Grace and peace to you in the name of Christ. Today we are gathered together to worship God as He reveals Himself to us in His word. I do pray that you are in the Spirit today. I do pray that your soul is prospering in Christ, that you believe in Him and are growing in your faith. (Gal.2:20)
Please open your Bible to the book of Galatians. I will read Galatians 1:15-24. Hear God’s holy word.
Galatians 1:15. But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. 18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23 but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they were glorifying God because of me.
Let’s pray and ask God to help us worship Him this morning. Pray.
Today from our passage I want us to focus on the preaching of the apostle Paul. Or as Paul puts it, he preaches Christ, which he calls preaching the faith.
The defense – Paul calls his preaching to his defense.
It is always helpful as we move forward to acknowledge that what we are looking at here is still within that larger context of Paul defending his gospel ministry to the Galatian Christians that are being duped by a false gospel.
Paul is using where he received his gospel from as proof of its truthfulness. He received it directly from Christ Himself. And he uses the fact that he did not consult with any other people, including the other apostles to learn the gospel that he preached. He says, right away he went out and began teaching others what Christ had taught him.
Well that is the context. V.20. Paul calls his preaching to the witness stand to testify in his favor as it were. This is why he says (before God) I am not lying. My preaching testifies that I am telling the truth and nothing but the truth.
The implied contrast and challenge is this, could the false teachers do the same? Could the false teachers call their false gospel to the tribunal of God’s court? No, they could not. The day of Judgment will prove to them that they ran but God did not send them. Judgment Day will prove the false gospel of our works mixed to Christ’s work was no good news at all and powerless to save.
Whereas Paul is confident that the gospel he ministers is the power of God unto salvation. (I Cor.4:3-4)
As an aside Beloved, some day all of us will stand before the great Judge of heaven and earth. (2 Cor.5:10, Mt.25:31-46, Mt.12:36, Rom.14:10-12) Will the content of the gospel we believe be the gospel Christ taught? Will the content of the gospel of Christ we give to others be in accord with the holy Bible? Are we certain? (I Cor.3:10-12)
I do wonder as well, would we as professing Christians feel confident about calling our lives to bear witness of our service to Christ when we stand before Him? We shall all give an account of our lives to Christ some day. Some day very soon. May we be ready. May we be in Christ. May we be living for Christ when He calls. (Lk.12:35-40, Mt.24:46, Mt.25:1-13)
God calls men to preach Christ.
Previously we have seen that God revealed Christ to Paul unto His salvation. Paul was an unbeliever.
Now he is a Believer in Christ Jesus. Paul is a saved man. He knows the true Christ. He believes the true gospel of Christ. And that is what he has been preaching and teaching to others.
We learn very basically, people that do not know Christ and the gospel of Christ cannot preach Christ. You must be born again from God to preach God come in the flesh.
I know that there is some debate in the Reformed circles as to the definition and difference between preaching and exhorting. I don’t want to get into that. For my purposes I am using preaching at the proclamation of the word of God, law and gospel, by a man sent from Christ for this purpose. So a herald.
But we can apply the proclamation of the gospel to all Christians that share the gospel. And we should share the words of eternal life with those that will perish eternally without Christ.
The preaching – act.
We learn the Christian religion is an evangelical faith. The true religion of God is designed by God to be spread, to be proclaimed. The Bible is fundamentally a book about salvation by a Savior. God purposes that this gospel message of salvation be spoken to other people.
Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of Christ. (Rom.10:1-17, Jn.1:1-17, 2 Tim.3:14, Jas.1:18)
Of course I am not arguing for Christians to be rude or offensive in our manner. But the clear truth of Scripture is that Christ sent out His apostles to make disciples of the nations, preaching and teaching all that Christ commanded.
Of course, if people ask us about our faith in Jesus we should be ready to give them a Biblical answer for the hope that lies within us. (I Pt.3:15)
But, at least for the heralds, God has designed that they be proactive. They go out and speak to sinners about the Savior. They seek the lost. Like Christ. (Rom.12:7-8, Eph.4:11, I Cor.12:4-12)
Now Paul is a preacher. But he is also a particular kind of a preacher. He is not a pastor-preacher of one church. He is more like an evangelist-preacher or missionary-preacher. Paul travels around preaching in different locations. He made three missionary journeys. Here we are looking at a summary of his first journey.
The preaching – content.
Paul says he preaches the Son of God, Christ. This seems almost too simple for us that we can miss the significance. First, Paul does not mean in a hyper literal sense that he never teaches anything other than the doctrine of Christ’s person and Christ’s work directly.
Paul speaks about many things. Good order in worship. Good order in the home, for husband and wives, fathers and mothers and children. He speaks about the Believer’s relationship to civil authority and church authority and on and on.
What he is saying is that Jesus Christ, Savior Christ, the Cross of Christ, salvation in Jesus is the dominating theme of all he teaches and preaches.
Galatians 1:3. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, (Gal.5:11, 6:12-14)
I Corinthians 1:17. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. 18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Think of this. Some preachers preach sermons on how to have a happier life, have less stress and be more productive, perhaps even have more obedient children, and so on. Ask yourself this question. Could an unbeliever have preached that message? Could a Buddhist tell you to speak kindly to your wife or husband? Or to not overspend?
Ask yourself this question. Was there anything of Christ in the sermon? Was the Cross of salvation presented?
You see Beloved, sadly Christ and His Cross have been replaced in many churches with coffee shops, art classes for the kids, self-help groups for addicts, and a whole host of other things, but Christ is not there.
There is no true Christianity without Christ and His Cross. There is no Good News without Christ.
Paul leaves others to speak of politic and economics and culture. He is absorbed with Christ and preaching Christ crucified to save sinners! Oh for a double portion of his spirit to flow over the modern church! More Christ is what we need.
The preaching – audience.
Christ sends Paul to the Gentiles. Arabia and Damascus. Back to Jerusalem very briefly. Then back to the Gentiles in Syria and Cilicia.
Galatians 1:17. nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. 18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
Salvation is of the Jews.
Remember what we have here. We have the Risen Lord Jesus, who is the Savior saving Saul of Tarsus and sending him on a religious mission. Jesus after the flesh was a Jew. Saul after the flesh was also a Jew. If I could put it this way, one Jew sends another Jew to go preach the gospel of salvation to non-Jews.
You see beloved, God wants both Jews and now Gentiles to hear that salvation is of the Jews. (Jn.4:21-23)
Salvation includes the Gentiles.
We are told that Paul has been particularly set apart by God for a particular work of preaching Christ to a particular people, V.16, the Gentiles. That is what these four places generally represent. Places of non-Jews. Places of Gentiles.
As an aside, this did not mean that Paul did not speak to Jews. Of course, he did. We see that in V.18. He would often come into a new place and the first thing he would do was to reason with the Jews in the local synagogue from the OT Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. And then from there he would venture out to speak with the Gentiles.
Now when I speak of Jews and non-Jews or Jews and Gentiles perhaps our modern ears are bracing against the idea of racism.
Here is the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of race. Race is any one of the groups that humans are often divided into based on physical traits regarded as common among people of shared ancestry.
I myself do not use the word race for this idea. There is one race with one common ancestry, the human race. All people descended from Adam and Eve and then from Noah and the other seven people on the ark.
But often commonly for race we just distill this down to the amount of melanin a person has, skin color to be blunt. And the notion of racism is considering groups with different physical traits, or different skin color as inferior to our own.
But what we see here beloved is the opposite of racism. God calls all peoples to come to the Lord Jesus Christ and by doing so to be made into one new people. The true Israel of God consists of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. (Rev.5:9) Christ is the answer for racism.
The gospel of Christ can do what economic and political and social schemes cannot do. The blood of Christ can take all of these various peoples who are often at war with one another because of their differences and He makes them into one new people, a new family, because they are new creatures in Christ.
And to point out how radical the gospel of Jesus is. Look at who is preaching to these Gentiles about salvation. Former Saul of Tarsus! A man that before this disdained Gentiles! Oh beloved this is the power of God unto salvation. Christ makes haters into lovers. Christ makes wolves into lambs. Christ takes a hater of Gentiles and makes him love and serve Gentiles! Now brothers in Christ.
Paul is bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people that Christ has sent him to, that is to say the Gentiles. A Gentile is a non-Jew. At this time what that meant is that they were heathen or pagans. Gentiles worshiped false gods. They did not know the true and the living God of Israel. They were separated (Eph.2:12-22) God is calling them to Christ.
You see what is happening here beloved is the fulfillment of a divine promise made thousands of years earlier.
Go told Abraham…
Genesis 22:18. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen.12:1-3)
Paul will tell us in Galatians chapter three that the Seed of Abraham is Christ.
The preaching – Arabia.
V.17. Now let’s address some particulars about these particular places.
The first place Paul tells us he goes is Arabia. I will tell you that some commentators say, well Paul went away to the desert to get away from everyone. And that he lived in desert quietude and studied the OT searching the Scriptures looking for Christ in them. (Spurgeon, Stott) And after he spent his three years of solitary seminary then he went forth to preach Christ.
Beloved, to me that disregards the tenor of what Paul is saying. Paul said, Christ taught me and I immediate went out teaching others about Jesus. These places are not put here for their geography or topography. They are here for the people that live in them.
Preachers do not need solitude for their calling. Preachers need people. I am not denying solitude with the Lord and then preaching to the people. But you see my idea.
Paul went to Arabia to tell the people of Arabia about Jesus. (William Perkins)
One of the early church fathers Chrysostom said that St. Paul went to evangelize this barbarous and savage people. (Isa.13:20, Jer.3:2) James Fergusson writes that since the Jews rejected Christ that there may be more ground to hope that wild and barbarous savages come to a saving knowledge of Christ! (p.24)
Martin Luther said, it is silly for Jerome to ask what Paul did in Arabia? What else would he have done but preach Christ!
One man says that God often uses his servants in their first acts of public service in hard and low places among uncouth people to train them to rely wholly upon God and the blessing of God in the gospel of Christ. (Jer.17:16)
The land itself is situated like this. Egypt on the left. The Sinai Peninsula in the middle, with Israel in the upper northern corner, and next on the right side, down below SE of Israel is Arabia.
I believe the Arab people descended from Ishmael. (Gen.10:1-29, 25:12-16, I Chron.1:29-31) Ishmael was the son of Abraham and his wife Sarah’s Egyptian slave Hagar. (Gen.16:3, 25:17) His name means “God Hears”.
Genesis 17:18. And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” 19 But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.
God sent him away from His people. And sent him to live in the wilderness, living a nomad-like existence. God said this about these people.
Genesis 16:12. He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”
In the book of Genesis Joseph’s brothers sell him to Ishmaelite traders. (Gen.37:25-28, 39:1) Also called Midianites (Gen.37:28), a specific tribe within Ishmael. Arab traders. (Judges 6:1, 8:24) After Moses killed and an Egyptian he fled to Midian. To live in the wilderness among the Arabs. (Exod.2:15-16) Moses married Zipporah the daughter of the priest of Midian. (Exod.3:1)
God is seeking and saving the lost among the peoples of Arabia. Who would believe this?!!! Amazing Grace!
The preaching – Damascus.
V.17. Now he tells us that he traveled to Damascus for his evangelistic work. This place is very important in the life of Paul.
You remember that in Acts nine Paul was traveling to Damascus to persecute Christians, to arrest them, to throw them in jail. Paul was going to Damascus to stamp out the gospel of Jesus Christ in Damascus. He did not want the people in Damascus to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of sinners. And so he did everything within his power to stop that.
But then something happened on the way to Damascus. Paul met Jesus Christ. Paul was converted to Christ there. The place of his persecution of Christ became the place he met Christ. And now he returns to minister Jesus Christ to people he once sought to keep from Christ.
Oh beloved, who can account for the wisdom of God, the mercy of God and the power of God and the love of God?
God takes a Gentile hater and makes him a servant to the Gentiles. God takes a Christ hater and makes him one of the greatest lovers and servants of Christ that has ever lived. God makes the place of our worst sin to be the very place of our holy service. Christ is the reason for all of this.
The preaching – Jerusalem.
V.17. As we see from our text he was in Jerusalem on a very brief visit. He stayed 15 days. And in that fifteen days he was not being instructed in the gospel by Peter and James, rather he shared the gospel he was preaching to them. And of course it is the same gospel.
And since Paul has been called by Christ to be an evangelist-preacher we see in Acts 9 that he was busy preaching Christ in Jerusalem as well.
There is a general principle here beloved. Work where you are. Thrive where you are planted.
Sometimes we are so busy looking for some other place to be that we miss the opportunities that God has given to us right now.
I am reading a biography on Robert Murray M’Cheyne by Andrew Bonar. He says of himself that he desired to be an evangelist-missionary to the heathen. Originally, he desired to go to India to share Christ with the lost in India. But he recounts in one of his journal entries on whether his desire to go to India was because it sounded romantic and adventurous and he will have wonderful stories to tell. Or if it was a pure desire that the lost should be saved in Christ. Then he questions and exhorts himself if he has the same desire for the lost in Scotland in the villages and cities that he lives in.
Beloved, praise God for the desire to tell lost people about Jesus in far away lands. But God has us surrounded right now by people that do not know Jesus. Labor for Christ. Right now. Where you are. Don’t lose all the wonderful opportunities for ministering Jesus to other people today because you are lamenting over your past or worrying over your future.
Let’s number our days. Let’s redeem the time for Christ. (Ps.90:12, Eph.5:16)
Here is an occasion where he is teaching Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel.
The Bible tells us what kind of reception he met with. Unconverted men hate Christ, and they hate those that preach Christ. Children of darkness hate the light because the light convicts them of being evil. (Jn.3:19-20)
They wanted to kill him. This is part of the sufferings that we as Christians and certainly preachers of Christ share with Christ. Those who hate our Master will hate us as servants of the Master. (Jn.15:18-27) You remember Moses left the riches of heathen Egyptians choosing to suffer with the people of God for the sake of Christ. (Heb.11:25)
We as Christians must prepare ourselves for this. Preacher-teachers of Christ especially must prepare for this. And I would say, by faith, choose for this. Make a conscious choice to suffer for Jesus and to turn our backs on the riches and the smiles of the unbelievers.
The idea is that the ones that will not listen to God, they will not listen to the heralds of God’s word. (Lk.10:16-23, Lk.9:48, Ezek.3:7-11, I Jn.4:6, Jn.8:47, Jn.15:20, Mt.10:40-42)
What is interesting is that the persecutor is now the persecuted. The same treatment he gave to Christians he now receives as a Christian. This fact was not lost on Paul. In fact he uses it in his preaching of Christ to others. (Phil.3:1-14, I Cor.15:9, Gal.1:13, Acts 22:4, I Cor.15:9)
Acts 9:27. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
The preaching – Syria and Cilicia (and Tarsus).
Persecution is the cause for sending Paul to Syria and Cilicia. You see beloved we often think all pain is bad and all pleasure is good. But if we walk by faith and not by sight then we will discover that the blood of the martyrs is often the seed of the church, a quote often attributed to Tertullian.
Galatians 1:21. Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ;
God brings wonderful things out of painful things. (Isa.61:3)
When one man rejects the Gospel, God sends the gospel to another man.
Paul was from Tarsus. (Acts 9:11, 30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3) Tarsus was the capital city of the state of Cilicia, this was part of the larger region known as Asia Minor. In modern times this city would be in south central Turkey. Located relatively near the Mediterranean Sea. At this time it was an important trading city within the Roman Empire.
Well after Jerusalem he comes here to Tarsus. He comes back to the land of his birth as it were.
But he comes back as a new person. He comes back teaching a new thing, Christ crucified.
The response to the preaching of Christ. V.23-24.
And Beloved, look at the response of those that know Christ savingly, when we hear of God rescuing another sinner in Jesus, when we hear another lost sinner is found, when we hear that the gospel of salvation is saving the lost. We glorify God for the preaching of Christ.