Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Galatians 1:11-2:1 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
You’ve all changed! Just this morning! Just in the very short time since you got up! At least I’m betting you have. I don’t see a single pair of pajamas out there.
Okay, in more substantial ways, I’m betting you’ve changed in the last year or five years or ten years. You’ve learned things, seen new things. Some of you have grown taller, maybe a little thicker or thinner.
Certainly you’ve changed a lot since you were conceived in your mother’s womb however long ago that was. Those who don’t understand God’s gift of life would say you went from being a cell of not-yet-human conception tissue to becoming, at some unspecified point, a person, a human being. That misunderstanding does terrible insult to God and terrible violence to some of his children. Quite the contrary! The fact is good science says there’s nothing essentially different in the physical person from the moment of conception until old age. The many changes are just matters of size and degree of development. You’re you from your mother’s womb.
On the other hand, there has been an essential change in you that’s more significant than anything we see—one that’s no insult to God. It’s not a physical change, but rather a spiritual one. And that same change God can also work this very morning, just in the short time since we’ve gotten here together, since we’ve heard his Word.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ Changes Us,
and in This Change God Is Glorified.
We’ve all been in need of change. Man is born an enemy of God. You were born an enemy of God. Something must change in order for you to be saved. It’s easy to see that change in St. Paul (vv 11–13). He speaks of a “former way of life.” He was making quite a name for himself (v 14). He had progressed in Judaism. He had become a Pharisee. He was a zealot for the law. He had advanced in status among the Jewish people far beyond most others. But the zeal for the traditions of his fathers led Saul to arrest or kill those who seemed to abandon the traditions to follow Jesus. He went about trying to destroy the church of Christ.
But don’t just sit there in judgment against Paul. He is just an example of what we all were. We were all inclined that very same way—enemies of God—from the moment of conception. God clearly says in Scripture you were conceived in sin. You were dead in your trespasses and sins. You are by nature children of God’s wrath. You profess every Sunday, “I am by nature sinful and unclean.” “I deserve the present and eternal punishment of God.” Not only were you fully human already in the womb, but you shared the universal human agenda: to be your own gods and to dethrone anybody who got in your way. Hard to think of a tiny unborn baby inside her mother like that, isn’t it? But it’s true. Yes, even as a baby you insisted on getting your own way and it didn’t take long for you to figure out how to get it by crying. What parent ever taught you how to have a temper tantrum? How did you learn to bully your classmates in school? Who taught you to intimidate people to get what you want? No one! You already had this in you from the time you were conceived in the womb.
Yes, while still little babies, you needed a change! And the change we needed is a change man’s “gospel” cannot bring. Man’s “gospel” is the Law. That’s the “gospel” Saul had been fighting for. The “traditions of the fathers” had long ago forgotten God’s way of saving Israel—by a Messiah who would graciously fulfill the Law. Instead, Judaism required man to meet the Law’s demands. We have to be good enough! That’s the gospel of man. But who among you has ever loved God with all his heart, mind, strength, or soul? Who among you has ever loved his neighbor as himself? Who among you has ever given his life for his friend? Who among you has ever lived a perfectly pure and chaste life without one single lustful look or thought or desire? Who among you has never made a false statement or never desired to have something that wasn’t yours? That “gospel”, a gospel of law, a gospel that says you have to earn or deserve salvation—which is no gospel at all—will drive us to despair. For all this, we deserve eternal punishment!
But we have been changed!
The Gospel of Christ has changed persecutors and enemies. By the gospel of Christ, Saul was changed to Paul—persecutor to preacher (vv 15–16a). God had loved Saul from the womb. And then one day on the road to Damascus, in God’s time and God’s place, Saul heard, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). But then he also heard words of forgiveness and received Baptism through Ananias (9:17–18). Jesus still loved him! That changed everything for Saul! St. Paul became perhaps Christian history’s greatest missionary.
And that same gospel changes us from enemies of God to children of God. We, who in the womb hated God, were so soon out of the womb to hear, “You are now a child of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” with the water of our Baptism. There we heard that Jesus’ death on the cross is mine! The forgiveness Jesus earned when he died is mine! The resurrection of Jesus from the tomb is mine! That changes everything! For not loving God before all things, you are forgiven. For not loving your neighbor as yourself, you are forgiven. For that desire to get your own way, you are forgiven.
The Gospel of Christ has changed us into children of glory. It glorified Paul. How fondly we remember him as apostle to the Gentiles!
People marveled and glorified God because of the change in Paul (vv 15–24). Paul’s change showed God’s glory by revealing the power of his Word to change hearts. Paul’s mission glorified God as he brought countless new souls to receive God’s gifts and worship him for eternity.
People marvel and glorify God as he changes us. It glorifies us. What an honor to be Jesus’ faithful followers! And we are changed to glorify God. Our change shows God’s glory—his mercy and grace to love those who were enemies through and through, from the very womb, loving us enough to send Jesus to die for us. Our change brings God glory—when we live and walk with him. We glorify God when we live in our baptism. As we tell others about Jesus; as we love the unborn and defend their lives; as we sacrifice ourselves to help our neighbor; as we work for justice and peace in the world; and as we bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others, God is glorified.
You’ve all changed! From fully developed enemies of God even before you were born to children of God who glorify him. And we pray that change has continued by the Word you’ve heard—just this morning! Amen.