From Death to Life
Series: Galatians: The Balance of Heart and Mind
Speaker: Dr. Bryan Stamper
Happy mother’s day. From death to life. It seems like an odd thing to preach on Mother’s Day, but I think mothers do know what it’s like to put everything on the line for their children, to go beyond what they deserve, to go beyond what’s fair, to love their children. Dad’s do too.
We were told in scripture that God is perfect as a parent. All aspects of parenthood are covered in our heavenly parent. What then do we say today when we talk about going from death to life?
We look at this text, and if you’re following along with the notes there are a few blanks to fill in. You’ll need them. And at the bottom of the notes is a place for you to follow along and read scripture on your own.
I really encourage people to start praying. This series we’re emphasizing reading God’s word for yourself, and there’s a reading plan at the bottom if you want to sign up for the daily devotional. After the message will be a time to make some commitments that way.
We have been talking in the series about trying to find the balance between head knowledge and heart knowing. Head knowledge and heart knowing, how to balance that. How do you find that place where what we think up here matches how we live? And so we’ve been using these statements “we believe” and “we proclaim.”
We started the series with a quote from Martin Luther and we are going to end this series with a quote from Martin Luther because this is the 500th year of the reformation. 500 years ago Martin Luther took his complaints or concerns about the church and he nailed them on a door and they excommunicated him. His idea was he wanted to reform the church, not be kicked out of it. But from that movement, the reformation movement, came the protestant church. You and I are part of that. We’re not Lutheran but we are in the same family of believers, and so it’s 500 years.
This was his favorite book. We’re doing Galatians. This is one of his favorite quotes.
Can you read that with me: “We are theologians of the cross.”
You are going to see a video at the end of this that Ryan’s is going to introduce. It’s a little heavy. And I picked these passages months ago. Actually when I first got here I picked this series, lined them up, and would not know how things would occur around the world for believers. So when we talk about death to life, to us it’s sort of a metaphorical thing being baptized and raised to life. There are people around the world because of what they believe are persecuted and they die. We’ll look at a video that Ryan is going to introduce as we go through this text together and think about what does it mean to be reborn in Christ? Or what does it mean to say we believe in God unto death and into eternal life?
Today’s main theme: We believe God is sovereign
Would you say that with me? We believe God is sovereign. One more time: We believe God is sovereign. It’s the first blank.
All of the reformation belief-system, all of it, every single belief, hangs off of that statement. God is sovereign, the doctor of salvation, sanctification, justification, election, the doctrine of the church. What is the nature of simple human beings, all that flows from God is sovereign, and everything hangs off that. If you don’t believe this everything else kind of crumbles. God is in control. God is God; we are not. God is in control. God is the one who saves.
And if you look at the review from the last few weeks in your notes, Jesus saves, why is that so? Because God is sovereign. God chooses us. What do you mean? God is sovereign. He is Lord of all.
Holy Spirit transforms us in a way no one else can. Why? God is sovereign. Today, God is sovereign is the anchor. We get to the main point.
Paul ends his letter to the early church with a sound doctrinal statement. Remember, it’s all about God being in control and the one to whom you have been called. And he clarifies this. We read there for this first passage Galatians from 6, 7, 8, and you see the second line. That’s the one people love to use, people who quote the Bible. We all do it. It’s good to do. But it’s good to see it in its context.
He’s really not talking about people reap what they sow. Everybody loves that one. When someone does you wrong, you’re going to reap what you sow. To sow, to please the simple nature leads to destruction. God cannot be mocked is this section. God is sovereign. God cannot be mocked. Commandment No. 1, you shall have no other Gods before me. God is not to be mocked. God is not to be replaced. God’s ways are the ways of eternal life. And this is confusing.
The Galatians have no guide other than Holy Spirit and the teachings of Paul. They have no history. It’s a brand-new church. How do you do a church when there is no history on doing a church?
Imagine if you received letters anymore, much less email, and imagine the distance that has to take place for Paul to hear of this struggle in Galatia, write a letter back and send it back to them. They’re struggling to do the best they can. These are faithful people and he wants to reorient them around this truth, God is sovereign. In all things God is sovereign. God is not to be mocked. Paul writes again and again about this theme in different ways and how we can then live if God is sovereign. If God cannot be mocked or made fun of or questioned in his wisdom, we have to recognize it’s hard.
In Corinthians Paul writes from the Old Testament a prophet had a question. Isaiah’s question in the Old Testament before Jesus came on Earth in physical form, is there anyone around who knows God’s spirit? Anyone who knows what God is doing? Have you ever been in the middle of something and thought that? What in the world is God doing? This makes no sense. This makes no sense, and Paul says that question has been answered. Christ knows and we have Christ’s spirit. Surrender to Christ, not yourself. Surrender to Christ, not yourself. We all know when we’re doing this. We all know it.
You may have noticed when I first arrived here five weeks ago I was walking with a slight limp, and it’s not a Texas swagger. It is what I thought was commonly called a hammertoe. No jokes about my age. But it kinks up and it has atrophied my right calf. It is physically noticeable and it’s kind of crept up in my back. I kind of compensate, kind of walk with a little bit of a limp. So our church has this health and wellness program. We have someone who comes into the church who has been helping staff with diet and flexibility and all kinds of things, and so I met with him. He said, hey, I notice you walking with a limp, and I told him what it was. He said, let me look at it. And in my mind I had been told I’m going to need surgery. So I meet with him and I think, really? He is using this kinesio tape. You may have seen it in the Olympics. It’s usually blue or pink. Have you seen the tape, do you know what I’m talking about? It looks like Band-Aids. I’m thinking, what is that? And then he’s talking about diet and flexibility, and he tells me my hamstrings are tight. I’m thinking, my hamstrings aren’t tight. I can touch my toes. He says, that is your back. In my mind I am thinking I know more than this guy. And then I look at his shirt and it says Dr. In front of his name. And I remember if I am going to use an expert in their field maybe I should defer to their wisdom. I’m not limping as much and my toe has flattened out. It’s working.
Our ways lead to idolatry of self. You wouldn’t want to self-diagnose if you’re not a doctor. Why should you try and be God if you know at the core of who you are you’re not. That is what atheism is. Atheism is I’m a God. Not that there is no God; I’m all there is. We say there is a God and the struggle is to surrender to that God. And Paul is writing to that church in Galatia saying, turn around and remember, God is not to be mocked. If you believe there is a God and you have received Holy Spirit you remember the power that was coursing through your community. That’s God. Don’t return to your own ways of wisdom. I know better than God.
If you are still with me say I’m still here.
Galatians 9-10, we read, let us not become weary.
That was the warning; here’s the encouragment. This is how Paul writes, polemic. You saw the video, This to That, From What to Who, From Death to Life. This is his style, contrasting things, so he goes with the warning God is not to be mocked, but let us remember, do not grow weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap the harvest if we don’t quit.
We have opportunity. Let’s do good to all people. And he says especially the Christian family. As you see that on the screen, the phrase, at the proper time we will reap the harvest. This is one of the few times in scripture that clearly alludes to the return of
Christ and that word is repeated as harvest or reaping.
I want to pause with that on the screen and step to the side for just a second. This is one of my personal passions. So here we are talking about Galatians. I’m going off topic for half a second.
It bothers me to no end when people talk about the coming of Jesus to scare people into believing. It makes me physically uncomfortable. But people use fear about the return of Jesus to get them to believe. He says here, clearly, there’s going to be a time when Jesus returns, but anyone who tells you, hey, Jesus is coming back this year, all the signs are pointing to it, they’re going to sell you a book, which should raise an alarm, or they’re going to ask you for an offering. Beware. The scriptures are clear. No person knows the day or the hour when Jesus will return, not even Jesus.
Paul writes in Thessalonians, and we’re going to read this letter in the next 2 weeks, first and second Thessalonians, you know the return of Jesus will come like a thief in the night. Nobody knows the day or the hour. It’s going to be a surprise.
Good news. Good news. God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord, Jesus Christ.
God separates. We don’t. God destines people for heaven or another place. That’s God’s job. Our job is to share the love of God.
The return of Jesus will be what God wants it to be when God wants it to be. Take courage. As long as we are in this eschatological time, eschatology, the things of the end times, until Jesus comes again, be encouraged. Do the good things. When you are down on your knees and beaten, when your theology is not firing, I don’t know God is sovereign, I don’t believe God is in control, do the right thing. That’s what he says. Until Jesus comes again in every season, in all opportunities, do good things, especially to other believers but to all people.
Can I get an amen?
God’s way promises eternal life. Our ways destine us for destruction. Our wisdom leads us to a path of self idolatry. I’m worshiping myself when I choose not to obey God’s commandments. This is a part of our theology and history under the sovereignty of God. It starts with that. Know that God is a God of grace and mercy. Hold on to that. God’s way promises eternal life. It’s personal, though. For some people more than others. Persecution and difficulty and martyrdom are personal.
We read Paul’s favorite scripture passage from Galatians, what he emphasized a lot to get that idea that we are theologians of the cross, may I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. God didn’t come for wrath. He came for mercy. He chose the nails so we don’t have to by which the world has now been crucified to me. Fairness, understanding, all that, I’ve been crucified to that, and I to the world. The world’s logic is dead to me. Christ and Christ alone. These are hard things to grasp.
We have an Easter message from Egypt and Ryan’s going to explain it. This video, you’ll have to be forewarned as Ryan gets up here, it’s in Arabic. He is going to explain it a little bit more about how he found it. But what I am saying is, sometimes words and theology fail. You can’t explain what it means that Paul’s talking about, but you can see it.
I’m assuming most of you don’t watch news in Arabic, but much of our congregation does. A couple weeks ago we had Mofid come and speak at our Thursday morning Men’s group. It’s at 6:00 a.m., horrible hour, amazing time. I invite all you guys.
Mofid was tying in our study of Jonah. In the book of Jonah, Jonah is really upset at God, and he runs away from God because he knows God is full of compassion and forgiveness and Jonah has this enemy, the Ninevites, and he just does not want God to show mercy and forgiveness to the Ninevites, so he goes the other way. Mofid came in and taught on that and tied it into what is currently going on in Egypt. You know, Mofid and his family and friends and even his brother is a pastor in Egypt, those Egyptian Christians are called the Coptic Church in Egypt. Well, they are under attack from ISIS, and we know that on Palm Sunday, you’ve seen it in the news, that there was a bombing right in a worship service just like this in a Coptic of Egyptian Christian Church service. Well, Mofid and his family and friends are very close to that situation. Mofid came in and shared. He said the response of the Christians to that bombing absolutely impacted all of Muslim-believing Egypt, and there was this interview on the news that Mofid brought to us because the woman who is speaking in the video that you’re about to watch, you have to read subtitles really quick, so if you’re slow to read like me, hold on to your hats and glasses and try to grab every other word, but what you about to see is an interview where a woman who lost her husband in that bombing is expressing forgiveness because she believes that God is sovereign and she believes that we are called to eternal life, and when you live out your faith that God is sovereign, people will look at you and they’ll say, you are made of a different substance because they see Christ in you. So let’s watch this video, read quickly, and see what a non-believing news anchor speaks to a Muslim world about a woman who believes that God is sovereign.
Woman in video:
I am not angry at the one who did this. I am telling him, may God forgive you. You are not in your right mind. My son, believe me, you’re not in your right mind. Believe me, I am not angry. He is gone now, dead, and I asked the Lord to forgive them and let them try to think. Think, think. Believe me, if they think they will know that we didn’t do anything wrong to them. Think again, what are you doing, what is wrong or right? May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, I forgive you. You put my husband in a place that I couldn’t have dreamed of. Believe me, I am proud of him, and I wish I was there beside him, believe me, and I thank you.
Man (news anchor) in video:
Egyptian Christians are made of steel. Egyptian Christians for hundreds of years are bearing many atrocities and disasters. The Egyptian Christian deeply loves his country. The Egyptian Christian bears everything for the sake of his nation. And, oh, how great is this amount of forgiveness you have? If your enemy knew how much forgiveness you have for them, he would not believe it. If it was my father I could never say this. These people have so much forgiveness. This is their faith and religious conviction. These people are made from a different substance. May God have mercy on Am Neseem. He is a hero and a martyr and a greater example to all of us, to everyone who is sitting and criticizing his country about how things are going. This country is moving on by patience, by perseverance, by endurance, by this great woman and her children and whom their father yet lives, brought up to be men, real men.
I want to be like that, able to go beyond what is my own sinful nature’s capacity, and it’s not about forgiveness. Hear me. It is not about reaping what you sow. It’s about believing God is sovereign because some days you are called to be merciful to the poor. You have abundance; you share it. Some days you are called to be patient, and some days you are called to be like a great mother who loves her children despite themselves. A great mother who knows the pain of raising children and seeing them fail and loves them anyways.
Ukhti, you are my sister in Arabic.
We have these people right in our church family. If you ever want to go sense what it’s like in this service in another language, it’s anointed. That is the only way I know how to describe it. They believe. They know family who have divided themselves so they will be safe if something happens in one church service or another. They still go to church.
We are comfortable here. Do we really believe that this brings new life? Shouldn’t we get over our own discomfort and shame of being evangelists in this world where we can freely share the gospel in this country? Your neighbors need to hear the gospel. We believe god is sovereign but we proclaim we will live together in eternity. This is not all there is. And it’s not about persecution. It’s about what you have and about being faithful with what you have. It’s about who God puts in your path and how you respond to them, color, creed, culture.
Taking the time to know someone else’s story, this matters to God. And Paul says I want people to be made of a different substance. This is who God has called us to be. I want people made of a different substance. The steel that Muslim was trying to name, the steel is love. Our first value here: Love. That’s what it looks like.
When you are pressed and squeezed, what comes out is who you are, whether it’s sports or work or life. When you are pressed and squeezed, that is who comes out. And if Christ is in you, that is what comes out.
The woman had no head knowledge. She is reeling. But she knew Paul’s words. You do good things in every opportunity. I want to be like that.
This image of Christ that we have been showing each week that was given to me by a student and I turned it into a montage, I took all the pictures I had in Texas and put it together into this image and overlaid it in a program to make it look like this beautiful piece of art, and every week we have been looking at this, and I have been showing you different pictures of different things around the church. This week we had a service of remembrance. We do that once a year for people who are grieving. We light candles and remember them. It’s a small service. It’s beautiful. It’s another image I have of this faithful body of Christ.
I met someone last night, Saturday night, who told me they have a signing choir and it’s gone all over the world. That is our body of Christ here, our image we contribute. I met someone who does Steven Ministry this morning before worship and she goes and visits people in the nursing home. She said she thinks of them as her brothers and sisters. These are people who never have contact. It’s not about forgiveness. It’s about the sovereignty of God who tells us be merciful, be compassionate, be kind, and when you have been given the opportunity, do good in all opportunities, especially to the family of God, but to all people.
We proclaim we will live forever because God is sovereign. Our ways lead to self idolatry, God’s ways lead to eternal life. God cannot be mocked and it goes beyond what we think up here. When non-believers see it in you they know there is a difference substance. There’s a love that they don’t have. There is something more.
These words from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor born in the late 1920s. He is still alive. He is considered a modern theologian. I think Martin Luther’s words are great, but the church keeps going on. There are new words to say and you have words to say to contribute to the school of thought that is Christian faithfulness.
Wherever people love each other and are true to each other and take risks for each other, God is with them and for them and they are doing God’s will. Luther got it right where people of the cross, theologians of the cross, but I say we are theologians of the empty grave. The tomb is empty. You are a people who believe in a risen Lord, not one on the cross. The cross is empty. He was put in a tomb but the tomb is empty. You have been baptized into a new life. You have been brought from death to life in this life. Heaven can be experienced here in part. Do mercy. Do justice. Look for opportunities to do good. You are a people of the empty tomb. Easter every day. Ambassadors for Christ. The priesthood of believers. Every member a missionary. Every person an ambassador for the good things of God.
People look at me and see this collar. This morning I had to wear this collar because my wife is here and the line got so long that I couldn’t get away to change shirts. But it is perfect because you see the authority of a collar but people see the power of the passion of the person of Jesus in your heart, and that is the real message. Paul wants people like that. Remember you are called to serve as a missionary outside of these walls too.
God, you are with us in all things. You brought us from death to life. We are people of Easter, not once a year but every day. We are the priesthood of all believers called out of darkness into light, reminded of a path we were on to destruction but now on a path that leads to eternal life. Who could know all of the things you were doing? No one except Jesus Christ. Thank you for giving us Jesus Christ. May we study his life, reflect on his teachings, and do what he says to do. Make all of your word in the New and Old Testament be seen as sacred text that give us wisdom so that when we are pressed, pushed ,and downtrodden what flows out of us is living waters of life that even non-believers see and shudder.
We trust that you will take who we are as we surrender to you and grow us into the people you desire. May Paul’s wishes for the church in Galatia continue in us as we become the people of today in Christ. Amen.