Our Gracious heavenly Father, I pray that You would help me now to speak Your Word faithfully and fruitfully. I pray that these dear people, by the work of Your Holy Spirit and Your grace, would hear a better sermon than the one that I’m about to preach and that Your Spirit would bring to mind today and throughout this week all of these things that we might be led to love and to worship Christ. In His name we pray. Amen.
One of my favorite podcasts that I listen to and just came upon in the last few months, and I think some of you may listen to it as well, it’s called American Scandal. There’s another podcast by the same guy called American History Tellers. In both shows, the storyteller is Lindsay Graham – no, not that Lindsey Graham, not the Senator from South Carolina, same name, different person. But his voice and his style are very unique. He has sort of a mellifluous, soothing, storyteller’s voice and he brings you to these events, either in American History with the one or different points of scandal in American history with the other, and has a very deliberate style where he describes the events to you in the present tense and puts you there, imagining that you’re experiencing the events as they unfold.
So in that vein, I want you to imagine. It’s almost noon. The weather is ideal, 72 degrees, sunny, slight breeze, low humidity. You look around and everything you see is stunningly beautiful – the trees, the grass, the sky. There’s a river, you can hear it in the distance, it’s not far from you. A little further in the distance are the hills and you begin to make out some mountains, and it’s all amazing. The sound of birds overhead is pleasant. The animals you can see all seem to be peacefully playing together.
You grab down from the tree above you a banana. You peel the skin, no sticker to remove, and you take a bite. It’s the best banana you’ve ever had. You share the banana with your best friend standing next to you. You look at each other and you smile. It’s another perfect day in paradise. Literally, because in this imaginary thought experiment you’re Adam. Or, if it fits you better, you’re Eve. As you stroll the garden, you enjoy each other. You enjoy your surroundings. You enjoy the presence of God in your midst and it’s been like this ever since the first moment when life was breathed into you, or you woke up, next to this man. It’s been this way. This perfection since the beginning and you hope that nothing will ever change.
But just then you notice a snake slithering up to your feet. No reason to be alarmed – snakes have never hurt you before. In fact, nothing has ever hurt you before. But then the snake talks. He talks to you about God, he talks to you about yourself. He talks to you about a fruit that you don’t think you should eat, but he seems to want you to eat. You don’t know it at the time, but the snake is lying to you. You’ve never been lied to before.
So you take the fruit, or if it fits you better, your wife next to you takes the fruit and then gives it to you, and together she eats and then you eat. You had hoped just moments ago that nothing would ever change in this garden paradise, and now you know in an instant that nothing will ever be the same. All of a sudden, as if your eyes are open to new realities, everything looks different.
First of all, you notice, how could not notice before, you’re naked. It’s suddenly embarrassing. You quickly stitch together some makeshift clothes. You cover yourself. But things get worse. God starts to talk to you. God has always been the best thing about the garden, but now there’s a different sound in His voice. He sounds disappointed, angry, concerned. He asks you where you are, why you’re hiding, who told you you’re naked? Then He asks you the one thing you hoped above all else He wouldn’t ask you – He asks you about the fruit. Where did you get the fruit? Why did you eat the fruit?
You make excuses but to no avail. God continues to speak. He speaks about curses, how He curses the serpent, and the He curses the ground and He tells you that your work will be painful and that childbirth will be painful. He tells you about all the pain that has now been found and about the paradise that has now been lost.
But in the midst of all this bad news, this frightening news, this unmistakable change all around you, God says something else. You’re not sure what to make of it in the moment. It’s right there in the midst of a lot of bad news, but He says there and you have to almost do a double-take to make sure you’ve heard Him correctly. As He talks about the pain that will now be attendant with childbirth, He says something else. He says that a child will one day be born of the woman and that this child yet to be born will be at war with the snake, and the snake will bruise the heel of this child, but, and this is what gets your attention, He says the child will crush the head of the serpent.
Now that is a different sound than all of the bad news that you’re hearing. That word about war between a child and a snake, about one to be born from the woman who will crush the head of the serpent, in the midst of all of this newfound pain and shame and guilt, that little word sounds like hope. In fact, it sounds like a promise.
Will you believe it? Have you believed it? Do you still believe it?
That was in one pregnant phrase, literally, that was the hope of God’s people. Now that hope would be built up and would be fleshed out until literally it came in flesh. That promised child to come.
This morning’s message is entitled “Jesus Christ – The Promised Child of the Covenant” and the very first word of that Gospel is right there in Genesis 3. We hear it again in this morning’s passage in Galatians chapter 3.
So I encourage you to turn there if you’re not there already to Galatians chapter 3. We’ve been doing this series on famous 3:16, third chapter, 16 verse, in different books of the New Testament, and this morning we come to Galatians 3:16. Let’s read the paragraph beginning at verse 15.
“To give a human example, brothers: Even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.” Then here’s the 16: “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”
If you’ve studied Galatians before, you may think of it as a book about justification, a book about law and Gospel, a book about how we’re right with God. It all of those things, but even more so Galatians is a book about Jesus Christ.
Turn to the very first chapter, verse 1.
“Paul,” he’s the one writing this letter, “an apostle.” He describes himself .”An apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” In verse 3 he writes: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s how he starts the letter. Then at the very end, in chapter 6, verse 14: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is a book about Jesus Christ and His cross. Then he concludes, in verse 18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be your spirit.” This is a book about Jesus Christ.
Getting justification right, getting law gospel right, is of supreme importance because when we get those things wrong, we’re going to get Jesus wrong. When we get Jesus wrong, we’re going to get those things wrong.
So as we’ve done with each of these 3:16’s in this series, we want to use it to focus on some aspect of the person and work of Christ. Here’s what we see in this paragraph, that Jesus Christ is the promised offspring, or the promised child, of the covenant.
Our outline is very simple. I want us to look at and try to explain and apply those three key words – Jesus Christ, the promised offspring of the covenant. So we want to look at covenant, offspring, and promise, moving through that phrase backwards, the promised offspring of the covenant. We’ll look at covenant, offspring, promise.
So let’s start with this word “covenant.” If you’re visiting our church for the first time, we’re very glad you’re here. You’re going to want to get know this word “covenant.” It’s just about everything – Christ Covenant, covenant groups, covenant children, every Sunday you’re going to hear something about a covenant.
You ever see those Covenant Transport trucks hauling things around? We own those trucks. [laughter] We don’t, but, you hear a lot about covenant.
What is a covenant? Simply put, it’s a compact, an agreement, a mutual engagement. J. I. Packer said a covenant relationship is a voluntary, mutual commitment that binds each party to the other. My definition is that a covenant is a promissory agreement between two parties. It’s a contract. It’s an agreement.
Marriage is a type of covenant. People make promises to each other. There’s lots of contracts when you buy a house, when you have to get a loan, when you have some business merger, acquisition. You sign on the dotted line. It’s a kind of covenant. You make a promise, you make a promise, it’s legally binding. If you don’t fulfill your end, bad things happen. If you break your promises, bad things happen. That’s very simply what a covenant is. We can understand that.
Covenant is one of the central ideas in the Bible and it’s one of the central points here in Galatians and in this paragraph. Here’s Paul’s point – once you sign on the dotted line, you can’t change it. You can’t add to it, you can’t subtract from it. You see what he says there in verse 15. He’s making an argument about law and Gospel, about faith and obedience, about how we’re right with God. We’ll come back to that at the end. But here in verse 15 he takes a little aside from this larger argument about faith and works of the law and he says, “Well, let me give you an example. Even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it, no one adds to it once it has been ratified. Once you sign on the dotted line, there it is. It’s a legally binding contract. You can’t just go in and start fudging things out.”
We’ve got some lawyers here in this church, good folks, we love the good lawyers. They’ll tell you you don’t do that, you get in trouble. You can get sued.
There are lots of covenant arrangements in the Bible. Now we can speak of these covenant arrangements under one single heading, that is, a covenant of grace. This covenant of grace which really is introduced in that story that I retold at the beginning from Genesis chapter 3, this promise of One who will come, and then at various times different aspects of this one covenant of grace are expressed through these other particular arrangements.
So there’s a covenant with Noah, we might call that a covenant of preservation. It’s where God promises with the rainbow in the sky He’ll never destroy the earth with a flood. It’s a common grace arrangement.
A covenant with Abraham, which we’ll come back to, because that’s what Paul has in mind here is a covenant of promise.
There’s a covenant with Moses, which is a covenant of law. It still is a gracious covenant, but it is focused on laws and what we must do.
There’s a covenant with David. You can think of it as a covenant of kingship. We’ll say a little bit more about that tonight in the brief meditation.
Then there is the arrangement that is instituted by Christ. This is called the New Covenant. You might call it a covenant of consummation. When things are consummated, they come together. They’re being fulfilled.
So all of these covenant arrangements under this one covenant of grace find their consummation in what we call the New Covenant.
Here Paul uses the word “covenant” with reference in particular to the Abrahamic covenant. Look up at verse 14. We know he’s talking about Abraham, “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles.” Then down in verse 16, “Now the promises were made to Abraham.” So he’s talking about this specific relationship and arrangement with Abraham and he wasn’t to contrast that arrangement, which he calls here the “covenant,” or the promise, with the arrangement that was introduced with Moses.
Now again, in a big picture sense, they’re both expressions of this one covenant of grace and they’re both covenants, but here covenant means the promise to Abraham, and then law means all that Moses received on Mount Sinai to give to His people.
So you see in verse 17: “This is what I mean: The law, which came 430 years afterward.” So he’s talking about 430 years later, after Israel has been in bondage in Egypt and they’re set free, and there, after they escape, Moses receives the law of God on Mount Sinai. That law, when you receive that, Paul says, that did not remove this covenant arrangement that existed through Abraham. This law did not eradicate promise.
Now that’s our last word, so we’ll come back to that in just a bit.
When we come to the New Testament, and you have covenant, this Bible is divided into two unequal halves, Old Testament/New Testament. That’s the traditional English word that’s used, but it might even be more helpful to think of it as Old Covenant and New Covenant. Just another way that you can translate that word “testament.”
When the Bible talks about the New Covenant, it’s thinking about that arrangement that was initiated through Jesus Christ, and the Old Covenant is really shorthand for the Mosaic covenant.
I know there’s lots of different language, but you’ve got to get this straight. We see it in 2 Corinthians chapter 3, we see it in Hebrews. New covenant is new relative to the old, and the old is not, “Hey, everything that’s in the first 3/4 of your Bible, good news, you don’t need to know that.” No, that’s certainly not the case but rather that this particular arrangement through Moses has passed away and has been replaced by this New Covenant. It’s found its fulfillment in the New Covenant.
Now that’s different, this is Paul’s argument. There’s a different relationship between the New Covenant and the Old, that is the Mosaic, than there is between the New Covenant and the Abrahamic. That’s his point.
Now let me show you this from one other place. Turn in your Bibles to Hebrews, so several books later, to the book of Hebrews. Just look, for example, at Hebrews 8 and 10. We’re not going to read all of this. You can just tell even from the headings. Hebrews 8, “Jesus, High Priest of a Better Covenant.” You see that heading. Hebrews 10, “Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All.” Both chapter 8 and chapter 10 of Hebrews are explaining Jeremiah 31, which is a prophecy about the New Covenant. The language that author here uses over and over again is that this New Covenant is better than the Old covenant, that the Old Covenant had lots of sacrifices, it had a temple, it had all of these signs, these signs give way to the reality in the New Covenant.
There’s a famous way of describing this that comes from the theologian, the biblical scholar B. B. Warfield, that he said in the Old Testament and the New Testament, you’re looking at the same room but what was dimly lit in the Old Testament now has all of the lights turned on in the New Testament.
So it’s the same salvific arrangement, but in the Old Testament it’s like you need a flashlight, it’s shadows, it’s dimly lit, and then with the coming of Christ the lights are on. Ah. So you don’t need to deal with what you’ve sketched out from shadows, because now the light is on. The New is better than the Old, and that’s how the author talks about the New Covenant related to the Mosaic covenant.
But notice this is different than the way in which he speaks of the New Covenant with relationship to the Abrahamic covenant. Just look for a moment back at Hebrews chapter 6. You see, for example, in verse 13, “When God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater by whom to swear, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”
You see that the author is very deliberately harkening back to the Abrahamic promise and saying this is fixed firm. It’s a very striking difference. All right, Mosaic covenant, New Covenant. The New Covenant has replaced in some ways the Mosaic covenant. But when he talks about the Abrahamic covenant, it’s not that same sort of that’s passed away, that’s shadow. No, the Abrahamic covenant remains.
So you might describe it like this – the Mosaic arrangement was typological, that just means it’s a type, it’s a picture of what was to come, whereas the Abrahamic covenant is foundational.
Later we’re going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. You’ll hear the language from Jesus Himself, this is the New Covenant in My blood. When He says “the New Covenant,” He doesn’t mean, “Well, this is something that has never happened before” or “this is a spiritual state that has never existed in redemptive history,” rather He means the New Covenant is the fulfillment of these very sorts of promises that we have in the Abrahamic covenant.
The prophecy from Jeremiah 31 refers to the removal of the Mosaic covenant, in particular its ceremonial elements, the sacrifices, the temple, the regulations for worship. What’s new is that all these signs have been fulfilled. The shadows give way to substance.
So to use another analogy just to help you think about the movement of these covenants from the old to the new, it’s not like moving from a horse to a car. Okay, they’re both modes of transportation but they’re completely different sorts of entities. The old to the new is not from a horse to a car, it’s like moving from, my apologies if this is your vehicle, an old Chevy Cavalier to a brand new Chevy Camaro. Both cars, both in this example Chevys, but one is broken down and one doesn’t get you where you need to go, and one moves slowly and one is brand new, fancy, shiny and is what vehicles are supposed to be like.
So this old to the new. I want you to think of the New Covenant, coming back to Paul’s argument in Galatians, not eliminating the promises to Abraham but fulfilling. So he will use the language in Galatians that the Old Testament was a kind of pedagogue, that is, a tutor, a schoolmaster, someone that came alongside for a time to help you understand and lead you to Christ. But that covenant with Abraham remains. Covenant.
Here’s the second word I want us to look at. Go back to Galatians. It’s the word “offspring.”
Now what is Paul doing here? Put your thinking caps on and let’s try to understand because it seems, at first, like Paul is making a bad argument. In fact, some commentators will tell you that Paul is just making a bad argument in its rather special pleading that he’s trying to make a rather absurd point about the singular versus plural nature of this word “offspring.”
Now you’ve got to think because the word translated here “offspring,” or you could translate it as “seed,” in both Hebrew where this comes from and Greek here in the New Testament, and in English, there are singular nouns which can also function as a plural collective. We’ll come back to that in a moment and explain what that means.
But here’s what Paul is referring to, verses like Genesis 12:7 – God says, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Or Genesis 17 – “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
“Offspring” doubles as a singular noun and as a collective plural. So for example, if I were to say “I have my offspring with me,” that could mean I have a child, I had just one child and said “this is my offspring.” That works as a singular noun. Or if I have the whole brood of them. “Who’s that?” “Well, this is my offspring.” It works as a collective plural.
Or think about the word “seed.” If you hold up one tiny seed, just one little itty bitty seed, that’s called “seed.” But if you also had over your shoulders a giant sack with thousands of seeds, you would also way, “Well, what are you doing there?” “Well, this is my seed, that I’m about to sow this seed.”
So the word is singular and it can function as a singular, but it can also function as a collective plural.
So it seems like Paul is making a rather lame argument, that he’s going back to Genesis where it says “to your offspring I will give you this land,” and clearly, doesn’t it seem like back there in Genesis that it’s really speaking in a collective plural sense, “to Abraham and to your offspring,” that is, to your descendants, plural? But Paul says, “Ah, ah, it doesn’t say offsprings, plural, it says offspring, singular, therefore that was actually about one offspring, namely the Christ child who was to come.”
Now why is Paul not making a bad argument? How do we respond to this line of thinking? What is Paul doing?
Well, for starters, we need to understand that this kind of argument was common among the rabbis. I’ll give you a couple of examples. One in the Mishnah, after quoting from Isaiah 61:11, which says “a garden causes its seed to grow,” there’s a comment. The Mishnah is a Jewish source that comes after the New Testament but includes a lot of sayings that probably were from around the time of the New Testament. In the Mishnah commenting on Isaiah 61:11, we read, “It is not said its seed, but its seeds.” So there’s the very same argument to a different effect, that one of the rabbis is making again with the word “seed.”
Or here’s another example. One rabbi commenting on Genesis 4:10, which says, “Your brother’s blood,” the Cain and Abel story, then the rabbi says, “It is not written your brother’s blood but your brother’s bloods, his blood and the blood of his descendants.”
Those are just two examples to show you that this kind of argument that Paul’s doing would have been considered unremarkable, common. These are the sort of thing that Jewish commentators did all the time. Ah, there’s a singular or is it a plural? So what Paul is doing would not have seemed like a bad argument to his audience. That’s the first thing.
The second thing to say about Paul’s line of thinking is that he does not mean to exclude the collective sense, or the plural sense, of the word “offspring.” How do we know that? Well, look at verse 29: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Ah, Paul uses the same word there clearly in the plural sense. There he uses “offspring” not meaning one, but meaning many. If you believe in Christ, then you are one of the descendants of Father Abraham. So Paul does not mean to exclude the collective sense.
What then is he doing? Paul is using a normal rabbinical way of argumentation to state that we should see more than just the immediate collective sense of the term. In other words, he’s arguing that the covenant with Abraham was not just about Abraham’s immediate offspring, plural, it was in a more fundamental sense about the offspring, singular, that would come from Abraham. So the way that you belong to Abraham in the truest spiritual sense, is not by ethnic descent but by faith in the offspring in Abraham.
This is not a change. This is not as if now in the New Covenant, ah, now to belong to Abraham is really something different. No, Paul is interpreting the Old Testament itself and saying it was always the case that yes, there was an ethnic, familial, organic, biological descent, but what we are really meant, and what was most important, was the spiritual connection, and that spiritual connection to Abraham comes through faith.
So look at the argument that Paul’s making again in verse 14, “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles.” Or jump down to verse 22, “But the Scripture imprisoned everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Or verse 26: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” And again verse 29, “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring.”
The argument he’s trying to make is that when you belong to the offspring, Christ, then you are counted among the spiritual offspring plural of Father Abraham.
So it’s not a lame argument. Just good to keep in your mind whenever you’re interpreting Paul, if your explanation is “he’s dumb,” you might want to rethink if that’s the best explanation.
There is a way, in other words, for anyone and everyone to hop on the Abraham train. Remember he’s talking about Jews and Gentiles. Jews were those physically descended from Abraham, Gentiles is just another word for “not a Jew.” Well, if I don’t literally have Abraham as my biological father, how can I inherit the promises of Abraham? Because the issue among the Galatians has to do with Jew/Gentile relationships and some of the Jews saying, “Well, you Gentile Christians, you’re not really Christians on par with us unless you become Jews like us.” Paul says that is anti-gospel. Both of you, Jews, ethnic descendants of Abraham, and Gentiles, non-ethnic descendants, both of you actually have Abraham as your spiritual father in the same way. That is, through faith in the promised child of Abraham.
So the hope of the covenant is the hope of this child. Think about it. It is amazing how consistent it has been throughout history, around the world, leading up to the time of Christ and after the time of Christ and into our own present day, how many stories and epics are told that have to do with the hope of a promised child.
Some people argue, “Well, you see, Christianity was just copying all of these other sources.” But then you realize most of these stories that are supposed copycats actually come after Christianity and are themselves the copycats. But even if some exist in parallel, what it tells us is that there is something deep in us as human beings that knows, we might even say is part of being in the image of God, that He has implanted it in us, this deep desire to long and hope that we will find fulfillment and deliverance in some child.
The Dalai Lama, in Buddhist tradition, is that long sought after Bodhisattva who will be reincarnated to find that child. Think about Henry VIII, all of his poor wives, because he wanted to have an heir, a male heir. Harry Potter, there’s something there. What about the Jedi child with his midi-chlorians? All of these meta stories that reinforce this human desire.
Maybe you even find it on your own heart. Isn’t it true for most of us, one of the deepest desires we have and why when it’s fulfilled there is such joy and why when it’s frustrated there is such pain, is the desire to have a child, to be a parent, to be a grandparent.
I had a friend tell me this week that he has now come to a strictly utilitarian view of his children. He now realizes the reason for children are to get to grandchildren. I asked one of my daughters years ago what she wanted to be when she grew up and she said a grandmother, and I thought, “That’s the way to do it.” Just go [sound effect] right to grandparenthood.
We all, almost all of us, have this deep desire, this longing as human beings, that somehow if we could just have the child. Whether it’s a child from our own marital union or it is even something deeper and more epic, that might there be a child to be born.
In the story of Christianity is not some made-up fairy tale. It’s not like Star Wars or Harry Potter. It’s a real story. It’s about more than the birth of some earthly potentate. It’s about God in the flesh, born as a baby.
A covenant offspring promise.
Here’s our last word. This is Paul’s main argument and why he brings up the covenant with Abraham and the offspring of Abraham. His larger argument in Galatians is that there are two different paths human beings can be on in order to be righteous. Two paths. And you cannot be on both paths at the same time. There is no middle path. There is no third way here. “Well, I’d like a little of this and a little of that.” No, he says there’s two different paths which human beings think will make them righteous.
Now you hear the word “righteous” and that sounds like a very Bible word, a theology word. It’s not a word that people talk about today. But the concept is very much alive. You still want to be considered a good person, don’t you? You may not use the term “righteous” or “righteousness,” but that’s what you want.
You want to please your parents. Or some of you parents want to please your kids. Or you want to seem virtuous online. Or you want to be aligned with the right causes. You want to be on the right side of history or maybe you’ve given yourself to charity or to humanitarian relief so that you can prove to yourself and to others you are a good person. I’m convince that so many of our fights and our polarization have to do with different ways that people are pursuing righteousness. Would somebody tell me that I’m okay? One of the ways that human beings have always come up with is if we can make other people really evil than we can feel better about ourselves.
There are two paths of righteousness, and Paul calls them faith in the promise or works of the law.
Remember, Paul’s writing to a church. It’s not an evangelistic letter. He’s writing to Christians. These are all people who believe in Jesus. They believe Jesus was the Son of God. They believe He died on the cross for their sins. But some of them are confused. They think that in addition to Jesus certain things must be done.
Turn back and you see in chapter 2, verse 15: “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
See, some of them, it wasn’t that they said, “We don’t like Jesus” or “We don’t believe in Jesus,” they all believed in Jesus. But they wanted to add to this. That’s why verse 21, chapter 2: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” See, some of the Judaizers here in Galatia were saying, “Well, these Gentiles, I know we both believe in Christ, but they need to keep some of the food laws, the holy days, they need to keep circumcision. Those works of the law. There are certain things that they must do or they aren’t really right with God.”
Paul’s whole argument, which he delivers with the utmost severity and seriousness, is to say, “You cannot combine those two paths. You’re either on the one marked promise and faith or you are on the path that is marked works of the law,” which is why he says in chapter 3, verse 1, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”
They are trying to add, which brings us back to “covenant” and “offspring.” You see, law is not bad. That’s not the argument he’s making. In fact, obeying the law is good. People of faith obey the law. However, we are not made God’s people by obeying the law. Do you see the difference? God’s people obey the law, but we are not made God’s people by obeying the law.
It’s the difference between root and fruit. Obedience is the fruit of new life, obedience is not the root, which therefore springs up and makes us a good tree.
Righteousness comes through faith, not by law. So the example he gives, coming back to our chapter, or our paragraph, look at chapter 3 verse 17, the Mosaic law did not annul the covenant with Abraham. He’s saying just as in your own personal life some of you are thinking that I need to add just to be safe. Okay, I’m a Christian and I believe in Jesus, but just to be safe I bet there’s a few things I need to do. I need to balance out the bad with the good, I need to have a few good things to make me a good person.
Paul says you don’t understand the Gospel and you don’t understand your own history. The promise came through Abraham and when the law came through Moses, it did not set aside that promise.
So the question he wants to ask the Galatians, and the question God wants to ask you, is which path are you on? That may sound too easy. I’ve already told you the right answer. But think of it this way – why are you confident?
Some of us tell ourselves it’s promise, it’s faith, it’s resting on Jesus. But then what happens when you sin? Your whole, everything is shaken, everything is thrown upside down because you realize I’ve actually, I’ve been saying one thing but I’ve actually felt good about myself because I’ve looked around and I do think I’m kind of better than most people. Not everybody, I don’t need to be better than everybody, but most people. And I’m not perfect, but mostly I’m a pretty good person. And mostly I’m doing things right.
So then when you do sin, and when you are aware of your unrighteousness, you say things like, “I can’t forgive myself.” Well, forgive yourself? No, you need God to forgive yourself. Even the language of “I can’t forgive myself” is often an expression that I’m trying to earn something with God. No, you need God to forgive you. I need God to forgive you. Why are you confident? What will you say when you stand before God?
The old Evangelism Explosion question – When God says, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” If you start saying “I”, “I did this,” “I was like this,” “I went to church,” “I raised my kids,” rather than pointing to Him, unless the next word after “I” is “believe,” or “I am with Him,” anything you do to stand before God and point to yourself leads to damnation. You must point away, say “to Christ, that’s my confidence.”
We are people of the promise, people who believe in the promised child of the covenant. At Christmas, of all times, let us be reminded that we are not made righteous by works of the law but by faith in the promise.
Genesis 3:15 – A child will be born from the woman, will crush the head of the serpent .
Genesis 12:3 – He would be a child of Abraham.
Genesis 49:10 – He would be a descendant of Judah, a lion of the tribe of Judah.
Numbers 24:17 – He would be a star from Jacob and a scepter for Israel.
Deuteronomy 18 – The child will be a prophet like Moses.
Psalm 2 – He will be a royal son.
Psalm 132 – He will be a descendant of David.
Isaiah 7 – The child will be born of a virgin.
Isaiah 9 – He will be light to the Gentiles.
Isaiah 11 – He will be a shoot from the stump of Jesse.
Isaiah 40 – He will be a revelation of the glory of the Lord.
Hosea 11 – He will come out of Egypt.
Micah 5 – He will be born in Bethlehem.
Zechariah 9 – He will be a speaker of peace to the nations whose rule shall extend from sea to sea to the ends of the earth.
Malachi 3 – The God of justice and the Lord will come to His temple.
Brothers and sisters, are you marching to heaven on the path marked works of the law? Because if you think you are, I can tell you, the Word of God tells you, that path does not lead to heaven. There’s only one path that does, and it’s marked faith in the promise. Brothers and sisters, if He came once according to the promise, we can be certain that He will come again and that you can trust this Christ with your life, with your sin, with your hope, and that your hope in Him will not be misplaced, for all of God’s promises are yes and amen in this Christ child.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, as we come now to feast upon You, first in Your Word and now at Your table, we confess before You that we have so often been people who have tried to earn our favor with You. We often know what the right theological answer is, but deep in our hearts we think that we are good enough, that we are just a little bit better than most people, that we are just a little bit deserving, and so we have confidence in our own works. Forgive us, Lord, for our sins are many. Amen.