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Sermon: Galatians 1:11-24
Pentecost 3 – June 30, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

Recently when I was going through some of my books I found a DVD that I had never watched. It was a biography of a man named Eric Liddell. For those of you who may not know who Eric Liddell was, he was a missionary in the 1930’s and 1940’s in China. His parents had also been missionaries in China in the early part of the century. Eric was born in China, but much of his education took place in his native Scotland.

Eric Liddell was also a great athlete. He was a sprinter. He was such a good sprinter that he competed in the 1924 Olympics in Paris for the United Kingdom. He ironically distinguished himself by refusing to run in a race that was his specialty because the race was held on Sunday. He refused to compete insisting that the Lord’s Day was to be set aside for rest and worship. He further distinguished himself a few days later in the Olympics by winning the gold medal in a race that he was not expected to win. Some of you may remember that his Olympic competition was portrayed in the movie “Chariots of Fire.”

Eric Liddell’s greatest legacy, however, will always be his faithful preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Chinese people and his loving attention to the education of many Chinese children and young people. Eric Liddell had an amazing life. He really had a story to tell.

The Apostle Paul had quite a story to tell of his life as well. And he tells us a great deal of that story in our text today. Actually we all have a story. We all have a story to tell about our lives.

Today we ask the question

If Eric Liddell would have had the opportunity to tell his story he would have been too humble to tell it or brag about it. The Apostle Paul tells his story in our text today not because he wanted to brag about his life or was so proud of himself, but because he needed to establish his credibility as a preacher of the gospel.

Paul needed to tell his story, he needed to establish his credibility, really for two reasons. First of all, there were false teachers who challenged the gospel he was preaching, that a person is justified before God by grace alone through faith alone and not because of his good works or keeping the law. Paul had established these congregations in the province of Galatia, an area in the central part of present day Turkey. But after he left them there were other teachers, Jewish teachers called Judaizers, who came to Galatia and began to teach the people that they were saved by their faith in Jesus but also by keeping certain portions of the Law of Moses, particularly circumcision.

Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians to counter that false teaching, and he begins the letter by telling his story, by making the point that he was called directly by Jesus himself and was taught directly by Jesus. His message of forgiveness and justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ was the true message because it came directly to Paul from Jesus himself. That’s why he wrote, “I did not receive [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

But Paul had another reason to tell his story, another reason to establish his credibility. He had a very sinful past. He once saw Jesus as a threat to the Law of Moses and a false teacher. He was so opposed to the Christian message that he arrested Christians, imprisoned them, and in some cases oversaw their executions.

Paul’s story included, however, the day that the risen Jesus Christ appeared to him on his way to Damascus, converted him to real faith, and appointed him to be a preacher of the gospel to the Gentiles. After some time Paul went up to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles. Their original reluctance to accept Paul ultimately gave way to the realization that Jesus really had converted this former persecutor of Christians to genuine faith. The apostles praised God because, as they said, “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

So what’s your story? Every one of us has a different story of life. There are no two that are exactly alike. Some of our stories are many years long, much closer to the end of the story than the beginning. Some of us are right in the middle of our story with much in the past but much more to come. And there are those, our children, whose stories in some ways are just beginning. And by God’s grace they will have many more years to go and a very long story to tell one day.

Some of our stories are sad and difficult, filled with problems and challenges, even tragedies. Some of our stories are filled with wonderful blessings and goodness. But whatever the case may be, today we want to focus on God’s part in our stories, God’s part in our lives. How did God become a part of our lives, and what does that mean for us?

If Eric Liddell had lived to tell his whole story he would have told the story of loving Christian parents who raised him to be a faithful Christian from infancy. He knew Jesus his whole life and never wavered from his faith in him. He served him faithfully to the end.

The Apostle Paul thought he knew God from his childhood. He certainly knew the facts about the LORD God of the Old Testament. He knew his law for sure. But it wasn’t until Jesus met him on the way to Damascus that he really knew God and believed in his forgiveness and salvation.

What about our stories? Many of us, like Eric Liddell, were raised in Christian families. We’ve known our Savior Jesus our whole lives. We actually don’t remember a time when we didn’t believe in Jesus. He entered our lives through baptism at a very early age. Others of us are a little like the Apostle Paul. Jesus entered our lives later on in life, but he did reveal himself and his mercy to us.

But there’s a way in which all our stories are exactly the same – Eric Liddell’s, the Apostle Paul’s, yours, mine, and every Christian who has ever lived or ever will live. And these identical circumstances of our lives are really the important and essential parts of our stories. We’re all creations of God. He knit us all together in our mothers’ wombs. But we all were conceived in sin. King David reminds us, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” And the Apostle Paul makes that original sin more clear in his letter to the Ephesians when writes that we “were dead in [our] transgressions and sins” and that “we were by nature objects of [God’s] wrath.” Putting it very simply we were all born into this world deep in spiritual trouble. We were in eternal trouble.

But the other part of our stories that’s thankfully the same and true is that Jesus, the Son of God, came to this world to save us from our sins. That’s the message of the gospel that Paul preached so faithfully to the Galatians. It’s why he was so upset in the beginning of this letter that some false teachers had infiltrated the congregation and began teaching a “gospel” message that was not really the gospel at all.

And so Paul proceeded to remind the Galatians of what he had originally taught them. He wrote, “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith,’” and “So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

Jesus is a part of all of our stories, of the story of every Christian. Jesus is the essential part of our stories. In this letter to the Galatians Paul writes, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came to this world, born of the virgin Mary, took on a human body and nature, and died on a cross to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. He rose again from the dead victorious over sin and death assuring us that our sins are forgiven. That’s Jesus’ story. And thankfully it’s our story too.

And then somewhere in our stories Jesus entered our lives and made us children of God. The stories are the same in this way as Paul writes in this letter: “You are all the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” The details are different for all us, when we were baptized, who baptized us, when God made us his children, where, and what time in life. But the story will end the same for us all. It will end well. It will end, or we might say, it will just begin, when we enter heaven to be with Christ forever.

So we can be glad that Paul told his story in these verses today. They assure us that, though he once persecuted Christ and his followers, he came to be a follower of Jesus and was taught the truth of the gospel by Jesus himself. He was a real believer, and he had the truth of the gospel. He has taught that gospel to us. That’s Paul’s story.

Eric Liddell never got to tell his story. There’s some sadness and tragedy in his story, but it ultimately ends in the glory of heaven. Eric was married with two little daughters and one on the way as World War II was approaching. The Japanese conquered large portions of China. He sent his wife and daughters back to Scotland for safety. He remained in China faithfully doing his work. He and many foreigners in China were confined to a prison camp by the Japanese. Eric became sick with a brain tumor. Shortly before he died he asked that the hymn “Be Still My Soul” be played for him. “Be still, my soul; the hour is hast’ning on When we shall be forever with the Lord, When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past, All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.”

Eric Liddell died in February 1945, just six months before the Americans liberated China from the Japanese. He never saw his wife or his two daughters again in this life or the daughter that was to be born. That was all a part of his story. But Jesus was also a part of his story, and like the hymn says, he and his family “all safe and blessed . . . shall meet at last” in heaven.

Be glad that Jesus is a part of your story. In some ways he’s the whole story. In the end he’s the only part of the story that matters. Amen.