This week we are looking at the beginning of Paul's letter to the Galatians. Paul preaches a gospel most of us accept as true and accurate, but where did he get it? How did he get it? What difference does it make to us? This message looks at the gospel message, and how we know we can trust it.
This message is based on Galatians 1:11-24. To read now, click here.
As quite often happens when I sit down to write a sermon, the message kind of took a side step from what I was thinking when I chose this passage. I was thinking I would write about Paul, and how God called him, and how strong his sense of calling was. But as I was preparing for that, I just had so much information I could easily write a series on it, so sometime we’ll take four to six weeks to look Paul’s life; before his conversion, we’ll look at his conversion experience, what happened right after that, and how he was sent to the gentiles, becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles. So someday, we’ll take an in depth look at the Apostle Paul.
That will make a great series someday, but as I was preparing for this week’s message, I became more convicted that we need to spend some time looking at the gospel today. We won’t get very deep, but will look at some basic questions that arise when I think of the gospel. What is the gospel? How has the gospel been communicated to us? How can we know it’s true?
So let’s start out this morning with the definition of the gospel. The word “gospel” is one of those Christian words that we learn when we become believers, but it probably doesn’t mean very much to nonbelievers. So what exactly is the gospel? In its most basic form it is the good news. The good news found only in Jesus Christ. The good news of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. It is God himself, born as a baby to live among us. It is God himself teaching us things of faith. It is God himself sacrificing himself for our sins. It is God himself reaching out to us to restore the relationship with him that we were created to have.
Most of the time when we use the word gospel, we refer to that part of Jesus’s life that provides salvation to us. His crucifixion. His sacrifice. His paying the penalty for our sins that we could never pay on our own. But I think the word gospel is really much broader than that. I really think it covers everything there is about Jesus. I think the gospel is really the story of God, reaching out to his people, in the person of Jesus, to restore them and to redeem them for God. It is God’s revelation to His people through His son Jesus Christ. It is, as the title of our message implies, a revelation from God.
I. The NT is the proclamation of the good news about Jesus. If you think about it, the entire New Testament is witness to Jesus Christ. Therefore, the entire New Testament is gospel. Which brings me to the second question I asked earlier, “How has the gospel been communicated to us?”
The primary way the gospel has been communicated to us is in the books and letters of the New Testament. In the introduction of Luke’s book, it says, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
So as we think about how the gospel had been communicated to us, we need to realize that many people wrote about Jesus. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say they were hundreds of letters and books written about Jesus. Only a small portion of them were included in the final canon which became the New Testament.
There were books written by, or at least attributed to, all of the disciples. There is a gospel according to Mary Magdalene, there is a gospel according to Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are books written by people who may have had personal experience with Jesus, who wanted to preserve that experience. Most of these weren’t included in the New Testament because it was so hard to verify who really wrote them.
One of the reasons the early church created a canon of official books, the New Testament, is because there were just so many floating around, and it was so hard to verify them. The books we have today are the books where, for the most part, the authorship is clear, the message is consistent, and together they give us the clearest picture of the gospel message, the story of Jesus.
In John 21:24, it says, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” When they put together the New Testament, they settled on those books that they knew were true. they knew who wrote them, and they knew the authors had personal history with Jesus, so they knew what they were talking about. So today, we have a gospel account in the New Testament that we know is true. We know the New Testament is an accurate and faithful proclamation of the good news about Jesus.
II. The apostles bore witness to the gospel. The gospel was handed down to us through the apostles who were witnesses to the life of Christ. They simply shared things that they saw. They taught the things that they themselves were taught by Jesus. They were faithful witnesses of the gospel message.
In 2 Peter 1:16, Peter wrote, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his Majesty.” Peter was an eyewitness of everything he wrote. In Peter’s letters, we get from Peter what Peter got from Jesus.
In the introduction to John’s first letter, we see pretty much the same thing. In 1 John 1:1-4, John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
We even see the same thing in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, where Paul writes, “For what I have received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.”
So Peter, John, and Paul all wrote that they simply passed on what they learned from Jesus. So the gospel is not a man-made story. It’s Jesus’s story, it comes directly from Jesus. The New Testament is an account of the life of Jesus, and the apostles proclaimed that life as accurately as they could. They simply passed on what they saw and what they learned. Which brings up one more question, “After 2000 years, how do we know the gospel is still pure?” And this brings me to my last point…
III. The guidance of the Holy Spirit in the transmission of the gospel. We can know that the gospel is pure because the Holy Spirit has been at work to keep it pure. That’s one of the roles of the Holy Spirit. That’s one of the things he does. In John 14:26, John wrote, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said you.” We know that the New Testament is accurate because the Holy Spirit reminded the apostles everything Jesus had taught them. And they simply wrote what the Holy Spirit prompted them to write.
John gives us another passage that makes this clear. In John 16:12-15, Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
I’m going to try to close our message this morning with a little application. We know that the gospel is the life story of Jesus Christ. It includes all that He taught his disciples, who then passed it on in the form of the New Testament so that we can have a pure and accurate account of the life of Christ.
In its most basic form, the gospel is the story of Jesus’s life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. And perhaps the most basic theme of the story of Jesus’s life is that he died for our sins, so our relationship with God, which was destroyed by our human condition and our disobedience to God, might, by believing all that Jesus taught, be restored.
That’s good news. Because of Jesus, we can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our sins can be forgiven, we can be filled with hope, and we can be given a counselor, guide, and advocate, in the form of the Holy Spirit.
Take a few minutes during our next hymn to reflect on your relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you understand the gospel? Do you understand the story of Jesus, and how that story can bring you new life? Then we will gather again at the table where we will celebrate the gospel together.