Flemish artist Hendrik Leys, who lived from 1815-1869, depicted in this painting how easily Christians can lose sight of the crucified Christ. Notice the exacting detail in which the women are painted. There is careful attention given to every fold in the fabric of their gowns. If this were in color, you would be able to see the beauty of the garden by the church wall. But there's one thing missing. Can you see what it is? Remember the title. "Women Praying at a Crucifix Near St. James in Antwerp." Exactly. Leys intentionally leaves out the crucified Christ. One whole side is cut off. The object of their faith…the crucified Christ…is left out of the picture.
This was exactly the problem Paul was dealing with in Galatians 3. They were on the verge of losing the only and exact focus of their faith - Jesus
Christ crucified for their sins.
Here in Galatians 3, Paul is bringing the crucified Christ back into the picture. At stake with this essential Biblical truth is nothing less than the glory of Christ. I love how Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:4:
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
What is the glory Paul is talking about? It's the glory which shines brightest on Jesus' work on the cross to bring grace as he suffers for sinners. Nothing in all the universe is more glorious, more grand, more magnificent than the death of Jesus Christ for sinners and his resurrection to vindicate his great work. That is huge. If you don't get this right, you won't get anything else right about the gospel.
More than anything, we love the glory of Christ. Listen to Luke 2:8-9:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled
with great fear.
The glory of the Lord was there at the beginning. At the birth of Christ. And then, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, there was that same glory at the cross. And the Galatians knew this. It was clear and apparent to them. The phrase Paul used in verse 1, "publicly portrayed," means literally to write beforehand. They already knew of all this. They knew of the glory of God at the birth of Christ. They knew of the glory of Christ on the cross. They knew this. There was nothing after the cross. It was everything and all-sufficient. Amen?
So what happened to them?
Paul put it bluntly. They were foolish. Make no mistake. There is no nuanced or subtler way to interpret the word Paul used. Foolish is foolish. The foolishness of the Galatians was that, while they did not deny that you must believe in Jesus for salvation, they fell for the false teacher's lie that you must also let the law finish what Christ has begun. Remember what we've already said about the glory of the birth of Jesus Christ. Remember what we've said about the glory of the cross. Remember what Jesus said
right before he died - "It is finished."
How foolish to add anything to that. Here's what they were rejecting. You might want to write this down:
JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE ALONE, THROUGH FAITH ALONE, IN CHRIST ALONE.
Nothing more, nothing less than that.
After calling them fools, Paul then asked them a rhetorical question. "Who has bewitched you?" The word used here indicates something figuratively caught their eye. He reminded them that he had already painted them a clear picture of the glory of the cross. He described for them what Jesus Christ did for them on the cross…how his body was broken and his blood was shed, and so they were justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Paul had publicly portrayed for them the marvelous beauty of the cross.
Don't misunderstand. The Galatians were not victims of some con game. They weren't ambushed or forced to believe something other than the one true gospel. In this case, and like in so many others, something could only happen if they let it happen or wanted it to happen. They were fools. So
Paul gave them no excuse. They weren't ignorant of the glory of Christ as expressed in his death on the cross. Paul made very clear to them the finished work of the cross. But the newest shiny thing caught their eye. Paul made that very clear in a few short words. After Paul asked, "Who caught your eye?" he then said that "Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified." That word portrayed came from the world of advertising. Yes, even ancient cultures had advertising. Paul was comparing his proclamation of the gospel to a public notice advertising something of great value. Are you with me on that? So he created a visual image of gospel truth and then the false teachers came along and defaced it. They covered it over with their garbage graffiti. So the false teachers caught their eye with a false picture of the gospel. All of that in one verse.
That's why they were fools. They knew better. And they let it happen.
But Paul gave them a way back. He reminded them of the work of the Holy Spirit. Listen to what Paul wrote in Romans 10:14-17:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
We hear the gospel and understand the message about Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let the Spirit continue to work in you. You have the Word of God. No need for a distraction. No need for some shiny new thing. Let the Spirit speak to you.
I love how John Mason puts it:
Do everything in your power not to mold God into what you form in your mind, but instead allow your mind to be molded by what is fully revealed about God in Scripture. False teachers reap the benefits from their followers seeking favor from a god that only exists in their heads.
In other words, the Holy Spirit speaks faith into your life through the
testimony of the Bible. Anything else is foolishness. And you will know it is
foolishness if it doesn't conform to the Bible.
Here's the final thing we need to know from verse 1. Paul made the
ultimate point about why nothing must be added to the cross. When he wrote crucified, he used the perfect tense of the word. In Greek grammar, the perfect tense means a past event that has present consequence. In other words, what happened then has an ongoing, operational impact on now. The crucifixion is an act that is complete and finished. It is perfected. Paul said, don't get distracted by the graffiti of the false teachers. Don't let them overwrite the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The only way they get away with it is if you let them. And the same goes for us today. The only reason people fall for false teaching is because they let it happen. And that is foolishness.
And so, where does all this lead us? It takes us back to glory. What is our response to the perfectly wonderful and final and continuing to be operational thing Jesus did on the cross?
We magnify Christ.
The Holy Spirit, pouring faith into our hearts and minds, brings us to a
saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And what is our response to that gift? We magnify Christ. In our worship, we magnify the greatness of Christ. As we sing and pray and learn from God's Word, we tell of how unbelievably satisfying and desirable it is to know him and serve him. Our worship proclaims what a treasure Jesus Christ is.
Do you believe the promises of God in Scripture? Do you reject false teaching? One of the biggest challenges in the Christian life is there is a little bit of Pharisee in all of us. Sometimes we lose sight of the object of our faith:
JESUS CHRIST CRUCIFIED FOR OUR SINS.
That's why we worship. That's why we glorify him. We have a Savior who not only died, but also rose again. And so we live for him by faith.
SOLI DEO GLORIA…
To the Glory of God Alone!