Many people may look at the universe and nature and think that these wonderful things exist because there is the God who created them. There is a psalm in the Old Testament about the universe representing the glory of God. It is Psalm 19 of the Old Testament. Let me read you verses 1 through 6 of Psalm 19.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
According to the psalmist, the universe declares of God’s glory and shows his work, even though it does not speak in human languages. And it is also God who controls the activity of the sun, which is indispensable for life on earth. “Its rising is from the end of the heavens,” probably means that in Old Testament times, when astronomical observation technology was not yet developed, the sun appeared to be moving from one end of the heavens to the other. However, modern advances in astronomy have shown that it is not the sun that is actually moving, but the earth. And new discoveries about the universe are constantly being made even today.
Then, in verses 7 and 8, which follow these, the splendour of the law that God gave to the Israelites is recited as follows.
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
Why did the psalmist, who had been composing about the universe and celestial bodies, suddenly start talking about “the law of the LORD?” It is probably because we cannot understand who God is and what he is thinking by looking at the universe and nature alone. We cannot understand God’s deep will just by looking at the universe and nature. By listening to “the law of the LORD” that God has given us in the history of salvation, we can understand God’s deep will. In other words, the universe and nature certainly express God’s glory, but because human beings have sinned against God, we cannot understand God’s will just by looking at the universe and nature. Therefore, God specially chose the Israelites in the history of mankind and, after rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, gave them the law represented by the Ten Commandments through Moses. He also made it possible for them to know God’s will through that law. Hence, the psalmist recites, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” In the language of Christian theology, God’s expression of his glory through the universe and nature is called “general revelation.” And the manifestation of his will through his words in the history of salvation is called “special revelation.”
If human beings see only the glory expressed through the universe and nature, they may think that the universe and nature are gods. In other words, they may think that the sun is a god, the moon is a god, or the mountains are gods. But when we listen to the words of the Lord God given to us in the history of salvation, we realise that the universe and nature are created by the Lord God. Not only that, but we can also see what God’s will is for us human beings. However, the words of the law, represented by the Ten Commandments of Moses, is not enough to know God’s will. This is because, as Paul teaches in Romans 3:20, “through the law comes knowledge of sin.” In other words, the law can tell us that “you are sinners who deserve God’s judgement,” but it cannot tell us anything more. In Romans 7:7-8, Paul teaches as follows.
Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.
Human beings have been given laws by God that say “Do ~,” and “Do not ~.” However, when we try to keep these laws, we are more inclined to disobey them because of the sin within us. In other words, the law given by God can only reveal, on its own, that man is in a state of slavery to sin, that we are “incapable of not sinning.” It is God’s Son Jesus Christ who frees us from that slavery and makes us free children of God. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, atoned for the sins of human beings by dying on the cross. He then guaranteed eternal life for us by his resurrection. Not only that, he ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit from heaven so that those who believe in Christ can live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If only the law had been given, human beings would only have known that God has a strict will to judge sinners. However, by being given Christ, they came to know that God has a merciful intention to save human beings.
In the Galatian churches in what is now Turkey, after Paul and Barnabas, who preached the gospel of Christ, left, other evangelists came in. And those evangelists taught that Christians must not only believe in Christ but also keep the Old Testament law. In particular, these evangelists placed particular emphasis on the Old Testament law commanding them to undergo the ritual of circumcision. It is thought that these evangelists, after evaluating Paul’s teaching to a point, then proclaimed their own teaching, saying, “There is a different gospel that you must accept.” In other words, they would have taught that, as Paul said, one can be saved by believing in Christ, but that this alone is not enough for full salvation, and that the Old Testament law, especially the law of circumcision, must be observed. And this would have made it easy for the Galatian congregations to be deceived. So Paul is trying to teach the Galatian congregation what the true gospel of Christ is in this letter.
In verse 11 of today’s passages, Paul says: “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” On reflection, the phrase “the gospel that was preached by me” is a bold statement. This is because it expresses the feeling that “the gospel that was preached by me is the true gospel of Christ!” It means that the gospel that I, Paul, have preached is the true gospel of Christ, not the gospel preached by those evangelists who came later. And by “not man’s gospel,” he probably means “not made according to human standards.” In other words, it is not something that Paul made up because he thought that if he preached this kind of gospel, people would be happy to believe it. This is probably written with an awareness that, as in verse 10 before today’s passage, Paul was criticised for “seeking the approval of man” and for “trying to please man.” In other words, the teaching that believers in Christ can receive full salvation without the lawful ritual of circumcision must have been criticised as being a creation of Paul, who thought that if he preached this kind of gospel, people would be happy to believe it. To that criticism, Paul retorts, “By no means!” He refutes that.
What then was the gospel that Paul preached to the Galatian congregations? In verse 12, Paul writes: “For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” “I did not receive it from any man,” means that it was not received through human tradition. And “nor was I taught it,” means that he was not taught by ordinary human teachers, as a disciple is taught by a teacher. Rather, Paul “received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” The term “a revelation of Jesus Christ” can be taken in two ways: as a revelation that Jesus Christ has given to Paul, or as a revelation that God has given to Paul showing Jesus Christ.
On the one hand, if we take “a revelation of Jesus Christ” to mean a revelation that a revelation that Jesus Christ has given to Paul, it fits perfectly into the context of the first half of verse 12: “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it.” This means that Paul received the gospel of salvation directly from Jesus Christ, not through human tradition or ordinary human teachers. It is then likely that this is speaking of Paul’s experience of conversion. Paul, as a zealous Jewish teacher, was travelling from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians. On his way there, he heard the voice of the risen Christ in heaven speaking to him with a strong light, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me (Acts 9:4; 22:7) ?” “Saul” is Paul’s Jewish name. Paul fell on the ground, blinded, unable to eat or drink, and was taken to Damascus. He was then baptised in Damascus by a Christian called Ananias and converted to Christianity and became a Christian evangelist proclaiming Jesus Christ. This experience is described in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 26, verses 16-18, where Paul was addressed by the risen Christ in heaven as follows.
“But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
Thus, Paul’s experience of conversion is consistent with the fact that he received the gospel of salvation directly from Christ.
On the other hand, if we take “a revelation of Jesus Christ” to mean a revelation that God has given to Paul showing Jesus Christ, then the content of the gospel of salvation is Jesus Christ. This taking fits well with the context in which Paul later tells the story of his conversion. Namely, in verse 13, Paul begins to talk about his past saying, “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” He then describes his experience of conversion in the first half of verses 15-16: “He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” According to this writing, Paul’s experience of hearing the voice of the risen Christ in heaven on his journey to Damascus is an experience of God the Father revealing Christ the Son to Paul and making him preach the gospel to the Gentiles. In other words, “a revelation of Jesus Christ” in today’s passages means that it is a revelation which has the content that if you believe in Jesus Christ you will be saved.
Thus, the phrase “a revelation of Jesus Christ” can be taken either as a revelation that Jesus Christ has given to Paul, or as a revelation that God has given to Paul showing Jesus Christ. In either case, the important thing is that the gospel Paul preached was not something he thought up and made up, but was given to him as “a revelation” from Jesus Christ or from God the Father.
There is the idea that religion is a teaching created by great human beings. Others think that the various religions created by great men are all substantially the same. However, such a view does not apply to Christianity. Christianity is not a teaching created by great men, but a teaching given by the revelation of Christ. God has been giving revelations about human sin and salvation through various people since Old Testament times. As the climax of that revelation, God gave us the revelation of Jesus Christ. Through that revelation of Christ, we were made aware of God’s merciful intention to save us human beings. In a word, we have been made aware of God’s love.
It is therefore important to focus our mind’s eye on the revelation of Jesus Christ. When we ask ourselves, “Does God really exist?” or “Will I really be saved if I live my life believing in God?” repeatedly in our own minds, we will never get an answer. This is because our mind itself does not have the power to perceive the things about God correctly. When we look to the revelation of Jesus Christ and listen to the words of the Bible that testify of Jesus Christ, we will come to know the true God and true salvation through the work of the Holy Spirit.