be jealous of him and hate him. But God’s presence helped him through all the ordeals he would face as God’s chosen king.
AHAZ could have had an Immanuel!
Isaiah 7:10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz:
The first time God spoke to Ahaz, he tried to get him to calm down and not to fear getting invaded by Syria and Israel, because he said it ain’t going to happen. He tried to get Ahaz to stand firm in his faith and trust God to deliver him and his nation. But Ahaz did not trust God. He had already decided that he could be rescued by an alliance with Assyria instead.
Isaiah 7:11 “Ask for a sign from the Lord your God – it can be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.” The prophet said, Hey Ahaz, this is your lucky day. God wants to give you a sign, and you get to choose what it is. You want God to raise someone from the dead, just ask. You want God to send an angel down from the sky, just ask.
Isaiah 7:12 But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.”
This makes Ahaz sound so humble and pious, but he was not. Ahaz was not a righteous king. He was an idolater. In fact, he had even sacrificed his own sons to Moloch. The reason Ahaz didn’t want to ask God is that Ahaz had rebelled against God. He wanted to be a success without God’s help.
Isaiah 7:13 Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God?
Isaiah had previously gone to Ahaz and assured him that his immediate neighbors to the north would not be able to overthrow him. But Ahaz ignored that assurance from Isaiah, so he tried the patience of the man – Isaiah. But Now Isaiah is speaking for God himself, and Ahaz still refuses. He is trying the patience of God.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
We Christians are used to taking this verse out of this context. We tend to only think about it as Christmastime, and only in the context of the birth of Jesus. I want to talk about Immanuel in its Christmas context next week. This week, I want us to think about it in its Ahaz context. Who is the virgin that Isaiah mentioned to Ahaz? She had to be a young woman of marriageable age, and someone who is known by both Ahaz and Isaiah. The two most possible options are a young woman in Ahaz’s harem who will bear Ahaz a son, or a new bride for Isaiah. I think the second option has the most scriptural support. If you go on and read chapters 8 and 9 of Isaiah, it seems like those chapters continue the Immanuel prophecy, and that the son that Isaiah predicts in chapter 7 is Maher-shalal-hash-baz. That’s the name his father gives him, and Immanuel was probably a nickname that his mother gave him.
Isaiah 7:15 By the time he learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good, he will be eating curds and honey. Isaiah 7:16 For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned.
God’s word to Ahaz was that in the few years it takes for a young boy to grow to his age of accountability, Israel and Syria are not going to be the immediate threat that they are now. Something is going to change.
Isaiah 7:17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s house such a time as has never been since Ephraim separated from Judah: He will bring the king of Assyria.”
What is going to happen instead is the superpower of Assyria is going to lay waste those lands to the north, and lay siege to Judah itself. Things are going to get so bad that the only things left to eat will be curds and honey – because all the crops will be gone. By the time mommy’s little Immanuel was ready for his Bar-Mitzvah, that had happened. God wanted to be Immanuel to Ahaz, but Ahaz refused to ask.
Is God with you? Have you invited the Lord into your heart? Let’s sing O Little Town of Bethlehem, and let’s make its final verse our prayer. O holy Child of Bethlehem Descend to us, we pray Cast out our sin and enter in Be born to us today We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell O come to us, abide with us Our Lord Emmanuel.
This message was preached by Jeff on Sunday, December 8th, at Lone Star Advent Christian Church in Clifton Forge, Virginia.
The video stream of the service is available here.