Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

"The Acceptable Time" Sermon: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

“The Acceptable Time”
[2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10]
March 1, 2017 Second Reformed Church
            This evening – for Ash Wednesday – we are looking at a passage in the middle of Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth.
            Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent.  The tradition of imposing ashes is older than the tradition of Lent and was received in the early church no later than the second century, and had been practiced by believers in the Old Testament since the earliest time. 
            The ashes are symbolic both of repentance and of the shortness of our time on earth – and, therefore, the urgency of our repenting and believing the Gospel for salvation as soon as possible.
            As we turn to the Scripture, we find Paul writing to the Church in Corinth and, by what he writes, we conclude that some of the Christians in the church – and it is important that we remember – he is writing to Christians – are not seeking reconciliation with God.
            So, we see, first, Christians need to be reconciled to God.
“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. 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.’”
Paul implores these Corinthian Christians – he begs them – to be reconciled to God.  And we might wonder why Christians need to be reconciled to God.  Aren’t Christians reconciled to God based on the simple fact that they are Christians – they are believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ – they have been made with right God through Jesus?
Yes, sort of.
Yes, all we who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation have been forgiven for all of our sins – past, present, and future.  However, we sin daily, and we are called to confess our sins and to receive forgiveness daily.  (If not more often.)
It seems that there were Christians in the Church at Corinth who were sinning, and due to their continued sin, they began to despair of confessing their sin and wondered, “What’s the point?”  Or, perhaps, they thought, “I have already been forgiven for all of my sins, what is the point of confession?”
I know there have been times when I sin – and it’s a sin I have sinned before – and I just kind of sigh and pray “You know I’ve sinned this same sin again, do You really want to hear it?  Are You really going to forgive me after I have sinned this sin again?”
But that’s the wrong attitude to have:  certainly we are to be striving not to sin – rather to be holy – and we ought to be progressing in our holiness overall.  But until Jesus returns, we will sin, and we need to be forgiven for that sin.
So, Paul writes to these Christians, and he implores them – he begs them – to repent of their sin – to pray to God for forgiveness and reconciliation – not because you lose your salvation if you sin.  No, anyone who truly believes is saved – forgiven for their sin – now and always.  No, it is not a question of our gaining and losing salvation.  Paul begs them to be reconciled with God – we ought to repent of our sins – bring them to God and ask for forgiveness, so we will be reconciled, for, at least, two reasons:
First, the provision for us to be forgiven has already been made.
Paul explains that God the Father made Jesus (the Incarnate Son) sin, Who knew no sin, and, He made us – all we who believe – righteous.
Jesus did two things to reconcile us to God:  He allowed our sin to be imputed – credited – to Him, and He imputed – credited – us with His righteousness.
So, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, God saw all of the sin of everyone who would ever believe throughout space and time in a Person, Jesus – making Him, as it were, sin itself.  And God’s response to sin is to bear down His full Wrath – Hell – upon sin, since God cannot tolerate sin.  God is just, sin must be punished.
And, Jesus also freely credited us with His Righteousness, so when God looks at us – and everyone who believes – He sees someone who has perfectly kept the Law and never sinned.
Now, God isn’t tricked into this.  This was a legal transaction that God participated in because He so loved us that He chose to reconcile us – to make us right with Him.
Secondly, it is a rejecting of grace not to seek reconciliation.
Paul begs – implores – the Corinthian Christians – to not receive the Grace of God in vain.  Rather, humble yourself and ask God for forgiveness.  Don’t live a life of pride and depression refusing to ask God to be forgiven.
Paul tells them that God says – at the right time – God chose us and saved us through His Son, so continue in that relationship – mature in that relationship, by continuing to humble yourself and come before God, repenting of your sin, that He might declare you righteous and forgiven – again and again.
Paul wrote to the Church in Galatia and put it this way:
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14, ESV).
Jesus became the curse for us – He became sin for us – He suffered all the penalty that can ever be suffered for us – and then He blessed us with righteousness and the Holy Spirit Who leads us towards holiness.
So, don’t give up.  Don’t think that you have sinned greater than God can forgive.  Don’t think that you have lost the relationship with God and He doesn’t want to talk with you and hear your confession.  Don’t think that you lost the salvation that God gave you and keeps for you and makes sure you continue in, because of a sin you have committed.  Trust in His salvation.  Repent of your sins, humble yourself, and be made right with God day by day and hour by hour.
Second, Paul begs – implores – the Corinthians Christians to be reconciled to God, because we have a call to proclaim the Gospel to the whole Creation – now.
            “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 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: “
            Now is the best time.  Now is the right time.  Now is the time that God will work through us to bring people to salvation – to reconciled them to Him, just as He reconciled us to Him.  Each of us is called – with different abilities and gifts and talents and strengths and weaknesses – but we are called to proclaim to the east and the west and the north and the south that Jesus Christ is God the Son and Savior – the Only Way to be saved – the Only Way to be right with God – the Only Way to be reconciled to God.
            And if we are sitting around, navel-gazing, because we have sinned and we do not recognize that the provision for reconciliation has already been made in Jesus and to reject that grace of reconciliation every time we sin – is a sin itself – we sin in not bringing the Gospel to the whole Creation.
            God chose to save us through Jesus and in Jesus – and He also chose to save others through Jesus and in Jesus – and He chose to do this – normally – through us – believers.
            And so Paul tells the Corinthians that they are to be like him in his ministry – they are not to put any obstacles in the way of believing the Gospel – we are not to set up any requirements in addition to what God has said – and we are not to cheapen the Gospel and portray it and what it does as something less than what God has said.  We are to do and be everything we can – so our lives and speech portray the Gospel – so others can see Jesus.
            We are ambassadors – servants of God.  Our job is to say what God says.  We have no right to muddy the waters and confuse people and turn them away by telling them things other than what God has said.  It is a stumbling block and a sin for us to take anything away or to add anything to the Whole Counsel of God that we have in the Bible.
            Then, Paul tells the Corinthians and us that there are three general ways in which we are to commend ourselves to the Creation with the Gospel:
            First, we commend the Gospel by being willing to suffer for the Gospel.
            Paul writes, “by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;”
            Paul tells us, if it turns out that our best witness to the Gospel is to endure afflictions – being sick, suffering in various ways, hardships – in having a lousy job, or no job, or being homeless, or in debt, calamities – having your loved ones killed or losing all your savings, beatings – unjustly, imprisonments – unjustly, riots against us, difficult labors for us to accomplish what others do with ease, sleepless nights, hunger – if our best witness to the Gospel is seen in those types of things and circumstances – and it often is – then would should receive them for the sake of the Gospel with joy.
            We’ve seen this before, and we need to remember, we are not called to enjoy suffering or to seek it out, but if it comes – for the sake of the Gospel – not from our sin, then it is a good thing that God will work in us for our joy and His Glory.
            It is possible to be unhappy with our circumstances and still trust God and be filled with joy for the blessing we have – especially the blessing of being chosen to proclaim His Gospel to the world.
            This is why the “prosperity Gospel” is such a hideous heresy.  God never promised us that we would be wealthy and healthy and wise.  No, God promised that we would suffer for the Gospel – that’s His promise to us.  And those people who are peddling the lie that God wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy and wise are setting people up for disappointment and discouragement and worse.
            This is nothing but idolatry.
            We are called to suffer for the Gospel.
            Second, we commend the Gospel by striving for holiness.
            Paul writes, “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.”
            Suffering is what happens to us; striving for holiness is the call on us that we strive for, by the Power of God the Holy Spirit Who enables us.
            God wants us to be holy, and He is working in us to transform us into the Image of Jesus, and we will be holy when Jesus returns.  But for now, we strive towards holiness – we mature towards holiness – we make strides towards holiness as time goes by.  And that is a witness to the world of the Gospel – we have been so changed by the Gospel, that our lives have changed – we are not going to live the way we used to live – the way everyone else lives – the way we are told to live.
            No, we are going to strive to be pure in our thoughts and conduct. We are going to strive to know God and be able to tell others about Him and the salvation He brings through His Son.  We are going to be patient with all people, because our desire is to glorify God in proclaiming the Gospel.  We are going to show kindness to everyone.  We are going to genuinely show love to our neighbors – and they will see how we love God as well.  We are going to be truthful, and not gossips.  We are going to seek to live righteously – sinlessly – through all the means that God has given use.
And it will make no difference to us if we are honored or dishonored, slandered or praised, because we do not strive for holiness for the applause, but to show God to be awesome – the One Holy God Who saved us by His Own Hand with no help from us.
            Thirdly, we commend the Gospel by having our joy and our hope in God and not in how we are reacted to.
            As Paul writes, “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.”
            If our goal is to direct people to Jesus, it won’t matter how they treat us.  If we truly strive to proclaim the Gospel without obstacles, then it really won’t matter how people respond to us.  We are messengers proclaiming God’s Message of Good News. Right?
            Our lives are secure in Jesus.
            Our joy is secure in Jesus.
            And we are the richest people in the world in Jesus.
            As Peter writes:
            “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:3-7, ESV).
            And Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5, ESV).
            Everything God created belongs to Christians. – to believers.
            So, let’s get to work, now is the acceptable time.
            Repent of your sins and be reconciled to God and continue to repent of your sins and be reconciled to God.
            And go forth to tell the world that Jesus Christ is the One Way to salvation.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, as we begin the season of Lent, we ask that You would concentrate our lives on You.  Help us to keep You before us, looking to You – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – for all that we need each day on earth to be the people You have called us to be.  Strengthen us by the Holy Spirit to believe and repent and go forth with the Gospel in Jesus’ Name – for it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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