Summary: Part of a sermon series on Galatians
In 1975 the IRA prisoners at Long Kesh jail in Northern Ireland burnt it down (don’t get any ideas!). Tom Kelly was one of those prisoners as was James Tate but he was on the opposite side, a UVF commander. James helped to found the UVF in Belfast. He was arrested one Easter Sunday in possession of firearms and received a 6 year sentence. In that time he took charge of 80 men. Tom Kelly joined the IRA as a teenager. He was imprisoned for the same offence and was sentenced to 7 years. He joined all sort of protests from hunger strikes, where some of his friends died, to dirty protests.
While in prison both men came to the conclusion that violence would solve nothing. James left the UVF despite being threatened and found work in a Belfast mission. He became impressed with the practical Christian love he saw there and what finally brought him to faith was hearing the former New York Gangster Nicky Cruz say that not only would God forgive his sins, but also forget them. He desperately wanted that because he felt awfully guilty about what he had done.
On his release Tom Kelly eventually became disillusioned and wanted out. His wife took him to a Christian meeting and he heard God say to him “Tom, let me have your heart.” He said “If it’s you God, you can have it because I hate it”. He too gave his life to Jesus.
The two men met again as Christians and offered each other forgiveness and healing. They now speak together across their divided communities bringing people to see their need of God. God had a plan for both their lives. A plan which involved a promise made to both of them, where both men held their lives up against God’s perfection and found themselves wanting and where both became Children of God, found freedom and equality and became heirs to the promises of God.
God’s Master Plan
We hear the phrase “God has a plan for your life”. I have said it many times. But do you understand what it means? Do you know what God’s plan is for your life and where you are up to in that plan? In the reading today Paul lays out God’s plan over the 2,000 years which separated Abraham, Moses and Jesus and shows us how that plan is for all who come to Christ, including Tom Kelly and James Tate.
Step One: The Promise is Made (Verses 15-18)
God has made a promise to Abraham that although he is 100 and has no children he will have descendants who outnumber the stars in the heavens. Paul tells us in verse 16 how one of those offspring will be Jesus and through Jesus all the people of the earth will be blessed. He told us in verse 14 what that blessing is. Through putting our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus we receive the promise of the Holy Spirit and new life. What a blessing that is! Amen?
God will not ever change his mind on this. What he promises will happen. Who here has written a will? (Just out of interest, how much am I getting?) Once a will has been made no one else can change it or cancel it. A will is a definite promise to pass on to others that which they have not earned and therefore do not deserve. But out of grace and generosity they will receive their inheritance for free. God’s promise to us is exactly the same. He will not change his mind and no one can cancel it. We receive the free gift that God has promised and all we have to do is believe it and accept it.
Sometimes some people will challenge a will. “He didn’t deserve that” someone will shout. “She’s not the right sort of person to have that” someone else will add. “They got it too easily”. That’s what those who oppose Christianity say. “It’s too easy, you have to work for it, say so many prayers, not eat that and never believe you are going to heaven”. These people are challenging a promise which God promised never to change or cancel. They challenge it on the basis that while having faith in God is good, didn’t God send us rules to keep too?”
Paul says in verse 17 that the Law which came after the people of Israel ended up in captivity in Egypt and way after Abraham does not replace the promise given to Abraham. On the contrary, the Law is there to help the promise be fulfilled.
Now listen carefully, very carefully. The faith of Abraham and the law of Moses are two very different things. As I said last week the promise made to Abraham is about trusting God, the law is about trying to please God and believing that will save you.