Saturday, February 28, 2015
"Be Reconciled" Sermon: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
[2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10]
February 18, 2015 Second Reformed Church
Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent – a period of forty days – not including Sundays – which ends with the celebration of Easter. It is a time when we consider our sin, which Jesus bore on the cross, and we take up good habits or deny ourselves any of various things to better take control of our bodies as we seek to turn away from temptation and follow Jesus in faith and obedience.
We turn this evening to look at a section of instruction that Paul gave to the church in Corinth – a church which we know had many problems in it. There were many temptations in the city of Corinth, as it lay along the trade route, so all types of pleasures and philosophies came through the town, and many people engaged in them, no matter what their primary belief or lifestyle was.
False teachers had come into the church at Corinth, and some were embracing their false teachings alongside of Christianity – something which does not work – we cannot hold truth and falsehood – lies – together as being equally true!
The section we are looking at begins:
“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
First we see that Christians sin and need to be reconciled to God.
Even though all of our sins have been paid for by Christ’s work, we are not to continue to sin, and when we do sin, we are not allowed to treat it as nothing – to just say, “Oh well,” and move on – to let it roll off us like water off a duck’s back.
No, when we sin, we are to come before God, our Father, and confess our sin and ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ Name – for the sake of the work that He accomplished on our behalf. We ought to recognize that all sin is “cosmic treason” – and it is even worse for the Christian, who knows what God has done in Christ for us, to turn our backs on Him, as though to say, “What Jesus did was no big thing.” When we do come before Him and ask for forgiveness for our sin – when we repent and promise not to sin again – when we turn from sin and back towards walking in faith and obedience – because of what Christ has done, we will be forgiven.
And what did He do?
Paul explains how Jesus became our Substitute before God and made atonement for us – He took our place, both in obedience to the Law of God and in receiving the punishment of God’s Wrath for our sin.
As God planned from before the foundation of the world, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin,”
God made Jesus – the Son of God Incarnate – the Innocent and Holy Lamb of God – Who never sinned – God made Him sin for our sake.
What does that mean?
It means that Jesus took on Himself all of the sin of all of those who would ever believe from the beginning of Creation until Jesus’ return – He became our Substitute, taking on our sin – receiving our punishment – so we do not have to receive the punishment we are due.
It also means that Jesus became sin itself for all who will ever believe. Jesus became the foulest stench in the nostrils of God – all of the sin of all of the people who would ever believe – credited to Him, so He was, as it were, a mass of sin.
Remember, we saw Sunday that the Gospel – Jesus’ work on earth, is the most fragrant offering ever offered up to God. Here we see, in that moment on the cross, Jesus became the foulest stench – something God cannot allow in His presence.
Still, there is another side to Jesus being our Substitute, is there not?
“so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus took on our sin, even though He is Holy and Sinless – He is Righteous. Jesus lived a perfect life under God’s Law. And, as our Substitute, He took on our sin, and He credited us with His Righteousness, so we have become the righteousness of God.
Although we are not holy yet – we continue in our sanctification by the work of God the Holy Spirit – we are still being made into the Image of Jesus – we are seen now as righteous – as holy – as legally sinless before God, for the sake of Jesus acting as our Substitute.
Since Christ has done that mighty work in being our Substitute and taking on our sin and giving us His righteousness, Paul continues, in the light of these Christians following after false teachers into sin, and writes:
“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
We see, second, that we are not to receive the Grace of God in vain.
What does that mean?
Remember that the author of Hebrews wrote: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27, ESV).
In other words, it is possible to know everything about Christianity, receive the teaching and preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments, and never really believe. And if you don’t believe after living under the Gospel – if you claim to be a Christian and act like a Christian, but do not truly savingly believe – there is nothing more to hope in – all hope is lost.
So, Paul tells the Corinthians who are following these false teachers to check themselves – to see if they ever truly and savingly believed in the Gospel. Because playing Christian is not enough – and if you have heard the Gospel and received the benefits of being part of a Bible-believing and preaching Church, and you never truly and savingly believed – you have received God’s grace in vain – you have heaped up God’s Wrath upon you.
So be careful – examine yourself. We can be involved in the Church all our lives and go to Hell, by not reeving the Grace of God – by not truly and savingly believing the Gospel.
Still, we have this moment – if you have fooled yourself and realize you have been fooling yourself or acting a part – now is the day of salvation – we don’t know if we have the next moment or the next day – so believe now! If you would be saved from the Wrath of God for your sins, believe in Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God Who lived and died and rose to save a people for Himself.
And if you do believe – make sure others hear the Gospel and receive God’s Grace to salvation. God has filled our clay pots with the Gospel so it can be seen for the glorious Good News it is. We must be actively telling others and asking them to repent and believe – we cannot sit back and rest on our laurels – but we are actively to seek the lost until Jesus returns – even if they are sitting in the pew with you.
While there is day – while there is time – keep telling people – keep telling each other – and remember now is the time to believe. What if you have a heart attack and die on the way out of worship? What if you get mugged and die? What is you get hit by a car? Now. You must answer now – we all must answer now. And we must tell others with that urgency, because we don’t know when Jesus will return and what might befall us the next moment.
And Paul warned the Corinthians, and us, not to put any impediment before anyone.
The hymn, “Just As I Am” makes a good point – we are not called to change and believe – we are called to believe, and then we will change – we will be changed by God the Holy Spirit Who is transforming us.
But don’t be confused, although God does not call us to “get cleaned up” before we believe – all we who believe are now called to a life of sinless obedience and faith. We are to be growing in faith and obedience because we are Christians.
Paul tells the Corinthians – and us – thirdly – to be willing to give and give up anything and everything that might keep someone from believing – any impediment we might put before a person must be removed – we may not be Pharisees who add to the Law of God.
“We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.”
Since we are servants of God – sons and daughters adopted by Him, now privileged to bear the Gospel in us, we are to be faithful in our ministry and present the Gospel and the Gospel alone – with no strings or impediments – nothing that would make a person reject Jesus and the Gospel out of hand.
Paul explained that this is the Gospel:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:3-11, ESV).
That’s the Gospel – what Jesus did in history. We are not to put any other requirements than to believe this and repent of sin. Then, we are all called to growth in obedience and faith.
So, if we are spoken poorly of, if we are denied benefits of some kind, if we are jailed, or cat-called, or beaten, or treated in any other way that we do not deserve, proclaim the Gospel. And let us do so, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in kindness, and love, and with sincerity, and with boldness.
Remember, the Sanhedrin had forbidden Peter and John to preach the Gospel:
“’But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’ And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened” (Acts 4:17-21, ESV).
This, of course would not be then end: Peter was crucified and John was exiled to the island of Patmos, eventually. But in the meantime – threats, beatings, and imprisonment did not deter them from preaching the Gospel without impediment – for all people are called to believe and repent and follow Jesus in faith and obedience.
If our ministry is to be genuine and worthy of our God, we must not put anything in the way of the pure preaching of the Gospel, and we must bear with whatever response we receive – good or bad, joyful or evil, uplifting or painful.
Of course that’s easy to say. And when we are complimented, or people believe the Gospel, or, even if they just politely tolerate us, it may be reasonably easy – unless we become prideful, but what if we proclaim the Gospel and the result is that we, like the twenty-one who were just slaughtered by ISIS for their faith, are forced to kneel down and submit to being decapitated?
Are we ready and willing to be shunned, beaten, and even put to death for our faith and for the proclamation of the Gospel? Not that we should desire to be abused or killed, but are we willing? That’s not always easy, is it?
Jesus said, “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’” (Mark 8:34-38, ESV).
Peter would tell you that taking up your cross is not merely a metaphor – Peter was crucified. Jesus is telling all we who believe that we must be willing to lose everything, even our lives, if it will be to the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel.
How do we have that mindset?
“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
Fourth, as Christians, we are rich and possess everything.
Paul said he preached the truth to the Corinthians, and yet, he was treated as a false witness – a liar.
Paul was treated as a nobody, and yet he was known by God.
Paul was beaten and punished, but not killed – not yet – he would suffer being beheaded one day
Paul was sorrowful for those who did not believe and for those who were following after the false teachers, yet he was always rejoicing, because he knew Jesus and His salvation. He knew the Gospel. He proclaimed the Gospel. He saw God bringing people to faith and repentance through his preaching.
Paul was poor – he had nothing in the way of material goods – though, as the student of Gamaliel, he could have been a very wealthy many, but he made other rich by proclaiming the Gospel to them, and when they received Jesus, they had the greatest treasure ever to be had.
As Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46, ESV).
If we lose everything, and have Christ and His salvation, if our souls have been saved, we are the richest of all people.
And if we lose everything in this life, we know that we have everything – we have Christ and His salvation, and we will inherit the restored earth – it is for us, and we shall spend eternity with Jesus on earth, worshipping Him and enjoying Him.
As Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5, ESV).
We may remember Paul explained this in Philippians: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV).
Paul told the Philippians that Christ gave him the strength, as he faithfully proclaimed the Gospel and sought to live in faith and obedience, to endure anything and everything along the spectrum. Ultimately, not matter what we receive on earth now, we are rich and have everything in Christ – now and always.
So, Paul argues against the false teachers and pleads with the Corinthians Christians who are following after them to repent of their sin and turn back to Christ, because He became sin, that we would be righteous.
If we claim to be Christians, and follow whole-heartily after false teachers, we will prove that we have received the Grace of God in vain and we will stand to suffer God’s Wrath at the end of the age.
So, turn from your sin, embrace the Gospel and all of God’s Word with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength, and proclaim it to the world, with no impediment – just proclaim the Gospel with no requirements that God has not put on it.
And as we do so, let us not worry about what we have or don’t have, or how we are treated, or even if we should suffer death for the Gospel, because, in Christ, we are rich and we possess everything, and we shall sit at the King’s table at the end of the age, with our God and Savior, Who is blessed forever.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we ask that You would forgive us for letting our guard down. Forgive us for casually sinning, as though it was nothing, and receiving false teaching, rather than seeking Truth in Your Word. Embolden us to proclaim the Gospel to the whole Creation, not worrying about how the world will treat us, but rejoicing that You have already won, and we are rich – possessing the whole earth – through You, our God and Savior. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.